The Heinrich Harrer Cup is an annual International School ski race, dedicated to the memory of Heinrich Harrer, mountaineer and explorer, who died on January 7th 2006 at age 93.
Heinrich Harrer was born in Kärnten, Austria. As a student of the University of Graz he was World Champion in downhill skiing in 1937. In 1938 he was a member of the team that first climbed the Eiger north wall. The outbreak of the 2nd World War took him by surprise as he was taking part in the German Nanga Parbat expedition in India. Heinrich Harrer escaped from an English prisoner of war camp in India and fled to Tibet where he became a friend and teacher of the Dalai Lama.
In 1951 he returned to Austria. His book Seven Years in Tibet was published in 28 languages with more than 2.5 million copies sold. Further expeditions took Harrer to the Amazon, Alaska, Equatorial Africa, New Guinea, the Himalayas and Borneo. In 1964 the president of Austria honoured Harrer with the title Professor of Anthropology.
The Heinrich Harrer cup ski races were founded in 1975. Two MIS students, Wolfgang Vollath, Martin Rose, along with their teacher Dan Glover established the event together with Heinrich Harrer as patron. The competition has now been running for 47 years.
The History of the Heinrich Harrer Cup
In 1974, MIS founded their first ski team with a very small group of approximately six students. In their search for International School competitions, they registered for a race in Leysin, Switzerland called the Governors Cup. After a seven-hour train ride to Leysin, they competed in a very rutted slalom race with more than 200 racers competing. The course was so difficult to ski that all members of the team dropped out and the second run was cancelled.
A frustrated team boarded the train for another seven hours home. Two members of the team, Wolfgang Vollath and Martin Rose, sat together with teacher, Dan Glover, and considered how they would envisage a competition that would make it worthwhile for International School teams to travel. The idea of creating a competition was born! The vision was to create a three-day event involving Giant Slalom, Slalom, and Super G that would have a team combination at the same time as an individual combination. This was the format to be established from the beginning. In 2023, the Parallel Mixed Giant Slalom was introduced to replace the Super G, to celebrate the teams working together. Wolfgang Vollath’s father who worked for the Austrian and Bavarian Raiffeisen Bank arranged for triple Olympic winner Toni Sailer to be the International School ski race patron in Kitzbühel. Both Wolfgang and Martin, with the School’s support, energetically organizing the event. The race was run on the top of the Kitzbühler Horn with the course set by a local ski school. The logistics in Kitzbühel were very difficult. The race office was located on the far side of town making the calculation of results without a computer very difficult. Even today with sophisticated software and fast computers this remains a challenge for team and individual combination results. After two years in Kitzbühel, Toni Sailer was unable to continue as patron of the event. Mr Vollath spoke to Heinrich Harrer who agreed to take over as patron and the name of the event was established. Heinrich Harrer suggested changing the location to Seefeld where he had very close contacts through golf and his Olympic team friend and skiing legend Toni Seelos. Seefeld turned out to be a preferred location with considerable support from the whole community. Wolfgang, Martin and Dan worked hard to ensure the success of the new location. At this time the enthusiasm for skiing grew enormously at MIS based on a long series of wins from the team event at the Heinrich Harrer Cup. The team started to hire professional outside coaches; the most notable being Greg Redelsberger who brought about very significant improvements to the team’s technical skiing ability. The sport became a very strong component of the MIS athletic program. Heinrich Harrer attended the competitions for the first 20 years until he experienced health problems. Not only did he present his books at the award ceremonies, he also hosted a yearly reception (Jause) in the Klosterbräu. Expenses for the competition continued to be covered in large part by the Raiffeisenkasse.
In the last 20 years MIS has taken over the financial responsibility for the event with costs shared between international schools. MIS continues Harrer’s tradition of hosting a ‘Jause’ for parent helpers, coaches, and staff. The following schools were the founding participants in 1976: Ecole International Geneva, La Chataignerie Geneva, Vienna International School, American International School of Vienna, Zurich International School, Munich International School and LAS Leysin. In subsequent years further schools have been involved including the UN school New York, American school of Paris, Luxembourg International School, Frankfurt International School, Innsbruck International School and Bavarian International School.
Founder of the Heinrich Harrer Cup