Aspen’s Obermeyer still going strong at 90 |

Aspen’s Obermeyer still going strong at 90

the aspen times
Aspen Times/Scott Condon

ASPEN – Aspen icon Klaus Obermeyer, who turned 90 Dec. 2, remains as enthusiastic about life as ever, even while referring to death.

When asked last week if he has any personal goals remaining after a long, illustrious life, Obermeyer took on a serious tone and said he wants to leave the ski and snowboard clothing company that bears his name in as good of shape as possible before he heads up to “ski in the clouds.”

After that brief, solemn moment, Obermeyer flashed one of his signature smiles and added, “It’s nice to ski in the clouds. You don’t catch edges.”

Obermeyer still skis every day. You have to, he said, if you live in the mountains and make ski wear. It’s research.

“We have fun at what we do,” he said.

Obermeyer was easy to spot on the slopes recently on a sun-drenched afternoon that brought the locals out. He ripped down the Copper trail with his white mane blowing in the wind, a brilliant red Obermeyer parka on his back, sunglasses protecting his eyes, and with a wide smile.

During the warmer months he pursues his other passion, tennis. He played every day at noon last summer and got rained out only once. Weather like that, he said, ensures Aspen will remain successful, along with an unbelievable lineup of events. He said he remains confident that Aspen will emerge from the recession in great shape. It’s got the best ski area operator in the country, he said. The Aspen Skiing Co. is proving that by creating such a great skiing experience on opening week with a small amount of natural snow.

Obermeyer celebrated his 90th birthday with friends and family at the Sundeck atop Aspen Mountain last Wednesday. To mark the event, a cool photo collection featuring shots of Klaus and models wearing his company’s ski clothes through the decades is featured in the Silver Queen Gondola Plaza. There’s a classic shot of Klaus screaming down the mountain on skis and another of him as a young man making the first climbing ascent of the north face of the Kanisfluh, a peak in Austria.

Obermeyer started making skiwear in 1947 out of necessity. He was a ski teacher who frequently lost students because they were ill-equipped to deal with the cold or sun, or both. Wives would force their husbands to cut short ski trips because they couldn’t stand the cold. And customers of all kinds were blistered by the sun.

Obermeyer and the other early ski instructors made $10 per day. “If you didn’t have a class, you had nothing,” he said.

So he started making ski parkas to sell to students and keep them warm. He and Friedl Pfeifer perfected the first high-altitude sunscreen. Life was good.

Sport Obermeyer has grown to a company with about $30 million in annual sales. But the founder said his top priority remains offering a good product at a reasonable price. “We never went crazy over making money,” he said.

The current recession is probably the most severe the company has faced, he said, but sales remain strong because it is based on value. Competitors that charge more are facing bigger challenges.

Sport Obermeyer fared OK last winter, despite the economy, because the snow across the country was decent. He remains convinced that the quality of snow on any given winter does more to influence the ski industry than the national economy.

Sport Obermeyer continues to develop what Klaus called “leading edge” products despite the recession. One example is a base layer shirt that is made from bamboo and feels like silk. It’s a green product because bamboo is such a fast-growing, renewable resource. Plus it’s effective for outdoor adventurers because bamboo is naturally anti-microbal.

Sport Obermeyer is also working on a clothing layer that offsets outdoor conditions – providing warmth in cold conditions and coolness in the heat.

Obermeyer’s strategy is to emerge from the recession in a better position than it entered.

“It’s like working out in the gymnasium,” said the eternally optimistic Obermeyer.

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