Belmont Patch's feature, "Meet Your Neighbors," is just that – discovering more about fellow residents or people who work in town and make this community a nice place to live.
Ian Scully of Belmont
Ski instructor and award-winning documentary filmmaker.
Ian Scully wants to make sure awareness and memory of the skiing culture Austrians brought to the Americas continues for years to come.
An Austrian-American ski instructor and filmmaker, Ian did not start out with the intent of creating a wide-sweeping documentary on the history of Austria’s impact on alpine skiing in the Americas.
However, once he started researching ski history (right around the time he was going through the professional ski instructor’s exam himself) that related to his ancestral roots, Ian said: “One thing led to another.”
The result - numerous interviews with Austrian ski pioneers in the Americas that together serve the bases of a three-part, four-hour documentary series – is “Legacy: Austria’s Influence on American Skiing.”
The film series will be spotlighted as part of New Hampshire Public TV’s (NHPTV – Channel 11) Winter pledge drive next month and is part of a current exhibit at the Belmont Media Center at 9 Lexington St.
On Friday, Dec. 16, Scully will be available at the BMC Gallery from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. for an artist presentation and reception during which time he will answer any questions viewers may have about the series as well as sign DVDs of the series.
The message Ian wants portrays in this documentary series is that skiing is a way of life, a culture. And thus the name of his documentary film company: Culture Films LLC.
Since finishing the ski series in 2009, Ian has produced a number of other films related to agriculture including one on the Belmont Farmers' Market and another on Sergi Farm while continuing to teach skiing part-time.
“Austrians brought that [skiing culture] to the United States and it became part of what we call the melting pot of this country,” he said.
“Every immigrant and ethnic group has brought something special to U.S. And, in this case, I think that maybe the biggest gift that Austrians brought to this country was not only skiing know-how, but also ski culture.”
However, Ian points out, that vitality, culture and that legacy is disappearing as skiing becomes more and more commercialized with emphasis placed on real estate at the expense of the natural world and the alpine culture roots of the sport such as alpine music, the spirit of comrarderie and conviviality, and sport in the mountains.
The audience for the series, he believes, includes not only skiers – particularly instructors and racers – but also anyone interested in history.
Not just sport but a way of life
The series, Ian points out, is about portraying a culture; the culture of skiing and what it used to mean for Austria and, for a time, America as well.
“For Americans, skiing was and is really only important for those who live in the mountains or close to the mountains,” said the Belmont filmmaker.
“For Austrians, I came to conclusion that it is not just a sport but a way of life.”
And that, according to the Ian, “is where it appeals to a broader audience and, even more so, the person and experience of Hannes Schneider and his disciples (as they referred to themselves),” also the focus and title of the first part of the series.
“The documentary takes into account and helps to explain the times when (and where) they grew up and why so many Austrian skiers emigrated to the United States.”
With the Nazi takeover of their country in 1938, Ian said Austrian skiing pioneer Hannes Schneider and many of his disciples, followed later by a post World War II second generation of Austrian ski instructors, fled to the Americas
Once here, they imparted their Austrian ski culture to thousands of people as they taught them how to ski while coaching numerous American ski-racing stars and developing, managing and improving many of America’s premiere ski resorts
“Austria was particularly hit and bore the brunt of World War II,” said Ian who is half Austrian on his mother’s side and grew up in a bilingual and bicultural family.
“That had an effect and, sometimes for political and sometimes economic reasons, many Austrians (more so than other Scandinavian and Alpine countries) had reason to leave their homeland.”
After getting to know the Schneider family, who ran the ski school for years at Mt. Cranmore, which is just about 45 minutes from where Ian in part grew up in Franconia, N. H., he said to himself:
“If I don’t do it [document this history], no one is going to and then this history and culture will be lost.”
Ian spent countless hours conducting interviews, doing research and traveling to the various ski areas that the Austrians influenced: Aspen, Boyne Mt. Mt. Cranmore, Franconia, Jackson Hole, Portillo, Stowe, Stratton, Sugar Bowl, Sun Valley, Vail and Canadian Helicopter Skiing.
That led to his production of this award-winning three-part film series that begins with the story of how Schneider became known as the “Father of Modern Alpine Skiing” by starting his famous ski school and ski shop in St. Anton, Austria in the early 1900s, and then he and his self-proclaimed disciples, followed by a post-War World II generation of Austrian ski instructors, spread awareness of alpine skiing throughout the world by starring in ski movies, and practicing and preaching Austrian alpine ski technique throughout Europe and the Americas.
This interactive exhibit runs through the third week of January at the BMC featuring the film series with special emphasis on New England based segments that focus on Franconia and Mt. Washington Valley in New Hampshire, and Stowe and Stratton in Vermont, along with interviews, photographs, written works, plus DVDs and ski posters for sale.
For additional information about Ian Scully’s film, visit Culture Film LLC’s website at www.culturefilms.com
BMC is open noon to 8 p.m. on Monday to Friday and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday.