Ski artifacts: Raichle fiber-jets clam boots and Warren Miller lithographs
August 20, 2017
Editor's note: The following is part of a series of articles compiled by the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame that will take a closer look at some of the artifacts and stories contained in the museum's archives. The Colorado Snowsports Museum, located in the Vail Transportation Center, is currently undergoing a $2.4 million privately funded transformation that will refurbish the 24-year-old facility, add new exhibit space and modernize exhibits with interactive technology.
Skiing and the 10th Mountain Division are the cornerstones of Vail's history and success, which the museum preserves and celebrates year-round. The museum has been a favorite family friendly visitor attraction in Vail for 41 years and, with these improvements, will become the most comprehensive ski museum in the world.
Raichle fiber-jets, the 'clam boots'
From the earliest days of alpine skiing as a recreational sport, ski-boot manufacturers have focused on function, performance and, occasionally, comfort. However, back in 1968, in an era when some felt that one's "après ski" prowess was the sign of a true skier, Raichle Boots introduced a new consideration to the mix — fashion — rolling out a revolutionary new boot system in the process.
The Raichle Fiber-Jet, aka Red Hot, featured an outer shell that could be removed, leaving an inner boot that became comfortable footwear for walking around … and dancing. Oh, and by the way, did we mention that the boots were bright red? Needless to say, it was impossible to be shy or introverted while wearing these boots.
The Red Hot most definitely served as a conversation starter in lift lines and base lodges, obviously drawing a considerable amount of attention to the wearer. An original Raichle Fiber-Jet boot will be on display in the Colorado Snowsports Museum when it reopens in December.
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It wasn't just color that made the Raichle different. The Red Hots also featured a different approach to ski boot design. First, there was the laced inner boot that appeared to be a cross between a boxer's boot and a ballet shoe. Theoretically, you could use the inner boot to walk around in, which tended to draw more attention than the red outer boot, particularly the shiny silver models.
The outer boot featured a clamshell design that was hinged down the middle of the sole. The outer boot closed around the inner boot, securing it with the buckles. The outer boot was made of solid fiberglass, approximately one-quarter inch thick in the forefoot, providing for complete lateral rigidity without any tightness. A leather cuff around the top of the boot controlled forward flex.
The clamshell design had several advantages. Tightening the buckles did not distort the shell, causing painful hot spots. In addition, they were easy to put on, with the inner boot doubling as a walking shoe for après ski and driving to the resort.
The Raichle ad of the day promised a "heightened sense of knee-to-ski control and split-second responsiveness that will have you skiing better than you ever imagined. Fiber-Jet's unique fiberglass construction affords complete lateral stability that enables you to maneuver your skis with the least possible effort."
The Red Hots became the first ski boots to be displayed as part of a permanent design collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Always ahead of the color curve, Raichle was also the first company to promote their ski boots with a color advertisement in 1964.
Warren Miller lithographs
His films have kept skiers in stitches for more than 65 years, but the Warren Miller archives also showcase another talent that predates Warren's film career, harkening back to 1948 when he resided in a Sun Valley parking lot.
Just after racing in the Harriman Cup in Sun Valley that winter, Miller made himself at home at the dining room table of the local Challenger Inn and sketched five images: one of himself and four of his ski pals: Jack Reddish, Barney McLean, Leon Goodman and Toni Matt. The Colorado Snowsports Museum has a full set of these lithographs, No. 72 of 100, in its collection.
Years later, matted and framed, the sketches decorated Miller's office walls. After much prodding from business associates, he was persuaded to duplicate the sketches and sell them to the public.
"This is a great gift to give to the people who just loaned you their condominium for a week and saved you an awful lot of money," Miller said, joking. "It will hang on their wall … as a constant reminder to invite you back in case you might give them a second lithograph."
The set of five sold for $1,500. Individually, each lithograph was priced at $300, except for Warren's self-sketch, which was sold for $450. Miller joked that his was worth more because it shows him with hair, which "makes it somewhat of an archaeological treasure."
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