GILFORD — Klaus Buttinger has been teaching skiing at Gunstock for 50 years and says that he still gets a kick out of it, which he says is second nature to him.
''Skiing is easy for me. It's easier than walking.'' says Buttinger, who first came to the Lakes Region from his native Austria to teach skiing at the Penny Pitou Ski School, one of several Austrians recruited by Austrian Olympic skier Egon Zimmermann to teach at the ski school.
Buttinger, who had skied with the Austrian Junior team, arrived in Gilford in December of 1964 and remembers that the first ski season was something of a disaster. ''We didn't get snow until the middle of January,'' which he says is a sharp contrast to the current season.
''I've never seen so much snow at Gunstock as we've had this year,'' says Buttinger, who is still active as an instructor and coach with the Gunstock Ski Club, the state's oldest, which dates all the back to 1918.
He went back to Austria during the summer of 1965 and returned that winter to teach again and decided to stay through the next summer, working as a carpenter's helper that summer in Alton, where he learned to water ski. He later worked in the ski shop at the Arlberg Inn in Gilford, and also cooked at the restaurant there with Freddie Nauchbar, whose daughter Bobbi was his first wife.
Buttinger says that ski equipment has changed a lot since he first arrived in the area and has an old picture of him and Penny Pitou at Cannon Mountain in Franconia in which he's wearing leather ski boots.
''That started changing really quick when the plastic shells started coming out. And the ski bindings really changed. We used to have what was called the runaway strap, which was pretty dangerous. The new bindings made a lot of difference.'' says Buttinger.
At that time he skied on a fiberglass ski, Kneissl's White Star, which has been introduced in 1962 and was one of the forerunners of the new generation of skis. In the mid 1990s the shaped skis became popular. Featuring a wider tail and tip, when tipped onto their edges, they bend into a curved shape and carve a turn.
''They do the turning for you and make it a lot easier to ski.'' he says.
He's also seen how much the introduction of snowmaking at New Hampshire's ski areas in the early 1970s has helped the sport and says the new lift systems have made it much easier to enjoy a full day of skiing.
''When I came here there were a couple of double chairlifts and some T-bars and even a rope tow. Now you can get to the top of the mountain really quickly and enjoy a lot more ski runs. And snowmaking has helped extend the season and make sure you always have enough snow. We couldn't exist today without it.''
He says that he was drawn to move from his native Austria to the Lakes Region by the friendliness of the people that he met here and over he years has made many friends through being a ski instructor.
Along the way there has also been some tragedy, including the loss of his 13-year old son, Tony, in an accident following a ski race at Gunstock in 1984. For nearly 30 years the Gunstock Ski Club held the annual Tony Buttinger Memorial Slalom as a fundraiser. A plaque honoring Tony still hangs in his memory at the GSC Clubhouse.
''I've seen a lot at Gunstock. People have really been good to me. In some ways I miss the good old days, when people would ski and come into the base lodge and talk to each other and share good times. Today you see everyone on their cell phone and people across the table don't even talk to each other.'' says Buttinger.
Nearly 200 people showed up at a 50th anniversary party held in early January at Gunstock, which was arranged by his daughters Anniliese and Stacie.
''It was a total surprise. There were some women there who were in their 80s that I taught to ski when I first came here. It was a great time and it really made the day for me when Penny Pitou showed up. That was a real honor,'' says Buttinger.
Klaus Buttinger with his friend and fellow ski instructor Hans Siesle in the parking lot at Gunstock Ski Area in 1965. (Courtesy photo)
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