My life in ski boots: A tale of pain and grief |

My life in ski boots: A tale of pain and grief

Michael Cleverly

I’ve been putting on ski boots all my life, which at this point seems like quite a long time.

My first pair were single-layer lace-ups with a strap across the front and a buckle. They were a little like what the Pilgrims were wearing at the time. I remember the Pilgrims as not having much enthusiasm for the sport even though they had the shoes for it. Those boots didn’t provide much support. That was OK because the bindings that held them to the skis were of the “bear trap” persuasion, so your best hope for escaping serious injury in a fall was for your feet to fly out of the boots, as the boots were definitely not coming off the skis. The only time I actually put this to the test, the skis snapped clean in half, exposing a solid piece of hickory with black paint on the bottom and blue paint on top; that was as close to lamination as you were going to get back then.

My next pair were hand-me-downs from my brother. They were high-quality leather with lace-up inners and outers. Very nice boots, and they only took a half-hour or so to get into. I had a new pair of Northland skis with something called “safety bindings.” The bindings were invented by the Wright brothers (who later gained a certain amount of notoriety at Kitty Hawk) and had the same heel cable-lever affair as my bear traps but with a toe piece that swiveled in order, theoretically, to let the boot twist out during a fall. This was really high-tech and gave me a nice sense of security, as falling was a big part of my life. The concept remains in use to this day.

A couple years after the signing of the Magna Carta (which I’m told was a really big deal), I made my way to Sam’s Army Navy and picked up a pair of Reikers. They weren’t nearly as good a boot as my lace-ups but they had buckles! There was no inner boot so they weren’t very cozy. I bought them in the correct size, but I would put on so many layers of socks in an effort to keep my feet warm that I rendered them a couple sizes too small. My tiny, evolving brain couldn’t grasp the concept of circulation (which was in precious short supply south of my ankles) so not only did my feet freeze, but I was in complete agony 100 percent of the time. At least the buckles helped me to alleviate some of the pain. When I got on lift No. 7 at Mount Snow and they threw that big canvas poncho over me because it was 20 below and the wind was blowing 30 mph, I could loosen the buckles for the 20-minute ride to the top ” if I dared to risk exposing some skin to the elements.

For some reason I can’t remember what kind of boots I had in college. I actually have some theories on that, but we won’t get into them here. I do know that I fulfilled my phys-ed requirement by teaching skiing for the school ” it was Vermont, you could do that. I taught on a little rope tow on campus and at a small local ski area. I taught the Natur Teknik, a teaching method that unless you’re older than Barbara Bush (who I believe may have been one of my students) you won’t remember.

Invented by a crazy old gent named Walter Foeger, in the Natur Teknik you effected a turn by jumping straight up in the air and twisting your feet. I encourage all of you to try this next time you find yourself on the Ridge of Bell.

For a couple of years after graduation I spent my winters teaching at that little area near my school. I started out with some Caber Deltas, a good early generation foam boot, and later some rear-entry K2s that were more comfortable for teaching all day. Both were light-years better than anything I’d ever skied in. I advised Teddy Roosevelt to wear the K2s for his charge up San Juan Hill, advice he later wished he had taken.

I migrated to Aspen and eventually moved into my buddy Murph’s condo. Murph was well-connected in the ski industry and he used to get free stuff all the time. After one time out I inherited his new, free Scott boots. Murph’s background was in racing while I was hanging out with the spinners and grinners at Highlands, so the Scotts were much more my style. They sure didn’t hurt ” it was like skiing in sneakers ” but they afforded about the same amount of support. I think I made it through that season in the Scotts but the following year I moved on to some post-banana Nordicas. Murph took that next winter off to go to England and help build Stonehenge.

I liked the Nordicas a lot and might be skiing in them to this day if one year I hadn’t met my friend Loren in France for some spring skiing. After trashing Val d’Isere, we headed to his place in Tuscany. The details of the following months are a little vague but it was midsummer before I was poured onto a plane, piloted by Charles Lindbergh, bound for the States. Skiing was nowhere near what was left of my mind at that point, and every scrap of ski equipment that went to Europe with me remains in Loren’s storage room in his house near Cortona.

By the following winter I had regained sufficient composure to get some rear-entry Salomons. They reminded me of the K2s and were even red like the K2s. Easy to get on, they were stiff enough to ski well, and comfortable enough to teach in. They were fine for a long time, and when I finally got new boots it wasn’t really for any good reason. The Titanic had sunk and I was getting funny looks and a few snide remarks from my friends when they glanced at my feet. The colorful boots that screamed “cutting edge” just a few years before were now screaming “bright red antique.” I picked up some Langes. Being the previous year’s model, they were dirt cheap, which is exactly what I like to pay for ski equipment.

The Langes made me remember the pain of my youth. Once they were on, they were fine but, sweet Jesus, the pain of getting them on. Ten minutes into the process with sweat pouring off me and tunnel vision closing to total darkness, my last thoughts would always be that it would probably be easier getting into Jennifer Aniston than these goddamn things.

I gave up; I’m back to my Salomons now. I hope I’ve developed enough character to withstand the derision, as I know I haven’t developed enough character to withstand the pain.

I’m told that back in Vermont someone is creating a kind of surfboard to be used on snow.

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