Sasha Nekvapil (1919-2014)

A young Sasha Nekvapil in the Snowy Mountains. [Image courtesy Thredbo Historical Society]

Written by Elizabeth Heffernan, RAHS Volunteer

To celebrate Women’s History Month, the Royal Australian Historical Society will highlight Australian women that have contributed to our history in various and meaningful ways. You can browse the women featured on our new webpage, Women’s History Month.

For many Australians, skiing at Thredbo is a winter holiday pastime. What people may not realise is how much these iconic ski-fields owe to Czechoslovakian migrant Alexandra Nekvapilová, known during her years in Australia as Sasha Nekvapil.

A young Sasha Nekvapil in the Snowy Mountains. [Image courtesy Thredbo Historical Society]
A young Sasha Nekvapil in the Snowy Mountains. [Image courtesy Thredbo Historical Society]

As a young girl, Sasha learned to ski in the Krknose (Giant) Mountains near Prague. [1] Though WWII in Europe brought with it severe travel restrictions, Sasha continued to ski, even travelling to Austria to compete. Following the war, Sasha became the national skiing champion for Czechoslovakia and competed in the 1948 Swiss Winter Olympics in St Moritz, performing remarkably well for someone without any formal skiing tuition. [2]

Everything changed for Sasha, her husband Karel, and her brother Frank, when the Communist Party seized control of the country in February 1948 in what is known as the ‘Putsch’. [3] Scared to live in a Czechoslovakia that was rapidly becoming a dictatorship, Sasha and her family made several thwarted attempts to escape until finally the opportunity came. Following a meet in Grindelwald, Switzerland, Sasha escaped the train departing Zurich and waited two months for Karel and Frank to join her. Shortly after all three escaped, leaving Czechoslovakia without authorisation became punishable by death. [4]

Sasha and her family spent two years in Belgium waiting to emigrate from Europe. In 1950, Australia offered them a new home.

The Nekvapils’ early years in Australia were spent in Victoria where they worked as the caretakers of the Australian Postal Institute lodge at Mt Buller and operated a ski school. In 1952, Sasha was offered a position as a ski instructor at Charlotte Pass, and travelled there alone. Tony Sponar, a fellow Czechoslovakian, managed the ski school there but took ill the following year. Sasha stepped up to run the school, and is remembered as a fine and beloved teacher by her many students at The Chalet over the years. [5]

Sasha was reunited with Karel in 1958 with the construction of a new ski lodge at the Thredbo resort. Called Sasha’s Lodge, it became one of Thredbo’s most exclusive ski chalets. After twelve years the Nekvapils sold the lodge and built Sasha’s Apartments next door, moving in as soon as they were completed. [6] As locals, Sasha and her husband became actively involved in the life of the village and ski fraternity, selling boutique imported skiwear and donating trophies for the Thredbo Ski Racing Club. [7]

After Karel died in 1992, Sasha moved to Canberra with their son Michael. They made the trip to Thredbo for a two-week ski holiday every year. In 2000, Sasha carried the Olympic Torch up the chairlift in the relay before the Sydney Games. She was honoured with the names “Queen of the Mountains” and the “Angel of Thredbo” during her lifetime, and the run on the western side of Australia’s highest ski lift, named Karel’s T-Bar after her husband, is known as Sasha’s Schuss. [8]

Almost three hundred mourners attended Sasha’s funeral in 2014. [9] Today she is still remembered and admired for her elegance, fluidity, and stylishness on the slopes all the way from Czechoslovakia to Thredbo. Sasha’s legacy is a reminder that where you are born does not automatically determine where you end up. Her contribution to Australia’s history as a European migrant should not be forgotten.

References:

[1] Chas Keys, Thredbo: Pioneers, Legends, Community (Canberra: Halstead Press, 2007), p. 39.
[2] Amy Ripley, ‘Sasha Nekvapil, Thredbo founder, dies aged 95’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 November 2014, <https://www.smh.com.au/national/sasha-nekvapil-thredbo-founder-dies-aged-95-20141031-11f1fg.html>.
[3] Chrissi Webb, ‘Treasured memories of the Angel of Thredbo’, The Canberra Times, 18 June 2014, <https://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/act/treasured-memories-of-the-angel-of-thredbo-20140617-3abhf.html>.
[4] Keys, Thredbo, p. 39.
[5] ibid, p. 40.
[6] Ripley, ‘Sasha Nekvapil’.
[7] Keys, Thredbo, p. 40.
[8] ibid, p. 41.
[9] Webb, ‘Treasured memories’.

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