Vail Today: Klaus Obermeyer holds down the fort at SIA (video)
February 18, 2017
Editor's note: This is part four of a seven-part series on new gear and ideas featured at the Snowsports Industries America (SIA) Snow Show held in Denver in January. SIA is a nonprofit, member-owned trade association representing suppliers of consumer snowsports with constituents in the retailer, rep and resort communities.
Innovator. Skier. Optimist. Those words describe this 97-year-old who still makes it to the Snowsports Industries America (SIA) Snow Show every year.
The Obermeyer booth is right at the entrance to SIA, the ski industry tradeshow held at the Denver Convention Center each January. Klaus Obermeyer, the patriarch of the brand, sits at the entrance of the vast booth to shake hands, hug and even give the European-style double kiss to those who pass by. People hang around, almost wait in line, for a chance to say hi to him, get a photo, or a selfie now, with the person who started Sport Obermeyer 70 years ago this season.
Obermeyer trained to be an aeronautical engineer in Germany before coming to the United States at the age of 27. His first job was selling Bavarian neckties in Sun Valley, Idaho, alongside another entrepreneur, filmmaker Warren Miller. The next season, he moved to Aspen to become a ski instructor.
It was here that the inspiration came for the down parka. Obermeyer's mother gave him a down comforter when she heard he was going to "North" America. "She told me 'it must be cold in North America,'" remembers Obermeyer.
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Back in those days, a long, fixed-grip lift serviced the slops. In order to guarantee work, Obermeyer wanted to keep his students happy — and warm. So he cut up the down comforter and fashioned it into a coat that could be worn on the rides up to keep his clients comfortable.
"I cut up the down comforter on the kitchen table," he said. "I had feathers in my breakfast for weeks!"
Many people think that Obermeyer only manufactured ski clothing, but his innovations go beyond that. He was instrumental in developing high-alpine sunscreen, two-pronged ski brakes, turtlenecks, nylon wind-shirts, mirrored sunglasses and lighter-weight ski poles.
For the 2017-18 season, Sport Obermeyer will be offering the best durable water repellant (DWR) fabric on the market.
"We have some technology that is three times as durable as the traditional DWR, meaning you can wash this around 50 times and it keeps about 100 percent of it's effectiveness," said Ryan Meyer, creative director of Sport Obermeyer.
Meyer also said that there would be a color shift now that the economy is better.
"During bad economic times, people respond more to neons. With an uptick in the market you'll see a resurgence in brights," he said. "Instead of neon green or yellow, it's a bright pastel. Look for new neutrals, also."
But colors and fashion don't mean much to Klaus Obermeyer, who calls himself the "functionality police."
"It can look good, but it needs to function well on the slopes," he said.
We could all learn a lot from this nonagenarian who is still involved in his business based in Aspen but enjoys the slopes.
"Every day you don't ski, you can't get it back," he said.
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