Tributes paid to one of the last great Scottish ski pioneers
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Tributes have been paid to a Scottish snowsports pioneer who was one of the very last legends of Cairngorm skiing.
Hans Kuwall, founder and director of the Carrbridge Ski School, passed away aged 88 at his home Mafeking in the village on Christmas Day.
His funeral service took place at Carrbridge Parish Church at noon today.
Mr Kuwall was described as perhaps the most influential of the Austrian ‘migrant instructors’ who arrived in Britain to develop the sport and set internationally recognised standards of ski technique.
He was instrumental in popularising skiing in Scotland including through the development of the Hillend Ski Centre on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
Mr Kuwall was also a leading coach for many years on the British ski racing circuit and guided the rise of the Bell brothers, Olympic and FIS World Cup GB downhillers Martin and Graham. He was a founding father and long-time director of training for BASI (the British Association of Snowsport Instructors) with the membership number 13.
His wife Barbara said: “We had a long life together – we were married for 64 years and he was very proud of that.”
Son Tony said: “Wherever he went, people knew him. He was highly regarded.”
Mrs Kuwall added: “To begin with Hans was not allowed to race in Scotland as they regarded him as a professional.
“But the rules were changed as so many of the instructors wanted to race and he became Scottish ski champion in 1967.”
The couple first met at the Struan House Hotel – regarded as Scotland’s first ski hotel – in Carrbridge in 1956 having both arrived in the village on exactly the same day.
They were married in November 1957 in St George’s Church in Huyton in the suburbs of Liverpool, Mrs Kuwall’s then home city.
Mr Kuwall had been invited to the Highlands by his hometown friend in Austria, fellow Scottish ski great Karl Fuchs, to teach in Scotland.
They both hailed from Bruck an der Mur in the district of Steirmark and were in the same ski club as youngsters.
Mrs Kuwall said: “Hans started with Karl and had two years there and then Alistair Macintyre at the Carrbridge Hotel asked him if he would start a ski school there.
“We must have been there for two years and then we bought our house in 1960 and a short time later started our own ski school bringing instructors over from Austria.”
The ski school base was next door to their home, and is now the Carrbridge Artists Studio.
The couple had two children – Peter in 1962 and Tony arrived three years later.
The year 1962 was to prove pivotal for Mr Kuwall’s working career too – it was the same year he met Boyd Anderson at the London Ski Show.
Tony said: “Boyd and my father thought that they could bring an alpine slope to the Edinburgh area the same as they had seen at the show and give local schoolchildren a fantastic opportunity to learn to ski.
“Skiing didn’t really exist in Britain apart from a few people who would come up here and find patches of snow which they would walk to. Even Europe did not have that many ski resorts at this time.”
The businessman and the skier designed and fully developed Hillend which is now known as the Midlothian Snowsports Centre.
Mr Kuwall was to spend 29 years there – including running ski training programmes – whilst Mrs Kuwall and seasonal ski managers ran the Carrbridge Ski School.
In its heyday in the 1980s and through into the 1990s, the ski school was employing 30 full-time instructors, a further 20 part-timers and had more than 500 skiers taking lessons on a daily basis in February half-terms.
Mrs Kuwall said: “The school was popular almost from day one. All the ski schools were getting numbers like that back then.”
This was before the cheap flights to Europe’s ski slopes and milder winters.
Tony recalled: “We were not shut for wind then; it was because skiers could not get up the road. There were snow drifts the height of double-decker buses.”
Mr Kuwall retired from Hillend in the early 1990s and became more involved again with the running of Carrbridge Ski School.
But the resort started and prioritised its own operation for ski lessons when the funicular opened in 2001 leading to local ski schools folding.
He then briefly ran Cairngorm Mountain’s Ski School before retiring.
Mr Kuwall was also one of the British delegates on the world ski body the International Ski Instructors Association for many years – the equivalent of FIFA for football.
Friend Amanda Shepherd, Cairngorm Ski Club coach, said: “Hans was a true legend in the Scottish snowsports industry.
“He was an inspiration to so many aspiring ski instructors over the years – myself included – and he was always there to give support and technical expertise when needed.
“He helped me on so many levels. He used to say: ‘Amanda, I will teach how to ski properly!’.
“He taught me how to set up race timing, and was an invaluable mentor when we established The Ski and Snowboard School on Cairngorm Mountain.
“I’m lucky enough to have experienced his sense of fun, the twinkle in his eye and his heart of gold.”
Mr Kuwall had a passion for angling as well and the Dulnain mouth on the Spey was his favourite spot. He really enjoyed lawn green bowling.
He loved socialising and would hold mid-winter barbecues in his garden for ski school staff.
Carrbridge community councillor Andrew Kirk said Mr Kuwall’s passing was “very sad”.
He commented: “It is a cliché I know but this really is the end of an era.
“When we took over The Cairn Hotel in the early 1990s both he and Barbara who lived opposite were very friendly and supportive.
“He was an astute businessman running a very disciplined business. His mini buses would warm up in the morning from 7.30am and leave at 7.50am prompt for the hill.
“The staff enjoyed themselves after work but they knew they had to be fit for the bus in the morning. If you weren’t there in time you didn’t go!
“They were well turned out and would soon be told if their wearing of the uniform fell short!”
Gloria Bruce, of Riverside Bowling Club in Carrbridge, said Hans will be remembered with great fondness: “He was a very good bowler who was also keen to help promote the sport.
“Over the last few years he worked tirelessly to help keep the bowling green in a good condition.
"He was there most days this past season, making sure it was repaired, weeded and regularly watered. We are thankful for his loyalty, wisdom, friendship and unique sense of humour.”
Mr Kuwall was also grandad to Alistair, Duncan, Adam, Harry and Josh. He has been laid to rest in Carrbridge Cemetery.