Trivia 2014 Week 14

What former ski company known for its wooden skis went out of business even though Stein Eriksen designed some of their skis?

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“Volkl, mit ein Umlaut!”

What ski company made the Zebra-Ski? There were many readers who knew that it was Volkl that introduced the Zebra-Ski in 1967. The first person to post the correct answer on my blog was regular RetroSki contributor Gary Tomlinson from Fernie, British Columbia. A close second was Bill Hays who pointed out that it’s “Volkl, mit ein umlaut!” Jeff Waxman also posted the correct answer.

Others chose to respond in person. I saw Bob Stewart when I arrived at the ski area Friday and his first words were “It’s Volkl.” I should have expected Bob would know the answer since his e-mail username is Volkl2Man! Friday evening when my wife and I entered Gracie’s for dinner, Archie Archdeacon greeted us with “It was Volkl that made the Zebra-Ski, wasn’t it?”

Volkl Zebra-SkiThe original Zebra-Ski, as the name implies, had stark black and white stripes making it very distinctive. SKIING magazine called it “the most way-out looking ski of the season.”  The cosmetics may have drawn the attention, but it was a quality ski that incorporated state-of-the-art features such as both bottom and top cracked edges. Those cracked edges allowed the ski to flex more freely and gave the ski a reputation for holding very well on ice. I never skied on the Zebras, but I remember that it was the first Volkl ski I had ever seen. While Volkl was known in Europe, I believe it was the Zebra that established the Volkl name in the United States.

Volkl Celebrates 90 Years of Making SkisThis year Volkl is celebrating its 90th anniversary in the ski industry making it one of the oldest ski companies still in operation. Georg Volkl was a cartwright in Straubing, Germany. The company he started in the late 1800s made wagons and carriages. In the 1900s, Georg’s son, Franz, diversified the company to make other wood products. In 1923, Volkl produced their first ski, the Vostras.

Since introducing the Zebra-Ski, Volkl has been known for engineering advancements in ski design. They followed the Zebra with the Renntiger (Race Tiger), an all metal ski. Then Volkl produced the first all carbon fiber ski. In subsequent years, Volkl ski technology would blend metal, fiberglass, and wood to produce skis that attracted both recreational skiers and racers.

Volkl Power SwitchOne of their recent features was the Power Switch series which allowed you to change the ski flex with a two-setting switch. Other ski manufacturers had tried to achieve similar results with adjustable weights, but Volkl used an internal spring mechanism controlled by the switch. There was the Power (Stiff) setting and the Cruise (Soft) setting. I can attest that the switches did make a difference. I got a pair of Tiger Sharks with the Power Switch technology and after my first day on them, I wasn’t totally happy. I should say that at that time I’d already been skiing on Volkls for twelve years and was a big fan. So what was the story with these? I checked the switches and found one ski was set to Power while the other was on Cruise! Once both skis were on the same setting – either Power or Cruise – the skis were great. I always liked the Power setting better since I felt quicker, but that was based solely on perception.

Today even though the company is headquartered in Switzerland, Volkl skis are still manufactured at a plant in Straubing and the company takes great pride in its “Made in Germany” identity. They produce a wide range of skis for all the various skiing disciplines: alpine racing, moguls, aerials, freestyle, big mountain, powder. And Volkl skiers such as Hannah Kearney have had a lot of success including the Sochi Olympics. The current Volkl ski line incorporates all the latest trends in ski design from full rocker to partial rocker to traditional camber. Happy 90th anniversary to Volkl!

Many thanks to David Hatoff for suggesting that Volkl’s 90th would make a good column topic.

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Trivia 2014 Week 13

What ski company made The Zebra-Ski?

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Stowe's Liftline Trail

Stowe's Old Liftline (Photo courtesy of Greg Dirmaier)

Have you ever suffered from chair-anoia? Chair-anoia is the fear of skiing under chairlifts because you think that people are watching you ski – no, make that judging your skiing! If you have ever experienced that fear, you were right: they were watching and judging your skiing ability. I believe chair-anoia is less prevalent today than in the RetroSki days.  I don’t know if we have become a kinder, gentler skiing community or whether high speed lifts have somehow changed the dynamic. When I’m skiing Liftline under the FourRunner quad today, I don’t sense the same peer pressure I felt when it was the old single and double chairs.

