GTPulse: From Austria to Aspen, Traverse City Woman Lives Life Through Adventure and Skiing

“My legal name is Helga, which our relatives use. I used Maxi in high school as there were so many in my class.”

I know Helga as Maxi Neugebauer. I met her while behind the bar and was delighted when she ordered a Stella, with a lovely European accent.  She was meeting her brother and sister in law for a quick drink after a day of teaching a ski class. We got to talking and despite being retired she volunteers to instruct East and West Middle School students in skiing, and they’re lucky to have an instructor like Maxi. The Austrian born 74-year-old has been professionally trained and has spent most of her life teaching people how to ski.

She started skiing around age five with her brother Viktor. Growing up in Austria it was natural to start getting immersed in skiing at a young age.

“We walked when we went to school three kilometers down the hill and three kilometers back up. Oh my goodness, because we lived in a very rural area on top of a mountain,” she said.

Her brother Viktor would serve to be an inspiration for the rest of Maxi’s life and career. He had learned to be a ski instructor, and to make himself even more competitive, went to school for hospitality management. When he secured a job working at a resort in Boyne Mountain in the ‘60s he found that they needed another ski instructor.

“They needed an additional female ski instructor, and so I was just very lucky to be able to do a course in the Salzburg region.”

The course Mxxi took was 10 days but was designed to go up to three years for people who wanted to take a longer, more intensive path to ski instruction. 

Eventually, Viktor left to take a job in Aspen where Maxi followed to find another ski instructor job, this next one being a little less vigorous than the Boyne Mountain gig.

“Whatever Viktor did, I did the next year,” Maxi said with a laugh. “At Boyne we did training sessions and drills because they wanted to make sure we teach the same method because other instructors came from very different areas and so, different abilities. It’s not just that you teach the same technique, but you teach the same way.”

Viktor fell in love with his future wife in the offseason, and what turned into moving for a job turned into moving for love. Viktor was going to be in the United States for some time, and so was Maxi. Their careers together spanned over different states, countries, and jobs, but always revolved around skiing.

“We were ski advisors at Sears. Viktor and I were in charge of the sporting goods ski department in the sporting goods. We used to be on TV promoting and in the Rocky Mountain News promoting the Austrian skis. We trained in the Andes at a famous training arena for the French team, the American team. It was absolutely, unbelievably beautiful.”

So why does a sibling duo go from touring the world to living in sweet little Traverse City? To settle down, enjoy the beauty and keep on skiing.

By the mid-’60s, Viktor took a job at Timberlee Hills, with his wife Alice taking a job at Munson as a nurse. Maxi met her husband Al while living outside of Detroit and married him in 1968, a year after Viktor married Alice.

“In the same church! It was very, very nice.”

Maxi couldn’t be away from the winter outdoors for too long and she eventually moved to Traverse City where she has lived and retired, although she’s hardly a typical retiree. Maxi just finished another season of coaching the East and West middle school cross country teams.

“It’s amazing. They learn so fast. You know, I’m really big on starting on getting good at the basics. How to walk, how to get up, how to slow down. I just like to get them out.”

I have never skied, so Maxi had to explain to me the different types of techniques that she teaches her students. She explained that when someone has their skis angled diagonally out that they would glide faster, but that it was quicker to tire yourself out skiing diagonally. She prefers the classic technique of going straight because it’s more rhythmic, and you can ski longer. For Maxi, being able to go the distance has been a recurring theme in her life with everything she does, but especially skiing, and she doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

“Not as long as I can walk.”

Categories: GTPulse