Vail Daily columnist Warren Miller: Excited for winter
Vail, CO, Colorado
The day after Labor Day is when suddenly almost anyone who owns ski or snowboard equipment stops by the closet where it is stored. They get out their gear and fondle it as though it is their magic carpet to freedom, and it is.
As soon as the snow comes and covers whatever blemishes the earth might have, everyone who can gets to the top of a mountain. They are all playing by the same rules: “Gravity is the great equalizer!”
Many years ago, getting the wooden skis and boots ready to use again involved unclamping the pair of skis from the two-by-four that they had been fixed to all summer to keep them from warping, rubbing the tops with steel wool, applying another coat of varnish, putting yet another coat of lacquer on the bottoms (no P-tex or any of the more recent, faster bottom materials back then) and then checking all of the dozens and dozens of screws that held the edges on.
Then you turned your attention to your leather ski boots that you had weatherized with numerous polishing sessions of Dye-and-Shine shoe polish. It was the best. Your boots always looked new and shiny, at least for the first month or so. Some
people rubbed their boots with Snow Seal over a hot stove to help it melt in, but that really came later, and they weren’t nearly as shiny and sharp looking.
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You had two options with that wool sweater your ex-girlfriend knit for you last year. You could store it all summer and spend the next winter smelling like mothballs, the smell that never goes away (no wonder they use it as a raccoon repellent). Or you could get your new girlfriend to knit another one or maybe knit the holes back together in the moth-eaten, mothball-smelling one.
Your ski pants could stand up by themselves by the end of the last winter, so you had soaked them in the bathtub rather than spending the money on dry cleaning. They finally dried and you put them away. Who cares if they would be a little bit fuzzy from now on until you fell in fresh snow and it all stuck to the fuzz?
You have now started making trips to all of the ski shops within driving range to see what was new and exciting. I know this to be true because I started doing all of this when I got out of the Navy in 1946 and have had the same experience every September since then. I might have given up skiing many years ago if I didn’t have so many sweaters. (Editor’s comment: Does your wife know you had that many girlfriends, Warren?)
In the summer of 1946, I bought half a dozen pair of Army surplus, 7-foot-6-inch, stiff, wooden skis for $5 a pair. I figured that I could sell them at $10 a pair and double my money. I did just that, but one pair I sold to a friend who stood only 5-6 and was just starting to ski.
To make the skis work for him and complete the sale, I just used a saw to take 18 inches off the backs of the skis. I didn’t even charge him extra for the custom modifications. He sanded down the saw marks, stripped off the white paint that all the Army surplus skis were painting with and varnished them. He spent the next two winters having a great time on his 6-foot-long skis.
He didn’t know the difference between where his bindings were and where they should have been until years later.
He was such a happy guy that
his hand-knit sweater collection was the biggest of any skier in Southern
Using shoe polish on ski boots was the best waterproofing for our soft leather boots. Among the ski-school instructors at Badger Pass, there was an unofficial polished-ski-boot contest going on all winter with some of the boots looking as shiny as patent-leather tap-dancing shoes.
Boots were shiny but not very supporting until the mid 1960s, when Bob Lange invented the plastic boot.
In the early 1950s, some ski clubs ambitiously built ski-club lodges in mountains less than 100 miles from where all of the members lived.
An exception to that was the San Diego Ski Club. They had built their club at Mammoth Mountain, more than 350 miles away. One member set the record when he drove to Mammoth every weekend, both winter and summer. He logged 129 weekends in a row, working on the cabin every trip. He never did learn how to ski. He just liked to build things.
The winters of 1946-47 and 1947-48, I spent September outfitting my teardrop trailer for the winter. The floor plan was simple at best. It contained a double bed and an outside kitchen under the hatch at the back. It was very efficient and Spartan, and best of all for Ward Baker and myself, it was very cheap!
Now 65-plus years later, I still get excited after Labor Day when the temperature drops a few degrees and I see the first leaves starting to change and fall.
Time to check my ski sweaters for moth holes.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log on to http://www.warrenmiller.net.