Hans Geier, Ski Hall of Fame Class of 2012 Passes Away at age 89
August 31, 1933 – August 18, 2023
Hans Geier, innovator and passionate ski industry leader, passed away peacefully on August 18th, surrounded by his family, just days short of his 90th birthday. He had a remarkable life, rising as he did from a devastated post-World War II Austria to become President of two of the most storied ski resorts in America. Hans was always kind and caring.
He carried himself with dignity, and he had an unforgettable smile that would light up a room. Hans was born in San Paolo, in northern Italy, in 1933, as the eldest of four children. The family immigrated to Dornbirn, Austria, at the outbreak of World War II. His father was called to service and was tragically killed rescuing a fellow soldier just hours before the armistice was declared, ending the war. Hans was just 12 years old. He immediately sought work to support the family, working in the textile industry, apprenticing as a cobbler, and painting houses on weekends. Devoted to his mother, he volunteered as an altar boy for Sunday services and supported her though out her 89 years.
Hans loved a challenge, and when time permitted, he pursued a passion for mountain climbing, hiking and, of course, skiing, excelling at all. He was quick to quip that, “I’m the only Austrian not to have skied on the Austrian Ski Team!”
In 1960, Hans borrowed $25 to follow his brother Konrad to Montreal, Canada. He got his first job as a ski instructor at Gray Rocks Ski Resort, training under the tutelage of the legendary ski school director, Real Charette. Following a summer working as a ski instructor in Chile, Hans returned to Gray Rocks to become the Assistant Ski School Director, where he met and later married a fellow ski instructor, Jo. He climbed the ladder and gained experience and knowledge, which led to his first executive leadership position and the beginning of what turned out to be a lifelong friendship with Irv Naylor, the owner of Ski Roundtop in Pennsylvania.
Hans and Jo became the proud parents of two boys, Kevan and Brian, and Hans’s reputation was becoming known throughout the country. He was recruited to be the General Manager at Nevada’s ski resort, Incline Village, and Heavenly Valley in California. Irv hired him again as General Manager of a proposed ski area in Yellowstone, but the grizzly bears won that battle. Irv wanted him back in Pennsylvania to become the General Manager of his new ski area, Ski Liberty. Then came the position Hans had trained for all his professional life – in 1980, he was asked to become the President and CEO of Steamboat Ski Resort in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, a position he held for the next ten years.
A visionary leader, Hans introduced many innovative changes at Steamboat, including the world’s first eight-person gondola; a massive snow-making system; the development of the Sunshine Bowl area; the first high-speed lifts; a number of mid- and upper-mountain dining locations; an airline program with direct flights from 21 cities to the Steamboat/Hayden Airport; and sleigh rides – all of which were introduced to enhance and expand the visiting skier’s mountain experience. Hans also initiated the “Kids Ski Free” program, which put Steamboat in the spotlight for family-oriented ski vacations.
In 1984, Hans and Jo went their separate ways. A few years later, onboard a cruise celebrating ski industry leaders and athletes, Hans met Roberta, who had worked for Norwegian Cruise Lines. A long-distance courtship of three years ensued, after which Hans and Roberta (whom Hans referred to as "the love of my life") married. When Hans became President of Stratton Mountain Ski Resort in 1991, the couple moved to Weston, Vermont. During his four years at Stratton, Hans continued his record of hands-on leadership, working with the snow makers at night, picking rocks off ski trails with his bare hands, walking the lift lines asking for feedback from customers, and personally visiting with each employee and staff member. He won the hearts of the community.
But Hans missed the mountains of Colorado. He returned in 1994 as President of Doppelmayr North America, before retiring back to his beloved Steamboat Springs four years later. Never one to pass up a challenge, Hans traveled to the Himalayas three times, including a two-month expedition summiting Mt. Mera at 21,000 feet, safely walking out after a sudden five-foot snowstorm, while other groups had to be rescued by helicopter. Hans continued to hike the mountains around Steamboat Springs, Utah, and Montana with Roberta. He also was a strong cyclist, as evidenced by the fact that he made the traditional climb from Steamboat to the top of Rabbit Ears Pass on his 80th birthday. Hans was happiest in the kitchen, whipping up bundles of lemon biscotti, giant apple Kuchens, Austrian Christmas cookies, his traditional Wiener Schnitzel, and unforgettable chocolate Sacher Torte.
During his career, Hans was an active member of the Colorado Ski Area Association and served on the Board of Directors of the National Ski Areas Association, receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998. In 2013, he was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.
Hans was a proud Austrian. Although he considered America and Steamboat Springs to be his home, his heart remained in Dornbirn, Austria, with his family. He and Roberta traveled every year to Austria to spend time with his family and hike the many mountains that Hans climbed as a child, as well as the Dolomites in Tyrol.
In addition to many friends and colleagues, Hans is survived by his wife, Roberta; sons Kevan (Rachel) and Brian (Zanna); grandchildren Jordan, Nickolas, William, Tylen, and Dominique; brother Konrad; sisters Rolanda and Martha; and many nieces and nephews.
A celebration of Hans’s life will be held on Saturday, September 16, 2023, at Steamboat Ski Resort’s “Champagne Powder Room” on the third floor of Thunderhead Lodge. Beginning at 6 p.m., guests can ride the gondola to Thunderhead Lodge. Free parking will be available at the Knoll parking lot, and paid parking will be available in the Gondola Square parking garage.
Hans was a strong advocate for higher education. In that regard, contributions can be made in his honor to the Yampa Valley Community Foundation Scholarship Program. Donations can be made online or mailed to the Yampa Valley Community Foundation. If you wish to write a check, please write “Hans Geier” on the memo line and send it to: Yampa Valley Community Foundation, P.O. Box 881869, Steamboat Springs, CO 80488. To donate to the Hans Geier Memorial Scholarship online with a credit card, you can do so at www.yvcf.org/hans-geier-memorial