Last week I wrote about Natur-Teknik which promised you could learn to ski in seven days. Well, how about an approach that claimed “you will ski the mountain easily and swiftly – in complete control – your very first day on skis!”
Clif Taylor served in the 10th Mountain Division and earned a Purple Heart during the battle for Riva Ridge. After the War Taylor kept skiing and ended up in 1948 as an instructor at Mad River Glen. There he encountered “goon skis”, a shorter ski with twin tips. That’s right, short, twin-tipped skis in 1948! Taylor and his fellow instructors loved performing tricks using the goon skis. Taylor also observed that some ski schools students who had difficulty learning on long skis succeeded on the goon skis.
In 1955 Taylor married Mary Pratt and moved to Brattleboro, Vermont, where he became an instructor at Hogback Mountain. He began to experiment using shorter skis to teach students before moving them up to more standard length skis. Initially he was using regular skis whose tails had been chopped off to make them shorter, but the success of his approach led him to start Shortee Ski Company. Shortee skis were made in three foot, four foot, and five foot lengths. Students began on the three footers and would move up in lengths as they progressed.
Taylor’s success at Hogback soon gained media attention which attracted some recognizable names to Hogback. One of those was Lowell Thomas. Although Lowell Thomas was a skiing advocate, he had never mastered parallel skiing. After a few sessions with Clif Taylor on various length skis, Thomas was making parallel turns. In 1961 Lowell Thomas provided the foreword to Taylor’s first book, Instant Skiing.
With the book and Lowell Thomas’ connections, Clif Taylor’s new method for teaching skiing received coverage in non-skiing publications such as Newsweek, Esquire, and Look. In 1963 Taylor began advertising an innovative promotion in Look magazine: for $8.95 you got one lesson, rental of a pair of three foot Shortees, and a copy of Instant Skiing. He signed up 200 shops and 20 ski areas in the Northeast to support the campaign. Taylor’s approach was beginning to catch on.
One of the ski areas interested in Taylor’s method was Killington. Pres Smith, owner of Killington, felt that to attract new skiers to the sport, the learning process had to be accelerated. Karl Pfeifer was the head of the Killington Ski School so as an experiment Pfeifer ran two full-size, week-long ski classes using the new teaching method. This was the subject of a 1966 SKI magazine article by Morten Lund that first used the term “Graduated Length Method” (GLM) to describe the new approach. The Graduated Length Method succeeded in the experiment. Pfeifer would adopt a 5-day version of GLM at Killington that started students on three foot skis, then progressing to four and five foot skis.
Jack Pickett was the first to correctly identify Clif Taylor as the inventor of the Graduated Length Method. He also recalled that Taylor was at Hogback and called the skis Shortees.
Lew Coty also answered last week’s trivia question. Lew’s father, Victor Coty, took many movies of Clif Taylor and his Shortee skis. In appreciation Taylor gave Vic pairs of the skis which Lew got to use. Lew says it was a good thing the skis were free since he would often break them “like Popsicle sticks” bombing down the Front Four. While Lew loved the skis, others were skeptical and he often heard “short skis suck, long skis truck!” Today with the acceptance of shorter skis Lew says “Now, no one takes notice of the size of my skis. During this transition, countless people would ask me why I had given up my short skis, and I would have to remind them it was their ski length that had changed. “
Clif Taylor was a tireless promoter of the Graduated Length Method which at its peak was used at over 300 ski areas. He appeared on TV and taught several celebrities to ski using GLM. The list includes Art Linkletter, Jack Paar, and Tim Conway.
Despite the apparent success of the GLM, the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) never really embraced the approach. They adopted a policy that didn’t support using skis less than five feet for learning. Over time United States ski areas dropped the approach, but a few in Europe may still be using GLM.
Clif Taylor was inducted into the United States Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1979. He is also a Vermont Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame member thanks to his service in the 10th Mountain Division. Taylor passed away in 2005 at age 82.