Emile Allais, the maestro from Megeve and the great-grandfather of French skiing has died aged 100. Allais, who continued to ski until he was 99, won four gold medals and four silver at three different successive World Championships in the 1930s. He also gained bronze at the infamous 1936 Olympics at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where he recalled meeting Hitler.
“He came to congratulate me after the Garmisch race and we shook hands” he said. “He looked a harmless enough man. When I realised later who he really was, it was a strange feeling.”
France’s first instructor and pisteur
Apart from being four times world champion, Emile Allais was France’s first ski instructor and first pisteur. He was also the first skier who dared to depart from the Arlberg method of skiing, devised by the great Austrian innovator from St Anton, Hannes Schneider. In effect he abandoned the stem Christiania and created the parallel turn. “I won my victory in Chamonix in 1937 thanks to this technique” he said.
“Now one could truly say there was a French way of skiing”, he said. “From that point onwards we were no longer the petits garcons of ski racing.”
He was also instrumental in designing the Allais 60, Rossignol’s first metal skis that helped to give Jean Vuarnet victory in the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley. While Vuarnet is better remembered for his sunglasses than his racing, Emile Allais’ name lives on in the pistes named after him in Courchevel, La Plagne and elsewhere.
After WW2 he travelled the world, coaching the Canadian and then the US ski teams and developing resorts in both North and South America. In Sun Valley he taught Cary Grant and Darryl Zanuck before becoming ski school director in Squaw Valley. He returned to France to help develop Courchevel, bringing with him knowledge of lift layout and avalanche control that he’d learned in California and in Portillo, Chile.
Brigitte Bardot’s ski teacher
Meribel was next on his list, followed by improvements to his native Megeve and the creation of Flaine, “When I arrived, I asked where the pisteurs were” he recalled. “Everyone looked at me in amazement. No-one had any idea what I meant.” He taught Brigitte Bardot to ski and was a celebrity in his own right. “He had everything” said his biographer Gilles Chappaz. “La chance (luck), le flair, le feeling, le talent.”
Emile skied on into his old age. He broke his shoulder in an accident with a snowboarder when he was 90 and even that didn’t stop him. “It’s more tiring to walk than to ski,” he used to say.
He was still skiing at 99 and bet his heart doctor that they would do the Vallee Blanche together for his 100th birthday at the end of last season. But sadly that didn’t happen. “My balance is not quite what it was,” he complained and instead celebrated the day quietly with his family at his home overlooking the pistes in Megeve.
For one of the greatest and most influential figures in French skiing – and indeed in the long history of skiing – time finally ran out.