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