Obituary for Franz X. Gabl

  • Franz was born in St. Anton am Arlberg, Tyrol, Austria. Franz had a happy childhood growing up with two brothers and four sisters under the loving care of his mother Kreszenz and father Josef, a house painter. His hometown of St. Anton is known as “the cradle of alpine skiing”. Growing up in the mountains, Franz along with his older brother, Pepi, became top racers and coaches. Franz apprenticed as a ski instructor under the legendary Hannes Schneider. 

    Franz had a burning desire to become a top racer. His dream, however, was interrupted when Germany annexed Austria prior to the start of World War II. When war broke out, Franz was sent to the Russian Front from 1941 to 1945 where he suffered several near fatal battle wounds and experienced the horrors of the war on one of the fiercest battlegrounds. At the end of the war, Franz was in hospital in Lubeck, Germany, a Russian prisoner of war. Franz escaped his captivity, making a thousand kilometre journey to his home in St. Anton. Upon returning home, Franz weighed 100 pounds and was barely recognizable to his family members.

    Franz continued to pursue his love of ski racing and was chosen for Austria's 1948 Olympic Team. The games were held in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Franz won a silver medal in downhill skiing becoming the first Austrian to win an Alpine medal at the Olympic Games. His award from his country for this accomplishment was 5 kilos of rice and 5 kilos of sugar, scarce commodities in post-war Austria.

    Franz was not content to stay in Austria as he yearned to travel to America. In 1950, he travelled with the Austrian ski team to the world championships in Aspen, Colorado. Franz decided to stay in North America, and received assistance from another Austrian racer, Hannes Schroll, who had already immigrated to the U.S. Franz began his North American ski instructing career at Sugar Bowl in California. Upon expiration of his US visa, Franz travelled to Canada, with the help of a family friend, George Encil, who had recently purchased the Mount Norquay ski area near Banff, Alberta. Franz ran the ski school and in the summers worked as a driver for sightseeing tours between Banff and Jasper. Franz coached the 1952 Canadian Olympic Women's Team as well as the 1956 Canadian Olympic Men's Team. In the years that followed, Franz directed a number of ski schools, including: Mt. Gabriel, near Montreal; Grouse Mountain, near Vancouver; and in the U.S. at Boyne Mountain, and Caberfae, both in Michigan. In the early sixties, Franz became the ski school director at Mt. Baker, Washington where he also started one of America's first summer racing camps. Franz also ran a ski and sports store in Bellingham. In 1973, Franz chaired the first Ski to Sea race. The early race consisted of 3 legs: skiing, biking and a canoe or kayak finish.

    In the mid 70’s, Franz settled in Seattle. He worked as a painting contractor during the summers. During winters, he travelled to countless national and international masters competitions. 

    Franz retired to Bellingham in 1990 and finished writing his autobiographies: Franzl and Franzl II. Franz received a Skade award for his contribution to the historical record of skiing from the International Ski History Association. Franz has also been awarded an honorary membership by the Washington State Chapter of the Austrian-American Council for pioneering skiing in the Northwest. He has also received honorary awards from his hometown's Arlberg Ski Club.

    Franz spent his later years at Alderwood Park, a nursing home in Bellingham. He had some very special friends to keep him company including Dorothea Hamilton, John Nichols, and Jayne Carlson. He was fortunate to have many regular visitors from members of the Austrian Club of Seattle, as well as close friends: Walter Schluter, Helmer Sieber, Rene’ Dove’, Jean and Chet Mathison to name a few. 

    Franz was predeceased by daughter Monika of Austria. Franz is survived by his youngest sister Hilde of Seefeld, Austria, his children: Charles (Juli), Rosemary and Sarah (Andre), grandchildren: Sabine, Lindsey, Mackenzie, Jason, Dominic, Frances, Tracy, Bradley, Alex and Gina, 6 great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews in Austria. Franz had a special bond with his granddaughter, Gina, whom he played cribbage and bingo with every Saturday.
    Franz and his family wish to thank Dr. Richard Binder and the staff at Alderwood Park for their loving care in his final years. And a special Thank You to Ian Scully for allowing access to Franz's Bio to prepare his obituary. Mr. Scully has directed and produced a documentary film series - Legacy Austria's Influence on American Skiing.