Skiing of course, started with wooden skis which were not laminated but made with one piece of wood. Often of hickory. One way of getting up the hill was the “herring-bone” climb, which was work. Started with wooden skis. Then came modern skis and lifts on a remarkable revolution. But in looking back and despite how primitive it was, it was fun. Each year, it seems, made easier and more luxurious.
In 1949, when I turned 13 my Dad gave me blank check to get outfitted for the season. Went to the hardware store and for $38 had boots, poles, skis and bindings. The latter had the “bear trap” front piece and the rear included leather straps with spring lever thing that clamped the heel. One can’t say down, but it held the boot into the front piece, but it allowed a lot of heel movement. This was fine for touring but not so good when “running” downhill and trying to turn.
Thus, elaborate turning motions, some described as “Stem Christies” or “Christies”. And then there was the “Arlberg Crouch”. My shelves include How To Ski, first published in 1911. This version is dated 1931, but some of the pictures are from the first edition. Including a British gentleman in a tweed suit, tie and collar doing Telemark turns. Now get this, with a single pole. On the pic illustrating the “Uphill Telemark Swing” he has no poles, but is smoking a pipe. Lots of sangfroid.
We mounted the bindings at home and a skilled hobbyist who lived down the street installed the segmented steel edges, which were considered outstanding. Despite the inadequacy of the equipment there were some very good skiers. The Kelowna Ski Club had built and operated an area up at Black Mountain, on the way to today’s Big White Ski Resort. On Saturdays and Sundays the club organized a school bus and for 25 cents for the day that was it. To use the rope tow was an additional quarter. At the end of the day and if conditions were good, a group supervised by senior skiers would ski down a long ways to be picked up by the bus on the way back home.
The key with wood skis was to maintain the camber. This was not the side camber but the spring camber that kept them from “barrel-staving”. When not in use, a block of two-by- four was placed between the skis with the front and tails clamped. Also, there were metal clamps that maintained the up-curve in the tips.
Waxing was not just important it was essential, often to keep snow from sticking to the bottom of the ski. Sometimes it would pack to a couple of inches thick and the skis had to be removed to be scraped with a pole. Then a different wax was used with hopes that it would not pack up again before you were pointing them down. A special base lacquer could be painted on the bottoms which with the wax was the best that could be done. And the advent of the polyethylene base was outstanding.
Before that, in Wet Coast conditions, we used “Silver” and on other conditions one would check the texture of the snow between fingers and, in looking wise, say “Ahh – Toko number 6.” Wooden skis tended to break, compared to early manufactured skis that tended to de- laminate. But with the Heads, the shop would send them to the factory for the rebuild. On Head Standards and having been in broken crud, I was on the run out to the lift. The right ski seemed to wandering around and it wasn’t until I was on the T-Bar that I noticed what was wrong. The right ski wasn’t tracking and in looking at it, the front was bent up. In looking back so was the tail. It had “barrel staved” as I was skiing junk snow. Took it to the ski shop and few weeks later it was back.
The next improvement in bindings was the “front-throw” which included a cable around the heel with the old bear trap, but with the clamping device forward. At the sides of the ski there were hooks allowing for more or less heel lift. The ultimate was the “suicide binding” for racing. This was the bear trap front, but with “D” rings fixed to the side of the ski and the boot was secured to the ski with a longthong wrap. No release at all, and I knew a guy who suffered a spiral tib, fib and femur. All on one leg and in one crash. One of the first release bindings was the Marker, which were so widely used that you “Markered Out”. In the mid-1960s before the safety strap or ski-brake, we used the “longthong” with the Marker and it was secured to the heel plate and was wrapped a number of times around the leather boot. When pulled tight it made the boot stiffer. There was an “inner” boot with its laces and an “outer” boot also with laces. By late in the season, the outer sides of your little fingers would have calluses from pulling the laces tight. This was accompanied by hitting the rear of the boot on the floor to get your heel well placed. So, when the first buckle boot was developed it was “from heaven”. Advertisements in ski magazines pictured the boot with the caption “Why Be Lacing When Others Are Racing?”
However, the route to comfort was not direct. The Scott Pole people decided to make a plastic boot that was lighter than others. On very cold days they would fail dramatically. Never had those, but there was an interim boot. The “Molitor Comp” which had buckles and cables and you just had to have them. Cool, yes, but they made your feet ache – all the way up to tower five. Then there was “Lange Toe” which boot would lift the nail on your big toe. Come summer in sandals – there they would be – blackened and flapping toe nails. Style has always been important, even with the early gabardine pants tailored down to the cuff to fit inside the leather boots of the day. Then Willy Bogner and his mother were instrumental in developing stretch pants. For a while, they were all called “Bogners”. Which with a sweater became the fashion. The sweater became compelling enough that for cold sunny days, the ski shops sold “wind shirts”. Of course worn under the dashing sweater. Jackets were only worn when it was snowing.
