Klaus Obermeyer revisits how he started his ski clothing empire in Aspen
May 23, 2018
Back when gas was only 22 cents per gallon, Klaus Obermeyer spent many a night sleeping in the trunk of his car, hanging out with the likes of Warren Miller and Friedl Pfeifer. One thing each of these men had in common, other than a deep-rooted love for skiing, was the ingenuity and desire to improve upon what already existed.
Pfeifer had a heavy hand in the development of both Aspen Mountain and Buttermilk as ski areas, while Miller created his own entertainment company and pioneered the genre of ski films. As for Obermeyer, the 98-year-old German who moved to Aspen in 1947, it was his ability to rewrite the rules of what ski gear is and could be that made his legend.
"It was always fun. Make it fun," Obermeyer quipped on Wednesday. "I'm not proud of anything. We just always tried to make skiing more friendly. There was so much that could be made better, all the time."
Obermeyer, who founded Sport Obermeyer in 1947 and opened its first Aspen factory warehouse in 1961, was the featured guest Wednesday during the Aspen Business Luncheon's latest entrepreneur showcase inside the Mountain Chalet. The moderator was none other than Aspen's Chris Klug, the 2000 liver transplant recipient who less than two years later won Olympic bronze in alpine snowboarding.
"I feel like we should all be drinking hefeweizen and enjoying strudel today," Klug joked when introducing Obermeyer. "You were a disruptor when you came out with your ski products, and we continue to see that."
Being a business-focused luncheon, much of the talk with Obermeyer was about how he grew his company into one of the world's most progressive ski-clothing manufacturers and has maintained it for the better part of six decades.
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He credits a lot of his ability as both an innovator and businessman to his early days working on automobiles and planes back in Germany.
"I always say we are dancing on a floor that is moving. It's always changing," Obermeyer said. "I have enough technical experience that when I wanted something new that had never been made before, I could go in the factory and show them how they could make it. That made the difference."
Obermeyer's list of creations is impressive and includes the first high-alpine sunscreen, nylon wind shirts, mirrored sunglasses and the two-pronged ski brake. Then there was the all-important down parka, which he first fashioned out of his bedding. Before that, many people didn't ski because it was too cold and there simply wasn't available outwear that could keep you warm and allow you to ski at the same time.
"I thought it would be nice to have something you could put on and ski in. So I cut up the down comforter that my mom made me take," Obermeyer said. "For three weeks I had feathers in my cereal."
Obermeyer opened the conversation by talking about his famed Koogie ties, a now outdated version of a neck tie that he brought to the United States, sold from the trunk of his car, and made what then was a small fortune. Whether he knew it then, that was the start of a long and still ongoing career of innovation.
He finished the luncheon by talking about what he loves about Aspen, even though the town "looked pretty sad" when he first came here in 1947.
"What was sensational was the snow. I'd never seen that powdery of snow, that light, that fluffy," Obermeyer said. "Aspen is probably the best rounded ski resort in the world."
The Aspen Business Luncheon, which is organized by Todd Shaver, will host its next event June 20. Klug is set to return as moderator for a series of talks throughout the year.
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