Hannes Schneider Meister Cup

Cranmore Ski AreaThis past weekend I revisited Cranmore, the first lift-served ski area I ever skied. I skied there in the mid-1950s as part of the local school’s afternoon ski program.

On the drive to North Conway, I was trying to recall the last time I had skied Cranmore. It probably was around 1980 since I do remember our kids being about ten and twelve.

Cranmore SkimobileThere have been a lot of changes at Cranmore since that last visit. The unique Skimobile no longer exists, having been retired in 1988. The old wooden base lodge has been replaced or maybe just completely redone. The Eating House is now Zip’s Pub although everyone of a certain age still refers to it as The Eating House!

In the old days it took two Skimobile rides to get to get one person to the top. Now a high speed detachable quad whisks four skiers to the top making the mountain seem much smaller than I remembered. In fact Cranmore is a small mountain with only 1200 vertical feet. They squeeze 57 trails into that small mountain and many go from top-to-bottom so it’s not “trail name inflation”. While there are some new trails, the old trails are still there: Rattlesnake, Kandahar, Gibson, Ledges. All the non-gladed trails have snowmaking, but the area has resisted the trend of widening and straightening snowmaking trails. Most of their trails are still narrow and winding (think Toll Road).

I expected to also find the mountain flatter than I remembered, but in fact the trails pleasantly surprised me. Sure, their black diamonds are much like Main Street, an intermediate trail with one steep pitch, but they were fun to ski.

Another thing I remembered about Cranmore didn’t change – the good weather! Bright sun warmed the temperature to about 32 degrees which this winter felt like 80. The area faces southwest similar to Sunny Spruce and the summit elevation is only 2000 feet so the weather is less severe than higher elevation ski areas. By the afternoon the sunny surfaces were becoming soft and springlike.

One other thing that hasn’t changed is that it is a family area. At lunch we sat with a family which had three generations present, all of whom learned or were learning to ski at Cranmore.

What brought me back to Cranmore was the 19th annual Hannes Schneider Meister Cup. This event is a celebration of skiing history and brings together three “families” that had a great impact on skiing.

Hannes Schneider arriving in North Conway

Photo courtesy of New England Ski Museum

First is the Hannes Schneider family. Hannes Schneider pioneered modern ski teaching techniques that spread throughout Europe and eventually the United States. Most Retro-Skiers learned to ski using the Arlberg method that Schneider started. His grandson Christoph was there this weekend to celebrate his family’s history.

The second “family” is the extended Cranmore family. That, of course, includes the Schneider family. Harvey Dow Gibson who owned Cranmore arranged for Hannes Schneider to come to North Conway in 1939 and head-up the ski school. Hannes’ son Herbert would take over after his father’s death and in 1963 would buy Cranmore from the Gibson family.  Herbert sold his interest in 1984, but remained a consultant and ambassador for Cranmore until his death in 2012. Then there is the Carroll Reed family. Reed started the ski school at Cranmore which Hannes Schneider would take over. Stefi Reed Hastings, Carrol Reed’s daughter, was there this weekend and gave the historical lecture on Sunday.

10th Mountain Division InsigniaThe third “family” represented is the 10th Mountain Division. It’s not just the few left from the original World War II 10th Mountain, but it’s also those who have served in the 10th Mountain since that time. Some of those veterans do ski, but many do not. They still come to celebrate their history and honor those who served. The honor guard for the opening ceremonies comes from Fort Drum in New York, where the 10th Mountain is now headquartered.

The guest of hoNelson Bennettnor at this year’ Meister Cup was 100-year-young, 10th Mountain Division veteran Nelson Bennett. I’ve written about Nelson’s many contributions to skiing in past columns. Nelson now lives in Washington state, but has attended all 19 of the Meister Cup events. For years he won the 90+ age group which he lobbied to create. He’s not skiing anymore, but he was very visible throughout the weekend and was definitely the center of attention. Normally Nelson and his travelling companion, Madi Springer-Miller Kraus, make a visit to Stowe after the Meister Cup, but this year they have to hurry to Sun Valley where Nelson is honorary head of a race held there next weekend!

The Hannes Schneider Meister Cup is organized by the New England Ski Museum as one of its fund raisers. They are to be complimented for organizing a great event that is fun whether you’re a racer, a ski historian, or a veteran.

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Trivia 2015 Week 15

Who takes the credit for the first two-pronged ski brake?

