Klaus Obermeyer was born on December 2nd, 1919 in Oberstaufen, Germany. He began skiing at age three on skis fashioned from orange crate slats. Growing up he became a proficient skier, mountaineer, and rock-climber. He graduated from university with a degree in aeronautical engineering and went to work for a German company designing airplanes.
Of course that was during WW II and much of his work was on military projects. However Klaus was no fan of the Nazis. In fact Klaus’ bother was a dissident who was arrested and put in a Nazi work camp. Eventually Klaus tried to ski over the Alps to neutral Switzerland to escape Nazi Germany. Unlike the Trapp Family story, Klaus was shot and left to die in the mountains. He was found by friendly locals who got him to a hospital. While he was still recovering from his injuries, the war ended.
Like many in post-war Europe, Klaus immigrated to the United States to seek a better future. His first skiing stop was actually in Sun Valley where he befriended Warren Miller. They were both living the ski bum life and Klaus supported himself by selling Bavarian neckties.
An old friend Friedl Pfeifer had been hired to head up the ski school at the newly opened Aspen resort. Pfeifer invited Klaus to join the ski school. Klaus Obermeyer would become a fixture at Aspen and in fact, he still lives there!
Early in his experience as an Aspen instructor, Klaus realized that the skiwear of the day really didn’t help people learn to ski. For students to learn they needed to be comfortable. Appropriate skiwear should keep people warm and dry. In 1947 Klaus founded Sport Obermeyer with that goal.
To help fund his enterprise, Klaus came up with an ingenious idea. In those days men actually wore ties as part of their skiing attire! So Klaus designed the Koogie tie, kind of a string tie with two knit balls on the ends. To help promote it he took advantage of some of the celebrities that visited Aspen. In particular, he got movie star Gary Cooper to be photographed wearing one. The result was Klaus sold 32,000 of the ties for $1.75 each!
Klaus Obermeyer would use his ingenuity for far more practical advances than the Koogie tie. He formulated a high altitude sunscreen to help protect skiers from the Rocky Mountain sun. While he didn’t invent the down parka, he popularized it and made it far more fashionable. His first version of a down parka was made out of a down blanket his mother had given him. Some of us will forever be in his debt for popularizing turtle necks and making the first nylon windshirt which became integral parts of the skiing “uniform” I have documented before.
And Klaus Obermeyer gets credit for the two-pronged ski brake which has become universally used. Others had tried the ski brake concept, notably both Cubco (the “Pig Stabber”) and Miller bindings had a single-pronged brake designed to flip the ski over to stop it. I received no correct answers to last week’s trivia.
Klaus Obermeyer turned 102 on December 2nd. As mentioned, he still lives in the Aspen area and still contributes to the Aspen-based company he founded. He says he looks out for the technical aspects of the skiwear they produce. By the way, his wife Nome influences the fashion side of their skiwear. She was a former model for Obermeyer and became a fashion designer.
Klaus is the epitome of positivity which certainly helps with his longevity. He believes that we can always choose to be positive no matter how dire the situation. He swims a half mile a day and says in one year he swims all the way to Denver. Then the next year he swims back to Aspen. He also practices Aikido, a martial art which is based on positive energy, “Your opponent is also your teacher!” Klaus says that principle has helped him succeed in business.
And yes, he still skis although COVID has cut into his schedule. In a November interview he said, “The longer you ski, the longer you live!” There’s a slogan around the Obermeyer company and I think it applies to all of us Retro-Skiers. “Be Like Klaus!”