A Ski Pioneer

as he Lives and Breathes

Erich Sturm from the Salzburger Saalachtal revolutionized Austria’s ski technique.

Modest as this man is, he would never make a big deal out of his sporting successes but throughout his life he was an all-round talent on many continents. As a professional first-generation racer he achieved numerous victories. Then he was a top trainer who trained ski stars such as Annemarie Moser-Pröll, Monika Kaserer, Lea Sölkner and Regina Sackl at the end of the 70s and at the end of the 90s the then 16-year-old Lindsey Kildow – later Vonn. In his ski school in Lofer a trace of his pioneering spirit can still be felt today. Nostalgic pictures show this nature boy, young, tanned and robust in the middle of the glorious white snow or as a child in Unken, his home village in the Salzburger Saalachtal. His ski career began there on the “Beutlingskopf”. “Of course we had no help uphill and we had to tramp, tramp, tramp up”, says Sturm laughing and there it is again, this enthusiasm which sparks out of his eyes. As he describes the scene in this way you can really see him and his comrades in front of you: how they make their still awkward turns with bright red cheeks. If one of them breaks the tip of his ash-wood ski, it’s no problem. The “Farmer Franz” repairs it in his picturesque workshop. And yes, the first drag lift in Unken at the end of the 1940s was naturally a sensation, explains the 81-year-old and enthuses, “It was simply luxury for us. We were dragged up there and could save all our energy for training.” The gates were sharpened hazelnut sticks. At twelve years old Sturm was already a participant when Salzburg’s elite youth met for one-week training camps in the Hochkönig area, for example. With a rucksack on his back and skis on his shoulder it was off out into the wider world. At least it felt like that to the boy since he had to take the bus, change to the train and finally trudge to his accommodation on foot – an entire day’s journey.

“Podium places are there to win, not to freak out”

This is the motto of the youngster, who at ten years old belonged to the Salzburg school team, then the youth team, B-team and then between 1963 and 1967 the A-team (national team) of the Austrian Ski Association (ÖSV). As a member of the national team, he celebrated victories in the FIS A races, today’s World Cup Races, in Switzerland, France, Italy and Turkey. In 1966, he was the Austrian vice-champion in downhill behind Egon Zimmermann as well as third in the coveted combination. A year later he won the Swiss “Gornergrat Derby”, on one of the longest downhill courses in the world. However his parents insisted on a “secure job” so he completed training as a bricklayer and policeman. This, because he could still train and for him there was “nothing more important than skiing”. He was able to fulfil his dream: from 1967 he spent the whole year on skis, flying from one destination to the next or he travelled by ship: he still remembers the long journey on the “Prinz Eugenia” from Genua to Chile vividly. He had to indulge in doing nothing and appear at dinner in a dinner jacket.

Once he arrived in the port of Buenos Aires, his journey continued by train right across Argentina. Then he changed to the Andes Railway which winds up to a pass on the border to Chile at nearly 4000 metres above sea level. From there he descended to the winter sports’ village Portillo, situated at 2860 metres above sea level. There was no snow lying there so the guests had to be brought up to the pass every day in army trucks where Sturm gave lessons on a snow field. The ski instructor brought the Chilean youth team to the south of the country: from Osorno they had to roam through the jungle until they eventually caught sight of an Alpine Association hut with a small, neighbouring drag lift. 

From professional skier to “Father of the Little Miracle”

”An Austrian Guide, how wonderful!” Sturm often heard overseas. There, in the 60s, the upper classes were wild about this new, exciting sport and the Austrians with their fantastic technique. Sturm was now a ski instructor and trainer in several states in the USA, in Boyne Mountain (Michigan), Killington (Vermont), Bristol Mountain (New York) as well as Red Lodge (Montana). If it was summer there, the head ski instructor moved to wintery Australia. He was also a youth trainer in North America, together with Austria’s ski greats Toni Sailer, Anderl Molterer and Pepi Stiegler. At the same time he entered the new professional ski sport and achieved many podium places in the USA, Australia and Japan. However love brought him back to the Alpine Republic in the 70s: he married Greti from St. Martin bei Lofer and became head ski instructor in Hinterglemm. From 1976 – 1980 he took over the leadership of the Austrian ladies’ national team and gave the skiers a new polish with his new, unconventional training style in slalom. As one of his pupils, Lea Sölkner, became the slalom world champion in 1978 he stood quietly in the finish area and rejoiced. As the “man behind the ski success” and the “father of the little miracle” he was celebrated in the media. The crowning achievement of his ski training career came when Annemarie Moser-Pröll claimed the gold medal in downhill in the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. In 1987, Sturm founded his ski school and ski hire in Lofer. In the 90s he was chairman of the local Tourist Association where he helped to merge the four villages  Lofer-St. Martin-Unken-Weißbach into today’s “TVB Salzburger Saalachtal“. His two sons, Wolfgang and Christoph who took over the business in 2005, are also creative minds. With the new construction of the business premises and the extension of the facilities to include a sports’ shop, the expansion of the ski hire with a top modern ski store and Café Bobo’s, they are setting new standards in terms of winter sports’ services. The Skischule Sturm has received several awards as “Best Ski School”, “Best Rent & Shop” as well as “Best Children’s Offer”.

By the way, the Almenwelt Lofer is the perfect ski area for beginners, returners and families. It received an award from Skiresort.de, the largest test portal for ski areas, as the test winner 2020 in the areas “Extra class: world’s leading ski area up to 60 km of pistes” and “Best new lift”. You can find information about the family ski area here at  skialm-lofer.com

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