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Where are they now: Dixi Nohl
Since the 1960s, this Austrian instructor has been an influential voice in ski technique and mountain management … and for the past few decades, a hard-working innkeeper in Vermont. By Edith Thys Morgan
Photo above: Dixi Nohl in March 2020 outside of The Charleston House, the Vermont inn that he and wife Willa have run for 21 years.
On a typical day in Woodstock, Vermont, Dixi Nohl is up at 7 a.m. to set up breakfast, which his wife of 50 years, Willa, cooks for guests at the Charleston House. The two have run this bed-and-breakfast at the edge of town for 21 years, and welcome guests from all over the world who come to experience quintessential Vermont. They fuel up on Willa’s feast, especially German pancakes with sautéed peaches, which she admits is “not health food,” and, as Dixi adds with a laugh and a decidedly German accent, “no German has ever recognized it.”
Dixi and Willa have lived in Vermont since 1967, and in Woodstock since 1997. They consider themselves proud Vermonters, though both hail from beyond its borders. Willa grew up in Canada, while Dixi was part of the Austrian invasion that shaped ski technique and the ski industry in America.
Dieter “Dixi” Nohl grew up in St. Anton, Austria, where, in the 1950s, his parents Fritz and Maria built the Hotel Montjola above the heart of the village. At the time, Fritz was running the ski school in Zurs over the Arlberg Pass. They slowly built up the hotel and eventually acquired the neighbor’s house, making the Montjola—and Maria’s famous fondues—a destination in St. Anton.
As a ski racer, Nohl’s contemporaries included Karl Schranz, Egon Zimmermann and Pepi Stiegler. After a rash of injuries—five broken legs, including two in the same season—he took a break and delved into the three-year process of getting his Austrian ski instructor’s certification. In 1960, at age 20, Nohl accepted Sepp Ruschp’s invitation to come to Stowe and join the ski school. Nohl was a welcome addition to Stowe’s ski school and social set, setting slalom courses for Ted Kennedy and teaching young Cindy Watson (daughter of IBM’s Tom Watson) to ski. He was featured in September 1960 LOOK magazine as Stowe’s “Romeo on Skis.”
For the next four years, Nohl followed an annual migration pattern, teaching in Stowe in the winter and in Portillo in the summer. Nohl fondly remembers Portillo’s convivial ambiance, with all of the guests together in one hotel, gathering for dinner. In the fall, Nohl returned to Austria and taught English to aspiring ski instructors as part of their certification under Professor Stefan Kruckenhauser, the “Ski Pabst” (Pope of Skiing).
Kruckenhauser had filmed Nohl and his fellow ski racers for his book Wedeln: the New Austrian Skiing Technique. In 1969, Bob Ottum of Sports Illustrated described wedeln as: “an entire new style of skiing, a legs-together, wriggly, snakelike way of going down the hill, using hip movement and heel thrust from the waist down…[that] swept the world like no other form of skiing before or since.” Kruckenhauser continued to film Nohl, a star student, for technical demonstrations on his trips home to Europe.
When Gore Mountain opened in 1964 in New York, Nohl was hired to start its ski school. In 1967 he returned to Vermont to take over the ski school at Madonna (Smugglers’ Notch), where he also started the Fondue Haus. During that time Nohl represented Madonna at pre-season ski shows in major northeastern cities. At the show in Montreal, he met Willa, who was manning a bus tour booth as a favor for her friend. They married the following May. In 1972 they moved on to Mad River Glen, where Dixi stayed for 12 winters, running the ski school and heading the resort’s year-round marketing program.
Around this time, Kruckenhauser quite literally changed his stance on ski instruction, famously showing up in Aspen at Interski in 1968, armed with film and young beginner skiers to promote his new technique. Advances in ski material and design allowed for shorter, more maneuverable skis that accommodated a wider stance. This was an easier and quicker way for beginners to learn than the feet-together wedeln, and Nohl, described in SKI as “Kruckenhauser’s alter ego,” helped to spread this new skiing gospel. “It made sense,” says Nohl. “As the skis got shorter and shorter, the stance got wider and wider.”
Kruckenhauser was happy to use fellow Austrians to export his ideas and get newcomers skiing well quickly. Nohl was an early adopter of video review with his ski students at Mad River. He took an active role in writing and demonstrating pointers in SKI and was also an examiner for PSIA.
A constant in SKI magazine throughout the mid- to late-1960s, Nohl brought his meticulous understanding of technique to readers though a treatise on the respective evolutions of the Austrian and French ski techniques, as well as a comprehensive comparison of the American, New Austrian (wide-stance) and GLM teaching methods. His concise one-page pointers included things like the “Tired Skier Carry,” for getting kids off the slopes, the thrust in slush for conserving energy, and no less than six ways to ski a catwalk.
Each spring, SKI organized a photo shoot starring Nohl. “Because of his training under Kruckenhauser, along with his thin, tall physique, he was a superb technique demonstrator,” explained John Fry, then editor of SKI. “We’d get all these pointers sent in by instructors, in longhand. Sometimes they included pictures, sometimes not,” he says. They shot the whole season’s pointers in a day or two. Sequence shots of Nohl were then converted to line art by artist Bob Bugg.
While at Mad River, Dixi and Willa sent their older son, Jay, to Green Mountain Valley School to pursue ski racing. When the family moved to Burke in 1984, and Dixi took the role of general manager, Jay and his younger brother Cory attended Burke Mountain Academy. Jay went on to ski for Dartmouth College, and Cory raced for Williams. Nohl managed Burke for 13 years (1984–1997), coming in after the development of the lower mountain and lasting through five owners and multiple bankruptcies. Finn Gunderson, who was headmaster at Burke Mountain Academy during some of that time, remembers negotiating for snowmaking and hill space with Dixi, who was also dealing with state regulators, managing the resort and fending off creditors. “He was always proud of the school and supportive,” says Gunderson.
When Burke sold again, in 1997, Nohl moved on to Woodstock. He had visited the Charleston House one winter and the owners mentioned wanting to sell. With his training in the hotel business, Dixi and Willa jumped in. Twenty-one years later the inn is their work and their social life, and they never shut down between seasons. Willa gets out for volunteer work, and to stage the occasional political rally or fundraiser, while Dixi skis at Killington regularly. The rhythm of inn life keeps them busy every day until afternoon.
“We love Vermont,” says Willa, who can’t pick a favorite of all the places they’ve lived along the way—Jeffersonville, Warren, Burke and Woodstock. “It is home for us. We are lucky to feel that way.”
Edith Thys Morgan is a ski-racer mom, blogger and author, and former World Cup and Olympic alpine racer (racerex.com).
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