Snows­ports Hall of Fame In­ductees

Alpine News - - Contents - By Steve Cuff

THREE snow in­dus­try iden­ti­ties were in­ducted into the Snows­ports In­dus­tries of Aus­tralia (SIA) hall of fame at the an­nual snow trade show in Can­berra last Oc­to­ber.

Peter Zirknitzer from Zirky’s fame at Hotham, Bert Lei­betseder, a long time whole­saler who in­tro­duced Car­rera to Aus­tralia, and Ge­off Sawyer, who is re­garded as the founder of snow­board­ing in Aus­tralia, were present for their awards.

They join Vivienne Green, Hans Grimus and Larry Adler who were in­ducted in 2015.

Peter Zirknitzer, or sim­ply Zirky as he is re­ferred to, was a 30 year old in­struc­tor when he ar­rived at Hotham from Aus­tria in 1963. In those early days at Hotham, Zirky im­me­di­ately be­came in­volved with the Alpine Ski Club where he started in­struct­ing the die-hard skiers and boost­ing in­struc­tor ranks to two.

He was hon­oured to ac­cept the award but said, “I think it’s won­der­ful, I just don’t quite know whether I de­served it or not, or if I did enough for it.”

The re­sort in­stalled a poma lift to the Sum­mit in 1965, snow ploughs were in­tro­duced in 1966/67 which opened the road and club lodges started open­ing in the 70s and 80s.

He started build­ing Zirky’s in the 70s, start­ing as a snack bar and ski hire and vis­ited banks to bor­row money where they all thought he was mad. He did re­ceive a $2000 loan and he was able to start build­ing.

He con­tin­ued to build in be­tween re­turn­ing to Aus­tria to teach ski­ing, make money and re­turn to ex­pand his ho­tel.

“It just grew and grew, and then they built the apart­ments in 1999-2000, so there’s about 200 beds there now, so it is a rea­son­able size place, it’s good.”

Peter met Heather McTyre in one of his ski classes where they fell in love and mar­ried in 1971. They have three chil­dren who all grew up at Hotham and who were at the awards cer­e­mony.

To­day daugh­ter An­neleis runs Zirky’s, a thriv­ing après bar and restau­rant with 30 self-con­tained apart­ments, ski in ski out ac­cess, a bou­tique shop and ski hire. Peter and Heather still ski reg­u­larly at Hotham dur­ing lo­cal win­ters and over­seas.

Zirky said, “I love ski­ing, it is the only thing I can do rea­son­ably well, I may as well do it.”

You will still find Zirky on the premises dur­ing win­ter where he said “I make sure they drink enough.”

Bert Lei­betseder ar­rived in Aus­tralia and started ski in­struct­ing at Per­isher in 1973.

In 1978 he started to de­velop the Car­rera busi­ness in Aus­tralia, mar­ket­ing their sports eye­wear and in par­tic­u­lar Car­rera gog­gles. Bert was given one year to prove to Car­rera that he would make it a suc­cess which he cer­tainly did and more.

In 1982 he mar­ried wife Rose­mary who worked along­side Bert in the suc­cess­ful busi­ness.

He was a keen racer and in 1986 founded the Aus­tralian Masters Alpine Tour Com­pany and the Aus­tralian Masters Alpine Ski Cham­pi­onships. From 1986- 1987 he was direc­tor of Ski In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia (SIA), and vice pres­i­dent from 1987-1990.

Bert was in­stru­men­tal in the de­sign of the Car­rera Ul­trasight ski gog­gle lens con­cept, which was voted best new prod­uct at the Aus­tralian Ski Awards in 1989. The gog­gle is be­ing ex­hib­ited at the Syd­ney Pow­er­house Mu­seum’s data­base of Aus­tralian in­ven­tions and is fea­tured in the book To­mor­row’s World – The Aus­tralian Ini­tia­tive.

His busi­ness grew from 1978 un­til 2006 by adding more brands and equip­ment in­clud­ing Head skis, Ty­ro­lia bind­ings, Toko waxes and Win­ter­steiger tun­ing ma­chines.

