Who is Walter Foeger and What is Natur Teknik?

While in Spain as coach of their Olympic team in the late 40’s and early 50’s, Foeger decided to test his new theories on a few classes of beginning skiers, while still teaching other classes the conventional way (snowplow). The results, he found, were dramatically in favor of this different approach. When he came to Jay Peak, he further developed his new system which relied on the natural counter-rotational movements of the upper and lower body while walking, or in sports such as tennis and hockey (sports at which Walter also excelled), and Natur Teknik was officially launched. (A brief description of the Natur Teknik method is given below).

In 1958 in the USA Walter Foeger published ‘Learn To Ski In a Week,’ a concise and well-illustrated book. Here Foeger described in detail how a complete novice could progress, in a 7-day ski week, from basic exercises to linked parallel turns in the fall line on a moderate slope. The sequences were laid out as follows (in abbreviated form): Day 1 – basic exercises; Day 2 – skating, stationary ‘hop’ turns, traverse with hop Turns to the Mountain (TM); Day 3 – TM’s with hops at varying speeds, side-sliding (-slipping), connected TM’s with kick turns; Day 4 – TM’s with side-sliding, stop turns with hops from fall line; Day 5 – stop turns, side-sliding on steeper slopes, short ‘wedel’ hop turns in fall line; Day 6 – Downhill (DT) turns with hops on gentle slope, DT turns with side-sliding; Day 7 – continuous DT turns moderate slopes, short DT turns, stop (or hockey) turns, continuous DT turns on moderate trails.

In more detail, Foeger’s parallel Downhill Turn was executed thus: for a left-hand turn the skier was in a balanced position in a traverse to the right, with weight slightly forward, on the inside (uphill) edge of the downhill (or left) ski, uphill (right) ski, shoulder and arm slightly advanced, downhill (left) arm and shoulder trailing. The upper body was bent lightly at the waist out over the downhill ski in a ‘comma’ position, chest facing partially downhill. At the start of the turn the skier made a down, up and forward action (a hop, or coiling-uncoiling) to unweight his/her ski tails which, while unweighted, were shifted sideways in a heel thrust to the outside (to the right) of the new turn. The skis were pivoted about their tips, which never left the snow; the unweighting, pivot, and heel thrust accomplished an edge change.

To counter the twisting of the lower body, the upper body would follow with an equal but opposite twist. The upper body was now leaning out over the right (or new downhill) ski in a mirror-image of the former ‘comma’ position. As the skis touched the snow at an angle to the original traverse on new edges, the skier absorbed the small impact of landing by sinking softly down in the knees and ankles, weight now on the opposite (or right) ski, inside edge, and still forward. The sideways thrust was feathered with a smooth and controlled side-slide about the ski tips to produce a rounded turn, ending in a traverse to the left. (All the above can be more elegantly demonstrated than explained).

As the student progressed with practice, confidence, and increased speed, the initial hop, or lifting of the ski tails, was reduced, then eliminated,. Skills of fore-aft and side-to-side balance, edge-control, side-sliding, and down-up-down unweighting (rather than hopping) were increasingly stressed as the ski-week progressed. Natur Teknik taught a skier parallel turns without the use of snowplow or stem.

This refreshing method of teaching skiing became a great success, with the newly converted making the pilgrimage from Philadelphia, Manhattan, and Boston to learn to ‘wedeln’ (sorry folks … wedeln used to mean short rapid parallel turns in the fall line, and was the smooth-slope precursor of today’s free-style on the bumps). Wedeln was very popular at the time – and Sonny (Laurent) Cote (Natur Teknik instructor no 12, class of 1960) of Montgomery Center, VT, was arguably its master at Jay Peak – hence the name of one of the Center’s most popular night spots at the time – Johnny Kennet’s ‘The Wedel Inn’.

Ski Instructor's course December 1960

Ski Instructor’s course December 1960 (L to R): Pat Pine, Dean Loukes, George Stepanek, Betsy Hanley, Fred Nussbaum, Chic Case, Ellsworth Moore, Tom Emrich, Dave Baker, Al Harrington, Sybil Gagnon, Franz Smith, D. Shepard, and Laurent (Sonny) Cote; Walter Foeger (kneeling) in front (Photo courtesy of John Mahoney)

With foresight, Walter had early on begun to teach others to teach his method. He held his first official instructor’s course in March 1959 at Jay Peak, with Newport’s Winston LeRoy (high school teacher and ski coach) and Montgomery Center’s Hubert Daberer (the latter, along with his wife Caroline, was entrepreneur-extraordinaire behind the local Carinthia Lodge and Alpine Haven resorts, and the other contender for Jay’s wedeln crown) becoming instuctors nos. 1 and 2 (in actual fact, Ernie MacFarlane, Newport High School ski racer, was Walter’s earliest (non-certified) instructor, and Daberer his 1st full-time instructor). By the Spring of 1965 at a course given at Okemo Mountain, Walter had certified well over a hundred men and women to teach full time, and upwards of two hundred part-time instructors (both numbers would double in time.)

Jay Peak full-time instructors circa 1961

Jay Peak full-time instructors circa 1961 (in those fabulous sky-blue and red reversible jackets): (L to R) Dave Baker, Joe Ehrler, Alden Blanchard, Franz Smith, Walter Foeger (in darker jacket), Ellsworth Moore, Sybil Gagnon, George Cunnius, Tom Emrich, Laurent (Sonny) Cote, and Denis Godin. (Photo courtesy of D. Godin)

Many ski areas were clamoring to have Natur Teknik ski schools. And Walter obliged them. He sent Ellsworth Moore of Swanton, (instructor no. 6, class of 1960) to Camelback Mountain, PA; George Stepanek of Sutton, Quebec, (instructor no. 15, class of 1961) to Thunder Mountain, NY; and Fred Diette (Instructor no. 52, class of 1963) to Okemo, in southern VT. Eventually Natur Teknik would be taught at more than a dozen ski centers, in three countries, with many thousands of skiers taking lessons at Jay Peak during the 1966-67 and 1967-68 seasons alone. Morten Lund, SKI Magazine’s editor, dubbed him ‘the original teacher of direct parallel’ in this country.

Okemo Mt. (Ludlow, Vt.) ski school assembly area circa 1964

Okemo Mt. (Ludlow, Vt.) ski school assembly area circa 1964; Walter Foeger second from R. (Photo courtesy Fred Diette, Ski School Director)

Camelback Mt. (Pa.), ski school assembly area in 1965

Camelback Mt. (Pa.), ski school assembly area in 1965 (L to R): Don Rohrbach, Judy Pover, Chipper Casperson, Joey Amato, Leo Smith, Ellsworth Moore, Pam Conklin, Marilyn Hertz and Fred Diette (Photo courtesy Marilyn Hertz, Ski School Director)

From 1957 to 1966 Jay Peak had undergone great changes, and offered more and more to the customer. But skiing is a tough business and to entice skiers a successful management has to offer something more than the area down the road (or across the border). An aerial tramway would be something grand, a touch of Alpine Europe, that would make Jay Peak stand out from the crowd. Always dreaming in color, and with a flair for the dramatic, Walter felt that Jay Peak could be the premier all-season recreational area on this coast with the right, timely, investment – but investment was lacking – BIG investment. It may have been here that Walter unwittingly sowed the seeds of his own destruction (with the good of the area, not his own, foremost in his thoughts).