Ski women’s way
Sierra Sun sports editor
Babette Haueisen knew she wanted to be a teacher, just like her mother, but she discovered that she was better suited to do it in the snow than in a classroom.
“The snow grabbed me,” she said, recalling a love for skiing born at the age of 19 that swelled into a passion for instructing nine years later.
Over the next half-century, Haueisen would go on to make a career out of teaching people how to ride the slopes. For her effort, she and two other like-minded area women ” Truckee’s Elissa Slanger and Reno’s Lyn Mundt ” will be honored at the 17th Veteran Ski Instructors Reunion to be held in Park City, Utah, on Dec. 11.
Each will have a black and white portrait added to a collection of other veteran instructors who have been honored since Alf Engen’s inaugural induction in 1991. However, this year marks a reversal in the trend of mostly honoring men at the annual ceremony.
“I’m very pleased, but not so much because I’m being honored, but because women in ski instruction are being honored,” Mundt said. “Women (ski instructors) are valued now. They are important because they instinctively know how to motivate women.”
Haueisen, a 74-year-old Truckee resident, was a ski instructor for 45 years and became a fixture in the Tahoe area, including stints at Soda Springs, Donner Ski Ranch, Sugar Bowl and Alpine Meadows. But she created her legacy in the profession at Northstar-at-Tahoe, where she taught for 20 years before retiring in spring 2003.
Slanger, 70, still skis four times a week and works occasionally at Squaw Valley USA. It couldn’t be more appropriate that Slanger will be honored with six other women, since she started the “Women’s Way” ski seminar at Squaw in 1975 and has influenced the birth of more than 200 such programs since. Slanger has been an instructor since 1967.
Mundt, 56, became a certified instructor at Lake Eldora, Colorado and earned a degree at University of Colorado, Boulder, where she started teaching in 1968. She taught at Mammoth Mountain for four years before moving to Reno in 1974. From there, over a 21-year period, she was promoted from instructor to director of the Mount Rose Ski School. Her 35 years of ski instruction ended in 1998 with a teaching spell at Diamond Peak.
Recalling ski trips to Emigrant Gap and Soda Springs through the Marin Junior College YMCA in the winter of 1949, skiing, Haueisen said, was a revelation. But her first experience on skis wasn’t exactly polished.
Taking advantage of a rare snowstorm on Mount Tamalpais, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Haueisen and a few friends borrowed some wooden skis.
“We didn’t know what to do with them, so we sat on them until someone said, ‘Let’s stand up,'” Haueisen said.
Haueisen eventually learned to turn on her skis and decided to quit college at the age of 20 so she could ski more. She moved from the Bay Area to the mountains where she took a job punching tickets at Sugar Bowl. There, Haueisen skied with a few Austrians on the staff and also got involved in ski racing.
Her teaching career did not officially begin until the 1957-58 season. Having gone to Germany to assist her friend Carol Jones, who had broken her leg and was expecting a second child, she eventually met up with another friend, Maggie Cutter, in Munich. Cutter worked for Radio Free Europe and eventually took Haueisen to Austria.
While working in St. Anton, she joined the Professional Kruckenhauser clinic. That was the beginning of a 45-year teaching career, including a three-year stint as Soda Springs Ski School Director. She was encouraged by Warner Schuster to take the job.
“He was the greatest professional person I had met up with until then,” she said. “I had my best professional learning through Warner. He was my professor.”
Haueisen would go on to have that same affect on the students she taught. One of her proudest moments as a ski instructor came when she coached Team USA for the World Transplant Games held in Switzerland.
Haueisen actually came to know Elissa Slanger quite well. The two became fully certified instructors together at a clinic at Alpine Meadows. Haueisen remembers that Dave Durance, son of legendary skier Dick Durance, did not pass the exam.
“They failed him, and they passed us two ladies,” she said. “We had our chests out there like little roosters. We were very proud.”
Haueisen said she was very surprised and flattered when she was notified she would be honored this weekend, but Haueisen said the ultimate gratification was through the actions of her students.
“I was honored by the students because I always got thank-yous, or taken to dinner,” she said. “Any time anyone said, ‘Thank you for the lesson,’ that was a great honor. The reward was seeing the accomplishments of my students.”
Elissa Slanger started teaching at Squaw Valley in 1967, and she went on to revolutionize the art of women’s ski training.
She became fully certified at Alpine Meadows in 1973 and started “Women’s Way” ski seminars at Squaw in 1975.
“It was the first such seminar that had ever been done,” she said. “There are over 200 similar clubs now (in the United States).”
Today, the evolved version of Slanger’s creation is known as “Just for Women” at Squaw. In inventing these women’s-oriented ski clubs, Slanger’s aim was to give her gender a self-esteem boost.
“I liked helping women realize their potential and overcome the obstacles that keep them from performing at the highest level,” she said. “I had a tremendous amount of fun running the programs. It’s so nice to see women gain confidence.”
For the better part of 10 years, Slanger traveled around the country and trained instructors. On average, she would make three cross-country trips per year for three weeks at a time visiting ski destinations in Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Michigan and Colorado, to name a few.
“It was to make sure they were all running well,” she said. “I liked meeting new people, and there was a lot of media attention. I got to know the writers of ski magazines because they were interested. It got to be a club.”
At the pinnacle of Slanger’s tours around the country, she co-wrote a book called “Ski Woman’s Way” that was published in 1979. But eventually all the running around got tedious for Slanger.
“It got old,” she said, “and that was about the time I went to graduate school.”
In the mid-1980s, Slanger became particularly interested in gender differences in the learning process. To fulfill her curiosity, Slanger returned to school and earned a Ph.D. in psychology. She has used her knowledge in the area of sports psychology, helping skiers and snowboarders with the mental part of the sport.
Slanger worked as a consultant to ski equipment companies and also worked in design and marketing. She continued to dabble in journalism as well, writing ski-related articles. Finally, Slanger has worked closely with members of the Professional Ski Instructors of America regional demonstration team.
“I’m very pleased about it,” she said. “It’s a good group of women I’m being honored with. I came in contact with many of them over the years.”
Of the many things she has done in her life, Lyn Mundt says ski instruction was the one thing that never bored her.
“Every class was different ” a mixture of personalities, skills and ages,” she said. “It’s fascinating to take a group of people out for two hours and not only improve their skiing ability, but also seeing them enjoy nature and the outdoors.”
Compared to honorees like Haueisen and Slanger, Mundt feels like a kid having “only” 30 years of teaching experience on her resume.
“An awful lot of these people have been teaching for many years,” she said. “It’s such an honor to be noticed with people like Babette and Elissa that have made history in ski instruction.”
Not only does Mundt consider it important that a group of women are getting credit for achievements in ski instruction, she also thinks female skiers discovered their own appreciation for the sport through their women instructors.
“A lot of times women would start skiing because their husbands or brothers did,” she said. “But women like skiing for different reasons; some of it is the social aspect. They like a challenge, but they don’t like to feel out of control.”