The mother of Scottish skiing;
Born: May 30, 1920; Died: January 11, 2013.
Eileen Fuchs, who has died aged 92, was popularly known as "the mother of Scottish skiing". With her husband Karl, they pioneered winter sports in Scotland and in 1954 bought the Struan House Hotel in Carrbridge. They then founded the Austrian Ski School in Aviemore and for 30 years encouraged skiers and walkers to the Cairngorms all the year round. Their commercial foresight increased the economy of the area, and it became the principal Scottish ski centre.
Eileen Margaret Knowles was educated at Croydon High School for Girls. In 1938 she read history at Newnham College, Cambridge and was one of a generation of Newnham women who were not allowed to graduate. That was corrected in 1998 when Mrs Fuchs matriculated along with 900 other female graduates.
She travelled to Vienna in 1953 to study the violin but there she met and married Karl Fuchs, a member of the Austrian Olympic ski team who had sustained a bad fracture to a leg. Skiing, though, was in his blood and he had qualified as a ski instructor. They searched for a ski hotel in Austria without success and finally settled on the Cairngorms.
They bought the Struan House Hotel in Carrbridge for £5000 in 1954. It was a substantial double-fronted house with a sizeable annexe and an imposing turret which gave it a baronial feel. Karl's English was not very good when they arrived – the locals dubbed his use of the language Scotstrian – but their passionate commitment to the hotel and the ski school made them popular and the two settled into the tight-knit Highland community.
It was never easy. In the winter the weather and the snow were unreliable. Skiing on the Cairngorms was testing and icy cold – ski clothes in the 1950s were wildly inadequate. The Fuchs used all their ingenuity to entertain their guests and arranged days-out when skiing was impossible. Karl and Eileen would organise hill walking expeditions, bird-watching outings and rambles round Loch an Eilein or Loch Morlich.
The development of the area was slow and it was not until 1960 that road communications were improved. Within a decade Aviemore, however, had become the centre of a major development and the Coylumbridge Hotel and skating rink were constructed. The development confirmed their foresight and commercial acumen.
Their son, Peter, became a prominent skier at the National Championships at St Moritz in 1974 and was amongst the top 20 skiers in the world. He was a member of the Great Britain team at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck but he was sadly killed in a car crash in 1980. The Fuchs sold Struan House in 1984 and after Karl's death in 1990 Mrs Fuchs moved closer to her daughter in Grantown-on-Spey.
Clive Freshwater of Loch Insh Watersports knew Mrs Fuchs for many years and greatly admired and respected her. "Eileen was the backbone of Struan House Hotel and ensured the hotel worked like clockwork. Financially and domestically Eileen was in charge. She gave ski classes to beginners and in the summer led trekking parties over the mountains – she was always full of enthusiasm."
More recently, Mrs Fuchs inaugurated the Karl and Peter Fuchs Memorial Fund for the benefit of young Speyside skiers. Clive Freshwater served as a trustee of the Foundation and recalls: "Eileen insisted that everything was done properly and the applicants were considered at length. She was determined to encourage skiing in the Cairngorms and proud of the memorial plaque to Karl that now sits prominently on Cairngorm."
Eileen Fuchs is survived by her daughter.
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