Gene must've been smiling down on the mountain over the weekend. With blue skies, light winds, and soft, buttery snow, the conditions were perfect Saturday, as Mount Ashland Ski Area paid tribute to their fallen comrade, Gene Landsmann.
Situated at the mountain's terrain park next to the Comer chairlift, the second annual Gene Landsmann Day featured massive jumps, big air and even bigger smiles across the faces of every racer and daredevil who swished down the soft, moist snow. Next to the massive jumps was a friendly, un-timed dual slalom open to any skiers that wanted to compete. The day culminated with a kielbasa barbecue cook-off on the lodge deck.
The event was a fitting celebration to Landsmann and his legacy to Mt. A.
Originally from Tyrol, Austria, Landsmann was a member of the Austrian "B" national team. Skiing gained popularity in the United States after World War II, and ski areas began employing Austrian skiers as instructors. Landsmann originally worked at Sugarbush Ski Resort in Vermont. He came west to Sun Valley, Idaho, where he ran their racing program until 1974, when he took the position of ski school and race department director at a small ski area in Southern Oregon called Mount Ashland.
"I was here a year before Gene got here," remembered Mike Dadaos, Mount Ashland's special events manager. "We all thought we were pretty cocky ski instructors. We all had a lot of hair and a lot of denim shirts, and Gene showed up with his Austrian accent fresh from Sun Valley — white turtleneck, all the right clothes — looking very professional. We thought we'd show him the way of Oregon. Once we saw him ski and got to know him, we all wanted to be like Gene."
Skiers and snowboarders came from places far beyond the Rogue Valley to participate in the day and share fond memories of Landsmann and how he touched the their lives.
"Gene taught me everything I knew," said Frank Koster, former Mt. A ski school instructor and current high school coach for Summit High School in Bend. "I can honestly say that if it wasn't for Gene, I wouldn't be in Bend doing what I'm doing now, which is skiing through most of the winter."
Landsmann retired from the mountain in 2003. In the 34-year span that he skied at Mt. A. he touched the lives of many who frequented the mountain, both young and old.
"He was definitely part of my childhood," said Camilla Thorndike, a former MARA coach in town for spring break. Sporting a vintage red and blue knit ski sweater fit with white racing stripes and elbow pads, Thorndike's attire was fitting for remembering the mountain's old-school Austrian. "He taught me how to ski, he took me down to Shasta once, he knew my mom really well when she was a ski school instructor. Mt. Ashland has a good tradition of honoring people and Gene was so important here."
When asked about early memories of Gene on the mountain, answers almost always began with hearty laughs as fragments of Gene's antics flashed through their minds.
"We used to have a 'Ski University,'" remembered Rick Saul, "where we would critique the form of skiers and give them tips on better technique. We liked to focus on the positives they were doing that we liked, but Gene had a way giving it to them straight. He would say things like, 'You should see if you can get your money back for your ski pole, because you aren't even using it, it's not even touching the snow,' which would always get big laughs from everyone."
"Coming up for a clinic before the season started to get our ski school in order, and I am wearing a Levi jacket, stretch pants, sweater and a ball cap on, and this is the old days, okay?" remembered Koster. "Gene looks at me and he says 'You're supposed to be a professional ski instructor! Get rid of that jacket, this is not a motorcycle gang, or a bunch of cowboys.' So Gene taught us EVERYTHING about the industry."
"The memories are just non-stop," added Koster. "But there's a lot of stuff that I flat out don't remember, if you know what I mean."