Retrofitted: Planetary Defense and Phil Kopp’s ‘70s Japanese skis
May 19, 2016
Just about every pair of skis in Phil Kopp's garage has a small, circular sticker stuck three or four inches from the tips, right where the '70s-era camber finally starts to turn up. Each red, white, blue and black sticker has a yin-yang symbol inside a star inside a bull's-eye (or maybe it's Captain America's shield?), with the words "Planetary Defense" printed in skinny text around the outermost circle. On one ski — the lone Yamaha Paramount XAM, a red-and-white ski with spatters of garage grime on the edges — a rows of engraved text read: "MADDOG," his nickname with the club. The circular sticker fits so well it nearly looks like part of the top-sheet.
Kopp's collection is much smaller than it was a few years ago, but it's safe to say just about each of the 20 pairs he gave away was also marked by Planetary Defense.
"Ski Magazine did an article on us once, and article about 'outlaw ski club,'" Kopp tells me after pointing out the sticker. "It had us and some others, clubs like the Ravinos (of Vail). Those guys have been around forever."
In the '70s, a band of Summit County locals founded Planetary Defense for other hard-partying, hard-skiing locals. It was a sort of biker gang for skiers, except Kopp and the rest were more interested in telemarking than Hell's Angels-style crime. Maybe gang is the wrong word them … it's more of an underground society, really, a Justice League for self-proclaimed ski bums. Like the Yamaha and its Japanese cousin — a complete pair of pastel Nishizawa Formula 978 XGS's — the club is still close to Kopp's heart. And head.
"To the head!" he says and gives the official Planetary Defense salute: one fist to the temple. He hooks the Nishazawas with a broken left hand, the casualty of skiing trees on Peak 6 a few weeks ago.
Not like a broken hand will slow him down. The Oklahoma native has been skiing the Colorado Rockies since 1974, when he left college at Michigan State — "I guess you could say I got an education, just not a certificate or diploma," he says of his time protesting the Vietnam War — and moved to Denver. Within a year he was living in Vail, then Leadville after that, then finally Summit County in the early '80s.
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Kopp has been here ever since, flying the Planetary Defense colors and (like all true ski bums) holding a host of jobs: food service at MidVail, mechanic and underground motorman of Climax Mine, owner of Daily Planet bookstore in Frisco from 1984 to 1999 with his wife, Janelle. She didn't like the mining job much, but working overnight was a ski bum's dream.
"The Climax job was probably the best because it was shift work," Kopp says. "Janelle remembers meeting me then and I would just start to fall asleep in the chairlift after a graveyard shift."
The hours at Climax were nearly perfect, but the bookstore is probably his fondest memory. He's a lifelong comic book collector and has several vintage Marvels — Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk — valued at $1,000-plus that he keeps locked away in a safe-deposit box.
"The comics are sort of like my skis: I don't throw any of them away," he says, and then pauses to remember the 20-some-odd pairs he no longer has. "Although when we moved from our townhouse to this place I had to get rid of a bunch."
Will that happen to the Nishizawas or lone Yamaha? Doubtful. They're just different enough, he says, even if they aren't in mint-comic condition.
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