Knees getting creaky, joints aching, thinking of giving up skiing? Man up! It’s good for you – especially if you keep going like Thredbo ski legend Frank Prihoda who turns 100 this Thursday.
A lot has happened since 1921, and Frank survived it all to make it to Australia from his native Czechslovakia after WW2 and go on to become a Winter Olympic Racer. Thredbo compiled this fascinating tribute to Frank.
Congratulations, you have raised the bar high!
Frank Prihoda, Australia’s oldest living Olympian will reach his centennial on Thursday 8 July 2021. Celebrating with an intimate affair in the alpine town of Thredbo Resort, Frank reaches his 100th year as a man who has truly taken every opportunity life has to offer. Thredbo sat down with Frank to discuss his life and the changes of the last century.
The world has seen a lot since 2021, from The Great Depression, World War II and 9/11 to man landing on the moon, the invention of the mobile phone and Y2K. All the while, Frank Prihoda was there, watching events unfold, skis in hand.
1924 The first Winter Olympic Games
1929 The impact of the Great Depression reached Czechoslovakia
On Thursday 8 July 1921, as heavy rain fell on a humid day in the city of Prague in Czechoslovakia, Frantisek (Frank) Prihoda was born. He joined older sister Sasha who later became a ski and Thredbo legend in her own right. Whose name is often recognised by those who frequent the slopes of Thredbo as they glide down the Sashas Schuss run.
Entering a world plagued by The Great Depression, Frank considered himself lucky. His father, a prosperous artificial flower manufacturer, often took the family on car trips into the countryside in his American Hudson. “Europe was in turmoil and I only came to realise it later in life… as a little child you do not grasp these things,” Frank explained.
As a teenager, Frank strapped on skis for the first time. To become his biggest life-long passion, skis were by Frank’s side at every major milestone during the decades of his life from his escape during a communist revolution to representing his new home country at the 1956 Winter Olympics.
1938 Munich Agreement hands Czech to Nazi Germany
1939 World War II begins
In 1936, only 12 years after the inception of the Winter Olympic Games, Frank began ski racing with the Czechoslovakian Ski Federation squad. “Just before the war…in 1937, I went for my first downhill race. All week it was sunny and of course, the day of the race a blizzard came and I wore glasses…I couldn’t see a thing, they got frozen. I had a mighty tumble and that was my first race.” It wasn’t all lost, however, as this race was where Frank met one of Thredbo’s founders, Tony Sponar. A man with whom he remained lifelong friends and who influenced his road to Thredbo.
In 1937, Frank was taken away from training and endless days on the slopes when tragedy struck. Following the sudden death of his father and subsequent death of his mother, out of necessity, Frank went on to run the family’s manufacturing business with his skis taking a backseat. “Really since the age of 19, I was head of the business. I was pretending,” he says in jest. His pretending paid off, with the success of the business continuing through World War II.
1945 The microwave was invented
1948 After the passage of the Ninth-of-May Constitution Czechoslovakia became a People’s Republic
Following the war, political changes began to occur in the country, and it was during this time, Frank believed his business success would be negatively impacted by the country’s move into a People’s Republic. “I was a manufacturer and an employer and, my father was an employer. We were deemed to be bourgeois. Bourgeois is the enemy of people like the working class….as such, I saw I had no future [in the country].”
He, alongside his brother-in-law, Karel Nekvapil decided to make their escape on skis.
In January 1949, a friend drove to the south of Czechoslovakia, reaching a wide frozen lake bordering Austria. Strapping back in, Karel and Frank set out on cross-country skis “for an outing.” He recalls many armed guards in the area as they slid across the lake, explaining he eventually noticed a herd of deer which indicated a lack of militia and an opportunity to escape to the country beyond.
Arriving in Austria, his pathway to being recognised as a refugee was not an easy one, however, he and Karel were eventually able to join his sister Sasha Nekvapil and friend Tony Sponar in St Anton. Here they ran a ski tow powered by Frank’s jeep before making the move to a new life in Australia.
