Who is Walter Foeger and What is Natur Teknik?

View through a hazy spring afternoon sky of Jay Peak from Southeast near Troy, VT,

View through a hazy spring afternoon sky of Jay Peak from Southeast near Troy, VT, circa 1968; the tramway 'Sky Haus' can be seen at top right of Big Jay (Photo courtesy Bill Stenger, Jay Peak)

Duane Lucier of Jay, VT, (former Jay Peak manager of lifts and trails, and Walter’s right hand man from ‘day one’, who accompanied Foeger on many a spur-of the-moment, marathon, promotional junket around the Northeast states, and Canada) remembers, ‘Someone asked me recently why we thought, way back then, that people would drive past all the other areas north and south of here just to ski in this neck of the woods. So, I answered him, ‘Well, y’ know, there’s a guy (another Walter by the way) who got people to drive thousands of miles to the middle of a swamp to see a mouse with big ears – named Mickey. Now, if y’ want’em to come, y’ve got to offer’em somethin’ diff’rent, and be a bit of a showman.’ Well that was Jay Peak – and that was Walter Foeger.’

March 1968 at Mount Shiga, Japan

March 1968 at Mount Shiga, Japan (L to R): Walter Foeger, Eiko and Kozo Fujishima, and Ellsworth Moore (Photo courtesy E. Moore)

For some time Walter had been talking to the owners of a large ski area in Japan – Mount Shiga. They were interested in offering his teaching method at their mountain and wanted him to make a demonstration tour. Arrangements were made and the trip was planned and approved for early 1968, after the Christmas rush. In the old days Walter would simply have made up his mind and gone. After all, he had built up an organization (and besides his other assets, Walter was acknowledged by many to be a superb organizer and manager) and the mountain staff could manage while he was away. This was too important, he felt, for the prestige and growth of Natur Teknik and Jay Peak. At the eleventh hour, he was told the plans must be changed, and that he could not go. Unswayed, Walter kept his commitments to his Japanese hosts, and accompanied by his number-one ski demonstrator, Ellsworth Moore, headed west to Japan. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history. When he returned in a month’s time his role in shaping Jay Peak had come to an end. And so would much of the record of his accomplishments there.

Detail from a hand-painted mural on wall of 'Föger Haus'

Detail from a hand-painted mural on wall of 'Föger Haus' (Dutchess Mt. logo) in Jay, VT. (Photo Courtesy Chuck & Cathy Norton)

Except for a short stint managing and directing the ski school at newly formed Dutchess Mountain in New York State in the early 70’s, and briefly, but seriously, investigating the idea of opening a cross border (US-Canada) ski area, Walter had left the ski world. The ski teaching association he had founded, ASTAN (American Ski Teachers Association of Natur Teknik), operated admirably by its new president Marilyn Hertz (Natur Teknik ski school director at Jack Frost, Big Boulder, and Camelback, PA) and original Jay Peak, Inc., secretary Alice Lewis (Derby’s Top-of-the-Hill Lodge owner and Foeger’s key office associate in running Jay Peak day-to-day), continued for many years, as did many of the other ski schools he had founded. At Jay Peak the Natur Teknik Ski School, the original, without its founder, had quickly metamorphosed (in name only, at first) into the ‘Jay-Way’ ski school by the ’69 -’70 season with George Stepanek (a Foeger protégé) at its head. Walter’s other ski schools were later operated for a time under the name of ‘The American Parallel System’ (soon Weyerhaeuser, wearying of running a ski resort in the 1970’s, sold Jay Peak to the Mont St. Sauveur group from Quebec).

Walter’s true love had been Jay Peak, but he had lost her. His heart was there, forever entwined with skiing. He sat down and wrote an autobiographical book about his life up to that point – ‘Through Heaven and Hell on Skis.’ Then, in his typical fashion, Walter turned the page and focused his energies elsewhere – becoming Vermont Seniors’ Tennis Champion many years running. During this period he enjoyed many happy hours with his old friend Sepp Ruschp, and his son Peter, and playing tennis at the Stowe Motel. A short time afterwards he returned to Austria to become the Director of the Austrian National Tennis Association (which he had co-founded after the war) guiding the careers of many future champions for many years, as well as continuing to paint and write (he has written more than eleven books to date).

Walter Foeger circa 1964

Walter Foeger circa 1964. 'The Milk Run' trail, a favorite of his, can be seen faintly behind, L. (Photo courtesy of Tom Emrich)

Now 86, and comforted by his daughter Eva (Jay Peak poster girl, trick skier, Austrian tennis champion and of course, Natur Teknik ski instructor) Walter Foeger looks back on a life full of accomplishments. He should be content. But there will always be Jay Peak – it has never really left his thoughts. Jay should have been his monument.

Maybe it is (though no trail at Jay Peak honors Foeger’s name and no photograph of him graces its walls).

Gathering of ASTAN alumni in September of 1999, at base of Jay Peak, to pay  tribute to Walter Foeger

Gathering of ASTAN alumni in September of 1999, at base of Jay Peak, to pay tribute to Walter Foeger, C. in yellow sweater, 'Tram Haus' on right (Photo courtesy Betsey Child, White River, NH)