At Squaw Valley during the Olympic ski races last year (above), thousands of spectators cheered their favorites as they shot down the mountain courses. But in that highly vocal crowd, no one could match the intense partisanship of a small group of ski-equipment representatives. They were men like Anton K�stle from the famous K�stle ski factory in Austria; Ed Scott, the ski pole specialist; Howard Head, whose Baltimore firm has just turned out its millionth ski. They came to the Olympics to root, not for a specific skier or country, but for a boot or a ski or a pole. Each representative knew exactly what equipment was being used, and a race was highly satisfying if a single item from his factory crossed the finish line on the back, foot or hand of a winner.
For these manufacturers' representatives, the Winter Olympics was an Equipment Olympics; the results are being used right now to push the sale of racing equipment like that used in the Games, of recreational adaptations of the racing gear or simply of brand names. It is a big business. Sales of ski equipment last year ($20 million) showed the largest percentage increase of all sporting goods. This year, thanks to the stimulus of the Olympics, ski shops report an advance sale 30% to 60% ahead of last year. The factory representatives had good reason to root loudly.
Any weekend skier getting ready to stock up for this season, however, should weigh the results of the Equipment Olympics carefully. For it is extremely important to distinguish between those Olympics results that mean something for the recreational skier and those that do not.
The Olympic racers wore Molitor Rogg, Hierling and Haderer in about equal proportions. But the hard, high-cut racing boots used at Squaw Valley are not for the recreational skier. These boots are built to give maximum support in high-speed, high-precision turns, and they are about as comfortable to wear as chain-gang shackles. The average skier does not need this kind of support. Instead he should look primarily for comfort. He should beware of boots that need breaking in—sometimes a boot will break in and sometimes it won't. After comfort, the next consideration is ankle support. Furthermore, the boot should keep the heel firmly down on the inside sole, and it is here that some recreational boots are not adequate. For the sad fact is that a softer boot may not hold the foot firmly. The recreational models of the boots worn at Squaw Valley do a good job but no better than others.
One recreational boot that gives excellent support is the Piberhofer, which this season has an outside ankle-strap arrangement in its top ($69.50) model. The strap (see drawing at left) tightens the boot's grip on the heel when a skier moves his weight forward, as he does going into a turn or over a drop-off. These are just the moments when a skier needs an increased grip, and Piberhofer gives it—but not at the price of discomfort.
The Allais 60, winner of the men's downhill, and the K�stle Metall, fourth-and fifth-place finisher in the downhill, are both metal skis. These racing successes with metal skis, which never before had scored well in an Olympic or world championship, may have signaled the end of the era of the wood racing ski.
The changeover to metal skis has already occurred in the recreational field, where aluminum Heads and Harts have steadily replaced the high-priced wooden types. Whether the European Allais or K�stle metal skis will now seriously challenge the domestic Head and Hart skis remains to be seen. The racing Allais 60 and the K�stle Metall are too stiff for most skiers, but both companies are now exporting large numbers of recreational models to this country.
No matter how well these European metal skis sell during the coming season, Head and Hart still have a long lead in the over-all market. Moreover, both U.S. companies offer the best service and repair facilities in the world; they are able to match or repair or refinish a ski in two weeks. This obviously makes their skis more valuable to the recreational skier.