Skiing and the Arlberg – the one without the other? Unthinkable! 120 years ago, the first pioneers of skiing rushed down the slopes and left their traces in the snow – traces that are still visible today. And that special “skiing spirit” is still deeply rooted in the Arlberg region and it’s the subject of a comprehensive exhibition at Lech’s Huber-Hus. Together with Birgit Heinrich from Lechmuseum La Loupe went in search of traces.
“All those who leave the exhibit will realise that you don’t need skis to depict skiing culture.”
L.L./ The exhibition “SPUREN – Die Ausstellung zur Skikultur” (= “TRACES. The exhibition on skiing culture.”) shows no skis, sticks, or bindings – which is a bit unusual for an exhibition on skiing culture. How do you communicate that “skiing spirit” in the exhibition?
B.H./ All those who leave the exhibit realise that you don’t need skis to depict skiing culture. Because it really is more about an attitude to life and not so much about the technical details of the pieces of equipment. SPUREN talks about how skiing has become a cult phenomenon and come to occupy many different spheres in society and our lives. Whether you head to the “Hörbar” (= music bar) and listen to après ski music or whether you leaf through old guest books – everywhere you’ll see that it’s not about worshiping the pioneers but about following the traces of a phenomenon that has made it into the everyday life of every single person on the Arlberg.
“Opening a suitcase almost felt like a journey back in time.”
L.L./ Since June 24, 2018 guests of Huber-Hus get to go on a journey back in time – all the way to the origins of skiing on the Arlberg. Where did the idea for the current exhibition come from?
B.H./ he idea for the exhibition came from the book “Spuren. Skikultur am Arlberg” which was created on behalf of the association ski.kultur.arlberg. In 2018 the association celebrated its 10-year anniversary and that’s how the collaboration of Lechmuseum and the association ski.kultur.arlberg came about – I think it’s a wonderful thing to celebrate that anniversary with an exhibition. Alongside my two colleagues Monika Gärtner and Sabine Maghörndl and myself one of the book’s authors, Bernhard Tschofen from the University of Zurich, also played a vital role in the exhibition’s conceptualisation.
“If you look at and deal with the past you will be able to better judge and understand the present.”
L.L./ Old ski goggles, talismans, and family photos – where do the exhibits come from?
B.H./ The list of lenders is long. Some of the exhibits come from our own collection, from the Lech museum association and the ski.kultur.arlberg association. Aside from that other museums like the Hohenems Jewish Museum or the Mürzzugschlag Winter Sports Museum also lent us exhibits. The trickiest part was getting exhibits from private people. But they usually are a huge asset because they come with personal stories that would never become public otherwise. Which is why we are, for example, showing a sled from Raimund Bischof who lives in Oberlech which he actually decided to donate to the museum. For as long as the exhibition is open all visitors are welcome to bring their own mementos along. We are trying to reach Lech’s guests here, in particular.
“Skiing on the Arlberg has tradition, not just in the sense that people have been doing it for a long time but also in the sense that modern alpine skiing was strongly influenced by the Arlberg.”
L.L./ You must have come across numerous stories in the course of your research. Is there a story that you remember in particular?
B.H./ When we designed the exhibition we really weren’t aiming to highlight any one particular person, but still – the story of St. Anton’s tourism pioneer Rudolf Gomperz has stayed with me. He played an important role in making the entire Arlberg region well-known and he was murdered in concentration camp in 1942. But there also are individual exhibits that can really capture you. I am still fascinated by a packed suitcase. It’s the suitcase of a Brazilian guest of Hotel Edelweiß in Zürs which was left behind in the hotel’s luggage room in the 1970s and never picked up. When we opened it, it felt like a journey back in time and it was incredibly exciting to find out what a guest of the Arlberg had packed about 40 years ago. The obligatory sealskin shoes were in there, of course.
“There are many traces that skiing in all its facets has left on Lech – and it still does.”
L.L./ Why do you think it’s important to preserve the region’s history for posterity?
B.H./ If you deal with your own past it’s easier to understand and evaluate the present. Of course, it’s important to know one’s own roots and know where you come from. The scientific processing of history is not just necessary to make sure we don’t fall prey to myths but also to find out what exactly lies behind that frequently advertised idea of the cradle of alpine skiing.
L.L./ Skiing is more than just a sport, it’s an attitude towards life. How would you describe that attitude?
B.H./ I think the best way to find an answer to that question is to go and see the SPUREN exhibition. Until the end of April 2019 everyone can come and see for themselves how we tried to describe that attitude and that spirit via that medium of an exhibition. And for the time after there’s always the book.
L.L./ Skiing and Lech – the two simply belong together. What would you say makes winter sports on the Arlberg so attractive?
B.H./ Skiing on the Arlberg has tradition, not just in the sense that people have been doing it for a long time but also in the sense that modern alpine skiing was strongly influenced by the Arlberg. And not just that – the culture of hospitality on the Arlberg has also been cultivated on an extremely high level, après ski has always been part of the package, and all the know-how behind skiing has been developed in the “lab” that is the Arlberg. So, there are many traces that skiing in all its facets has left in Lech – and it still does.
Infobox: Die Arlberger Skikultur
Skiing has been an integral part of the Arlberg region’s culture since the 19th century. In the “cradle of alpine skiing” skis and skiing technique were, for the first time, not just regarded as a means of transport but as a leisure time activity. And skiing is not just a sport, it brought its own line of tourism that attracts and fascinates people from all over the world and that has developed into its very own lifestyle. It started with the very first ski mountaineers, the foundation of legendary skiing schools, a proper technique, ski movies and went all the way to mundane après ski and hip snow bars.
Slowly but surely the name Arlberg which only used to be the name of a mountain pass was expanded to comprehend the entire region and today it’s used a synonym for alpine skiing. A type of skiing that is still second to none.
Die Ausstellung zur Skikultur
Lechmuseum und Verein ski.kultur.arlberg
24 June 2018 to 28 April 2019
Tues, Thurs, Sun 3 pm – 6 pm,
guided tours on arrangement
Bernhard Tschofen and Gustav Schoder
published an exhibition catalogue.