At Vermont’s Trapp Family Lodge, cross-country skiing
got down to business.
Forty and more years ago, cross-country ski touring was a loosely structured recreation, like sailing without a marina. People skied mostly on logging roads, summer hiking trails, golf courses. You only needed 210-cm wooden skis, bamboo poles, leather boots and Rottefella rat-trap bindings.
With the sport starting to attract a mainstream audience, skiing landed on the era’s ultimate stage.
In the 1960s, skiing was America’s fastest growing sport, its popularity stoked by the media. Skiers jammed theaters to watch Warren Miller and John Jay movies. Magazines, including Life and the Saturday Evening Post, featured ski stories. The buildup to the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, fueled enthusiasm. Then a media event occurred on the eve of the Games that hit a crescendo. On NBC’s Tonight Show, millions of Americans watched a ski lesson.
The roller that paved the way—for better or worse—for easier turns, wider trails and tamer terrain.
As you enjoy your first runs this winter, remember that perfectly groomed morning corduroy wasn’t always so. Consistently good snow surfaces didn’t exist even 25 years ago. Slopes were typically pocked with hard bumps, icy patches, frozen crud and soil-stained ruts.
It wasn’t as if ski area operators weren’t trying to create easy-turning snow. In the 1930s and into the 1940s, they gave lift tickets to skiers willing to sidestep up the hill to pack down the slopes. A few operators used snowmobiles and snowcats to haul farm disc harrows and rollers over the snow.
Toni Sailer raced to seven World Championship medals in an improbable 24 months—a record that still stands.
The ski world conventionally remembers Austria’s Toni Sailer as the first racer to capture three gold medals in a single Olympics, winning all the alpine competitions (slalom, giant slalom and downhill) at the 1956 Winter Games in Cortina, Italy. After Jean-Claude Killy hat-tricked again in 1968, no man has three-peated. But to appreciate Sailer’s dominance, you have to know what he did two years after the Olympics—that is, 50 years ago this month. In the 1958 World Alpine Ski Championships at Bad Gastein, Austria, he was in a class by himself.