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Dr. Richard Spademan and His Binding

Dr. Richard SpademanRichard Spademan grew up in Michigan and learned to ski at Boyne Mountain. He chose to pursue a medical career and graduated from the University of Michigan medical school. As an intern he designed and patented a better vascular catheter that would become widely used.

In 1962 Spademan would end up at the hospital in Truckee, California near Squaw Valley for his residency in orthopedic surgery. The 1960 Winter Olympics had made Squaw Valley a popular ski area so it attracted skiers of all abilities. That meant the Truckee hospital was very busy with skiing-related injuries particularly broken legs. Spademan realized that many of the skiers he saw with broken legs were using release bindings.

Spademan began studying the release bindings of the day. He determined that the toe pieces didn’t release in a forward twisting fall – the very fall they were supposedly designed to handle. As I mentioned in last week’s column, forward pressure on the toe could dramatically increase the force required for a release. He would also observe that binding adjustments were way too complicated and inexact. So Spademan set out to design a safer binding just as he had a better catheter.

And as it turned out Spademan would use the royalty money from his catheter patent to fund his binding project. It would be 1966 before Spademan had a prototype. He took a leave of absence from his job as an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Stanford University and began a tour to drum up interest in his binding. Spademan did not find much acceptance for the binding, but eventually he did convince some ski patrollers at Squaw Valley and his old home area of Boyne to try it. Their input proved extremely valuable in refining the design.

Spademan Binding AdvertisementSpademan’s plan had been to turn his design over to a binding company, but there were no takers. So in 1969 Spademan went into the binding business. The Spademan binding was radical. There was no toe piece or heel piece for that matter. A small metal plate attached mid-sole of the ski boot clipped into the binding. The concept was that the plate and binding aligned with the tibial axis of the lower leg and would release in the event of an excessive twisting force. One adjustment controlled the release tension of the binding.

The binding caught on with rental shops since it shortened set-up time significantly. And it was a safe binding. Spademan rental statistics showed an injury rate of 1 fracture in 50,000 skier days versus an average 1 in 20,000 skier days for other types of rentals.

Spademan Freestyle AdvertisementThe Spademan binding also caught on with the freestyle movement in the 1970s since they were looking for a lighter binding. By 1978 Spademan was the largest selling U.S.-built binding.

Then Spademan would suffer a setback. Ski boot soles were changing and it took negotiating a standard that would assure compatibility with the Spademan binding. The standard also involved changes to the bindings. Re-tooling meant that Spademan was late getting the new bindings to market for the next season which impacted sales significantly. As more conventional bindings improved, Spademan sales continued to drop and in 1983 Spademan bindings went out of business. Dr. Richard Spademan returned to being an orthopedic surgeon and eventually became chief of orthopedics at Stanford Medical Center.

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Trivia 2015 Week 14

What binding inventor would become the Chief of Orthopedics at the Stanford Medical Center?

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More on Binding Safety

Cubco BindingsFirst some additional input on Gordon Lipe and his Release Check. Bill Kornrumpf is a Stowe Host and a member of the Schenectady Wintersports Club (SWC). He recalls that when he joined in 1967 the club had a Lipe Release Check and used it to check the members’ bindings. They found that the release values obtained on most bindings of that era were not very repetitive. However the Cubco binding proved to be the most consistent thanks to its metal-on-metal contact.

Some of the other results from the SWC testing showed that the Look Nevada would let your toe move almost an inch before the binding would release while the Marker Simplex had no play before reaching its release point. That was a plus for the Look as it demonstrated the anti-shock capability that most of us liked about the binding.

I know one of the things I discovered using the Release Check was how susceptible toe releases were to forward pressure. In other words a heel piece that was adjusted too far forward putting more pressure against the toe piece could drive toe release values way up! And it was very sensitive since one notch forward or back on the heel location could make the difference. This was true for the Look bindings as well as the Marker.

I also heard from Peter Keelty former Product Manager for Salomon. He says that in the early 1970s they were in the thick of the ‘binding wars’ and the Lipe Release Check “became a key tool in the over-the-top claims binding companies were making.” He added that from the mid-60s to the mid-70s bindings were the most hyped piece of equipment. Indeed during that era Gordon Lipe had a regular column in SKIING magazine on bindings. The column included very detailed technical analysis of specific bindings and Lipe would also answer readers’ questions about bindings. You won’t find anything like that in today’s ski magazines.

