Hans Geier, innovative ski resort executive, passed away peacefully on August 18, surrounded by his family, just days short of his 90th birthday.
Born in San Paolo, Brescia Province, between Milan and Lake Garda, in 1933, Geier was the oldest of four children. The family moved to Dornbirn, in Austria's Vorarlberg, at the outbreak of World War II. His father was killed a few hours before the armistice in 1945. At age 12, Geier went to work to support the family, in a textile factory, then as an apprentice cobbler, and painting houses on weekends. He served as an altar boy on Sundays, and supported his mother throughout her 89 years.
Geier pursued a passion for mountain climbing, hiking and 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, Geier 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, he 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.
The couple had two boys, Kevan and Brian. Geier was recruited to be the general manager at Ski Incline, Nevada, and then at Heavenly Valley in California. Naylor hired him again as general manager of a proposed ski area in Yellowstone, but the grizzly bears won that battle. Naylor wanted him back in Pennsylvania to become the general manager of his new ski area, Ski Liberty. Then came the position Geier had trained for all his professional life – in 1980, he was asked to become the president and CEO of Steamboat Ski Resort, Colorado, a position he held for the next ten years.
A visionary leader, Geier 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. He also initiated the “Kids Ski Free” program, which put Steamboat in the spotlight for family-oriented ski vacations.
In 1984, Geier and Jo divorced. A few years later, onboard a cruise celebrating ski industry leaders and athletes, Geier met Roberta, who had worked for Norwegian Cruise Lines. They married in 1987. When Geier became President of Stratton Mountain Ski Resort in 1991, the couple moved to Weston, Vermont. During his four years at Stratton, Geier 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. Geier 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. Geier continued to hike the mountains around Steamboat Springs, Utah, and Montana with Roberta. He also was a strong cyclist, and rode from Steamboat to the top of Rabbit Ears Pass on his 80th birthday. He 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. He served on the Board of ISHA. In 2013, he was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.