Erich Sailer’s Contribution to Ski Coaching in the U.S.

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U.S. Olympic Committee Ski Coach of the Year

Over the past half century few coaches in America have had such an impact, nationally and internationally, on alpine ski racing as Erich Sailer. As a junior coach for fifty-one years, he has coached over 25,000 young skiers and U.S. Ski Team members, many of whom have competed with the National Team in World Cup competitions and in the Olympics. During his coaching career, Erich Sailer founded four popular and effective racing programs at four different locations: at his home resort of Buck Hill, Minnesota as well as at ski racing camps, such as Mt. Hood, Oregon, Red Lodge, Montana, and Hintertux, Austria. Erich Sailer, who was recently inducted in the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame, has inspired dozens of world-class competitors to become coaches.

Born in Telfs in Tyrol, Erich Sailer began his skiing career at an early age. As a member of the Austrian National Class from 1948 through 1952, he placed many times at would now be World Cup races, like the Hahnenkamm and Kandahar races, etc. He became a ski  instructor with the famous St. Anton ski school.

In 1954, he came to America as Head Coach at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and in 1956, he became Assistant Ski School Director and PNSIA Examiner at Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood, Oregon. It was at Timberline where he co-founded in 1956 his first summer race camp. Previously, race camps had been private affairs for a select few, but the Mt. Hood camp was made available to many more. This served to widen the appeal of summer ski training. In 1967, Erich Sailer founded his second camp atop Beartooth Pass outside Red Lodge, Montana, the northeast entrance to Yellowstone Park. He partnered with Pepi Gramshammer from Innsbruck, Anderl Molterer from Kitzbühel and Toni Spiess from St. Anton. They had all participated in races together in Europe and they were his partners during the camp’s twenty-six years of existence. Not only was it the largest ski racing training camp in the country, “it had an Austrian note,” as Erich Sailer recalls. “We built it as an Austrian ski racing school committed to the idea of achieving and developing something significant. This was our mission and it was never a matter of money.”

Red Lodge offered up to four ten-day sessions and accepted 700 racers a summer. The Red Lodge camps actually encouraged the community to create a new U.S. ski village.  In 1993, Erich Sailer moved his summer camp back to Timberline Lodge where he continues as Director to this day.

In 1969, Erich Sailer moved to tiny Buck Hill, twelve miles south of Minneapolis, as head coach and race program director. Working with young skiers from the flatlands, he produced several hundred Junior National and Junior Olympic Team members and medalists, Collegiate All-Americans, and U.S. Ski Team members, including his own daughter, Martina. Skiers from his Buck Hill program have won twelve World Cup Races, fifteen have made the U.S. Ski Team and four have made Olympic teams. Today, everyone knows of Buck Hill, and the ski camps that Erich Sailer has put on the map.

In 1977, due to lack of snow in  Montana, Erich opened up a ski racing camp in Hintertux, Austria. He built the camp on permanent glaciers and named it the “Erich Sailer Ski Racing Camps”.  His racers trained adjacent to the courses of several European national teams. The cutting-edge World Cup racers were living lessons for students. The camp at Hintertux lasted fifteen seasons until 1994.

Erich Sailer had several special assignments with the U.S. Ski Team to prepare the team members for  World Cup competitions and championships. Erich Sailer’s passion for coaching has also produced twenty-three U.S. Masters National Championship winners.  He is a U.S. Ski Association (USSA) International Master Coach and in 1998, USSA named him “U.S. Domestic Coach of the Year” and the first “Development Coach of the Year.” That same year, the U.S. Olympic Committee awarded him “USOC Development Ski Coach of the Year.”  In May 2004, USSA gave Erich the Tom Reynolds Lifetime Achievement Award, a lifetime award for coaches. In 2005 he was inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame, class of 2005.

At the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 the entire U.S. women’s quota (four) in the Slalom competition were Erich’s proteges. Presently three of his former students are competing at the World Cup level. They are Lindsey Kildow-Vonn, Julia Mancuso and Resi Stiegler.

Although Erich Sailer’s life today centers around the U.S, he still maintains close ties to Austria and he returns each year to an apartment he owns in Telfs. “The older one becomes, the more one thinks about where one’s roots are,” he says upon reflection.  For Erich Sailer, his life work was about sharing the Austrian enthusiasm for skiing. “I am a Tyrolean”, he explains and coming from a country where skiing has a long tradition “we have held the Austrian flag high in skiing.” Austrians have had a tremendous influence on skiing, and they are part of modern skiing.

In the meantime, skiing has become a traditional sport in certain areas of the U.S, particularly Colorado, Utah, California, Washington State, and parts of the Midwest. As he explains, it is becoming more popular, like it is in Austria where it was always practiced. “Here, skiing has a younger history. People want to know more about skiing, but it is not like the Tyrol where people live and die for skiing”. Ski races have more significance in Austria and ski racers are very well known. In the U.S. a ski race is rarely shown on a major TV channel and very few are familiar with the names of skiers.

It is, however, gratifying to know that in the U.S. skiing is highly valued and promoted as a competitive sport for young people, something which has become more evident during the past years: “Parents want to give their children opportunities; they want their kids to grow up in a healthy and athletic environment. It gives them skills, discipline adn motivation. Skiing is excellent here in the U.S., and the ski areas are doing a great job with snowmaking and grooming the slopes. And Austria, of course, has played a great role in that”.