I can still remember the day I got hooked on skiing. Oh, I had been on skis since I was four years old, but this was different. I don’t remember the exact date, but it would have been a Saturday in early February, 1965, my freshman year at UNH. I was skiing at the Intervale ski area just outside North Conway, New Hampshire, and for the first time I was able to link together a series of Christie turns – I was wedeling! There I was on my wooden Northland Commander skis with cable bindings and my secondhand, leather Rieker ski boots and something went right! I probably only linked a couple of turns each way, but it was a breakthrough that would lead to a lifelong obsession.
My breakthrough experience highlights many aspects of skiing’s past that are no longer with us. The Intervale ski area, a small ski-club-oriented area started in the 1930’s, closed in 1976 and today no visible sign of its existence persists. The terms “Christie” and “wedel” (from the Austrian wedeln) have disappeared from ski technique jargon along with “snowplow” and “stem” turns. The Northland Ski Company, an established name in wooden skis from the early 1900’s, went out of business by 1970. While telemarkers still use a form of cable bindings, alpine skiers opted for step-in convenience years ago. The pain and struggle of leather ski boots are also a thing of the past. The Rieker company headquartered in Switzerland still makes fine leather shoes, but got out of the ski boot business in the mid 1970s.
Each week in this new column I’ll share experiences from skiing’s past. I’d say it’s a nostalgic look back, but nostalgia connotes a longing for the good old days and I’m definitely not longing for the return of leather boots and wooden skis! (I know a lot of today’s skis have wooden cores, but that’s different!) So the column will be a skiing retrospective – RetroSki! Since I’m a Baby Boomer, I’ll probably focus on developments from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, which coincide with the growth of alpine skiing here in the U.S. That growth has taken alpine skiing from a niche sport primarily the domain of the financially well-off to what it is today: well…, a niche sport primarily the domain of the financially well-off!
I’ll also include some trivia each week. This week’s question is where was the first rope tow in the United States and when did it start operation? You can submit your answer by visiting my blog at www.retro-skiing.com and posting a comment. The first correct responder gets mentioned in next week’s column. (Yes, I guess I’ll have to work on some better prizes!) While you’re visiting my blog you can also share some of your memories from skiing’s past and suggestions for future topics!
If you like skiing nostalgia and history be sure to visit the Vermont Ski Museum which will re-open for the winter on Friday, November 26.