Ski chains " better than Tinkertoys | AspenTimes.com
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Ski chains " better than Tinkertoys

Tim Willoughby
Couldn't the ski industry bring back the ski chain?
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If you were a child in the 1950s, then you remember that some of the best toys were not intended to be toys. If you grew up in a ski town, then you know ski-ticket chains could be employed for a multitude of marvelous misadventures.

Also known as key chains, we called them ski chains. Each connected 3 or 4 inches of tiny silver baubles with a foolproof catch on the end that formed a loop, or locked into the next chain. They exemplified simplicity with sparkle, functionality with fun. They invited invention, wreaked havoc with washing machines and accumulated in kids’ closets.

The Aspen Ski Corp. bought the chains by the thousands to attach ski tickets to ski jackets. In these resource-conscious days you would require only one, but in the 1950s children requested a new one every time they skied. The more you skied, the larger your ski chain collection. Unlike the fraud-preventing wire contraptions used today, ski chains allowed you to remove your ticket at the end of each day without using wire cutters. Better yet, there was no remaining ball of sticky paper that refused to fit through the tiny parka zipper hole.

Kids connected chains to compete for the longest. The Bishop brothers, Barney and Gary, remember that their collection circled all the way around their bedroom. Ron and Roger Long, emulating string collectors, rolled theirs into balls. Any large ball signified many ski days, sibling sharing, creative collecting or combined strategies.

Accumulating chains was easiest for the little children, whose eyes were closer to the ground. Adults frequently dropped their chains near the ticket counters. Rather than bending down to pull on the half that was still visible on the snow, they would reach for another one on the ticket counter.

In the summer, kids hiked under the lift line looking for spare change skiers dropped while riding the lift. From even a short distance a half-buried ski chain resembled a silver coin. Coins were few and far between, but we went home with bulging pockets of ski chains.

Females of the ’50s found that chains formed fantastic necklaces. More chains equaled more loops around the neck. Bracelets were popular, but they were inclined to break when they caught on protruding handrails.

Boys tried out ski chains as tire chains on their bikes. They could be long enough to encircle a tire, woven between each spoke, if you had enough. They broke or fell off faster than you could put them on, but riding a bike in winter snow didn’t work well anyway.

I remember piling the chains into the coal cars of model trains. It was my load of silver ore. They were also useful for tying things together, especially for those who suffered knot-tying impairment.

It’s too bad that wire ticket loops replaced ski chains. You can’t do much of anything with them except seriously poke yourself, and they have no appeal to collectors. With the price of today’s ski ticket, you would think that ski area operators would throw in a sparkly silver ski chain to adorn your Bogner jacket and, much more important, to entertain kids.


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