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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of September 24 - 30, 2003

Opinion Column

Freddy Pieren

Commentary by Betty Bell

Last week, the Mountain Express received a copy of an obituary from a Nevada paper, and when the editor showed it to me and asked if I had known the deceased—when the name registered—Alfred "Freddy" Pieren—it hit me deep as a stab.

Freddy Pieren. "Yes," I said. "I knew Freddy Pieren. A long time ago."

I read the obituary: a standard list of pertinent dates ... achievements … survivors… and a suggestion of how to honor his memory. It didn’t and it couldn’t capture the essence of Freddy’s time in our community and the gifts he gave to those of us who knew and liked and respected and loved him. So here’re a few words about Freddy during his Sun Valley years, the place and time in which I had a few lines in the script.

Freddy and I came to Sun Valley in the late ’40s when Sun Valley re-opened after World War II. I had left the flatlands of Nebraska for Sun Valley and a job as a soda jerk so I could learn to ski. Freddy, after his wartime service, ran the ski school at Snow Valley in Manchester, Vt., before coming here. He didn’t elect to teach skiing; instead he set up Pete Lane’s wax room that was attached to the then small store tucked into the "L" corner of the Challenger Inn by the duck pond. I believe it was the best-organized and most efficient wax room anywhere. Freddy, born an innovator, figured out and implemented the first mass ski waxing procedures. I remember how I liked to walk in and smell those old-time waxes brushed at high-speed onto the long wooden skis.

The wax room was where winter people, both instructors and guests, gathered to share and exaggerate the delicious happenings on the mountain that day, and then many of them headed to the Ram bar to lift a glass or two or three to the good life.

The instructors kept their skis in a step-down room within the wax room, and though that robust bunch was given to horseplay, they knew the limits in Freddy’s place. Before they entered they meticulously clomped the snow off their boots, and when they put their skis in assigned slots, they lined them up properly—and Freddy’s crew was trained not to tolerate scissors-crossed skis in the guest racks either.

Fifty years are too many for my old head to remember just how it came to be that Freddy took on the task, once I got past being a ski bunny, of turning me into the racer I secretly longed to be. He was my first ski coach.

In a "B" and "C" beginner race, my first, I wasn’t scared silly, I was scared sick. But in the starting area Freddy took me aside, looked me in the eye, told me I knew this course better than the quaking visiting girls, so get with it. I quit thinking about throwing up and fixed my mind on what he’d told me during training—exactly what line to take to be exactly where I needed to be through each of the few gates set on an Olympic run cut that summer. The terrain was raw, and it was scary, and I didn’t win, but I didn’t die, and eventually the skills Freddy taught me took hold. I became a member of the U.S. alpine team and competed in Norway way back when. And no, I didn’t win any medals.

Those who remember Freddy seem first to remember a funny story—but even the funny stories convey the sense of regard in which they held him. All the tales end with "What a man! …, or "That Freddy!". Louie Mallane, of Louie’s Pizza fame, said that when he worked in the wax room Freddy would get furious if he, Lou, misspelled a word, and he said Freddy told him he’d been National Spelling Bee champion in Switzerland. I was surprised, and I said I hadn’t known that, and Louie said I didn’t know it because Freddy made it up.

Louie’s brother, Tom, said that Freddy, who, though no hunk, was discretely muscled, would put his back against the wall, crook his legs 90 degrees, and challenge all comers. The comers never won.

Fritz Watson remembers when Howard Head came to the valley and, after meeting with Freddy, asked him to join him in his new company that would build the first aluminum ski. When Freddy told Fritz about the offer I guess Fritz looked crestfallen, because Freddy said, "Don’t worry, Fritz. He’ll never give me enough money to leave." But history shows he did. Freddy moved to Baltimore and worked for the Head Ski Company, and thus began a ski industry career that turned into a life-long curve on the rise.

Freddy’s wife Frieda was a perfect soul mate. And I guess you could call her a coach too. She taught me and three other lucky brides to make her famous bread—an involved process that brooked no short-cuts, but the bread was worth every minute of the entire day it took to turn out three aromatic, beautifully crusted, and to-die-for tasting loaves. I haven’t made Frieda’s bread for years, but remembering it now makes me want to get out that recipe and try it again.

Freddy’s godson, Fred Haemisegger, taught skiing here from 1954 to 1957 and then moved to Mammoth Mountain, and then on to Houston where he switched to banking and investments. After his retirement in 1995, he built a home here, and in the winter, most days, he’s on the mountain. Should you meet him on the lift or thereabouts, tell him that even if you didn't know Freddy personally, stories of his—and Frieda’s—lasting brick-and-mortar gifts are still goin’ ’round.



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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.