As an avid ski racer, Bert would com­pete in var­i­ous masters ski races both in Aus­tralia and over­seas, where he ac­cu­mu­lated many medals. Bert was also a fore­run­ner at the Thredbo World Cup races in 1989.

Af­ter a brief re­tire­ment, Bert re­turned to the snow in­dus­try where he helps peo­ple im­prove their ski­ing through his Ski­met­ric pro­gram. Apart from help­ing peo­ple ski bet­ter and as­sist race in­di­vid­u­als and teams, Bert builds spe­cial ski boots for peo­ple who have had ac­ci­dents, help­ing them to ski again.

“It’s a very big hon­our and a sur­prise I must say, be­cause you never think about these things,” said Bert.

“And it feels re­ally good af­ter spend­ing lit­er­ally a life­time work­ing in the scene, projects and do­ing well in the ski busi­ness to get this kind of recog­ni­tion, I feel re­ally, re­ally good about that.”

Ge­off Sawyer spent a few years over­seas in the early 1980s and re­turned to Aus­tralia in 1985 armed with a few Bur­ton and Sims snow­boards.

“I was liv­ing at Aspen High­lands at the time, I met some of the Bur­ton team riders and went and met Jake (Bur­ton), and said I want to im­port boards,” said Ge­off.

It was a dif­fi­cult be­gin­ning to be ac­cepted and Per­isher man­age­ment at the time were not quite sure about this new con­cept of snow­board­ing, so Sawyer ended up at Thredbo where in rode the 1985 sea­son.

Try­ing to pro­mote this new sport, Sawyer ar­rived at the 1985 SIA trade show in Can­berra with a box of fly­ers. Not be­ing al­lowed into the show, Ge­off parked his panel van in the carpark and pro­ceeded to show peo­ple his snow­boards from the van.

The fol­low­ing sum­mer he pro­duced a film, ‘Be­yond the Snowy River’, filmed in the back­coun­try in­clud­ing ski­ing, snow­board­ing and tele­mark ski­ing.

“I looked at it in ret­ro­spect and went well yeah, I set up all the as­so­ci­a­tions, all the teach­ings, setup the first im­port­ing and I set up the whole rac­ing,” said Ge­off.

“In among all those ar­eas I had to do a lot of ne­go­ti­a­tions with moun­tains and ba­si­cally set up every­thing for the sport to hap­pen.

“At the end of the day I just did what I did, the sport it­self is what be­came pop­u­lar, I just sort of gave it a struc­ture to be able to work in, and I was happy to do it. Maybe I should have con­cen­trated more on busi­ness and I might have still been here 20 or 30 years later.”

With guid­ance from the Ski School Ge­off started pri­vate teach­ing at Thredbo in 1986. This same year he started the NSW Snow­board As­so­ci­a­tion as chair­man. Vic­to­ria then cre­ated their own as­so­ci­a­tion, the Snow­board Fed­er­a­tion of Aus­tralia where Ge­off presided as chair­man.

In 1987 snow­board teach­ing was an of­fi­cial part of the Thredbo Ski School, ex­ams were con­ducted at Falls Creek and in 1987 Ge­off dis­trib­uted snow­boards.

He started his own shop in Jind­abyne in 1991 called the Snow­board Hospi­tal which op­er­ated un­til 1994 when Ge­off then stepped away from the in­dus­try.

Those early years when Ge­off in­tro­duced snow­board­ing were piv­otal in de­vel­op­ing the sport to the level and pop­u­lar­ity of where snow­board­ing is to­day in Aus­tralia.

“I went to that 30 year re­union (Thredbo 2016), and it’s been ten years since I have been to Thredbo, and my god the amount of peo­ple snow­board­ing on that hill that day en­joy­ing them­selves, it was great to see.”


PHOTO: Steve Cuff

◆ PROUD: Peter Zirknitzer, Ge­off Sawyer and Bert Lei­betseder were in­ducted into the SIA Hall of Fame.

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