A class in "class’
In the spring of 1950 I headed for Europe and a formal education at L’Ecole Hôteliere de Lausanne, the Swiss school of hotel management that is still ranked as the best in the world for producing truly superb hoteliers.
The first problem – How was a nearly broke ski racer going to afford such a high-class Continental education? I turned to the GI Bill, which had created a generously funded program for World War II veterans that offered free education of every kind, from automotive repair to molecular biology.
The second problem – All courses at the Ecole were taught in French, and mon français was tres minimale, to say the least. So I took a summer crash course in Berlitz French in Lausanne, Switz., then more language studies at the University of Grenoble in France.
After a winter of ski racing and French studies in France, I entered L’Ecole Hôteliere, where for three years I studied the fine art of hotel management, from front office functions to the work of chambermaids. During the summers I worked in luxury hotels, such as the Lausanne Palace and the Beau Rivage. I dressed like a true-to-life hotel employee, wearing chef’s whites and a big toque in the kitchen, black tie for waiting tables, and a gray wool suit with white shirt and conservative necktie at the reception desk.
Even though I buried myself in the academics of hotel work, I wasn’t exactly the class drudge. I was living in the heart of the Alps, with ski areas at every point of the compass. I used my weekends to ski just for the joy of it, or often to race. In the winter of 1951, during my studies in Grenoble, I had raced in the French university championships in Chamonix and finished first in the downhill, slalom and combined. In the winter of 1952, I entered the Grand Prix de Chamonix against a world-class field, finishing 10th in the slalom.
The final race of that season was the famous Arlberg Kandahar. All the big-name alpine racers were there, from the great young Norwegian Stein Eriksen to the graceful Austrian Anderl Molterer. I borrowed a pair of downhill skis from James Couttet, a former world champion who owned a sport shop in Chamonix-an extremely fast, very stiff pair of 220-centimeter Dynamics. At first they were great, carrying me at barely controlled speeds toward the final schuss. Then one of those high-octane skis skidded ever so slightly as I hit the last drop, and I lost control in full view of a hundred racing fans watching from the finish line. I flew up into the air; hit the snow and bounced high; hit the snow and bounced again; then hit the snow for the third time and watched as my left ski soared over the crowd into the trees.
The spectators watched this melodramatic fall in shocked silence, sure that I must have sustained some serious injuries as I bounced and rolled. But I rose unhurt.
The roar of the spectators echoed off the surrounding Alps -“Vive l’Americain!”
I pretty much gave up racing that day.
The following is the 30th installment of the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” by Vail Pioneer and Founder Pete Seibert. This excerpt comes from Chapter Six, entitled “Goodbye Aspen; Hello, Reality.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.