Liftline in the single chair days was a real test. There was no snowmaking or grooming so the upper pitch today gives you a flavor for what the whole trail was like. And over your head were some of the best skiers in the east watching your every turn. Certainly some of them were rooting for you to succeed, but there was that feeling that some were just waiting for you to screw up. If you did take a fall – particularly a spectacular fall – those suspicions were confirmed by the audible reaction from the chairs. One of the few places that I suffered from chair-anoia was the old Stowe Liftline.

Mall at Sugarbush

The Mall at Sugarbush

One of my favorite trails under a lift is Mall at Sugarbush which is under the Valley chair. Mall doesn’t get the credit or traffic that its nearby neighbor Stein’s Run gets. That could be because it doesn’t have snowmaking and is narrower, but it could partly be because of chair-anoia. I always liked the moguls better on Mall than Stein’s. And when you had a good run, the audience overhead was a bonus!

The Chute at Mad River Glen

The Chute at Mad River Glen

Another of my favorites is the Chute at Mad River Glen. In keeping with Mad River’s RetroSki atmosphere, the upper Chute is a good old fashioned mogul run. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve skied it, but I’m betting those bumps are still tight. It was particularly fun in the Spring when you could take laps from the mid-station on the single chair. Since all Mad River skiers seem to prefer the woods, it’s hard to tell if chair-anoia is a factor for the reduced traffic on the Chute.

Black Diamond formerly Scotch Mist at Glen Ellen

The trail formerly known as Scotch Mist

While we’re in the Mad River Valley, the Black Diamond trail at Sugarbush’s Mount Ellen is a short, narrow, steep pitch under the summit chair. Back when that area was called Glen Ellen the trail had a different name. Walt Elliot who founded and named Glen Ellen continued the Scottish theme naming the trail Scotch Mist. It surprised me that there were no correct responses to last week’s trivia question. Apparently chair-anoia meant not too many people ever skied that trail.

Whenever I think of chair-anoia, I think of the Limelight run at Sun Valley. Those who have visited Sun Valley lately will say “Wait a minute, Limelight isn’t under a lift.” Oh, but it used to be. And unlike the Chute the bumps on Limelight were big! I was having an epic run down Limelight in eighteen inches of heavy powder and had forgotten completely that I was under a chair. In my euphoric state I launched a jump off a catwalk. When I landed, my skis sank into the powder and I pitched forward to plant my face in eighteen inches of heavy powder. I can still hear the roar from up-and-down the chair over my head.

By the way, in the late 1970s and early 80s, you didn’t want to be skiing on Limelight at about 2:30 in the afternoon, but you might have wanted to be riding up that chairlift. In those days Sun Valley was home to some of the best freestyle mogul skiers in the world and at about that time of day there was an informal gathering on Limelight which of course became an informal contest. It was an amazing show.

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Trivia 2014 Week 12

Glen Ellen Patch

The Glen Ellen ski area (now Mount Ellen at Sugarbush) began operation 50 years ago. What was the name of the trail under the summit chair at Glen Ellen?

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The Other Line Always Moves Faster!“Vail Lift Lines Visible from Space” was a tongue-in-cheek fake headline put out by Black Diamond Designs that recently spread around the Internet. There was a doctored satellite photo that showed a very long line of people waiting for a Vail lift.

Lift lines have always been the bane of skiers, particularly weekend skiers. Over the recent President’s weekend we saw some pretty good lift lines right here in Stowe. But today’s lift lines aren’t like the lift lines in the old RetroSki days.

First, today’s lifts are significantly faster with higher capacity. We’ve evolved from single and double chairs to quads and six-packs, from two and four passenger gondolas to those that hold eight or more. These lifts can eat a long lift line with astonishing speed. Second, lift lines are more organized than in the past. There are separate lines for singles and lift staff help match up skiers to fill chairs. Mazes are divided into lanes that merge with “Please alternate” signs. Today even when the quad line overflows the maze or the gondola line backs up to the dragger lift, the wait is only about twenty minutes.