The transition from loose-kneed ski pants to form-fitting stretch pants provided a way to describe how long one had been skiing. A Swiss-German, Fred Iselin, became the ski-pro at Sun Valley in the 1940s. At a later age and in a thick accent he observed that “When I was young my pants were baggy and my face was schmooth. Now, my face is baggy and my pants are schmooth”. This writer used the line and notes that when he last skied “both were baggy”. The first successful attempt at a metal-to-metal release binding was the Cubco. Complete with the safety strap, it was looked down upon by “serious” skiers. In the late 1960s, “trick” skiing began at Alta, UT with the “Gelandesprung Contest” with jumping from an old mine dump. Lots of distance but on ordinary skis, not jumping skis. On one trip, conditions changed from powder to spring skiing and there was a rising ridge that gave a good lift for some air time. Maybe some 40 feet with a perfect trajectory for landing. There was some talent in our group and being a sunny day, a bit of a gallery formed. However, you had to have some speed to make it over the tip of a fir tree sticking above the snow.
Along came a guy with (shudder) Cubco Bindings who asked if he could have a go at the jump. Someone said “OK, but make sure you have enough speed to get over the tree.”
The experienced skiers joined the gallery in focusing and in not having the speed, his tips caught, bindings released and his skis were dangling from his ankles. Wheeling around until he landed. The code of the mountain called for silence – until he moved when a good round of applause comforted him.
In the meantime some “hotshots” came up with shovels and built a good-sized ramp. The problem was that it went down sharply before going up. Quite a bit of compression but the distance was out to some 100 feet, but still with the nice landing. But each time down the compression was such that you thought “What am doing here?”. And then you were up the ramp. Along came “Mister Cubco”, asking if he could have a run. While there was no tree, the advice was to get some speed. Which he did. So much so that the compression released his Cubcos and he was coming out of both skis going up the ramp. Inertia had its way and with skis dangling at about the crowd’s eyelevel he completed his inevitable trajectory. Ending in a heap, well before the term “garage sale” was used, and again mountain manners prevailed.
Skiing equipment and facilities have improved enormously, but despite being so primitive it was a lot of fun. In the late 1950s, the main parking lot at Seymour, BC was above one of the lifts. And with fresh snow, etiquette required that each skier would side-step down the slope – packing the snow. There were no machines for grooming. So sequentially each new skier would side-step down until the slope was “groomed”. But the problem was that it was always soft and often a fall would leave a depression, big enough to be a hazard. In Europe called a “Sitzmark”. In North America, a “Bathtub”. You were expected to fill them in. Golfers would have called them a very large divot. One lift at Seymour was a “Poma” with a “platter” at the end of an extension that you put between your legs. Fortunately only one skier at a time. It must have needed adjustment because the hanger extended real fast to the end of its travel, suddenly lifting your skis right off the snow. An interesting way to start the day.
An even more diabolical tow had been built near Summerland. Out of a long length of left-over steel cable from a logging outfit. With many wire burrs sticking out you needed special leather-faced mitts to avoid the tearing. The transition from no lifts to bad lifts to good lifts has been amazing. While grateful to have Whistler operating, many who had skied at other resorts realized that it had been designed with little regard for the fall line. It was frustrating and in talking to the engineering company that built the “Green Chair” the original line was in a poor place. The engineering company rotated it as much as possible towards the fall line. Whistler then was more concerned about how far the lift operator had to walk from the “Red Chair”, than about the quality of skiing. Fortunately, when Blackcomb was laid out, Hugh Smythe made sure the runs were appropriately designed. Into 1968. a real estate group in West Vancouver began to promote the development of Powder Mountain just west of Whistler. We could have called ourselves “Friends of fall line skiing”, but we had business cards printed as “Consultants To The Ski Industry”. And got along well with the developers, but their main proposal was for a large aerial tram. This presented a problem because you had to take off your skis. Which, as most serious skiers were using longthongs, was a bother. So, I was sent down to Jackson Hole to “investigate” their aerial tram. That was for a week in early January and it was snowing! The lodge had a common dining table for guests who enjoyed company, and it included a tall serious-looking man who had developed the modern ski – Howard Head.
That there were very few skiers, made for exceptional lift service. Including the ski patrol there were about 15 of us, so we skied in a group. And the powder as it was falling made the “Hobacks”, with 2000 vertical feet of uninterrupted fall line, outstanding. We would get off the tram and it would be turned “off”. With our group collecting at the end of the run, they would turn the tram “on” and away we would go. Naturally, I had brought my Head “Deep Powder” skis.
Did “consulting” make any money? No, but it provided the week at “Jackson” and a number of days helicopter skiing at Powder Mountain. All of which was luxurious relative to having to pay the extra quarter to use the rope tow.Bob