Memory lane littered with old boards
April 20, 2009
Riding up the Lenawee lift at A-Basin one recent sunny afternoon, I let myself slip into a ski reverie, partially hypnotized by the rhythmic sound of the chairs rolling over sheaves.Looking down, the tips of my G3s framing the scene, I started to wonder what ever happened to all the different skis I used over the years. After all, nearly every pair has a story. Some were handed down to my younger brother. Others ended up in sacrificial bonfires. I know for a fact that burning a pair of old-double-cambered tele boards a few seasons ago led to one of the best powder years ever, a great lesson in the importance of letting-go.But what about that set of redwood boards I used when we skied the Taunus Mountains, just outside Frankfurt, back in the 1960s? I was about 6 or 7, and the front-throw cable bindings came in handy. To ski the mile of forest road from the parking lot to the lift, we freed the cable from its rear guides so we could glide along cross-country style. I dont remember the make, but I know that the metal edges were screwed into the bottom. On warm spring days, I hand-rubbed soft silver wax into the grainy base, smoothing the finish with my gloves. Those skis contributed to an early sense of independence on the mountain, as my parents encouraged me to hike up past the top of the lift to explore the forests and meadows beyond.Switching to fiberglass skis a few years later was another big step. My dad and I picked them out in the U.S. Army Post Exchange in Garmisch during an early season ski trip. I raised my arm straight up and cupped my hand over the tip to gauge the length. The dark-green Voelkls had yellow sidewalls, and we mounted them up with Marker Rotomats the same day. I watched the ski tech score the toe of my boots with tiny V-notches to match the bindings toe piece, feeling very grown up.The following morning we rode the train up past the Eibsee to the Zugspitzplatt, a huge glacial bowl on the flanks of Germanys highest peak. Skiing the fresh snow on those springy new slats was a dream come true. The skis had a life of their own. Instead of dead weight under my feet, I felt like I was riding a pair of porpoises, bounding, bouncing and diving through the fluff.Soon enough, I face-planted, big-time, and both binding released, so I learned why people called them explodomats. The heel pieces featured twin springs held in place by an elaborate system of cams, pins and washers, truly a product of German over-engineering. Trying to re-align all the pieces with gloved hands was like trying to play piano while wearing mittens.The first skis I ever bought for myself was a pair of Kneissl Red Stars, mounted with Salomon 505s. Austrian ski hero Karl Schranz had posed on the cover of a ski magazine with his Red Stars, and I knew I had to have a pair. The Red Stars leaned up against the wall in my bedroom for several months before they ever touched the snow, resting between a poster of Jean Claude Killy and a cluster of trail maps from areas that Id never skied, but dreamed about constantly. When I moved to the U.S. in the early 80s, I spent almost an entire winter in the San Francisco area, away from the snow. By the time I moved to Mammoth in the spring, the Sierra snowpack had corned up, and when I crossed the range at Tioga Pass, the bowls of the Yosemite high country cast a 15-year spell over me.But for the first time that I could remember, I didnt own a pair of skis.So my first stop was the Cast-Off, a second-hand store run by the hospital auxiliary. I scored a pair of Rossi 4Ss for $25, shook the mouse turds out of a $10 pair of manky old Tecnicas and headed back up the pass to camp out at the base of Ellery Bowl. The next morning, I climbed the majestic cirque with the sunrise, then carved some of the sweetest turns of my life. Home again, in the mountains.Bob Berwyn has been reporting from Summit County since 1996 and still buys most of his ski gear second-hand.