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Truth: Bobbie Burns

Bobbie Burns talks brass balls, hotdoggin', and the resurrection of a legendary ski.
By Tucker Neary
posted: 09/24/2013
Bobbie Burns Main

Ski-film auteur Dick Barrymore wrote in his autobiography that seeing Bobbie Burns charge the bumps of Lower Holiday in Sun Valley, Idaho, “changed my life as a ski filmmaker.... Bob Burns was, in 1969, the first hotdogger.” Nick-named the Snow Goose for his loose style, Burns, now 78, sparked some of the earliest creativity in skiing, went on to found The Ski Ski Company, and built one of the most famous freestyle skis of the ’70s and ’80s. He’s back, working with Scott Sports to resurrect The Ski in all its colorful, geometric glory and still getting excited about ski design.

My style of skiing was different because I had large cojones but no ability. I was 20, 21 years old before I started to ski. But I had 10 years of ballet as a young boy, and I was also a springboard and platform diver. I learned in ballet that you stand high and your body follows your head and your eyes. I skied with extremely long poles, and with the stiff skis of that day, I had to sit back. I got so I could ski very fast over the bumps, and it just made it more fun.

I came up with The Ski when I was driving back to Sun Valley, Idaho. I saw all the sagebrush along the highways, and I started thinking I’d build a ski out of it. If you’ve ever tried to stomp or pull sagebrush out of the ground—in those days skis broke easily—you know you can never break the stuff. I also wanted to make it soft so I could ski bumps really fast, and I wanted to put artwork on the top and do blocks of color. That was way back in the ’70s.

I didn’t put a name on top of The Ski. I told people it had a sagebrush core, and that created a folk story. You could see pieces of it through the clear base. It created mystique.

 

Hotdog skiing was just starting in that era, and I did compete in a couple events. Guys found out that I could do things they couldn’t do. It wasn’t because they didn’t have the ability. It was because they didn’t have the skis I had. The Ski was very soft lengthwise but incredibly stiff torsionally. At that time, no one was really making a ski with that kind of flex. Slowly but surely, I developed a following of guys who, with what The Ski allowed them to do, won 36 of what were called the world championships of hotdog and freestyle skiing.

In about 1988 or ’89, I decided I needed something different, and I made a ski called the Fat Albert. Everybody laughed at me. A young man who wanted to do a senior paper about ski making worked with me for a whole winter and wrote a thesis. His professors didn’t accept it because they didn’t think a fat ski or a shaped ski would ever sell in the American market.

When you look at something you’ve made after time goes by, you think, “God, can I ever do anything better?” You can. New mousetraps come out all the time.

Out of the blue, I got an e-mail from Hervé [Hervé Maneint, senior product manager at Scott Sports] asking if I was interested in re-creating The Ski. After we started talking we realized that we had a lot of the same thoughts on engineering and design.

The exciting thing was to get a box of skis with four different colors, and four different flexes, and four different waists and to test them and play with them. It was kind of like being born again. I really believe The Ski by Scott is a rebirth, and everything has gotten better.

Every once in a while, I’ll get a call from some- one who will tell me they’ve bought an original The Ski for $1,000, so it has become somewhat of a collector’s item. But if you look at them both, Scott’s The Ski is like an exciting Porsche or Mercedes next to a little old rickety covered wagon.

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