By Warren Miller
Recently, the President of the National Shoe Retailers Association, which represents almost 18,000 shoe stores in America, said, “Shoelaces are becoming almost obsolete in functionality.”
This is news? The ski industry quit using ski boot laces over forty years ago. You have to have been skiing over 40 years ago to remember how much those calluses on the outside of your little fingers burned from tightening and re-tightening your ski boot laces during the day as the melting snow soaked into your leather ski boots and made them even softer.
My first ski business was the nylon parachute shroud shoelace business during the 1948-49 ski season. I guaranteed my ski boot laces for an entire winter. I sold them for 25 cents wholesale and my cost was under three cents a pair. I guaranteed them for a winter; I just didn’t guarantee that they would stay tied for more than an hour.
By the late 1950s the Henke boot company was running ads that read, “Are you lacing while others are racing?” That was the end of boot laces. A lot of other things have disappeared from the ski scene since those days. Some of those things I was glad to see go, and others I still miss.
I do not miss the many hours I used to stand in line to ride a chairlift; however, I do miss riding in a double chairlift with my favorite person at the time, having conversations not possible on the fast moving quads of today. I like the fast moving lifts, but sometimes I miss the solitude of the slower lifts.
I did really enjoy the silence of the ride up in that old fashioned, never-seen-anymore device called the single chairlift. It was wonderful living in Sun Valley for three years during those days. When you got on the River Run chairlift on the Ketchum side of the Big Wood River, you hunkered down in that chair alone with your thoughts as you glided silently above the gently gurgling river. You knew it was below zero when the water was steaming and it was indeed a magical entry for me every morning into the unbelievable skiing on Baldy. With only three single chairlifts carrying a lot fewer people to the top, there was sometimes powder snow from one storm until the next. I definitely miss that.
I do not miss the disappearance of my seven-foot-six-inch, stiff, laminated, hickory skis with the metal edges that where fastened on with screws. Within a week or two of getting a new pair of skis, the screws would start to fall out. Eventually, you had to drill completely through the wooden ski and fasten the edges on permanently with copper rivets. Today you just take your expensive skis into a ski shop and they will charge you more for sharpening and tuning them than it used to cost to buy a brand new pair.
In the late 1950s, Maria Bogner first appeared on the slopes in a pair of stretch pants and the instant growth of skiing can be traced directly to the sexy look of those pants. Do I miss looking at them? Any man who says he doesn’t miss that sexy look is not really telling the truth. Of course, that is not to say that every woman should be out there in those stretch pants. Most people can’t pull that look off and end up looking like a taxicab with both doors open.
Recently, someone researched and found over 500 former ski resorts in New England. Those resorts disappeared because of any number of reasons. Most of them disappeared before the invention of snow-making machinery. Others disappeared because they couldn’t afford to replace their rope tows with chairlifts. Nevertheless, they are gone and the ski world is worse off because of their demise. Those were the places where the most skiers got started and skied until they someday became successful enough to buy an airplane ticket and fly to the deep snows of California, Utah, or Colorado.
Fueled by real estate sales, some resorts are now pricing themselves out of servicing the very people who made them what they became. I definitely miss the good deals on land during the good-old-days. I don’t miss living in my van, although it was fun at the time.
So, the ski industry has evolved and will continue to evolve. Some of the evolution has been good and some not so good. At least we know the shoelaces won’t be making a comeback.