Obituary: Hans Kuwall, ski school director and co-founder of Hillend Ski Centre

Hans Kuwall, ski school director. Born: 15 October, 1933 in Pernegg an der Mur, Austria.Died: 25 December, 2021 in Carrbridge aged 88

Hans Kuwall was a founder member of the British Association of Professional Ski Instructors
Hans Kuwall was a founder member of the British Association of Professional Ski Instructors

Hans Kuwall, who died at his home in Carrbridge on Christmas Day at the age of 88, founded and ran one of Scotland’s leading ski schools and played a primary role in the development and operation of the Hillend Ski Centre in Edinburgh, which has introduced generations of youngsters to competitive and recreational skiing. He was born in the small town of Pernegg in the Austrian state of Styria, in 1933. Brought up in the nearby town of Bruck an der Mur, he was secretive about his early years but it is known that he studied to be an engineer. His stepfather introduced him to ski racing and as soon as he was old enough he travelled to races on his motorbike.

In 1954 Karl Fuchs, another Austrian, had opened Scotland’s first professional ski school, based at Struan House Hotel in Carrbridge, and in 1956 he recruited Hans as an instructor. There Hans met Barbara Warbrick, a qualified chef employed in a range of duties at the hotel. They married in 1957 and in 1960 bought their house in Carrbridge, which has remained the family home. They had two sons, Peter and Tony, both of whom are ski instructors, Peter in the French Alps and also as an army trainer, and Tony as assistant manager at Hillend ski centre. Barbara, both sons and five grandchildren survive him.

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With interest in skiing in Scotland rapidly developing in the 1950s and early 1960s, one of its leading exponents was Alistair McIntyre, the owner of the Carrbridge Hotel. In 1958 McIntyre persuaded Hans to join him and set up a ski school based at the hotel. In 1962 Hans established his own ski school in the village. By this time Barbara had left Struan House and she took on responsibility for administering the ski school and the accompanying ski hire business. Hans concentrated on organising and running the classes on the hill and Barbara developed a guesthouse business based in the house. Hans also took a wider interest in the regulation of the skiing profession. He was a founder member of the British Association of Professional Ski Instructors (BAPSI), later reformed as BASI and its name now changed to the British Association of Snowsports Instructors to reflect the increasing importance of snowboarding.

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In 1962 Hans met the wealthy philanthropist George Boyd Anderson at the London Ski Show. He told Hans of his ambition to develop artificial ski slope facilities as a means of fostering a wider interest in skiing amongst youngsters. He had pursued this idea with John Cook, Depute Director of Education at Edinburgh Corporation. They had agreed, at Boyd Anderson’s expense, to install a small test area of plastic matting on Lothianburn golf course at Hillend, on the southern outskirts of Edinburgh, and it had been recommended that they should recruit Hans to help take the initiative forward. This they did and it led to the installation of the main ski slope of about 200 metres in length, later extended to 400 metres, along with a chairlift and lighting, all financed by Boyd Anderson. Hans was appointed part-time chief instructor, leaving him free to continue running the Carrbridge ski school, with suitable deputies based at Hillend. The slope was officially inaugurated with a slalom competition in October 1966 on a course set by Hans.

The success of Hillend fully met Boyd Anderson’s expectations. At its height up to 1000 pupils from Edinburgh Corporation schools were attending classes there each week, for most of them their first introduction to skiing, and it was well used by recreational skiers at weekends. Boyd Anderson went on to help finance the installation of the White Lady chairlift and other infrastructure on Cairngorm and Edinburgh Corporation’s outdoor centre at Lagganlia in Glenfeshie. Although history does not record the extent to which he consulted Hans on these later initiatives, there is little doubt that he will have done so extensively.

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Following its establishment Hillend played an increasingly important role in the development of ski race training and racing in Scotland. Under Hans’s direction Lothian Ski Racing Association (LSRA) regularly ran race training classes on the slope on Thursday evenings for up to 200 trainees and numerous schools races and major competitions up to international standards were, and still are, held there. Several of the trainees have gone on to success at international level. Former Olympic skier Graham Bell, now one of the presenters on BBC’s Ski Sunday, has commented: “Hans was a strong character who was able to mould young minds and instil a work ethic into the junior skiers he trained. He knew what it would take for us growing up in Scotland to compete against the Austrians and the Swiss. I still remember being set almost impossible tasks of 500 short swings in a single run down Hillend at the end of an already tiring session. Hans’s influence over Scottish skiing spanned many decades, and Martin [his brother] and I would not have enjoyed the success we had without Hans’s coaching”.

For many years Hans also ran junior race training at weekends on Cairngorm for the Scottish Ski Club and he regularly took training groups out to Austria over the Christmas/New Year period, with training and racing on the slopes at Axamer Lizum, near Innsbruck, scene of the Alpine events of the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976 .

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Hans will be highly ranked in Scottish skiing’s Hall of Fame. Echoing Graham Bell, he was indeed demanding of his trainees. He did however take a genuine interest in their welfare. He was kind and sociable by nature and he had a well developed sense of humour.

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