Vagneur: Early sweet dreams of the ski season to come

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

It stood out from the others in the mailbag — Aspen Snowmass — “It’s time to plan your winter play.” Come on, guys, we’re barely into fall, although for those of the discerning type, the window to purchase an “early” season pass is about to close. Damn, is it too late to get a job?

While I churned on that “early bird” come-on, my digital issue of “International Skiing History” arrived, plus a look at Messenger revealed that Richard Zuckerwar, The Glove Man, had sent me a copy of the 1971 movie, “The Ski Boom,” by Roger Brown.

If you’ve been around a while, you know Richard, The Glove Man, as his generous bestowing of ski gloves (made exclusively by his company) on ski pros, patrollers and hangers-on was legendary. I’m still wearing some Grandoe racing gloves. He sold his company several years ago, but guaranteed, Richard will be here this winter on the NASTAR course.

1971 was a hot year for skiing, and Roger Brown did it justice. Back then, people generally wore their poles longer, making arm action more distinct; feet so close together so as one to be almost indistinguishable from the other; and a lot more up and down with more hip and upper body rotation.

Of course, that was in the day before shaped skis, a day when skiing could be a more challenging sport. 

It could take more effort, but the requirements of the sport produced an artistic flair, an ability to produce turns down the fall line reminiscent of ballet, quick flashes of wedel between moguls, and for some reason, long hair, silly smiles and no hats.

On the Aspen Mountain patrol, if we weren’t wearing Pat Fox rose-colored glasses, we sported Vuarnets with the leather side shields, blinders we called them. Smith goggles.    

Copper Bowl and Spar Gulch were seldom groomed and there was no problem with excessive, adrenalin-induced straight lining through Grand Junction. We used to call that schussing, when many skiers could still talk two languages — English and Skiing.

For example, check “wedel” in the preceding paragraph. Big air contests were called gelandesprung. There were Arlberg straps, long thongs, windmills or eggbeaters, bear traps, moguls instead of bumps — oh, give it up, stick with apres-ski. Last one down Spar buys.

Our medical vocabulary has expanded and is more diverse. Anterior cruciate (ACL), medial collateral (MCL), meniscus. Cervical, which often was catastrophic, can be reasonably fixed now in some cases. Knee cartilage; tibial plateau. Spiral, compound, and other fractures don’t happen as often, but upper body injuries like dislocated shoulders and breaks of the humerus might be more prevalent.  

Remember, any ski shorter than 205 cm was considered a “short ski,” and 210 or 215 cm was more the norm than not. My first trip to Canada, I asked to rent 205 Volant Chubbs, a recommended powder ski, simply because I’d been skiing 205 Miller Softs for powder. The longest they had was 190. I grudgingly took them and was concerned that my legs were getting more tired than they should. Laugh if you want, but it took me all week to figure it out.  

Later that evening, after the 1971 movie and the popcorn, after I’d drifted off to sleep, I found myself on top of the mountain, the first day of the season. There was a layer of fresh snow covering the ground, about a foot deep, with a crusty wind layer on top, which I knocked a hole in to put on my skis. Surprisingly, the wind crust was only a couple of inches, the snow underneath soft and fluffy, the perfect setup. 

I poled off, easing down the gentle terrain, testing a few turns, and then, there it was — a steep chute off to my left, but some mountain to ski before I got there. Transitions and rolls ahead across the gentler terrain looked fun but unseen until on top of them were rock gardens. Only in the stuff of dreams, I caught enough air to clear the rocks and then, suddenly, was on the drop, its terrain untracked. 

Warmed up and confident of my equipment and the snow, I let it rip, flying down the chute, turn-after-long-turn, the cold air and snow so welcome on my face. 

And then, I rolled over and in the moonlight, looked at the bare, iron-gray vestige of Mt. Sopris. Not yet, but soon to come, sooner than we might think. 

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at


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