In his own words, Peter Keelty is a “Vermont ex-pat” and former Mount Mansfield Ski Patrol member who now resides in the Wasatch. He has an extensive resumé in the skiing world ranging from author to Director of Skiing at Park West. Local Larry Heath and Peter were fraternity brothers and have been skiing buddies since 1961. Larry occasionally clips my column out of the Reporter and mails it to Peter. Thank you, Larry!

Now on to this week’s column. Again this week, I only received one correct answer to the trivia question. John Thurgood identified Dr. John Outwater, Jr. as the UVM professor who was known as the “Father of Ski Safety”.

John Outwater, Jr. PhDJohn Outwater was the prototype college professor. Born in London he had a slight English accent even after years in Vermont. He had an extensive vocabulary and knew how to use it. He could be funny, but he could also be intimidating. His curiosity extended beyond his chosen field. Which may be why he got interested in ski safety.

Outwater began researching ski safety in the early 1960s. He specifically attacked the problem of broken legs and binding performance. His research would measure the torque force needed for a leg to break and then he developed tools that could be used to check a binding’s release point in the same units of force. He worked with binding manufacturers to develop bindings with consistent release values that could be set based on a person’s height and weight.

I knew John Outwater long before I became interested in skiing history. It was his love of all types of music that brought our paths together. He enjoyed listening to my barbershop quartet, maybe not as much as he liked listening to Mozart, but he found the a cappella singing intriguing. If I’d known that I’d be writing this column, I would have asked him what prompted his initial interest in ski safety. But probably it intrigued him – just like listening to four guys harmonizing.

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Trivia 2015 Week 13

What UVM professor was known as the Father of Ski Safety?

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It’s the Bindings, Stupid!

X-Ray of a Broken LegToni Matt was a victim of the most common skiing injury during the early days of organized skiing. Granted Matt’s was a severe case, but broken legs were a common occurrence. Before World War II, it is estimated that the injury rate was ten skiers per thousand skier-days and greater than 50% of those injuries were broken legs. In 1953 the Mount Mansfield Ski Patrol would report a rate of four leg fractures per thousand skier-days. That’s a slight improvement over the earlier estimates, but still broken legs were the most common serious injury. Famous skiers such as Toni Sailer, Buddy Werner, and Jean Claude Killy all suffered broken legs during their careers. Chances are if you started skiing in the 1930s, 40s, or 50s, you have a broken leg story of your own.

Hvoom with Hvam“It’s the bindings, stupid!” While that may not be exactly what Hjalmar Hvam said, it summarizes his revelation while recovering from, you guessed it, a broken leg. Hvam was a Norwegian immigrant living in Oregon and is credited with designing and selling the first release binding in 1939, the Saf-Ski.

Jump ahead to the 1950s. In 1950 Frenchman Jean Beyl would introduce the Look Nevada toe piece. It was the first of what I would consider the modern ski bindings. It had adjustable release tension and anti-shock capability. Hannes Marker would introduce his Duplex toe in 1952 and then the Simplex in 1953. The latter had adjustable release tension. Countless other toe pieces designed to release in some fashion entered the market in the early 1950s. I had a Ski-Free and I see there was even a toe piece called the Stowe Flexible! But despite the proliferation of release bindings, broken legs were still the most common skiing injury.

In 1952 Mitch Cubberley would design a toe piece that would literally release in all directions. Then in 1955 Cubberley added the first step-in heel to become what we recognize as the Cubco binding. Cubberley was ahead of his time, but his ugly design delayed acceptance of his ideas.

One person who did recognize that Cubberley was heading in the right direction was a skier and product designer named Gordon Lipe. Lipe would work with Cubberley and they would identify friction as the enemy of the release binding. Cubberley had tried to get around it with metal boot attachments, but plastic boots made that difficult. Lipe would invent the Lipe Slider, an anti-friction device that went on the ski under the boot. Almost every binding today has some similar anti-friction surfaces.

Lipe Release CheckLipe also observed that many bindings featured adjustable release tension, but there wasn’t a way to gauge a proper setting except trial and error. So he designed a simple device to associate a value with the force required to release the binding at a particular tension setting. Through experiments Lipe was able to associate the values with a skier’s weight and ability. This was the predecessor of the DIN values used today to set binding release tension. The Lipe Release Check would be used by ski shops to more accurately set binding release tension for skiers. There was also an inexpensive consumer version that skiers could buy for home use. I still have mine.