In the old days, lift lines on busy days could be forty minutes or longer. In fact long lift lines played an important role in Stowe’s history. The story goes that C.V. Starr got tired of the long lift lines on the old single chair so he built the original Mansfield T-bar.

There was minimal organization to the old lift lines which led to the sport-within-a-sport of improving your position in line. The typical organization was a maze that wrapped back and forth on itself and every turn in the line was an opportunity. Trying to make a tight 180 degree turn with 215 centimeter skis was not easy so a good corner technique could buy you a place or two in line.

In Stowe the old single and double chairs shared a common line that was about 15-20 feet wide. There was no maze and until you went by the ticket windows there was no differentiation between those headed for the single chair and those headed for the double. With such a wide line there were ample opportunities to improve your position. I had a friend, who will remain nameless, who could improve his position by 5-10 chairs every time through the line. I’m sure he didn’t make many new friends in the process.

Stowe's Single and Double Chair Line

The Single and Double Line - Building houses the Ticket Windows (Photo courtesy of Greg Dirmaier)

Oh yeah, I should mention those ticket windows. I’m sure when someone designed the line it sounded like a good idea to be able to get in one line to buy your ticket and get on a lift. However mixing people buying tickets with those who already had tickets was not a good idea. If you were on your third run, the last thing you wanted was to wait for some stranger to buy a ticket.

As I recall, the ticket windows divided the one line into three lanes – a left lane and two center lanes. Despite the fact the left lane was narrower, it was the faster lane so staying left worked better.

Once through the ticket windows, the double line went left and the single line went right. So if you took the faster left lane, but really wanted to ride the single chair, you had to fight through two lanes of not-always-cooperative skiers.

On those really busy days you were lucky to get five runs up the single or double and spent most of your day in that lift line. What are some of your lift line memories from the “good old days?”

What does all this have to do with last week’s trivia question? Etorre’s Observation is really an application of Murphy’s Law to waiting lines. In its simplest form it says “The other line always moves faster!” I’m not surprised that there weren’t any correct responses, but the next time you’re figuring which lane to enter in the FourRunner quad maze remember, no matter which one you choose, the other one will be faster!

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Trivia 2014 Week 11

What is Etorre’s Observation?

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Olympic Cross Country Skier Bill Koch

Bill Koch Wins Siilver in 1976 Winter OlympicsOn the second day of the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympics, Franz Klammer made his memorable downhill run for the gold. But the real surprise that day was the silver medal won in the 30km cross country race by twenty year old Bill Koch (pronounced Coke) from Guilford, Vermont. That marked the first Olympic medal won by an American in any cross country event. Koch remains the only U.S. competitor to win a cross country Olympic medal. While the Sochi Olympics aren’t over yet, it appears he may continue that distinction for another four years.

Bill Koch may have been a surprise silver medalist to the public, but his fellow competitors weren’t surprised. In 1974 Koch had served notice by placing third in the European junior championships, the highest placement ever by a North American competitor. In the two World Cup races leading to the 1976 Olympics, Koch had been in the top three. Koch followed his silver medal in the 30km with a sixth place in the 15km and thirteenth in the 50km.

By the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, Koch was a favorite to medal, perhaps in more than one event. However exercise-induced asthma led to disappointing results. He did not finish the 30km, finished 16th in the 15km, and 13th in the 50km.

After 1980 Koch left the World Cup circuit and competed on the Worldloppet tour which generally consisted of longer distance races. There he was exposed to the skating style of skiing which he immediately embraced and perfected. He returned to the World Cup tour in 1982 with this new technique. The result was a bronze medal at the World Championships and winning the overall World Cup for the season, another first for an American. His success spawned a controversy that would eventually lead to today’s two cross country competitions, classical and freestyle (skating).

Bill Koch was a true Vermonter in that despite his talent and success, he shunned the spotlight. He also believed in his own training regimen which occasionally put him at odds with the US Team. All this led to a reputation for being reclusive and “odd”. He was particularly vilified in the US press for his 1980 Olympic performance. Those who knew Koch best were those who trained with him and they always found him personable and open. They also saw what a driven competitor Koch was.

