The sun is not up yet, but Hubert Schriebl is. In the pre-dawn light he skins up Yodeler, then North American, heading up Stratton Mountain. It’s his regular route these days, close to a 2,000-foot climb from the base to the top of the ski area, an altitude of 3,875 ft. Some days he has skins on his touring skis, other days he has crampons on his boots.
“I’d rather go steep than long,” says the 84-year-old mountain guide and photographer. “Sometimes it can be pretty miserable starting out,” he says, “but once on the way, it’s always worth it. The North American can be like a glacier sometimes if it is raining and very spooky on top – but it will turn out to have been a good climb and a great time.”
A loyal group of fellow mountaineers often joins Schriebl throughout the year, especially on New Year’s Day, meeting in the dark and greeting the sunrise at the top. “When I turned 70, I began to count my climbs to the top, cutting a notch in the railing at Hubert Haus after each one,” Schriebl says, referring to the lodge that was named for him on his 65th birthday.
The year he turned 70, Schriebl notched 100 climbs. In the 14 years since, he’s made nearly 700 notches. “Almost as many as Hank Aaron’s home runs,” he says with a chuckle, his Austrian accent still thick.
While skinning to the top may be one of skiing’s fastest growing sports, with dozens of skiers freeheeling it up on all-terrain gear before the lifts run, it’s nothing new for Schriebl.
Heading to the summit is in Hubert Schriebl’s blood. He grew up skiing and climbing Austria’s high Alpine peaks and, as an Austrian Ski & Mountain Guide and a member of the Austrian Alpine Club, he helped to create some of the first Western maps of the Himalayas.
In his 20s, Schriebl joined the five expeditions that set out to map the Everest region. He started as a mountain guide. But on the first of these three-month long expeditions, a cartographer fell ill to altitude sickness, and Schriebl was asked to take over his equipment.
Dr. Erwin Schneider, expedition leader–and an experienced mountaineer and surveyor-engineer–became his lifelong mentor. He taught Schriebl to produce meticulous and beautiful photographs for the cartography record, which Schriebl did from then on. “That helped me with my photography – you have to be meticulous to have a perfectly composed picture,” Schriebl says.
Schriebl still holds the high-altitude surveying record, registered at 6,710 meters (22,015 feet).
At home in the Austrian Alps, Schriebl guided and taught skiing in Lech in between his expeditions. In 1964, Schriebl was the lead guide for the Dutch Himalayan expedition that made the first ascent on Nepal’s Manaslu II, ascending to the summit at 24,000 ft. To get there, the team, plus 90 porters, hiked from Kathmandu toward Manaslu.
A report by expedition member Jan de Lint, posted by the American Alpine Club, described the journey: “The route from Syabrubensi to the Buri Gankaki was more or less unknown. Small, steep, slippery paths, leeches and heavy monsoon rains made that part of the route rather difficult. In seven days we placed four camps on the mountain: Camp I at 17,000 ft. Camp II on the Naike Col at 18,000 ft.. Camp III in the icefall at 20,000 ft. and Camp IV just above the icefall at 21,325 ft. At three difficult spots we used fixed ropes. One was first climbed by Schriebl.”
Schriebl came from that expedition to Stratton that December, at the invitation of Emo Heinrich, Stratton’s first ski school director. The two had been members of the same climbing club in Innsbruck. On his arrival, Heinrich took Schriebl out to acclimate him to a ski area that was mostly below the tree line. They bushwhacked from the Fire Tower down the Long Trail to Stratton Pond. “There were trees everywhere,” Schriebl says with a laugh “you couldn’t make a turn, you had to catch yourself from one tree to another!”
The idea was to spend “one season” in Vermont, but at the end of his first winter, he met his wife Wendy. “She was on a ski weekend with college girlfriends,” he recalls. “I didn’t expect to stay, but I met Wendy and that’s the rest of the story.” They married, had two children and two grandchildren and Schriebl became a U.S. citizen.
Schriebl continued to go on international climbing expeditions: doing the final surveying of the Everest region (Nepal), as well as climbing Popocatepetl (Mexico), Rwenzori (Uganda), Kilimanjaro (Kenya). He also climbed on Ellesmere Island (Arctic Circle), and guided in the Alps.
All the while, Schriebl’s reputation as a photographer grew. He captured the action at four Winter Olympics and his work was published by Ski, Skiing, Sports Illustrated and Time magazines, among others.
Over the years, Stratton hosted major events for both athletes and celebrities and Schriebl caught just about every famous person and moment. The Special Olympics were brought to the ski area by Eunice Shriver and former President Gerald Ford hosted the Stratton-Vail Ski Classic in the late 1980s. Patrick Kennedy and Diana Golden competed in the 1990 Disabled Ski Championships. In 1992, Olympian Donna Weinbrecht won the National Freestyle Championships. Olympic snowboarders Shaun White and Ross Powers got their start at Burton’s U.S. Open at Stratton.
Off the slopes, Schriebl covered other sports celebrities especially during Stratton’s high-growth years in the ‘70s. Golf star Arnold Palmer and famous tennis players John Newcombe, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Andre Agassi grace the pages of Schriebl’s book, Stratton – The First 50 Years.
Stratton’s World Cup in 1978 had many of the world’s most competitive skiers such as Ingemar Stenmark, Phil and Steve Mahre, Perrine Pelen and Cindy Nelson—all captured in Schriebl’s brilliant shots. The photos had to be published somewhere, first appearing in a Stratton newsletter, which became the start of Stratton Magazine.
But many of Schriebl’s most memorable photos are not of celebrities but of the skiers and riders who carve Stratton’s slopes every weekend. He has his pick of good skiers and he can be strict with his models. “I was sometimes a little bit too rough,” he says. “But the moment doesn’t come back – you really have to listen and follow the line to get the best action photo,” he explains.
To stay in shape these days, Schriebl continues to do what he loves the best – climbing uphill with his camera. Despite a bad injury a couple of years ago when he was hit by a flying ice chunk, most days he still climbs up Stratton or skins the trails around his house in South Londonderry. Steady and sure, it’s what he loves and keeps him in better physical condition than many half his age. n