At the turn of the century people from Montafon were amazed by the first skiers in the valley, and around Christmas time 1904, the Madrisa guest book recorded its first winter guests. You couldn’t really call it a “winter season”. It actually started when the headmost ski pioneer from Bregenz, George Bilgeri, completely shifted to the mountain climbing and ski teaching profession after the war. Already during the first world war the first soldiers were instructed by him in alpine cross country skiing – and presumably their “landing base” was Madrisa, whose guest book was completely full of officers in 1915. In 1922, he held in the style of the “Bilgeri School”, the first public ski courses in Gargellen. In 1925 there followed another Vorarlberg ski pioneer, Viktor Sohm, the teacher of Hannes Schneider, who was the founder of the Arlberg ski school. In 1930, another skier, professor Janner who founded the Bundessportsheim St. Christoph, brought to life in Gargellen’s Inner Gampabing, its own ski school, called appropriately the Prof. Janner School.
Biligeri was a famous man. He was one of the founders of the mountain rescue service, was an appointed teacher of the alpine skiers in Sweden, was an instructor and organizer of the alpine service of the Turkish army in Caucasus. He improved alpine equipment, by means of ski bindings named after him, the Bilgeri backpack or the Bilgeri Ice pick, and in his time was author of the well known book “Alpine Skiing and High Mountain Tours”. The Bilgeri-barracks military base in Bregenz reminds us of the local countryman as well as the honorable tomb commemorated to him at the cemetery Blumenstraße, in his home city of Bregenz.
Not paying attention to the favorable conditions, Schwarzhans as an entrepreneur was less lucky. Berning observed the reason for his bankruptcy in 1903 in his speculations as “Had he badly mismanaged? Schwarzhans had been searching the mountain slopes with binoculars looking for the last Swiss stone pines needed for the paneling of his room. Might one believe, that his numerous sons were his best customers?”
Professor Tschohls Schruns guide from 1906 reported about the “Resort hotel Marisa-Gargellen, 1474 meters above sea level- Season: June 1 – September 30: the hotel was bought by a consortium in 1904 and according enlarged; possesses 70 rooms with 100 beds, electricity, large dining room, restoration rooms, veranda, reading and billard rooms, bathrooms etc. post office and telegraph in house. The altitude is protected well by mountains to the west and north, the lush meadows, the richly shaded forests going up to an altitude of 2100 meters, the crisp fresh air with mild temperature, the wonderful walks, the rich choices of mountain tours make Gargellen not only a mountain air resort village of the highest category of the Austrian alpine world, preferably suitable for convalescents, anemic, people of nervous debility, sicknesses of the respiratory organs and for recuperation patients, people of pale completions and those having weak lungs but also for a very pleasurable stay for tourists and summer refreshers! - Lung cotangent sick patients will not be admitted.
According to the plans of the Bregenz architect Willibald Braun, the consortium, which included the standing representative Jakob Stemer, the Fohrenberg brewery and several Vorarlberg and southern German textile industrialists, added to the hotel a wonderfully elaborate wooden design, which dominated the town with its four floors of the “new building”, added an elegant dining room and on top of that, built its own electrical power station.
Next to this stood the so called “old building” until its demolition in 1980, whose quaint, comfy, smoky dark Montafoner Stube is still in part contained on the “Rößli” wall, insolated with newspapers from the time of Napoleon.
The ski instructor’s “table” was the heart of the old Stube; a Montafon table with aged polish, a ponderous octagon, through years and days, sun burnt and weathered, bearded and primitive, with the old Gargellen ski teaching crew crowed around playing cards, debating, often singing above all, Herbert Keßler, the Tilisuna-cottage “wirt”, who with his own comedian talent, often and willingly, came up with sketches of great wit and humor.
The privy councilor Mey from Würzburg took over the hotel Madrisa from the consortium’s joint proprietor Julius Gaßner from the Fohrenburg brewery, for whom the wonderful walking path “Julius’s Peace” was named after. He engaged the Dornbirn hotel specialist Bertram Rhomberg in 1929 as director and one year later sold him the hotel.
Bertram Rhomberg Sr. was a hotelier with body and soul, well traveled and with a lot of professional experience in respected hotels from Taomina and Nizza, London and South Tyrol. He brought life to the business and the “best clients” to the hotel, amongst others the director of the German archeologist institute in Constantinople or the publisher Brockhaus of Leipzig with family and, in the time of the Tausend Mark Sperre, when the German guests stayed far away, the governors of Malta and Tanganyika, Bonham-Carter and Frank, also the personal physician of the king of the Netherlands, Dr. de Vries, or the governors of Vorarlberg Ender and Winsauer…
Ludwig Vallaster commented to this: “Soon, when other hotels opened up in Gargellen, the less well off guests… were attracted and “Madrisa” guests realized: one can’t leave their belongings on the table anymore”.
Rhomberg’s work effort was enormous; his private correspondence spoke of volumes. He wrote: “…although the hotel isn’t that large, and barely admits 100 people, the work is tremendous when one considers, that I have to manage the whole work with only one young secretary, and without a doorman or head waiter, and that I am on duty everyday, 18 hours and more. Still further: “Idealism should also belong to a profession and material advantage should not always be the decisive … I don’t place great demands on life and do my job, when I unfold at work, as I find right.“
The street leading to Gargellen was Bertram Rhomberg’s biggest problem: “I don’t see a possibility to make out of the hotel what I would like to. The big disadvantage is the fault of a proper street.”
No wonder. Already Ludwig von Hörmann had compared Gargellen with an Emperor’s castle and leading to it, an entrance like a chicken ladder.
The Madrisa chronicler Winfried Berning, demonstratives amusingly as he visualizes to us the difficulty of this “chicken ladder”: “in former times, the old street led through the Maisäß Rüthi and the Plantina- Stutz. Cars (the first car that reached Gargellen in the year 1923 was driven by the Bregenz Textile manufacturer Sannwald), as well as horse drawn vehicles had terrible wheezing problems. From the doings of the drivers and the wagoners there are stories, that bear witness to a time that, for want of other extravagances of modern times, alcohol was the preferred amusement. Bertram Rhomberg could never be certain, if that block of ice which cooled the pantry, would arrive in time: the transporter made a proper and enjoyable stop at Gasthof Reutehorn, and “Madrisa” received at best, the enjoyment of ice water.”
But already in September 1931 Irene Rhomberg could wish her son: “ I congratulate you on the upcoming winter’s beginning snowmobile traffic. With a lot of work and perseverance, you have really accomplished something by bringing it here and this will be a great advantage to your business.”
These snowmobiles with seating for about 10 people, used 45 liters of gasoline because of the enormous climbs from Schruns to Gargellen. They were actually constructed by the company Citroen for the sandy slopes of the Sahara. By the following summer, the Post bus drove the “street” to Gargellen as well ( which nowadays resembles far more the old trading path of the Säumer with their pack horses and the cattle drivers leading their herds on their way over the pass) and not so seldom, the people of war.