If there was an American Cross Country Ski Hall of Fame, Johannes von Trapp would be one of the surefire inductees. The famous story of the von Trapp family is well known - their escape from Austria in the beginning of World War II and the Broadway and Hollywood songs such as Edelweiss, My Favorite Things, and Do Re Mi. In November of 2014, Johannes von Trapp spoke at a luncheon of Nordic ski area operators and one could tell they looked at him as their living history. He grew up with 9 siblings as the last born in the original von Trapp family and he is also known as the proprietor, who opened Trapp Family Lodge, the first commercial Nordic ski area in 1968.
In 1938 just before World War II, the Baron and Baroness von Trapp left all their possessions and estate near Salzburg, Austria. With nine children and one on the way, they fled Austria and were granted asylum in the US. That child on the way was Johannes, who was born in 1939 and now is the president of the modern day Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT.
Arriving in the US with only four dollars, the family settled in Philadelphia and through their music turned a family hobby into a profession as the Trapp Family Singers. In 1942, they bought a small farmhouse in Stowe, Vermont because the landscape reminded them of home. They rented out rooms at their farmhouse to skiers and ran the Trapp Family Music Camp.
Johannes commented that they were too poor to pay to use the ski lifts in Stowe, so they skied up and down in the woods around the farm. He attended Dartmouth College and upon returning to Stowe, he later operated the lodge. He started the ski area out of his barn, renting cross country skis, and giving ski lessons to become the first commercial cross country ski resort in the world. He had hired his first staff person, Per Sorlie, an ex-navy man from Norway, who had great enthusiasm for cross country skiing and who had a brother who wholesaled cross country ski equipment from Norway.
They would pack the trail in the early morning, rented and sold Nordic skis, and taught ski lessons. Johannes stated that he grossed $8,000 that first year in the cross country ski business and he doubled the revenue in the following year. The original concept was a way to attract guests to fill the rooms at lodge.
He always thought that the business would involve backcountry skiing as the key element and today he still hopes that backcountry will grow and become a more noticeable part of the Nordic ski scene. He commented about the "violent contrast" in product development that has become "plastic, nylon, and form fitting," citing the Americanization of Nordic skiing…but he does admit that the new equipment and clothing have great virtues and he has come full circle embracing the high tech that has been incorporated into the sport and business.
Johannes answered a question about grooming as he reminisced about the first snow machine he bought for $50 to pack the trails. They built many different weighted boxes with skis on the bottom to drag behind he snowmobile and set tracks on the trails.
In the early 1970s, the lodge included a riding stable but the horses impacted the trails too much so horseback riding was discontinued. Johannes cited a recent survey taken by UVM students at Trapp Family Lodge that revealed the skiers mostly cared about the track quality. But he still believes in the psychic benefits of being outdoors and he loves how the sport has taken off.
The lodge occupancy has increased over the years and acquiring the nearby land (Trapp Family owns 90% of the trail property) was important to maintain the trails. The lodge history included the fire in 1980 and rebuilding in 1983. In 2000, Trapp added 24,000 square feet of meeting space and accommodations to the lodge and four years later the first villas adjacent to the lodge were completed and sold.
Johannes' son Sam became vice president of the operation in 2007 adding mountain bike trails in the summer and snowmaking in the winter. In 2008, Trapp Family Lodge celebrated its 40th anniversary and was covered in the NY Times, on ABC World News and created its first television advertisement. In 2010, Trapp Lager beer was introduced on the property and a new facility will be opened in 2015 in Massachusetts to greatly expand the brewery operation.
Johannes von Trapp is one of the American cross country skiing forefathers, who will be recognized for his vision of cross country skiing and his connection to a world famous family story.