Skiing has been around for quite some time — there are cave paintings of our Ice Age forebears chasing game on wooden slats — but it’s only been in the last century or so that the activity morphed from a mundane, generally pastoral and/or hunting activity into an extremely popular recreational pastime.
And with that transition, the sport’s gear has made a dramatic evolution, from hickory boards and woolen clothing — which were common pieces of equipment as recently as 60 years ago — to the space age materials and fibers found in today’s skis, snowboards and attendant hardware, apparel and gadgets.
Not every invention was necessarily an improvement — anyone remember, or still use/have, CADS? — but many have made the sport more fun, more safe or more accessible. The following are one person’s half-dozen picks for best innovations, for better or worse, over the past 30-40 years.
Until the early 1990s, Alpine skis generally were long, about 180 to 210 cm, and narrow, around 70-80 cm from tip to tail. Then came boards with deeper sidecuts that gave the skis a wasp-waisted look and enabled skiers to ditch the stem christie and parallel turns into the more elegant and efficient turns made today. And with the deeper sidecuts, skis lost the need to be so long, thus making turning even easier.
Detachable High-Speed Chairs
Up until the early ‘80s, all chairlifts — doubles, triples, and quads — were hung on a fixed-grip line, which meant in order for skiers and boards to get on the chair the speed of the line had to be relatively slow. Then came Doppelmayr’s first detachable four-seat chair, introduced in Breckenridge in 1981, which allowed the chair to come off the main haul line at the top and bottom bull wheels and onto a secondary line. The result was much faster speeds for the haul line, which enabled riders to get up the hill faster.
In 1970s and ‘80s, a group of Swedes developed an avalanche rescue apparatus based on a harmonic radar system. And in ‘83, one of them — Magnus Granhed — founded RECCO, which manufactures a passive and lightweight transponder for clothing and gear that can be picked up by a separate detector. This system has proved immensely beneficial in helping save skiers and boarders, whether in-bounds or out, who have been caught in avalanches.
Dual Lens Goggles
Acting much like a double-paned glass window, a dual-lens goggle, with a usually colored external polycarbonate lens glued to a clear thinner internal lens, separates the outside cold from the heat generated by the wearer’s eye area and keeps the internal surface, which is also generally coated with an anti-fog treatment, from fogging up. Et voila. No more skiing and snowboarding by braille on a cold and snowy day.
Traditional ski and snowboard waxes use poly-fluoridated substances (PFAS) as part of their ingredients, making for great sliding but doing harm to the environment because PFAS don’t break down, move into water supplies and build up in fish and wildlife. Non-PFAS products, such as Faststik, mountainFLOW, Swix F4, and TOKO NF waxes, help you glide just as efficiently but are generally biodegradable and have a minimal impact on the environment.
There once was a time when the only way you could keep track of your day on the hill was with your gray matter and a trail map. Now, technology has made it easy-peasy to know how much vertical you racked up. With the plethora of apps for your phone and/or watches and RFID chips in your ski pass, they’ve taken the guesswork out of your stats.