Bill Koch TodayKoch had and still has an incredible motor that drives him to always be better. In other words, Koch’s primary competition is with himself. He pursued a personal project to time himself at all distances starting with 100 meters all the way up to 50 kilometers. He did this on a course he set up on a lake here in Vermont. During the project Koch became the first person to ski 50 kilometers in under two hours!

Bill Koch would compete in four Olympics and was the United States flag bearer at the 1992 Olympics. After retiring from competition he helped found the youth league that bears his name, the Bill Koch Ski League. This league encourages young people to participate in what Koch believes is a life-long activity that can enrich their lives.

Lary Simpson, a friend of Bill Koch’s, tells an anecdote that captures what it takes to be a cross country competitor and to be Bill Koch. He was training with Koch and they finished with an extended fast climb. At the top, Simpson checked his heart rate and found it over 200. Between gasps he said to Koch “So that’s what it feels like to win a 30km.” To which Koch replied, “I wish it was that easy.”

Sports Illustrated listed Koch as number three on the top fifty Vermont athletes behind only Andrea Mead Lawrence and Billy Kidd. Today Bill Koch lives and skis in Peru, Vermont.

Many thanks to Tim Griffin who strongly suggested I write about Bill Koch and sent me out of my comfort zone.

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Trivia 2014 Week 10

Who was the first American to win an Olympic medal in cross country skiing?

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The Olympics That Weren’t

Denver Olympics PatchI have mentioned previously that Colorado became a skier’s mecca in the 1960s. What better way to cement that status than to host a Winter Olympics! Colorado Governor John Love appointed Merrill Hastings to head a committee tasked with securing the Winter Olympics for Colorado. Merrill Hastings was a 10th Mountain Division skier and originally from New England. After the war he moved to Colorado where he founded SKIING magazine. Hastings organized a bid to have Denver host the 1976 Winter Olympics. In May 1970 the IOC met to consider the bids of Denver; Sion, Switzerland; Tampere, Finland; and Vancouver, Canada. They awarded the games to Denver.

Coloradans initially celebrated the idea that they would host the world, but soon complications began to arise. The original proposal was to have all the events within an hour’s drive of Denver, but it became obvious that wasn’t realistic. Vail could host the alpine events and Steamboat the nordic events, however they were two hour and three hour drives from Denver. And the costs began to escalate – originally estimated to be $14 million, they were up to $35 million and rising.

Enter Dick Lamm who in 1972 was a state legislator in Colorado with political ambitions. He headed a group called Citizens for Colorado’s Future who opposed the Olympics for both cost and environmental reasons. They successfully proposed an amendment to the state’s constitution that would ban the state from spending any money on the Olympics. This amendment went to Colorado voters in November of 1972. Coloradans voted in favor of the amendment and against the Denver Olympics by a surprisingly large margin. Without state funding and the corresponding federal funding there could be no Denver Olympics.

Innsbruck 1876 LogoThe IOC then had the problem of where to have the 1976 Winter Olympics on relatively short notice. The IOC approached Vancouver, but they declined. Salt Lake City offered, but the IOC declined. Innsbruck who had most of the facilities thanks to the 1964 Olympics eventually stepped forward and hosted the 1976 Winter Olympics.

Nicole Williams was the first to correctly identify Denver as the original site for the 1976 winter games. I was intrigued since Nicole’s e-mail address was at so I asked her how she came across my column. She responded that someone had tweeted her about my column. It’s always amazing in our interconnected world to see how information travels. I don’t tweet, but it’s nice to be tweeted about!

Richard "Dick" LammBack to Colorado: having quashed the Denver Olympics, Dick Lamm would cash in on his success by running for Governor in 1974 and winning. He would serve three four-year terms. Some of the development that Coloradans feared from the Olympics happened anyway. Interstate 70 would generate sprawl right through the mountains. Beaver Creek, originally conceived for the Olympics, was completed in 1980. Coloradans are still debating today whether rejecting the 1976 Olympics was the right choice or not.

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