Gear That Made a Difference
As Ski Canada celebrates its 40th birthday this season, we thought a nostalgic look back each issue was an appropriate way to rejoice. Leading the sentimental
season is a subject we all love to muse about: iconic ski equipment. Although everyone has a personal list of favourite gear, there are some real milestones that have shaped the direction of skiing. And you have to admit, the stuff on these pages should be on everyone’s list—or at least the list of your parents and grandparents.
Howard Head’s bonded aluminum and
plywood ski was not the first composite
ski, but it became the first commercially
successful one. His secret to success was a
flexible glue that allowed the ski to bend
without delaminating. The Head Standard
became the standard in lift lines around the
world and showed the way of the future
in ski manufacturing. First marketed in
1949, Head skis, along with a few others,
replaced at least half the wood skis by
ROSSIGNOL STRATO 102
Okay, so the first successful FRP (fibreglass
reinforced plastic) ski was made in
Montreal under the Toni Sailer brand, but
the one that truly made a difference to the
ski world was the Rossignol Strato 102.
(Strato referred to the many laminations
in its core.) It was introduced in the early
’60s and became the new benchmark in
high performance. As you remember, or
as you’ve been told, Nancy Greene won
Olympic GS Gold at the 1968 Olympics on
ROSSIGNOL ALLAIS 60: the
metal/wood laminated ski that
won every downhill in the 1960
season, including the Olympic
Gold at Squaw Valley. A later
must-have from Rossi we all
remember fondly was the ST 650.
K2 COMP SERIES: with its
radical multi-coloured bases,
the Comp Series was an instant
and continuous hit in the 1970s.
It preceded the well-marketed,
but not necessarily ubiquitous,
Winterheat and Cheeseburger.
FISCHER RC4: one of the
first skis we all had to have with
bright cosmetics. If the Crazy
Canucks skied on it, then we
ATOMIC 9.18: with intriguing
Beta technology vibration
dampening, Atomic proved it
knew how to make a cap ski really
work, even though it was a foam
core for the masses.
ELAN SCX: the first true
“parabolic” shape or radical-sidecut
ski was launched to
a fascinated ski world—the
revolution had begun! Thinking
back, it’s hard to imagine what
the sport was like when everyone
was on skinny straight skis.
(Unless you’re at Fernie during
Hot Dog Day.)
granted, in 1990 the first
monocoque ski, the S9000, was a
huge hit, but the last great iconic
ski recognized by almost all skiers
at any hill or mountain was the
X-Scream. Its introduction in 1998
secured the way for integrated
binding systems that we now
accept as standard.
VOLANT SPATULA: after the first
production fat ski (the Chubb) hit
powder stashes everywhere, Volant’s
Shane McConkey (RIP) introduced to
the ski world “floss for your brain” by
sharing the Spatula’s functional re-verse
camber. McConkey then crossed
the floor to join K2 (hello, Pontoon!)
to help make reverse camber welcome
all over the mountain.
A STEP BACK IN TIME
The first successful plastic boots changed
the concept of ski performance forever. Bob
Lange tested his prototypes on members of
the Canadian ski team and Nancy Greene, who
liked them, was one of the early adapters, going
on to win the World Cup in them. After only a
few years in production, Lange boots won five
medals at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics, the most
dramatic introduction of ski equipment in history.
Back in the day when one’s prowess at “après ski”
was the sign of a true skier, Raichle boots offered
a system (Raichle Red Hots, introduced in the late
’60s) whereby the outer shell could be removed
and the inner boot became comfy footwear for
walking—and dancing. Red Hots became the first
ski boots to be displayed as part of a permanent
design collection at the Museum of Modern Art in
New York City.
Back in the ’70s, Scott boots had adjustable
forward lean, adjustable flex and a unique
adjustable fitting system. They were super-light
and super-breakable due to the brittle plastic
shell. In the age when ski ballet rocked, the Scott
boot oozed ultimate cool—especially when they
were rebuilt with different coloured components.
In the late ’80s, Salomon had the courage to
introduce an entirely new concept to plastic boots
that made them comfortable and easy to operate:
rear-entry. What they lacked in performance was
made up by simple public adoration.
A BINDING SOLUTION
One binding stands above all others in the
ski binding hall of fame. Every time you step
into your bindings you should thank Mitch
Cubberley. He’s the man credited with changing
the reputation of skiing as a leg-breaking sport.
In the 1940s, about one per cent of skiers
were injured on any given day, and by the end
of the season about 10 per cent of all skiers
were out of commission due to ski injuries.
The majority of those injuries were lower-leg
fractures, many receiving multiple breaks.
Mitch was an engineer and he realized that
a major obstacle to safety was that the leather
boot soles were soft and sticky and got worse
when wet. His solution was to screw metal
parts to the boot to provide a gripping surface
for the spring-loaded binding. The metal-to-metal
interface was a huge improvement in
reliability. Cubco bindings were patented in 1952
and were selling 200,000 pairs annually at their
height. They featured upward release at the toe
and were also the first step-in binding.
The battle to convince skiers that a “safety
binding” was better than the traditional cable-and-
bear-trap system wasn’t easy. In 1954,
Frenchman Jean Beyl, inventor of the Look
binding, offered a $71 indemnity to anyone
who broke his or her leg using Look bindings.
Earl Miller responded the next year with a $100
leg-breaking reward for his Miller binding. Mitch
Cubberley died in 1977, and Cubco died a couple
of years later.
One of the main reasons for Cubco’s demise
was the advent of plastic boots with DIN
standard soles—and, of course, the more
attractive bindings of Salomon, Tyrolia and Look.
Cubco, with its exposed springs and stamped
metal, looked like an animal trap, while the new
Look binding machined out of cast aluminum
looked as if it came from the space program.
Cubberley was very generous with his
invention and refused to defend his patent,
despite several obvious infringements by
companies such as Gertsch. ❄
DID YOU KNOW?
» Mitch Cubberley and his bitter rival
Earl Miller introduced ski brakes in
1961, but they weren’t accepted as
an alternative to safety straps at
resorts until 1976. Some ski areas
banned them until the early ’80s.
» Jean Beyl wanted a catchy name for his new binding that was made in France. It was just after the war and American names were fashionable in Europe, so he chose the name of the most popular American lifestyle magazine of the day, “Look.” Later, the even more American “Nevada” was added.
» The first plastic boots were not
made by injection moulding, as all
boots are today. To make a Lange, a
gooey product called Adiprene was
poured into a mould and allowed to
harden for several hours.
» The first Lange boots were lace-up.
Henke had a patent on buckles and
Bob Lange was reluctant to pay the
» Bob Lange had Harvard degrees
in aeronautical engineering and
» In 1972, Salomon, then a binding-only
maker, was the world’s biggest.
Winners like the 444, combined
with the quick-release safety strap
(ski brakes were non-existent),
replaced the S505. By the late
’70s, Salomon was making boots
and later skis.