Ski Canada Magazine
50 YEARS OF EQUIPMENT EVOLUTION
Former Ski Canada technical editor Martin Olson of Golden, B.C., takes a nostalgic look back at some of the gear that made us ski better and safer.
I cringe when I routinely see people kicking their bindings to clear snow off their boots. People would give bindings more respect if they thought about how far they’ve come in 50 years. Think back to bindings like the Tyrolia Clix 90. State of the art then, but they were made from stamped metal with exposed parts that sometimes broke off. They had sharp ridges that dug into notches in the toe of your boot sole. This was actually part of the design to keep your boots in place. It was trendy to mix bindings, for example, pair a Look toepiece and Marker heelpiece.
Then along came Look and the N77 in 1975 with that sleek, enclosed piston heelpiece and properly adjustable elasticity. That was the dawning of the space age for bindings.
We have step-in bindings now. Think about that. But there was a time when it was a major procedure to get your skis on. I remember working at Lake Louise and wanting to go in for a break. I’d have to bend down to my Marker Long Thong bindings and unwrap about six feet of leather strap from around my ankles. Then I’d have to do it all up again when it was time to go back out.
People forget that those safety straps prevented runaway skis. Great, but they kept loose skis flapping all over the place, including right around your head when you fell. The injuries were too many to count. That’s when we could have really used helmets.
Clothing has improved so much. It’s now waterproof, windproof, lightweight, breathable and warm—all at once. Fifty years ago you were lucky to get one of those features at a time. Snow would cling like glue to my Anba of Austria jacket. Of course, the clinging problem went away when the “wet look” came along from designer David S. Reid and others. Nothing stuck to that, which became a problem in itself. When you fell on a ski hill,
you didn’t stop. People got hurt.
A Japanese skier died at Norquay because he just couldn’t stop when he fell. Slippery pants almost sent me right off a snowy chairlift with no safety bar at Lake Louise once. I was leaning forward a little to adjust my boot when the chair stopped. Some places wouldn’t let you on the chair while wearing that clothing because it was too dangerous.
One of my favourite all-time skis came out in 1974, the Völkl Renntiger. It was a time when skiing was growing and there was more appetite for innovation. Things cooled off a bit after 1980 from an innovation point of view, but snowboarding eventually came along and had a definite effect on skis, too. I remember looking down from a chairlift and seeing a hard-booted snowboarder laying down tracks that skiers just couldn’t do. Skis didn’t have sidecut then and couldn’t generate the force. Ski design had been moving in that direction, but only slowly, until snowboarding gave it a push. Remember, Salomon was making snowboards too, so there would have been cross-pollination.
Still, the speed at which ski design changed took everyone by surprise. Atomic and Rossignol thought shaped skis would stay a niche market. I remember being at Whistler and hearing a futurist guru talking about things to be ready for in the ski industry. He said the shaped skis that were turning heads would establish themselves in the market but it would take 20 years for things to really switch over. Well, it took about two years. Designers initially had some trouble maintaining torsional rigidity in the wide tip and tail, but as soon as they figured that out, the teeter-totter tipped and no one looked back.
sive crouch ’n’ thrust and the Canadians evangelical mission was considered a huge success. A long-time Ski Canada and National Geographic contributor, Morrow, who turned 70 last year, reluctantly switched to alpine touring gear a few years back but can still be seen ripping slopes up and down the Rocky Mountain Trench. Oh, and he also climbed Everest before there were fixed lines and raced billionaire Dick Bass around the world in pursuit of the Seven Summits.
John Eaves: Has anyone ever lived a more hedonistic life than the great John Eaves? Like, how many people can lay claim to being a stunt double in not one, but two James Bond films? The former ’70s freestyle champ from Montreal parlayed good looks with some smooth skiing moves to perennially star in fashion legend Willy Bogner’s mid-’80s promotional films. He’s personally guided an international crew of high net worth individuals to CMH Monashees, as well as untouched slopes in Greenland, Russia’s Caucasus and the Indian Himalaya. A highly accomplished surfer, even in his 60s, Eaves currently hangs out in Fuji and surfs Cloudbreak, one of the world’s top performance waves. Little-known fact: Eaves’s mother was ski racer Rhoda Wurtele, who together with identical twin Rhona made up the entire Canadian Olympic women’s ski team in 1948.
