A blast from skiing’s past
Have you ever looked down at your shaped skis carving down the slopes and wondered what you’d do without modern ski technology?Vintage Ski World will provide you with a reality check.The shop, located on the Cooper Avenue mall in downtown Aspen, features new gear dating back to skiing’s earliest days in Aspen, and also serves as a local skiing museum and a virtual trip around the world. Thin wooden skis hang on the walls, boots from the 1960s in mint condition are on display, and racks of clothing reveal ski fashions from several decades ago.Store owner Richard Allen wanders among it all, prepared to explain the significance of historic ski banners, patches from the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, and a European sled from the 1800s.The shop’s constant stream of customers includes wide-eyed visitors and local skiing enthusiasts who linger so long that Allen’s partner in the venture, Mary Roland, jokes about charging a $5 admission fee.
Allen started collecting skis and other gear from his family in the late ’80s, including a pair of handmade Norwegian wooden skis that his grandfather used in the early 1900s. (If that sounds like a long time ago, consider the fact that skiing may be as much as 7,000 years old, dating back to some skis that have been found in Scandinavia, Allen said.)Allen’s ski fanaticism is homegrown – he and his five brothers and sisters came to Aspen for the first time in 1959. In one black-and-white portrait, his family stands at the top of Aspen Mountain, clad in hand-knit ski sweaters and wool pants by White Stag, a popular brand at the time. Allen’s father had ski-bummed in Aspen in the 1930s, when a boat tow hauled skiers up the mountain.”All of us still ski, as do all of our grandkids,” he said. Allen moved to Aspen in the mid-’70s from Lake Minnetonka, Minn. He started Alpine Cleaning and eventually pursued his collecting hobby to its fullest, filling two storage spaces in Carbondale with memorabilia.”In 1989 I found a sporting goods store in Portland, Ore., with a basement full of new-old stock from the 1940s through ’60s,” he said. “It was all skis, boots and poles that had never been sold.”Allen’s collection continued to grow while he started a poster business and an Internet store at http://www.vintageskiworld.com. For a couple of summers he sold his posters and prints at the Aspen Saturday Market, and turned a van into a moving collection, which he still uses to host vintage ski-themed parties all over the West.This past fall, Allen was approached by local ski shop owner and former ski racer Stefan Kaelin, who asked Allen if he’d be interested in setting up shop on the Cooper Avenue mall. Kaelin once owned this space, and partnered with real estate broker Peter Greene and Allen to create the shop’s concept.
“I was very concerned about the high rent here, and fairly nervous about it, until Peter helped me crunch the numbers and we figured out that this was doable,” Allen said. The number-crunching must have worked, because business so far has surpassed their expectations.Vintage Ski World does a brisk business peddling postcards, patches and pins; the occasional multithousand dollar purchase comes from someone looking to decorate their second home or log cabin with vintage ski gear. Kaelin sells some of the previous season’s discounted skiwear in the back of the shop.”The store is the talk of the town,” Allen said. “Nine year olds come in and smile, and elderly people find their old skis and boots in here. It’s a walk down memory lane.”The shop’s 1960 seal-skin boots have been popular, since seal skin is now an illegal form of fur. Customers recognize the boots as something their parents once had, and want them for their own, said Roland.Aspen resident Geraldine Whitman strolled through the shop on Saturday with two friends visiting from San Francisco. They stopped and mulled over the older coats and sweaters before admiring the boot collection.
“This is totally entertaining. It’s something unique in town, and these old skis make you appreciate the skis we have now,” she said.Javiera Munizaga and Juan Yarur from Santiago, Chile, said that since the Chilean ski resort Portillo was built in the ’40s and ’50s, a lot of the posters and pictures in the shop remind them of what they’ve seen hanging around in Portillo.Allen’s lease on the space is up for renewal in April, and he said he’d like to keep the business running as long as possible. “I’d like to keep up the momentum,” he said. “People come in and tell me how much they appreciate the shop being here.”He’s hoping to add vintage fishing and golf wares to his collection in the future, although he’s noticed people are interested in skiing all year-round.”You won’t find a collection like this anywhere else,” said Monte Hughes, a 41-year Aspen resident admiring the banners on the walls.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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