RIP Manfred Barthel — The Master

Post by blogger | January 12, 2019      
Fritz Barthel's father Manfred, at Sol Austria in 2015 looking at historical Dynafit tech bindings on display.

Manfred Barthel, at Sol Austria in 2015 looking at historical Dynafit tech bindings on display. Click to enlarge.

I posted this back in January of 2009, during one of my early Europe trips, covering Dynafit and Austrian ski culture. I had the honor of skiing with and getting to know Manfred Barthel, father of Fritz Barthel, inventor of the tech binding. Manfred ski toured until just a few years ago, when his health rapidly deteriorated and led to his passing last week. Manfred liked nothing better than being out on the snow, clocking off another classic Austrian ski tour in the mountains around Kitzbuhl and Innsbruck. He was a sweet man. Generous, smart, loyal to his family. He’s now clocking off those same tours in the sky. Farewell Manfred! (I left a few appropriate comments from the older post. You can find another Manfred post here. His life stats: July 28, 1934 – January 11, 2019 at 84 years. Due to health issues he stopped ski touring at about 79 years age.)

Manfred Barthel on Steinbergstein.

Manfred Barthel on Steinbergstein, 2009.

(Original 2009 post follows)
Ski touring is supposed to be fun. So, if the avalanche danger is nil I’ll take it and smile like a waiter realizing they just got a 50% gratuity on an eight person meal, with wine. Today was like that here in Austria. Sure, Steinbergstein is a simple tour with just one climb of 3,600 vert and the subsequent descent of a mellow peak. But. The sublime weather. The historic Alps. Companionship of one of the area’s masters. We even saw wildlife — and did eat pastries.

Backcountry Skiing

Your blogger on the way up. It's been cold here. About 8 degrees F when we started up this morning, so hitting the sun was a joy. That and the fact that nearly every day I've had touring in the Alps over the past several years has been a storm day. So I was singing hallelujah when not a cloud grew in the sky, and thinking I was finally experiencing something like those Euro skiing posters and calendars that make it look as perfect as Vail (just kidding, as I like keeping my pants on when it's this cold).

Backcountry Skiing

Ok, here is the man. If I can climb and ski at seven decades even close to like Manfred Barthel does, that'll be fine and I will not whine. Why is he so good? Growing up without a car has something to do with it. You wouldn't believe the stories of how back in their day these guys had to walk an extra day just to get to the skiing. (If you're really really green, perhaps you should try that. Leave your crib a day early for a few turns at your local backcountry haunt, then take an extra day to get back? Talk about a low carbon footprint! If you do this, you're allowed to laugh at my truck.)

Backcountry Skiing

Near the Steinbergstein summit, we worked easterly along a ridge to drop some lines that hadn't been carved into bump runs yet. No lie, they get so many ski tourers up here that the more accessible slopes look like Highland Bowl three days after a storm. But like anywhere in the world, if you just take some time to think different you can avoid the teeming unwashed masses.

Backcountry Skiing

This is cool. We're gliding along and come across of herd of chamois. I've always wanted to encounter these creatures. They're flighty as heck, you can tell they get hunted quite a bit. They look like a cross between a goat and deer -- proof that backcountry skiers once mated with elk?

Backcountry Skiing

Manfred heading down...

Backcountry Skiing

...and me. More boot top powder, zilch avy danger, bluebird, good gear and the master as a companion. Yep, it was like two feet of fresh.


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13 Responses to “RIP Manfred Barthel — The Master”

  1. Randonnee January 8th, 2009 11:26 am

    Thank you for the inspiration! What a life there! Manfred’s ski form reminds me of my 71 year-old Bavarian ski tour buddy Ludwig- precise and efficient. Cool, another inspiration.

    There is a hope of possibly skiing here in central WA on a sunny tour tomorrow on refrozen snow with a skiff of new snow. Rain has finally stopped in the Cascades so now we wait for the flood crest to pass and the snow to refreeze with some new snow. At least the troublesome deeply buried weak layers have been eliminated except at some high elevations and to the north.

  2. Bill Porter January 8th, 2009 12:43 pm

    There is something to be said about skiing in a zero avy conditions. In my short 25 years of b.c. touring, especially the Alps where one wrong turn could be fatal. European ski/mountain culture is something that every aficionado needs to experience. The terrain is so vast and complex and huge that jumping over a ridge from one village to another often requires astute navigational skills, route finding and a little luck. When you can relax and enjoy the experience without avy danger pooling in the back of your brain, you are free to experience heaven here on earth….

  3. Lou January 9th, 2009 12:18 am

    Yeah Andrew, I should say something like “super low” rather than “zero.” Just fun to be at such low risk after all the recent rockin and rollin in the Western US. It’s been more than a week without a face shot, however, so…

  4. Lisa Dawson January 12th, 2019 2:29 pm

    Farewell, dearest Manfred!

  5. Lou Dawson 2 January 12th, 2019 2:51 pm

    One of my favorite memories of Manfred is not about skiing, but rather the time I put gasoline in his diesel automobile. My bone head error would have gotten a heavy scolding from anyone else. Manfred just dropped everything, drove another car to where I was stranded, and towed me to the service center. I suspect he might have been a little miffed and had a few words when I wasn’t around, when he pulled up to my location on the side of the highway, but he just smiled and laughed at my predicament. I’d pushed the car out of a roundabout by myself.

  6. Jim Milstein January 12th, 2019 7:01 pm

    Given my desire to ski in the backcountry until I drop, I am curious about how long other bc skiers manage to do it. It seems that Manfred Barthel is an exemplar in this matter. Can you say, Lou, how long he stayed atop his boards?

    PS, today was one of those days, the first of this season in the Wolf Creek bc, that it was really worth skiing as much as possible. The current storm over-produced a lot of fast, fluffy snow, and the underlying pack is no longer collapsing down to the center of the planet. As always, room for improvement remains: more snow to open up the lower elevations.

  7. Scott Mellin January 12th, 2019 8:22 pm

    Deepest respects and condolences. SM

  8. Lou Dawson 2 January 13th, 2019 6:28 am

    Jim, I’m headed to Austria for memorial etc., I’m sure there will be a full eulogy available at some point. I’ll add some facts to this blog post when I have them. Lou

  9. Lukas January 13th, 2019 9:24 am

    always an interesting read how you perceive the Alps, our culture and wildlife.

    RIP Manfred

    Regards from Sellraintal

  10. Pascal January 15th, 2019 4:56 am

    Thank you for reporting, Lou.

    You made Manfred*s invention well know in the USA.
    The next time I step in my Bindings I’ll think of Manfred Barthel once more and dedicate him the tour I’ll do here, Bavarian Alps.

    Manfred, besten Dank und Pfüat Di. ( Manfred, Thank You and Farewell )

  11. Lou Dawson 2 January 15th, 2019 9:28 am

    Thanks Pascal, just to be clear, Manfred’s son Fritz invented the binding, Manfred supported the project in many ways, including testing prototypes and probably coming up with engineering ideas. Lou

  12. Mark W January 16th, 2019 10:11 am

    Happy trails, Manfred! By the way, in the first photo, the rotating heel part next to Manfred’s right hand looks like a Ramer desigh. Is this correct?

  13. Lukas February 7th, 2019 10:46 am

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