A few years ago when I was making ski movies, as I did for 55 years, I had three extreme skiers sitting around at lunch. We were talking about the advance in ski design and manufacturing. Before long I had a bet going that as good as those skiers were, they would have a hard time turning a pair of 1947 top of the line Northland skis with bear trap bindings, with very little camber and almost no side cut.
The skis were made out of laminated hickory and sold for $23.95 in better ski shops. We managed to round up three pair of these vintage skis, adjusted the bindings, and set out to film how those extreme skiers would handle them on a modest slope -- almost flat -- would be the better description.
The snow was hard-packed granular and the edges were not offset. Skier number one started across the hill in a long traverse and never could make the first turn, but ran out of ski slope and onto the gravel road that led to the maintenance shed.
He did a step turn that took about ten steps until he was headed back toward my camera. About three feet below where he had left ten minutes before, he arrived one angry, sweating, frustrated, extreme skier of the 1990s.
Almost the same thing happened to the next two extreme skiers and it must have taken them 30 minutes each, experimenting with every ski technique they had ever read about before they could finally turn the skis. They all fell back onto 1940 Arlberg with a lot of French exaggerated rotation, while in a wide stem position that is called "slice of Pizza" today.
An hour or so later, I was able to finally run my camera and document these extreme skiers on 1947 ski gear, as they struggled down the hill at four or five miles an hour.
This exercise did not prove anything except, thanks to the ski manufacturers and the millions of dollars in research and development, the sport is so much more user-friendly. Is it easier today? I don't know. All I know is that all of the time it took a person to learn how to ski 50 years ago is now spent earning the extra money needed so they can go skiing.
In 1948, the only year I spent as a ski racer, my skis were Northland "seconds" because they had a knot in the wood near the tip and they cost me $22.95, instead of $24.95. My ski boots were top of the line soft leather and they cost $19.95. I think the formula to translate all of these numbers into today's dollars is to add a zero or two to everything and then you come up with a realistic figure.
For a first-time skier to turn today's skis, it is still not easy. Skiing has been defined as being too far away, too cold, too dangerous, and too expensive. Once a person can overcome all of those reasons for not trying skiing, the rest is easy. Find a friend who owns a condo somewhere, hitch a weekend ride with them, and your life will be changed forever.
I can ask anyone who learned to ski after the age of four if they can remember their first day on skis and they get a glazed look in their eye as the remember where they skied, who with, how they got there, what they had for lunch, and what the weather was like. They can remember everything about that first day on skis because it was their first day of total freedom.
The only thing that held them back was their amount of courage as they were in the middle of their first turn and governed only by gravity. They had freedom for the first time in their lives.
My first day of freedom was in 1937 on corn snow on Mt. Waterman, 50 miles from where I lived in Hollywood, California at the time. Since then, I have turned my skis and filmed other skiers on mountains from Zermatt, Switzerland to New Zealand and from Alaska to Chile and everything in between.
(Copyright, 2009: WarrenMiller.net).
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