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The Ski Museum

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The latest advancements in high-tech ski gear don’t do much for Richard Allen. But hand him a pair of old hickory boards, and his eyes light up.

The avid collector of antique ski gear and assorted accessories has branched out into popular reproductions of old ski posters and set up shop in Carbondale. There, a wall full of colorful posters evokes images of an era long since eclipsed by today’s edgy glossies of Gore-Tex-clad thrill-seekers plunging off cornices on fat 180s. Young hotshots looking for a challenge on skis ought to try a pair of Allen’s.

Allen is the collector and curator behind Vintage Ski World, a sort of traveling museum whose patrons aren’t only encouraged to touch the collectibles but to try them on.

Only a fraction of the collection is on display at Vintage Ski World headquarters, a Main Street shop next door to Java Joe’s. Allen shares the space with Neil Loeb’s Aspen Leaf Gallery and frame shop. Most of the collection is in storage, ready to hit the road in Allen’s van whenever he gets a call for 50-year-old skiwear – an occurrence he actively promotes.

When Ski magazine held its 50th anniversary party, Allen was there to outfit guests eager to dress up in the period apparel and pose for photos. He also got the call when Aspen celebrated its 50th anniversary of lift-served skiing, outfitting a Wintersköl parade float and participants in a vintage ski race at Buttermilk.

This winter, Allen has been summoned to a party at Durango Mountain Resort, a corporate bash at the St. Regis hotel in Aspen and a private mountaintop party in Vail. Guests at a pre-wedding party in Sun Valley also found themselves cavorting in Allen’s selection of funky fashions, though he is still anxiously awaiting the first couple who will tie the knot dressed in woolen pants and his vintage ski sweaters.

Allen also offers his collection as props for advertisements and films, but these days, it’s the posters that have really taken off. Retailers around the country offer the reprints; the proceeds help cover the cost of storing Allen’s ever-expanding collection of gear.

His collection, he estimates, runs into thousands of pieces, including some 350 pairs of skis and outfits for up to 100 people. In all, he guesses he owns 1,000 pieces of ski clothing dating from the 1930s to the 1970s.

“I started collecting when I first moved to Aspen in the ’70s,” Allen said. “I ended up with my mom and dad’s skis, my grandfather’s skis.”

Allen migrated to Snowmass in the mid-1970s after visiting Aspen regularly as a youngster. The Allen family of eight used to pile into a station wagon to make the trip from Minnesota for ski vacations.

“My dad was a ski bum – skied Aspen, Sun Valley, Alta,” he said. “He brought us all out to Aspen as kids. I learned to ski in Aspen.”

In 1992, Allen tired of Aspen and moved to Pagosa Springs. He moved back to the valley four years ago, settling in Carbondale when his son began attending Colorado Rocky Mountain School there.

Returning to ski country rekindled Allen’s interest in his ski collection. When the Olympic Torch Relay came through Carbondale and other valley towns a year ago, he set up a temporary exhibit in a downtown space for a couple of months to coincide with the event. Along with old ski equipment, his personal collection of several authentic vintage ski posters were on display.

“Everybody wanted to buy my posters,” Allen said. “I had to say, `Sorry, they’re not for sale.'”

Allen’s posters came from a collection that once belonged to the late Steve Knowlton, a ski racer who later ran Aspen’s legendary Golden Horn restaurant. Allen augmented the collection with images from the New England Ski Museum. More recently, Woody Creek resident George Stranahan put up the funds to have 3,500 reproductions of the posters printed in Grand Junction.

Allen sells the posters at his Carbondale shop, along with reprints of black-and-white photos by early ski racer Dick Durrance and his late wife, Miggs, and assorted other winter sports paraphernalia, including the kind of skis that buyers are more likely to hang over their fireplace than strap to their feet.

Allen, however, occasionally dons the old-style gear, looking like he’s just stepped out of one of the old photos at the Sundeck when he hits the gentle groomers atop Aspen Mountain. His outfit of choice consists of baggy White Stag ski pants, a boiled wool sweater and nylon windbreaker, wooden Fischer skis with bear-trap bindings, bamboo poles with saucer-sized baskets and Koflach leather boots.

“I always get a lot of double takes. Then people who know me say, `Oh, it’s just Richard,'” he said.

A handful of intrigued onlookers always ask how he manages to stay upright on the classic boards. “Skiing on the old skis is very different,” Allen reports. “You have to really press forward, bend your ankles and get low because of the lack of support in the boots.”

With no quick release on the cable bindings, Allen admits he sticks to easy terrain when he skis on the vintage gear.

Allen unearthed the mother lode of vintage gear at an old hardware store in Portland, Ore., in 1991. It was the kind of find that makes a collector giddy. The store owner had stashed decades’ worth of unsold merchandise in the basement. “I bought hundreds of things – brand-new, still in their original boxes – complete outfits, head to toe,” Allen said.

He continually adds to the collection; he and the scouts he has recruited are always on the lookout for more. “I’m always looking for mint-condition skis. The clothing, though, is hard to come by today,” he said.

His attraction to the old skis, Allen surmises, may come from his Norwegian roots. “I just love the history and the materials,” he said. “For instance, the old hickory skis, handcrafted by Norwegian immigrants, they’re just so beautiful. It’s just something in my blood, I guess.”

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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