Remembering Herta Schneider Fahrner
Herta Schneider Fahrner, daughter of the late skimeister Hannes Schneider, sister of Herbert, sister-in-law of Doris, wife of the late mayor of St. Anton Franz Fahrner, aunt and great-aunt to the Schneider children and grandchildren, and much more to untold others, passed away in her sleep at her home in St. Anton, Austria, March 26, 2001.
An integral part of North Conway's skiing history, more by association than by her own escapades, Herta actually rarely skied. She preferred ice skating, she told me last year when I had the privilege of visiting with her and Herbert in St. Anton. But she knew all of the great skiers of those beginning years of the sport. She spoke freely and fondly of skiing legends Otto Lang, Benno Rybizka, Toni Matt, Friedl Pfeifer -- they were childoon friends of hers. All honed their skiing skills under her father's tutelage.
Herta first came to Mt. Washington Valley in 1939 with no knowledge of the English language and very little of New England, New Hampshire, or even the United States. She said she was a shy but fun-loving 18-year-old, uprooted from her sheltered and happy life in the picturesque Arlberg by war and her father's celebrity. She was in the background of that famous photo of the Schneiders being welcomed under cross ski poles when they arrived in North Conway.
Within in less than a year of that grand entrance, her mother died of cancer, leaving the three Schneiders to cling to each other's company as they adjusted to their new life in the White Mountains instead of the Alps. Herta got to reenact that pivotal time in her life in 1989 when she stood in for her mother in the 50th anniversary celebration of her father's triumphant arrival in North Conway.
Unlike her father and brother, however, Herta never quite adjusted to life in the States and decided to return to St. Anton following the war. She married and lived a full and gracious life: a tiny, but respected figure in the village where skiing was born.
Over two dinners during my visit to Austria in the spring of 2000, I got to listen to both Herta and Herbert reminisce about their father, the early years of skiing and the effect of two wars on their family's life. They described a way of life and a personal history of overcoming hardships that few have experienced.
Herta showed me the small house in Stuben where Hannes Schneider (whose real name was Johann, but was changed to be more "glamorous"), the son of a farmer, was born. She told me her father had fought in World War I, spending two years on the Russian front -- an even greater reason for him to be so outspoken about the Nazis and the growing unrest in Austria.
Both she and Herbert recalled her father's growing celebrity.
"The movies really helped promote him in the ski industry," she said, noting that the producers of "The Fox Chase" had to search all over Europe to find 15 people able to ski fast enough to keep up with her father "By the end of the '20s, father had 30 ski instructors and had put a system into teaching skiing," she added.
Herta and Herbert told of the uncertainty of the months when their father was imprisoned in Berlin and of their rapid flight from Austria, leaving all behind them.
Appropriately proud of her hometown, Herta did not dwell on past exploits. During my 2000 visit, she pointed out growth and progress in the town. (St. Anton buried and moved its train tracks, a la the Big Dig, but completed it on time and under budget!) As an unofficial representative of the Arlberg, she made me feel completely at home and I truly hope she felt as welcome here more than 62 [now 82] years ago. The world has lost a true lade. My condolences to the Schneider family of North Conway.