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A few decades ago, it was more of an exclusive 'club' that would 'hack' their way down steep gullies on short boards to 'surf' downhill on firn snow in sometimes man-sized 'snow gullies'. More and more ski aficionados are extending their personal ski season well into spring. It is the time of the relaxing firn gliding.
No soft snow slope can be too steep, no gully too narrow. Boldly they plunge down to the valley on their wide but short 'Figl'. In Innsbruck, they are admiringly called 'Kar-Fockn', when they plunge down the steep gullies of the Nordkette in Figl channels. Incidentally, this elite group also includes my colleagues Lea Hajner and Carlos Melgar, who describe their Figl experiences here and here
A video by Vincent on Youtube gives a good impression of the attitude to life of these wild dogs.
The idea of Emo Heinrich
Shortly after the war, an Innsbruck resident got too fed up with slipping on the soles of his shoes over the still existing snowfields after mountain tours. Born in 1922 as Johann Heinrich, he was called Emu when he was still at school because of his long legs and stubby gait, in reference to the Australian ostrich bird. This was later to become Emo, a name that became a trademark even in the USA.
Firng glider. actually designed for mountaineers
This Emo was an engineer and worked after the war as the manager of the TIWAG pumping station in Achenkirch. Always with the mountains in view, the enthusiastic skier and climber was drawn up into the cirques and walls. Until well into late spring, after his summit ascents, he wanted to slide down the snowfields in steep, sun-protected gullies with something other than his boots. And so Emo Heinrich 'carved' his first 'summer short skis' in 1946 and registered them for a patent. At first it was a board planed at the front, then three grooves were added to the underside. And finally, after many trials, he not only screwed and glued a shovel-like tip to the boards. On the sides of the boards he attached two downwardly protruding 'spureisen', quasi steel edges, which gave the summer short skis lateral support. The first firn gliders were ready
In the following recording of an ORF Tyrol broadcast, Emo Heinrich tells how he invented the Figl.
The first Figl bindings were simple in the truest sense of the word.
Three ruts gave the Urfigln the necessary grip in forward motion.
Figl in the Karakorum. First Figl race in May 1960
To find out whether his invention was also suitable for his mountain companions, he invited them to the Nordkette in Innsbruck for a test ride. After the great success of this series of tests, he registered his invention as a patent.
It is funny that the exact 'date of Figl's birth' is known to the minute: on September 3, 1946, at the stroke of 11:59 p.m., his invention was registered under patent number 1567195.
An Innsbruck company sensed a business opportunity and 'carved' the first copies from ash wood, binding and metal edges were specially produced. A Swiss company bought all the finished Figl. But then the disillusionment: The ash wood had warped, the Swiss sent back the whole load. Emo Heinrich did not have the financial means to finally patent the Figl. And yet the Figl began its triumphal procession in the Alpine region. They were part of a Karakorum expedition in 1954, and on May 22, 1960, the first Figl race took place.
The 'Urfigl', still inscribed with R (right) and L (left). Image: Austrian Alpine Club.
The second life of Emo Heinrich
in 1955 Emo Heinrich's quasi second life began. The musician, mountaineer, skier and painter traveled to California to make his fortune as a ski instructor. During an interim visit to his homeland, he caught up on his training as a mountain guide and ski instructor.
During an expedition to the Andes in 1958, he climbed four six-thousand-meter peaks without further ado. The South American country had really taken a fancy to him. He became a ski instructor in Bariloche. Back in California, he married his wife Annedore, whom he had met on a ski instructor course in Austria.
Old Style 'Wedge' as 'Red Devil
Emo Heinrich on a 6,000 meter
In the third period of his life he devoted himself entirely to another vocation, that of painting. After studying with Bob Frick and at the Manchester Art Center & Frank Webb, he undertook painting trips that took him all over the world. Exhibitions, honors and awards testify to his talents.
One last dream he realized. After his world travels, he built a house in Oberlech, where he also set up a spacious studio and gallery.
Emo Heinrich, the inventor of the Firng glider, died on March 3, 2009 in Igls.
Emo Heinrich devoted his life to painting after skiing. He was an excellent watercolor painter.
I thank Günter Amor for his reference to an essay written by Emo Heinrich with his help. It can be viewed in the Tiroler Landesmuseum-Ferdinandeum under the number FB 12/291/11