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Reifer’s full life always leads him to the slopes

Fri., April 1, 2011

Lookout Pass Ski Area has celebrated its 75th season. That’s about as many ski seasons as Hans Reifer has seen in his eventful lifetime. I joined him on his 102nd day skiing since November. Every day Lookout is open, you’ll know where to find Reifer, a limited partner in the resort.

Don’t you wish you could figure out how to get away with hitting a mountain every day? I’ll settle for skiing like Reifer when I’m pushing 80. According to him, fate will make the difference.

“Conventional wisdom says plan your whole life and have a long-term goal, but I don’t think people live that way,” he said. “When I was younger I had no idea I was going to own a ski area and ski every day. But circumstances prevailed. You get lucky sometimes and things just happen.”

Reifer is carving toward his 80th birthday in August. He was born in 1931 in Vienna, Austria, where his father was a financier. His uncles took him skiing for the first time when he was 6 years old. Nazi Germany occupied Austria in 1938 and Reifer’s family fled to France. When the Nazis overran France, the Reifers were on the run again.

“We managed to get to north Africa – Casablanca, just like the movie,” Reifer said. “I was 9 years old. We caught a boat from Casablanca to Lisbon, where we sailed to the United States. We arrived in New York January of ’41.”

Reifer attended high school in New York and earned a degree in food science biochemistry at the University of California in Berkeley. After getting an MBA at Harvard, he spent a career developing products for Pillsbury, Lipton and Carnation. He had a hand in the birth of instant mashed potatoes in the early 1950s.

The skiing at Lookout last Saturday was the classic spring variety. The air was temperate, but the snow didn’t develop into mashed potatoes. Reifer glided through the corn. Even though he suffered a stroke a few years ago, his form is almost seamless. Skiing was instrumental in his recovery.

“My balance walking is questionable,” he said. “My balance on skis is terrific. When it comes to walking, I think I’m gonna fall over.”

During his professional career, Reifer was an instructor and ski school director at mountains in New Jersey, Minnesota, Idaho and California. Running the ski school at Ski Sunrise northeast of Los Angeles, he became friends with Phil Edholm, Lookout’s president and CEO.

When Edholm shared his ambition to buy a ski area, Reifer said he was in. Edholm told him the perfect mountain was Lookout. The two flew up to take a look, organized a limited partnership and bought the place in the fall of 1999. A few years later Reifer left Los Angeles for good and bought a house outside Wallace.

“I just wait for the sun to come up now,” Reifer said. “I didn’t expect to get past 70. I’ve never had a goal, although I’ve always known where I’m going. I just do the job in front of me – and the mountain in front of me.”

As another ski season comes to an end, it reminds me of how fast life goes by and how little time we have to chase our dreams. Reifer has done it by being true to himself. Follow his example and good things will happen along the way.

Bill Jennings can be reached at

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