Friday, January 28, 2011

Old skis

In December I visited my sister in New Mexico and enjoyed a delightful day of skiing -- my first time on downhill skis in over 25 years.  The ski equipment I rented was dramatically different from anything I had used before.  The boots were bizarre, opening up from the back and having many adjustment options.  The shape of the skis looked weird, with exaggerated side curves and rounded, not pointed, ends.  How the technology has changed!   I wondered if I'd be able to adapt, and whether I'd remember how to ski. As it turned out, these new skis helped me ski with confidence and ease.

Skiing down the mountain trails with my sister (our first time skiing together in probably 40 years) was a joy,  and triggered many memories. Her graceful turns reminded me of the way Daddy had skied.  I thought of our family's long history with skiing, and thought too about the changes in the shapes and lengths of skis over the years.

My very first skis were short, straight wooden "toy" skis with a high curl at the front, and a band of red paint on the wood. Simple straps tied the little skis to my rubber boots.  I could toddle around on these skis on a relatively flat area.  Later my baby sister used these skis and I played with her while our parents (the real skiers) skied down the real hill.  Jean and I amused ourselves trying to "ski" down the short gentle slope of an embankment, but I think we mostly tumbled and fell,  laughed and played in the snow.

My mother's first skis, in contrast, were very, very long.  She didn't learn to ski until she was in college, invited to the Dartmouth Winter Carnival.  She had friends in the Dartmouth Outing Club (D.O.C.) who helped set up her equipment and taught her to ski.  She loved to tell us stories about those Dartmouth boys and her outing club trips from Vassar College to Hanover, NH -- an adventurous drive in the automobiles of the 1930's.   She kept those old skis.

Yesterday I found them in a forgotten corner of a storage closet, and pulled them out to measure just how long they were:  6'6" tip to tail. (She was only 5'4'' tall.)

Let's look closely at that old technology.    I've taken some photos to show the details.
The metal binding shown here clearly came from Dartmouth;  the letters "D.O.C." appear at the upper edge, right.

The wooden skis are much older than the binding.   How do I know?

Years ago I had found some of my mother's letters home from college describing her ski adventures at Dartmouth. [I have given copies of those letters to the Dartmouth Outing Club and the originals to Vassar College Archives.]  She apologized to her mother for some wear and tear on "your skis"!   My grandmother's skis?   I'd never heard about my grandmother skiing.   I called my aunt and asked.  Oh, yes, her mother had used long skis that were probably hand-carved by the Norwegian farm hands employed by John T. MacDonald at the family farm in Delhi, NY.  My aunt recalled a photo of her mother, Amelia MacDonald, as a young woman skiing down the cow-pasture hill in Delhi, wearing a long wool skirt. Imagine that!

You can see in this side view that the old wooden skis have a slot for a previous style of binding.  It was probable a simple strap to tie or buckle over a boot.

My childhood skis had a similar slot.

Note handcarved look of tips.

Note thin design lines on the top surface

My mother's maiden name was J.N. Cutler  (Janet Nesmith Cutler).

1 comment:

Katley said...

interesting read. In Germany many years ago, I remember seeing some older people on the hill with those ancient wooden skis and leather ski boots (my boots were plastic with tabs to fit into the bindings) I had metal bindings that clicked when the boot was engaged.

I haven't skiied in over 20 years, because during that time I was raising my kids, and lift tickets had become too expensive.

Back in the 1970's I learned how to ski at a German ski resort, and my skis were about 5" bigger than I was. I was told, the longer skis were better for stability.

Ski technology has changed a lot since then!