Hot Dog Club Titlis – Engelberg Freeskiing 30 years ago

Titlis Hot Dog Club

This is an excerpt from Ski Lodge Bulletin, our annual hotel magazine at Ski Lodge Engelberg. You can read the full issue online here, or come by our bar and pick up a printed issue. Happy reading!

When you wonder back through the history of the bad boys of the Titlis, several themes just keep re-emerging. They claimed skiing was never about taking things too seriously and that having fun was always the most important by-product of their time on the snow.

Back in the 80s, neon coloured one-piece-suits and matching war paint was the way to be seen on the mountain. Coupled with super long skinny skis, which had the manoeuvrability and feel of an oil tanker, it is easy to dismiss this period in skiing history.

But research the Hot Dog Club Titlis shows that these were no ordinary glam rock skiers. These were seriously talented individuals paving the way for a new kind of skiing led by an extraordinary Olympian, Hans Ettlin. As he was a multi-talented action man who competed in gymnastics at two Olympic Games (1968 and 1972), coached the Swiss Freestyle Team and also picked up a bronze medal at the World Champs in canoeing (?!) the club was never going to be about tea and cake after a few nice turns.

An early club member, Chris Balmer, who now works for Alpine Legends and has been living in Engelberg long before skis were fat and people were talking about “shredding pow” and “hucking cliffs” gave us an insight.

– We skied because it was fun and didn’t really have a plan about “doing something” with our skiing. My brother and I joined in the late seventies when it was still young. We had never really competed but the founders took us under their wings and started totrain us. Some of us had a lot of natural talent, some had less!

Club member Sonny Schönbächler was one of those amazing natural talents who was infuriatingly good regardless of training. For most of us club membership and training hard to Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ was the pinnacle of our skiing, but as Sonny went on to win the Olympic Gold in Aerials at the Lillehammer Games in 1994 he may have had other career highlights!

Dani Friedli, now running the OKAY shop in Engelberg, remembers that some parts of training were more fun than others…

– We competed in ski ballet, moguls and aerials. Ski ballet with all its hip wiggling and star jumps wasn’t always the most fun but we could always disappear for a lap or two of powder skiing if we got bored. It was great as back then no one was skiing pow and we were always alone with our fresh tracks, although if you looked at the skis and equipment we had it wasn’t that surprising really!

When we weren’t competing, the club often had freestyle shows up on the Titlis mountain. In the beginning payment for these shows was made through food and drink, but after a while some bright spark figured out it would be cheaper to give the club a small salary as members were always so ‘thirsty’. Dressed in unbreathable suits dancing to the beats of Salt N’ Pepa’s ‘Push it’ or Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ that decision probably saved more money than the average Swiss bank account!

Chris Balmer laughs as he recalls the infamous “Champagne Show” which highlighted the thirst members had:

– One show was sponsored by a champagne brand who placed loads of bottles in the snow around the jump. Just as we were about to start a thick fog rolled in to delay the show, but which also provided the perfect cover for club members to sneak up and ‘test’ the champagne. As quickly as it had arrived the fog cleared, so we had to be quick to get back up and start the show. I think the sun came out just in time and it was one of the best shows we ever did. And no one was nervous! Ha ha.

In the early nineties Dani and Chris transitioned into work with a proper salary, and eventually these freestyle disciplines, and the club, started to fade away. But if you see someone doing a double backflip off a jump, or spins a perfect pirouette on a flat slope, it might just be one of the former members from the Titlis Hot Dog Club, having some fun and be- ing awesome at the same time.

Photo Credits: Chris Balmer – thank you!

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