1955 Albert Einstein dies
1957 Thredbo opens
In 1950 Frank and his family boarded a ship to distant Australia, skis in tow. Speaking of the journey, Frank recalls “Well, I arrived in Melbourne on 9 March 1950. I boarded a ship in Genoa in Italy and sailed here. I knew there was snow in Australia so I brought my skis with me.” He went on to explain his initial shock that his new homeland still used horses as a primary means of transport well into the 1950s. “I noticed watering troughs, we rode a little further and there were a couple of horses and people were still riding…even until 1957.”
On arrival to Australia, Frank began working in the manufacture of artificial flowers for the second time in his life before moving over to the furniture and textile trades. Never too far from his love of skiing, Frank took to the slopes during his second winter, making his way to Mt Buller and enjoying the social life of the Melbourne University Ski Club.
Frank quickly stood out on the slopes and within a few short years, he qualified for the 1956 Winter Olympics. Following his citizenship grant only a few months prior, Frank went on to represent Australia in Slalom and Giant Slalom events.
Travelling to Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, he recalls “I went to the Olympics in 1956…I remember standing on the Olympic run and the full experience was overwhelming because none of us [in the Australian team] were used to the atmosphere of big races.” In true Frank fashion, he decided to take the opportunity to go beyond competing and made the decision to travel for six months, “I said I am going away. I am going to make it a proper trip…I flew around the world,” he explained.
1961 First man makes it into space
1962 Australia enters Vietnam War
1969 Man lands on the moon
1973 Mobile phone invented
In 1958 Frank became Chairman of the Race Committee of the Victorian Ski Association before moving to Thredbo to join his family in 1974. Frank’s sister and brother-in-law had opened the second lodge ever built in Thredbo, Sasha’s Lodge, which still stands stoically today under the name Black Bear Inn.
“To me, Thredbo is very special in as much as I knew about it before it was born. I was good friends with Tony Sponar and I knew he had this dream or desire to found a ski resort.”
A few years later, Frank was invited to open a gift shop in the small alpine village where he sold gifts to those visiting the snowy region for the next twenty-seven years. “In December 1974, I owned Frank’s Shop…which I closed when I turned 80 in 2001. 27 years is a good innings.”
1983 Internet was invented
1997 Thredbo landslide
1998 Google was founded
In 2000, Frank took pride of place carrying the Olympic Torch in Thredbo, lighting the cauldron on the Village Green. More recently, Frank became a foundation member of the Thredbo Historical Society. Speaking of the place that has now become part of his spirit he says, “Being where you like to be, you become involved and attached to a place you live and work and gradually it becomes part of you.”
2009 Global Recession and the Collapse of Wall Street
Frank’s love for skiing has never dwindled. He spent 46 years skiing Thredbo’s long slopes and often speaks of his love for the mountains, the views, the freedom and the feeling of being a tiny speck in the vastness of nature.
In his 89th year, Frank hung up his skis.
Although no longer enjoying the slopes himself, Frank still has the passion of a man ready to strap on his boots. He can be found with a listening ear, ready to hear about others’ days on the mountain. “I, unfortunately, gave up skiing so, I say, tell me about your experience. Bad weather, good weather, snow, soft snow, hard snow, sticky snow… [those who appreciate it] are real mountain people. Go and tell me how it is now and…keep your best turn for me.”
2020 Frank was honoured in Thredbo with a ski run named Frank’s Face
In 2020, a ski run was named after Frank to honour the man who continues to make such a profound impact on the community of Thredbo. Joining those who were there for his life journey with him, his run, Frank’s Face, sits alongside Sponars T-Bar, Sashas Schuss and Karels T-Bar.
“Having the Frank’s Face trail located between Karels T-Bar and Sashas Schuss gives me great pleasure and feels like family,” said Frank.
Currently still living in Thredbo, locals often see Frank driving his white Subaru around the village. His advice following 100 years of enriching life experiences?
“Adventures. Don’t be afraid to take risky situations, go through them and try and do it for yourself. If you sit on your back and don’t do these things you will short change yourself and miss out on life experiences.”