FATHER OF THE LAUBERHORN
Who is this person...
Ernst Gertsch, born on January 1, 1900 as the oldest of 7 children (four boys, three girls) grew up in Wengen. He lived in a village that was not even linked to the valley with a road, which was only connected by rail in 1893, in a community that was not even autonomous.
His father managed a small farm, was a railway employee, looked after cows and had the license to sell salt in his small shop named “Central”. His son Ernst skied down to Lauterbrunnen to secondary school in winter and only embarked on the long journey to Interlaken at the age of 9 years – on foot of course.
For Ernst Gertsch education was very important. And so his years of apprenticeship and travels began. At 15 he worked in the telegraph office in Wengen. At 17, in order to learn French, he took on a job at the telegraph post in Bex. At 18 he began a two-year course at the College of Technology in Biel and from 1920 – 1923 did an apprenticeship at the telegraph post in Bern.
Due to the death of his father he returned, without work, to Wengen. There he opened a sports shop to the east of the Hotel Eiger, made the bold move to England to learn English, became tennis and ice-skating instructor on his return, founded the Ice-hockey Club Wengen in December 1923, became member of the SC Wengen, was soon made Treasurer, Secretary, Vice-president and finally President from 1929 – 1953. At the beginning of the Thirties Gertsch was made President of the Lauberhorn section of the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC). He was coach, instructor, race director for the Swiss Ski Association, Technical Delegate, delegation leader of the Swiss Ski Association expeditions to World Championships and Olympic Games.
Ernst Gertsch was eager to learn and restless. The Jungfrau Massive fascinated and motivated him. It roused his curiosity for the Alps and fuelled his ambition. Together with his friend and mountain guide Christian Rubi, in the 1920s he succeeded in reaching the summits of 9 mountains in the Jungfrau Massive never climbed before. It is probably no coincidence that it was exactly these men who won the Downhill (Rubi) and the Slalom (Gertsch) at the first Lauberhorn Race. His favourite and fateful mountain was the Jungfrau. It was there that he met Blanda Leisinger, 13 his junior and later to become his wife, in autumn 1936 whilst on a “photo safari tour” with the famous photographer Paul Senn. Ernst Gertsch led her up to the summit of the Jungfrau. Blanda and Ernst, struck by cupid’s arrow, married less than a year later in the church in Meiringen. They had four sons and one daughter. Despite apparently being so different, the couple - in which two extremes met upon each other - harmonized very well. The prudent Blanda evened out Ernst’s mood swings, controlled his vivacity and brought him back to reality when his ideas became too highfaluting.
1930 marked the beginning of a new era for Ernst Gertsch and also, to a certain extent, for Alpine ski racing. On November 28, 1929 along with the co-founders of the Swiss Academic Ski Club (SAS) in Berne he signed the founding document of the Lauberhorn Race. After the pioneering years (from 1924), with this race the wonderful story of Alpine ski racing really began to unfold. A story that is marked, to a large extent, by Arnold Lunn and Ernst Gertsch who guided it through many perils. It was long, difficult and often bumpy road.
One of the factors leading to the success were the many connections that Gertsch, with his open, uncomplicated and friendly nature had made with the Ski Association, to other European countries, the FIS and also within Switzerland. He carefully kept up the relationships by attending no less than eight Olympic Games and twelve Ski World Championships.
Over time, what was once a one-man-show developed further with a new generation of ex-ski stars including Karl Molitor, Heinz von Allmen, Oskar and Hans Gertsch, Jost Brunner, Fredy Fuchs and also his son Viktor. It was he who took over the reigns in 1970 along with Fredy Fuchs. The two got on very well and, for many years, operated like a kind of dream team. After 40 years as President of the Organising Committee, Ernst Gertsch expressed his gratitude: The best moments of my existence have been those in the mountains and on skis. It’s there where I’ve made the best companions and dearest friends. It’s the companionship that has repeatedly given me the strength to serve the idea of the Lauberhorn Race.
In no other classic sporting event in Switzerland, or probably even in the whole world, is there another example of a father and son acting as President of the Organising Committee of the same race for 75 years from the moment of foundation.
Ernst Gertsch instinctively felt: no solutions can be found in the past, but only in the future. For this reason he never rested on his laurels. For him everything was always a beginning and each goal achieved merely represented a brief intermediate stage. He always remained the country lad. And all his skills, everything he undertook and did, he achieved for himself. In everything he was a self-educated and self-motivated person. His curiosity for life sparked off a self-help reflex. He himself contributed to his social climbing and noteworthy reputation.
He was not only the father but the heart, the soul, the brain and the conscience of the Lauberhorn Race. Yes, he was the Lauberhorn Race. And he justified his aura.
On November 28, 1986, on a beautiful clear day Ernst Gertsch was carried to his grave by a large international community of mourners.
With its subtle simplicity the memorial at the starting house at the top of the Lauberhorn, on this natural seat reminds us of the person of Ernst Gertsch; of his character, his close relationship with mountain and sky, ski and man, with nature and sport.