From Chamonix to Torino |

From Chamonix to Torino

Laura A. Ball
Arts and Entertainment Writer
AE Ski Fashion3 SM 2-15

VAIL ” From the first U.S. Ski Team jacket to Pikabo Street’s famous speedsuit, the Colorado Ski Museum’s display of Olympic ski garb reads like a quick history lesson in the evolution of the sport. Who knew fashion could be so educational?

The Vail museum houses one of the largest collections of Olympic ski memorabilia in the U.S., journeying from the first winter Olympics in Chamonix, France, in 1924 to the 2006 Torino games. Curator Justin Henderson discusses the chronicles of ski fashion donated by former Olympians like locals Cindy Nelson and Sara Schleper.

The ski museum houses the first U.S. ski team jacket worn by Colorado’s own Olympian Anders Haugen during the first Winter Olympics opening ceremonies in Chamonix, France, in 1924. The wool parka that falls below the knees resembles a Native American blanket with fringe trim.

Haugen, born in Norway, moved to Dillon and thus represented the U.S. in the games. Although he jumped the farthest, he was marked down for leaning forward, ironically, the form recognized today. In 1974, after reconsideration by an Olympic panel, Haugen was awarded the bronze.

The 1928 Winter Games hosted by St. Moritz, Switzerland, were the first to be held in a different nation than the Summer Games of the same year. Ski fashion remained relatively unchanged.

Lake Placid, N.Y. 1932

By the early 1930s, the first special ski clothing was designed. Skiers wore woolen caps, Norwegian reindeer sweaters, short military-style gabardine jackets, tweed wool knickers, and baggy gabardine trousers worn with a belt and a tucked-in sweater. Skiers started wearing parkas, too. Some were just waterproof shells. Some were fancy jackets with bearskin lining.

The 1936 games marked the introduction of alpine skiing, downhill and slalom to the Olympics. Sleek, tapered pants replaced baggy pants to create a more streamlined feel for downhill events, although still made from natural fibers. The newest in goggles were interchangeable lenses, although the lenses were completely flat rather than contoured to fit the face.

This was the first year women were allowed to compete, as well. They wore stiff, starched collared shirts under tight crew neck sweaters with trousers.

Due to the outbreak of war in Europe the Olympics did not resume until 1948. A special slalom was added this year for those who didn’t want to race down hill, and they could use any skis they wanted, as long as they were wood. Fashionable fur hoods emerged at the Swiss Games. Collared shirts were paired with Nordic sweaters.

Skiers still swooshed on wooden skis, but nylon emerged on the scene.

“World War II really introduced a lot of man-made fibers and fabrics like nylon,” Henderson said. “So you really start to see a real shift after WWII in the ’50s.”

Gretchen Fraser, the housewife turned gold medalist in the 1948 slalom ” the first ever American to win a medal in skiing ” came up with the idea for a ski racing helmet.

By the time of the Cortina games, Buddy Werner and Ralph Miller worked out a design for streamline pants, which would cut down on wind resistance, characterized by elastic panels, a revolution in the ski industry.

Instead of ballcaps and aviator hats, skiers wore stocking caps.

The Squaw Valley games garnered more media attention with the first televised Olympics. And skiers graced the covers of Life, Sports Illustrated, Time and Newsweek. Due to skiing’s new presence, U.S. Team saw a rise in financial backing. Ski clothing also got tighter and sleeker with the onset of the ’60s. Big, puffy down parkas and vests also were popular, as were jumper pants.

The first year ski jumpers had two separate competitions, the 70- and the 80-meter jump, the one-piece ski suit emerged.

Plastic ski boot replaced leather boots at the Grenoble games, a revolution in ski equipment.

Skiers shined in the display’s mod-shift mini red jacket with big gold buttons and a space-age silver one-piece racing suit.

The 1970s see a strong transition into modern-day ski trends. Skiers wore pants tucked into their boots, long, belted coats, and hip-length turtle neck sweaters. Ski clothing was made from bright polyester materials with wild patterns.

Local Cindy Nelson won the bronze medal for downhill. Her blue speedsuit hangs in the museum.

The Asics label graced the U.S. ski team jacket in 1980 when ski clothing saw a shift between corporate sponsors of the teams and corporate logos.

The museum boasts the white racing suits with salmon-colored tiger stripes worn by twin brothers Phil and Steve Mahre when they won the gold and silver in the slalom competition.

A puffy silver and purple one-piece suit in the exhibit worn for the opening ceremonies looks as if it were designed by Michael Jackson.

Moguls gold medalist Donna Weinbrecht ripped it up in a neon nylon warm-up-inspired one-piece that is displayed.

Pikabo Street’s modern speedsuit graces Lillehammer, as well as local Sara Schlepper’s Nordic sweater and hat, a throwback to ski-wear of the olden days.

Nagano in 1998 was the first year snowboarding was an Olympic event. Uniforms became a conflict.

“That was a big stink because the freestylers weren’t too happy about wearing uniforms,” Henderson said. “They hated the first uniforms they had.”

Ross Power’s freestyle uniform, as well as speedsuit worn by alpine snowboarder Kris Klug, are part of the Nagano display.

The 2002 exhibit showcases the famous red, white and blue Roots uniform worn in the Olympic parade.

“It was the first major sporting event after Sept. 11 so there was a lot of patriotism,” Henderson said. “There was a lot of interest in it.”

The image of the U.S. team at Salt Lake City wearing the uniforms by Roots, a Canadian company, ignited a retail sensation. A private jet was chartered to deliver a shipment of 25,000 hats, which were sold within hours.

Willy Bogner Jr., head of the company that has outfitted the German Olympic ski team since 1936, calls the opening ceremony “a big fashion show.”

Torino, Italy 2006

Tommy Hilfiger has designed a competition uniform for the U.S. freestyle ski team for the 2006 games.

During opening and closing ceremonies and during downtime in the Olympic village, all of the Americans will be dressed in uniforms by Roots, including a revival of its beret, and nylon vests in a retro ski-racing style.

U.S. athletes who win medals will step to the podium in off-white Nike track jackets trimmed with blue ribbing, or puffy blue-and-red parkas.

Colorado Ski Museum – Top of Vail Transportation Center – Open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Closed on Mondays

For more information, call 476-1876 or visit The Torino 2006 Roots’ ball caps and berets, as well as various Olympic pins, are for sale at the museum

Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14641, or

Vail, Colorado

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