Lipe Release Check InstructionsLipe Release Chart

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Trivia 2015 Week 12

Who invented the Release Check?

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Carroll Reed Ski Shops and Toni Matt

Last week I wrote about how an injury motivated Carroll Reed to establish a ski school. But most people associate the Carroll Reed name with ski shops and clothing.

It turns out that during his recovery from the broken back, Reed came up with two skiing-related business ideas. In 1936 while Reed was in New York City negotiating to get Benno Rybizka into the United States, he also met with Saks Fifth Avenue management and proposed opening a branch in Jackson, New Hampshire. Saks was already planning a shop at the new Sun Valley ski resort so they gave Reed approval to open one in Jackson.

For the 1936-37 ski season Carroll Reed would run the Eastern Slope Ski School and the Saks shop in Jackson. The following season Saks decided not to continue the Jackson location, but Reed bought up the inventory and the shop became the first Carroll Reed Ski Shop. That same season Reed would open his second shop at Cranmore in conjunction with the second location for his ski school.

As mentioned last week, for the 1938-39 season Harvey Dow Gibson would buy Reed’s ski school in preparation for Hannes Schneider’s arrival. Reed used the proceeds from that sale to start a mail order catalog business for his ski shops. With Harvey Dow Gibson’s help, he secured a location right on the main street of North Conway for his anchor store.

Carroll Reed LabelThe Carroll Reed name became synonymous with quality, not just for skiing-related clothing and equipment, but for durable year-round fashion. Reed would open new shops as the brand’s popularity grew. Eventually there were 50 Carroll Reed shops just in New Hampshire. The Ski Industries of America (SIA) would name Carroll Reed “Ski Retailers of the Year” for 1966-67.

For those of us who grew up in the Conway area, the anchor store right in the center of North Conway was the combination of a tourist attraction and a locals’ resource. I remember as a kid going downstairs in the shop with my father to find a pair of used ski boots for me. I also bought my first pair of completely new ski boots there. They were a pair of Nordica leather buckle boots and I got a great deal!

Toni Matt

Photo courtesy of New England Ski Museum

You could also run into local skiing stars who worked at Carroll Reed’s. One such notable was Toni Matt who had come over from Austria in 1938 at age 19 to teach in the ski school. A racer, he quickly made his mark in the United States. In that first season he would win the Eastern Downhill and Slalom Championships held here on Mount Mansfield, the Sun Valley Open Downhill, and the National Downhill held in Oregon.

Matt’s most-remembered accomplishment was winning the third Inferno race on Mount Washington held on April 16, 1939. The Inferno was a ski race from the summit of Washington to Pinkham Notch.

The course ran right through Tuckerman Ravine and the most challenging section involved negotiating the lip and headwall of the ravine. The accepted strategy was to check speed above the lip, carefully pick your way into the ravine, and then schuss from as high up in the ravine as you dared.  However Matt was unfamiliar with the terrain and by the time he realized he was at the lip, it was too late to check his speed. He schussed over the lip into the ravine which is sort of like dropping into an eight-hundred-foot-deep hole!

Somehow Matt stayed on his skis, reaching speeds in excess of 80 miles-per-hour. He would win the race in a time of 6 minutes 29.2 seconds, more than a minute faster than famous American skier Dick Durrance who was second. By the way, Durrance won the second Inferno held in 1934 with a time of 12 minutes 35 seconds so both skiers almost cut the previous record in half.

Once again Gary Tomlinson all the way from Fernie, British Columbia was the first to identify Toni Matt. Gary says that The Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana has a trail named after Toni Matt. Matt spent time there as an instructor and racer after World War II before returning back east.

Frank Kinslow now of Punta Gorda, Florida grew up in the Conway area and was also quick with the right answer. His aunt worked at Carroll Reed’s as did Toni Matt and she introduced Frank to Toni. I remember Frank doing a Toni Matt imitation off a jump at the bottom of Tuckerman Ravine!

Other correct answers came from Stowe Host Bob Stewart, Facebook friend Marc Cousineau, and Stowe instructor Bob Dimario.

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Trivia 2015 Week 11

Tuckerman Ravine

Tuckerman Ravine

What Carroll Reed employee was the first to schuss the Tuckerman Headwall and win the 1939 Inferno race?

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