Ptor Spricenieks: Growing up in the Bolton, Ontario, farmland north of Toronto in the 1970s, Ptor Spricenieks couldn’t imagine that one day he’d be internationally renowned as “the cosmic Canadian” or the “ski shaman.” In the late ’80s, Ptor arrived in Whistler and was very much part of its golden age of ski extreme, but his defining moment came with the epic first descent of Mount Robson just west of Jasper National Park. At a time when helicopters and snowmobiles were making adventurous descents less challenging, Ptor and partner Troy Jungen earned huge credibility for their 100 per cent human-powered effort.
Trevor Petersen and Eric Pehota: Starting in the Spearhead Range just beyond the boundary ropes of Whistler Blackcomb and expanding west to the Tantalus Range and North to Mount Waddington, Trevor Petersen and Eric Pehota began skiing gigantic Coast Range mountain faces with style and flow (not to mention cojones). With ponytails, mullets and head scarves flying in the wind, they pushed Canadian backcountry skiing out of the shadows and into the media limelight. They first filmed with Pemberton vagabond
Peter Chrzanowski and later moved on to a solid career with RAP Films. Petersen was only 34 when he died in Chamonix in 1996 and was featured in Steep, an award-winning feature-length documentary.
John Clarke: By his admission, “Coast Ranger” mountain explorer John Clarke wasn’t much of a skier. “I’d buy a cheap pair of skis each spring at a Sally Ann, mount them with a pair of telemark bindings, go and do my traverse, and either throw the skis down a crevasse or burn them at the end of the trip.” The warm, wonderfully eccentric Clarke wandered for weeks—solo—traversing massive Coast Range glaciers and scoring hundreds of first ascents on trips that would last for weeks at a time.
Christine Lustenberger: “Lusti,” as her friends call her, is a certified mountain guide who holds down a day job with Canadian Mountain Holidays. But what truly makes her a big-mountain badass are all the ski descents she’s made. Read more about her in SC’s Fall 2021 issue (“Doing It All,” Short Turns).
Greg Hill: The veteran ski mountaineer, ACMG Ski Guide, film maker and Ski Canada contributor redefined the entire scope of backcountry skiing projects back in 2010 when he self-propelled his way up (and down) more than two-million vertical feet in a calendar year. He also set a world record of 50,000 in 24 hours, won the Whistler Randonnée race three years in a row and climbed more than 70 mountains, among many challenges. Hill, who lives in Revelstoke with his wife and two children, has devoted his past several winters to accessing his adventures using non-fossil fuels, and has also personally planted more than a million trees, which has probably made the world a better place, too. (For more on Greg Hill, see “Digital Lemmings” this issue.)
Chad Sayers: Multiple magazine coverboy Chad Sayers found sponsorship at an early age and was given enormous creative latitude to explore pretty much wherever his ambitions took him. From Greenland to Mongolia, Argentina and, naturally, dozens of different mountain ranges in B.C., Sayers was the human document in Jordan Manley’s award-winning The Skier’s Journey documentary series. Diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder at a young age, his personal journey is far darker, to the point where living the dream turned into a nightmare. His new book, Overexposure, is an intense examination of the mental cost of dealing with high-wire risk, knowing that you have to perform to keep your sponsors happy.
Chic Scott: The grand elder of the
Canadian backcountry ski scene has skied from the north end of Jasper National Park to Kicking Horse Pass in 1967, pioneered the now-classic Bugaboos to Rogers Pass traverse in 1972 and followed that up with an ambitious traverse of the Northern Selkirks four years later. In the early ’90s, Scott became the first guide to complete the Rogers Pass traverse with clients, and has also guided trips from the Columbia Icefield to Rogers Pass. He’s the author of no less than 15 books, including two mandatory guidebooks on ski touring in the Canadian Rockies and the Columbia/Selkirk Mountains.