Showing off that P-Tex glow |

Showing off that P-Tex glow

Tim Willoughby

Hardly a ski day goes by that someone doesn’t say to me, “What beautiful skis.” Although equipment offers a common conversation-starter on the lift, my golden Volant skis are exceptionally beautiful. I feel I’ve paid for bragging rights by spending many years deprived of P-Tex glow.

Most Aspen children grew up with hand-me-down skis. Depending on how many older siblings you had, you inherited equipment that ranged from dated and battered to ancient and unrecognizable. In the 1950s that was not something you could complain about to your parents, even though “previously loved” skis could become life-threatening when a metal edge (if the skis were new enough to have edges) fell off or bindings broke.

The ski equipment revolution of the 1960s raised our expectations. Skis were more than just skis; there were choices. Colorful branding cosmetics made skis into fashion statements. Rossignol maroon, classic Head black and Kneissl primary red, white and blue replaced natural wood on the slopes. After exploiting what could be done to the top layer of a ski and experimenting with combinations of wood, fiberglass and metal laminates, ski manufacturers upgraded the bottom surface. P-Tex bottoms were created to eliminate waxing. The unintended consequence was P-Tex-glow envy.

P-Tex was invented by a Swiss firm, Muller and Company, and introduced in Austria in 1955. It took a few more years to dominate the ski-manufacturing industry. Early attempts by ski designers like Howard Head used metal to make tougher bottoms, but resulted in a snow-sticking surface that required waxing. Polyethylenes P-Tex and Kofix provided a fast-running surface that did not need waxing and was hard enough to withstand any challenge short of solid rock.

In the 1960s, manufacturers began coating ski bottoms with phosphorescent green, yellow or orange-pink before they applied the clear P-Tex layer. The colors contrasted so brightly with the white snow that they produced a glow, especially upon lifting a ski. Even in the low light of a snowstorm, the colors glowed beneath your skis. This was ultimately practical because you could find your lost skis in powder and speeding skiers announced their perilous approach with blinding color, like a flashing ambulance light.

The best glow came from Kastle skis. Few skiers owned a pair as they were primarily marketed to racers. Built of ash wood, they were so thick that they barely bent. Such rigidity was optimal for slalom racers. All three slalom medalists in the 1964 Olympics skied on Kastles. Catching up to the fluorescent fad, Head created yellow-bottom Vectors for racers. Kneissl countered with its own yellow-bottom racing version for White Stars.

P-Tex was on the bottom of skis, of course, which diminished chair-ride bragging opportunities. Nevertheless, those who rode behind you and those who looked up as you passed over were appropriately stricken with envy as your bottoms flashed their color. Unlike today’s skis that brandish giant brand names or unmistakable graphics, yesterday’s skis were indelibly color-coded.

Lacquered wood skis with their brand discreetly stamped at the tip in black or red could no longer stand when P-Tex glow illuminated our hearts. Still, most of us were stuck with the woodies until our wallets matured.