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Jay Peak Pioneer Walter Foeger Passes Away

Walter Foeger (right), one of the early pioneers of Jay Peak Ski Area, died in Vienna, Austria on February 10. With Foeger in this photo is Bill Stenger, the current president of Jay Peak Ski and Summer Resort.

The man who helped shape the Jay Peak Ski and Summer Resort in its early days and who was inducted into the United States Ski Hall of Fame in Ishpeming, Michigan, on April 28, 2006, passed away on February 10, 2007 in Nickeldorf, Austria. Walter Foeger worked at Jay Peak between 1956 and 1968, much of the time serving as its general manager.

Foeger was also known for his innovative ski method known as Natur Teknik, a method of skiing and teaching far different than anything of the time. Although viewed as unorthodox when first introduced, not only was his method eventually accepted, but many embraced it. In addition to skiing, he was a champion hockey player and tennis player.

The native of Austria arrived in Jay Peak in 1956. Not one to mince words, he didn’t forget what was important while at Jay – the ski mountain.

“Walter Foeger was truly a dominant, bigger than life promoter of skiing and a man who loved Jay Peak with a passion,” Bill Stenger said.” He noted that the “Jay Peak Family” is saddened by the news of Foeger’s passing. Stenger is the current president of the resort.

Foeger is survived by his daughter Eva Foeger Duvillard, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He will be buried February 17th in Nickeldorf, Austria.

An Austrian by birth, Foeger began his life on skis at an early age. He distinguished himself as a fierce competitor at a young age. During World War II he served in the German Wehrmacht (Army) as a member of the elite mountain ski troops.

With the war behind him, and a growing reputation in the competitive ski world, in 1956 the battle hardened veteran accepted an offer to lend his expertise to a fledgling ski area in Vermont. That ski area was Jay Peak. He didn’t hide his utter astonishment at what he found at the mountain when he arrived. What he thought he was going to find was a ski resort that just needed a bit of help. Instead, what he found was a ski area that consisted of little more than a trail hacked out of the side of the mountain and a Poma lift to transport skiers to the top of the trail. The buildings at the ski area were little more than cold shacks. Working shoulder to shoulder with the locals, Foeger helped transform the mountain into a destination ski area.

“Walter was a driving force in the early developing years of Jay Peak in the 1960’s,” Stenger said. “He, with Harold Haynes and other community leaders, expanded Jay Peak from a small community operation to one of regional significance and international stature.”

“Walter was inducted into the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame this past spring in Ishpeming, Michigan and was honored by the museum’s Board of Directors as one of North American’s true pioneers of alpine skiing,” Stenger said. “It took vison, passion and at times an intense determination to see ski resorts like Jay Peak flourish in the 1960’s. Walter’s character epitomized these characteristics and he is one very big reason Jay Peak is what it is today.”

Promoters of the fledgling ski resort used Foeger’s name to attract national attention.

Following his departure from Jay Peak in 1968, Foeger worked for a number of U.S. ski resorts in the eastern United States.

Harold Haynes, one of the pioneers of the resort who passed away last year, always had kind words for Foeger. In an interview in the days leading up to Foeger’s induction into the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame, and only days before his own death, Haynes praised Austrian ski expert.

“He certainly deserves the recognition,” Haynes said. The North Troy man was one of a small band of area residents who dreamed of transforming the forested slopes of Jay Mountain into a ski area. But Haynes was quick to point out that whereas he and his local colleagues had the desire to build a ski area, Foeger had the knowledge and the experience.

“Walter had a vision,” Haynes said. He knew what he wanted.”

Haynes was proud of the ski area and his involvement in its early years. “It just seemed like the thing to do when you have a mountain like that in your backyard,” he said. Although many people in the region supported the idea, others laughed at Haynes and his friends. “In the beginning some people thought we were damn fools to think up such an idea.” But in time, he said most of the people came around, especially when the dream started to become reality.

“I wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t been lucky enough to get Walter,” Haynes said. “He certainly was a godsend. Talk about a spark plug, he was a real go-getter.”

By all accounts, Foeger was a man driven by a vision for the mountain. A no-nonsense businessman, he had no patience for idle talk, and he wasn’t afraid to disagree with those around him if he thought they were losing sight of the vision that he had in mind. Not everybody liked Foeger or his management style. Some people found him arrogant and uncompromising. Foeger’s friend of several decades, Hubert Daberer of Montgomery, who deeply mourns the loss of his friend of many decades, admits that his friend had a forceful personality.

Foeger is seen here, circa late 50s or 60s, far left, teaching a group of students during his time at Jay Peak.

“When Walter was at Jay he was made of steel and concrete,” Daberer said. “That is just the way he was. Whatever he thought, he said it. He didn’t have two faces. He never talked behind anybody’s back, and he’d never say good to people than stab them in the back. He said what he thought right to their face whether you liked it or not.”

Daberer served alongside Foeger in the Wehrmacht during a portion of the war. “He was a tough guy,” Daberer said. “You didn’t mess with him, but he was always straight and always honest.”

The Montgomery man arrived in the Jay area in 1958 at the urging of Foeger. Daberer was hired as the mountain’s first full-time ski instructor

“Walter did so much for skiing,” Daberer said I know some people don’t like to hear it, but if Walter hadn’t come I wouldn’t be here today, Alpine Haven wouldn’t be here today, and probably the ski area would still just have a little Poma lift like when Walter came here.”

While Walter Foeger has now passed on, the mountain resort that he helped create is now a multi-seasonal resort which attracts visitors from around the world.

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