The 94-year-old founding father of Mt Hutt Ski Area still carving up the slopes
"I'm just an old man who's lucky he still has enough juice to ski," says Willi Huber, a 94-year-old pioneer of the Mt Hutt Ski Area.
It's the day after his first trip up the mountain in two years and he's still on a high.
"I haven't skied for the last two years because of my sore feet, but they're feeling better again," he says down the line from his home in Geraldine. "But otherwise I ski every year. It was a beautiful day up on the mountain."
It was a call from an old friend that got Huber back in his ski gear.
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"I hadn't seen the fellow for years and he said 'I would love you to come skiing with me'," Huber says. "And so I did. We went up very early - at 7-o'clock in the morning - and brought the kids who couldn't wait to go up the hill and ski and were just loving it. I love the air up there. The environment is so different. It just feels good to be there."
Huber, who investigated sites for ski runs at Mt Hutt back in the 1970s and found the route for the access road, still cuts a dashing figure on the slopes.
There was no inkling that the sore feet or knee replacement he had several years ago were giving him any trouble as he sped down three runs and caught up with old pals, including 1992 Winter Olympic silver medallist in slalom skiing Annelise Coberger.
Huber first met Coberger when he was a ski instructor on the mountain and she just a small child.
He concedes he can't keep up with her now as "she's still a very good skier" and the wear and tear on his legs is slowing him down.
But after a lifetime on the mountains, skiing comes as naturally to him as walking.
"I can still do it because of my life - skiing all the time. It is my love. Because of Mt Hutt, a lot of people know me. Thousands of people know me. But it doesn't really have anything to do with me. People want to know how [establishing Mt Hutt] happened and who was involved. And I don't mind if it's me in the photographs."
BORN IN THE MOUNTAINS
Huber learnt to ski as a young boy in his native Austria, where skiing was simply a means of getting around.
"I lived in the mountains, I was born in the mountains if you want to know it. We had hard winters over there and I would ski to school."
He worked as a mountain guide in the alps before the World War II broke out and he volunteered to join the German army. He fought in Russia, France and Germany, earning Iron and Second Class crosses, and, after the war ended, was held by the Americans as a "political prisoner" for 16 months.
Back in the alps, Huber worked as a mountain guide and ski instructor, meeting an English doctor who set him on his path to New Zealand. The doctor had studied in Otago and told him he'd love New Zealand and should climb Mt Cook, urging him to apply for a working visa. He did just that and, after working on state houses in Porirua for 18 months, headed to Mt Cook.
'MY LADY AND I HAVE NO REGRETS'
His plan was to climb the mountain and head back home but he was waylaid by his future wife Edna, with whom he now has four children.
"I had $5 when I arrived in NZ," he says with a chuckle. "But life was good and I was lucky... It's amazing how much you can actually do in your life if you put in the effort.. My lady and I have no regrets that we made NZ home."
Settling in Christchurch, he became the first manager of the Mt Hutt Ski Area when it opened in 1973 and moved into public relations eight years later, by this stage approaching 60.
Huber believes it's the amount of time he spends on his feet - skiing, gardening or walking - that keeps him in shape.
"My body is holding up, but I don't know about my mind. The memory starts to slip. I remember the past very well but the present is quite difficult. But I'm quite happy anyway."
Especially, of course, when he gets his fix of mountains and snow.
"There were nearly 2000 people up on the mountain yesterday and everyone was happy," he enthuses. "To see them, from little two-year-old children to old b..... like myself, was lovely. I didn't want to go home."