Any ski racer’s memory of their first encounter with Erich Sailer is likely to be a flashback of an exuberant coach skiing alongside one of his athletes, yelling instructions during races. Some of Sailer’s unorthodox methodologies belie his impact on the sport in this country and impressively, he is still on the hill at the age of 93. His undeniable energy and spirit continue to impact generations of athletes.
Sailer’s name is synonymous with the tiny but mighty Buck Hill Ski area, located in a southern suburb of Minneapolis, MN. He started at Buck Hill in 1969 and his impact on skiing in the Central Region was immediate. His program raised the bar, and his athletes almost immediately began to score results. Buck Hill has produced a bevy of Olympic and World Cup athletes, including Cory Carlson, Kristina Koznick, Tasha Nelson and Lindsey Vonn, but Sailer’s impact goes far beyond producing great athletes. He was instrumental in building the foundation of midwestern ski racing. Buck Hill has one of the most robust and active programs in the country from youth racing all the way to adult beer leagues that include 1500 participants. Racing is part of the fabric of the ski area, and Sailer is responsible for such an engaged ski community. Many coaches had their start in Sailer’s summer camps and his coaching tree is extensive and far reaching. As U.S. Ski and Snowboard President Tiger Shaw says, “Erich has inspired so many and shown them the way. Coaching and mentoring skills unmatched in many ways.”
Sailer was born in Telfs, Austria and he had his first introduction to ski racing in his mid-teens. He competed as part of the Austrian National Team in races such as the Hahnenkamm (where he finished third) and went on to work as an instructor in the famed St Anton ski school. Sailer came to North America in 1955 with $35 in his pocket and only knowing one English word…hamburger. He founded summer camps in Mt. Hood in 1956 and Red Lodge Montana in 1967, and he made summer ski camps at Mt. Hood a fundamental part of U.S. Alpine Racing. Prior to his summer camps, summer skiing was only available to a privileged few and Sailer changed the game when he made summer skiing available for many more. But it was in 1967, in Red Lodge Montana where Sailer started a camp with Pepi Gramshammer, Anderl Molterer and Toni Spiess that impacted up to 700 kids a summer. The camp in Red Lodge had an Austrian flavor and imparted a vibe of a serious ski village of racers. Mt Hood and Red Lodge is where Sailer mentored both athletes and coaches that fanned out across the country to help build the sport. Prior to his summer camps, summer skiing was only available to a privileged few. Simply put, Sailer changed the game when he made summer skiing available for many more.
Listening to his former athletes, and the affection they have for a man who could be both demanding and fun, the sense of family and camaraderie brings emotion and joy years after they have left Minnesota and his program. As you will see in the accompanying video he demanded rigor but brought a sense of fun and support to his athletes that lives on in the coaches who learned from him and the athletes who skied for him. If you ask Sailer what he is most proud of, he will tell you “I have always focused on building champions in skiing and in life.”
U.S. Ski Team Athletes Coached by Erich Sailer
- Cory Carlson (1978-86)
- Lori Greeley (1980-81)
- Joe Levins (1988-93)
- Tim Hanson (1988-92)
- Kristina Koznick (1990-06)
- Tasha Nelson (1997-02)
- Martina Sailer (1994-95)
- Lindsey Vonn (2001- Current)
- David Chodounsky (2008- 18)
- Sterling Grant (2005-10)
- Matthew Strand (2010-12)
- Michael Ankeny (2009-10, 2013-14, 2015-17)
- Paula Moltzan (2011-12, 2015-16)
- Isaiah Nelson (2018- Current)
And dozens of other U.S. Ski Team athletes that attended his summer camps like Lance, Eric Paulson and Sandra Paulson, Leethe Lindy, Becky Dorsey, Vickie Fleckenstein, Susie and Ken Corrock, Andy Mill, Sarah Schleper, Julia Mancuso, Resi Stiegler, Will McDonald, Seppi Stiegler, Hig Roberts, Colby Granstrom and Kieffer Christianson.
Hero image: Sailer with Isaiah Nelson at Buck Hill. Nelson is the most recent athlete Sailer helped to shape into national team material.