Rudi Schnackenberg, a native German born in Hamburg in 1921, moved to the U.S. at the age of six. After learning to ski at 17 on Berthoud Pass with 8’ wood jumping skis, he would go on to compete in skiing during the U.S. Nationals from 1939 to 1942. He was awarded the National Ski Patrol Badge prior to being drafted in 1942, where he volunteered for a post with the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division. A brand-new mountain warfare division utilized in mountainous areas throughout the world, later based in Leadville, Colorado. Rudi served as a combat medic, as well as a skiing and mountaineering instructor. “Uncle Sam said come ski for me at $50 per month,” Rudi jokes in an interview about his time serving. Rudi, a decorated veteran earned the Combat Medic Badge, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster.
After the war, Rudi and his wife, Dottie, whom he married in 1944, began building a family while living in Denver. He continued to volunteer and teach skiing in the West Portal area, soon to be known as Winter Park Ski Area.
In 1955, he and his family moved to Steamboat Springs where he coached Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athletes and managed the Howelsen Hill Ski Area. In 1965, Rudi took a position with Steamboat Resort as an instructor and supervisor for Steamboat SnowSports School. During his career in Steamboat Springs, he worked with famous skiers like Loris “Bugs” Werner, Jon Elliot, Jim “Moose” Barrows, Jere Elliot, Chis McNeil, Jeff Davis, and Lonny Vanatta. In 1972-73 he was named by fellow Professional Ski Instructors of America as “Instructor of the Year” and was later inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 1982.
Rudi Schnackenberg, a Steamboat legacy, died in 1985 at the age of 64. His many contributions and legacy still live on to those who ski and ride Rudi’s Run, one of our most active runs located in the heart of Steamboat just beyond the Steamboat Gondola terminal on Thunderhead Peak.
Rudi’s son, Larry Schnackenberg, still carries his father’s legacy as a Ski Patroller in Steamboat of more than 50 years. I recently caught up with him after a day of patrolling on Howelsen Hill, where his dad taught him to ski as a kid and asked him to remember his father, and what he might tell us today.
Your dad has taught a lifetime’s worth of people about skiing and the outdoors. What is one lesson that your dad taught you that you will always remember?
He taught us that we all make mistakes, it’s best to admit your mistakes and learn from them. When I would get in trouble doing stupid things, he would always ask, “Well, did you learn anything?”
What are your earliest memories of Steamboat when you moved here? How has it changed since then?
When we moved here, Steamboat was full of open spaces and dirt roads, and zero traffic lights. As kids, we used to go on all kinds of adventures in these open spaces, now my house, and others sit where we used to play.
What locales or activities were your family favorites around Steamboat?
My most favorite memories are from our annual family camping trip up on Buffalo Pass at Lake Elmo. We would spend days fishing all the lakes we could hike to.
What lesson would your dad teach someone who is just beginning to ski today?
Have fun no matter how frustrating it might seem at times.
How can we continue to honor the Schnackenberg legacy as people who live for the outdoors?
Don’t take the outdoors for granted. Respect and love what you have and leave your campsites better than they were if possible.
“My sister, Ruth McClelland, has likely said it the best. “May we, with a happy heart, carry a little whistle, song, or smile in our life with us each day that passes in remembrance of Rudi.“
So, the next time you are up on the mountain take a lap down Rudi’s Run. Bring your happy heart, whistle your favorite tune, and wear your best smile in honor of Steamboat greats like Rudi that helped build the life we’ve come to enjoy.
Josh Froman is a humble heartlander who has found his home among the mountain majesties of Northwest Colorado. Husband, dad to twins, coffee enthusiast, INTP. His favorite runs on an early Steamboat bluebird day are quickdraw, flintlock, and vagabond laps.