Winter sport

It is hard to imagine today that up until 1965, the Schafberg cable car consisted of one chair lift to the Gargellen Alps leading to what is now known as the middle station and with only one single descent into the valley. This rather modest offering from an ambitious winter sport destination was to be thankfully forgotten with the arrival of Otto Rzipa from Kramsach, Tyrol.

Charmed by the appeal of the small mountain village, Rzipa left Hans Schneider's Arlberg Ski School in St. Anton and joined the Ski School Gargellen in 1948. Three years later he took over the school, following Sepp Riezler and Ludwig Brauner, and for the following two decades he simultaneously managed the tourist office alongside it. The tall, lean and tanned ski, mountain and avalanche guide with the thick white head of hair and distinctive profile became the legendary “"Ski School King from Gargellen".

The impassioned tour guide taught his ski school students the fascination of the untouched powder snow slopes and brought them with climbing skins to the mountains and higher hills of Gargellen. Their athletic achievements were honored with the much esteemed alpine performance medal in gold, silver and bronze.

Whether it's a guest race by torchlight or costumed run, ski teacher ballet or avalanche dog demonstration, be it 5 o’clock tea or evening dancing with live music and super bands- such as the Trio Novis with their bandleader Fritz Aures or the George Paez Group with local matador Gustl Grabher as guitarist- the "Ski School King" with the name "O.D." was always in action’s spotlight. "O.D." stands for "Oncle mit der (Schäferhundin) Dinah" (uncle with the sheep dog Dinah) It was children who gave this naickname to the admired avalanche resue dog guide.

O.D. was outgoing and loved to dance. He was multitalented and educated, and because of this, a clever talker and, a writer - another one in Gargellen. He was one that not only published some "words and pictures" but drew spot-on caricatures with his own hand and habitually presented the object of his current infatuation at breakfast with his self written poem. He has a huge weakness for beautiful women, what he himself in the short biography of his book "Mountain Springtime" pointed out: "I was and am rather often in love". Does it surprise anyone that tourist life in Gargellen evolves around Otto Rzipa?

Meanwhile, the wonderful far reaching, multifaceted ski area of Gargellen was appropriately developed by the Schafberg Lifts. Nevertheless, it retained a proper touch of romantic. Be it the majestic slopes under the peaks and ridges that make the history-charged borders of Gargellen or the possibility to cross these borders with skis, as for instance with the Madrisa circular tour or be it the knowledge just surrounding these stories and the fantasy keeping it alive, that lends the village, while heading up to the pass summit, its unforgettable Nimbus.

Like all public establishments, during its 35 years (since 1948), padre Basillus has emerged as pastoral caregiver in Gargellen and has also sanctified parochially the lift system. One day, towards the end of the season when the trails had luckily already begun their springtime thaw, a T-bar lift user on his way to the Gargellenköpfen began wondering  about the lift user in front of him. His shape was unusual because he was wrapped in a hooded frock and he had a spectacular fall when he arrived at the top and flew from the lift. The dumbfounded skier helped collect the man's skis, poles, goggles, and oddly enough, a full bottle. It was Padre Basillus- it couldn’t be anyone else- with his holy water bottle who accidentally fell because of his hood. This was his first and last time in his life that he would be on skis. The bottle containing holy water was meant to bless the new lifts. Completely unimpressed by all the excitement, the hooded padre shook the snow from his frock and held his small ceremony, completely alone, then put the now empty bottle back in his hood, the skis on his shoulders and walked back down to the valley, like he did everyday for years.