Who is Walter Foeger and What is Natur Teknik?

Perry Merrill, VT State Forester, left, and Harold Haynes, Jay Peak Inc. president

Perry Merrill, VT State Forester, left, and Harold Haynes, Jay Peak Inc. president, directing clearing of the ‘Open Slope’ in July of 1956. Behind them is one of Richard Pope’s cutting crew from Eden, VT (Photo courtesy Richardson / Newport Daily Express)

That winter (1956-57) Walter sold lift tickets and hot dogs alongside Newport’s Don McNally, Jay’s first mountain manager, and alone taught gargantuan classes with upwards of 50 student skiers. He groomed trails with a large, almost homicidal, hand-towed roller-device. As winter turned to spring, Walter was a dynamo, climbing the mountain more than a hundred times to lay out trails and lifts: the 2-mile-long ‘Montreal Trail’, the expert ‘Giant Slalom Trail’ (soon after renamed the ‘Haynes’), and the extension of the ‘Poma’ to the top the east peak were completed before the 1957-58 ski season started. And Walter was a dreamer – as Andy Pepin of Newport (lawyer and secretary-treasurer of the young Jay Peak, Inc.) recalls, ‘We often had to hold him down to earth, and burst some of the balloons of his flights of fancy’ (with a prick of reality, or the young corporation might have over-inflated).

Jay Peak's first mountain manager Don McNally fishing for Northern Vermont's legendary fur-bearing trout

Jay Peak’s first mountain manager Don McNally fishing for Northern Vermont’s legendary fur-bearing trout (Photo courtesy Richardson Studio, Newport, VT)

But Foeger couldn’t be stopped entirely. Night skiing was also introduced in the winter of 1957-58 (with the help of Al Flory again). The following year saw the installation of the ‘Jet’ T-bar and more trails; and the new ‘Bonaventure’ (Muehler) double-chairlift to the saddle on the west flank of Jay Peak, opening-up skiing on all three peaks (of the northeast basin) for the 1960-61 season. And on it went.

And of course there was always promotion: to bring in investment, and skiers. Walter did not shrink from the task of attracting either. Somewhat of an amateur artist, he created an oil painting of his concept of the future area (the painting was featured in SKI Magazine, and later became known locally as ‘Walter’s Picasso’) for an early Kiwanis fund-raiser at the Hotel Reba, in North Troy.

Walter's 'Picasso' which first appeared in the December 1957 issue of Ski Magazine

Walter’s ‘Picasso’ which first appeared in the December 1957 issue of Ski Magazine, and put on display on promotional tours in Montreal, Boston and New York (Photo courtesy Dana Blanchard, Newport)

His efforts aided the Kiwanis Club and Father George St. Onge of North Troy in amassing $15,000 on one drive alone (Fr. St. Onge’s unflagging ‘boosting’ and belief in the future of the area were honored by the ‘St. George’s Prayer’ trail ( now just an unused remnant remains above the ‘Northway’ trail) running from the top of the old ‘Bonaventure’ chairlift to intersection with the ‘Montreal’ trail). Walter made the rounds at the fall ski shows, traveling from Boston, to New York, to Philadelphia, to Montreal, tirelessly promoting the area. He took along his Austrian charm, his obvious skiing expertise, and the ski films of Jay Peak and Natur Teknik made by Montgomery Center filmmakers Bill and Libby Sylvester. As a result of these efforts the crowds came, sometimes almost overwhelming even the resources of enterprising Elinor Huckabone, of North Troy, clerk of Jay Peak Accommodations, Inc.

They came because Jay was a serious skiing mountain, in a true snowbelt, with 1800 feet of ski-able elevation – all of it above the magic 2000-foot mark. And Jay was ‘a skier’s mountain’ (only the hardy need apply), Walter saw to that. Frank Donahue of Richford (father of Jay Peak ski racer Dave Donahue, and, at 81, the oldest standard bearer of Natur Teknik on the slopes of Jay today) attests: ‘I remember standing with Walter at the base of the ‘Bonaventure’ chairlift watching Mountain Dick (Lucier) load skiers on one of those cold Jay mornings. A lady from Stowe turned to Dick and asked about blanket robes for the ride up. Dick seemed at a loss for a reply, when Walter, who had been nearby, intervened, proudly proclaiming in his commanding voice, ‘I am zorry, vee haf no blankets’, he told the disappointed customer, ‘vee are tough here at Chay Peak’, pounding his barrel chest’.

Slopeside poster with the tongue-in-cheek warning: No snowplowing - Your Bowlegged Brother is Watching

Slopeside poster with the tongue-in-cheek warning: “No snowplowing – Your Bowlegged Brother is Watching” (Photo courtesy Hunt / Newport Daily Express)

But still they came, in droves, to Jay Peak, all the way from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Ontario and Quebec, because their self-christened ‘bowlegged brother from the mountain’ promised that they would ‘Learn To Ski in a Week’ or their money back (a promise he kept). Walter Foeger, by the way, was noticeably bowlegged (a fact that had never prevented this rock of a man from winning numerous top European ski races (e.g., the 1936 Hahnenkamm, junior division, downhill and combined) and commanding ski troops). With good humor and good showmanship, he often unselfconsciously made light of this distinguishing feature of his to break the ice.

Across the face of skiing in America and Europe in the late 1950’s and early ’60’s, there was largely a uniformity in ski teaching (which exists somewhat again today). Alone in the U.S., Walter Foeger had the courage to challenge the current gospel of first snowplow then stem-christie and finally parallel turns. It required a good deal of courage to brave the attacks and criticisms his method would receive from the skiing establishment for daring to go his own way. Gleaning from the various Austrian, French, and Swiss skiing techniques he had been exposed to in the 1920’s and 30’s, Walter kept only the best points of each and added his own. In a moment of serendipity he proposed a direct teaching approach to the holy grail of skiers – parallel skiing.

A young pupil of the Walter Foeger Natur Teknik Ski School circa 1962

A young pupil of the Walter Foeger Natur Teknik Ski School circa 1962 making a parallel Turn-to-the-Mountain (and wearing ‘beartrap’ bindings) (Photo courtesy Hunt / Newport Daily Express)