In Memoriam: Émile Allais, Father of Modern Skiing – 1912-2012

Posted By: The Ski Channel on October 22, 2012 12:48 pm

With the recent passing of Émile Allais at an epic 100 years of age, the world of modern skiing has lost one of its greatest pioneers. When it comes to modern skiing, it is said that Émile was the father of it all. The French skier is credited as the first to ride with both skis pointed straight, and parallel to one another. Many described his riding as appearing incredibly risky and wild, while being completely in control. While this may not sound revolutionary by today’s standards, prior to Allais, downhill skiing was done with your planks oriented in a “V”! 

The skier succeeded in achieving a number of other “firsts” during his professional skiing career, and gained international fame through his exploits on the mountain. In 1934, Allais used his revolutionary style to dominate the combined event at Hahnenkamm at Kitzbuhel, Austria – securing the first major victory in French skiing history! Then in 1936, his global visibility grew exponentially when he earned Bronze in the Winter Olympics’ Slalom event. In 1937, Allais competed in the World Championships where he took 1st in all three disciplines, becoming the first person in the event’s history to achieve such a feat. He also earned the title of the World’s All-Around Champion Skier, which he succeeded in being the first person to ever hold it for two consecutive seasons (1937-1938).

Injuries and World War II may have put an early end to his competitive career, but fortunately, didn’t keep Émile off the mountain! After retirement from the competitive scene, the French champion used his knowledge and influence to inspire an entirely new generation of skiers. During the 1940s and 1950s, he coached the French Olympic Team. In 1946, he relocated to the Eastern Hemisphere and coached the Canadian National Team, then headed south to open one of South America’s first ski resorts in Portillo, Chile. Fascinated by the developing resort industry in North America, Allais traveled to the U.S. and served as one of the first ski instructors at Squaw Valley, CA and Sun Valley, Idaho. His methods were embraced by American skiers, and before he knew it, the Frenchman was coaching the US ski team during the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo! After returning to France, Allais utilized his experience with the American ski industry to advise a number of French resorts during their initial development — including spending a decade directing affairs at the famed Courchevel.

Émile Allais dedicated his entire life to the sport of skiing. He will be remembered as an risk-taking innovator and a passionate educator. The global snow sports community is forever in his debt.