Press-Republican

Day Away

February 6, 2010

Vermont Ski Museum doesn't gloss over long history

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By 1940, Vermont had its first single chair lift. In 1954 came the first Poma lift (at Suicide Six), and in 1969, at Killington, the inaugural six-person gondola. Meanwhile, Trapp Family Lodge began its reign as a cross-country ski mecca. The now-ubiquitous snowboard also had its beginnings in the Green Mountain State.

However, skiing far predates the Vermont experience. The winter activity was recorded as early as 1841 in California's Sierra Nevada gold mining camps, where races became common during the Gold Rush era. Europe hosted jumping competitions by 1862 and had ski lifts by 1908.

Scandinavian countries pioneered cross-country skiing, its purpose being more utilitarian than recreational. Finland had military ski battalions from the 1870s.

FROM WOOD TO FIBERGLASS

Some of the museum's most compelling displays detail the evolution of ski equipment.

"Nine History Making Skis" shows progression from early handmade wooden skis to the high-tech versions dominant today. Hickory or ash were favored for their resilience. In 1888, a company in St. Croix, Wis., turned out the first factory-made wooden skis.

Wood had limitations. Addition of metal edges in 1930 aided in turning, alleviating one problem. Wood also loses its camber and spring over time, so the search began for more resilient materials. Howard Head successfully incorporated metal in 1958, encasing wood cores with plastic sides and aluminum tops and bottoms. Fiberglass sheathing soon followed. Piezoelectric ceramic chips beneath the outermost layers added glitzy flickering light.

Developments in bindings followed the need for increased safety. From leather toe and heel straps, gear progressed to steel cables, and then, in 1939, the first release bindings. Improved toe plates and ski brakes typified later improvements. Examples allow visitors to get a sense of their function.

With steel cables came the need for sturdier boots. Steel-reinforced shanks became commonplace; so did buckles. Advances in synthetic materials and insulation provided better stiffness, warmth and comfort.

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