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Skis for two

Dear Curt: Your mother and I got your vacation letter about Banff. I liked the part about the helicopter - where they set you and Polly down on that windy pinhead point with the blades still rotating, while you looked up, ducked, and kicked into your new Rossignols. I thought about that great powder you must have been heading for, probably like we used to get on those first morning runs at Park City during your high school vacations.

You know your guide there in Banff had a great attitude, I thought - telling you not to worry because they'd always be able to find you with that neck beeper on. And I liked his takeoff warning to stay directly behind him and not ski over to the left at all on account of the blue-ice crevasse that nobody knows is how deep.

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Your writing from Banff really took me back. Skiing in the West was new when I first heard about the place. There was some regional competition at Paradise Valley on Mt. Rainier; and among the sharp group entries were the Banff Ridge Runners - a vorlage team using Austrian-style downhill. They looked super-professional (beautiful to watch on the slopes) in their white headbands, fitted knickers, and cable-stitched socks. We heard they used hand-laminated hickory skis, too, with factory-installed steel edges.

We didn't have stuff like that. We were wearing bulky melton jackets and duckbill loggers' caps, and we had those white-varnished flattop skis from the Sears catalog. These came with a toe strap that went through a hole in the skis beneath your foot. They were made for cross-country.

Anyway, for downhill - and we knew about slalom, too - you needed a binding that held your whole shoe flat and tight to control the ski. We tried to modify the cross-country bindings that were available, and it wasn't easy. In the beginning we bought ankle-high logger boots. And then ran a four-inch spring from the top of the boot in back down to the ski. Trouble was, the toe clamps weren't wide enough to grip the boot well, and our control was pretty zilch. Somebody showed up not long after this with a straight-sided, stiff-soled real ski boot from the Dartmouth Coop. That's when we began to find out what skiers really used.

We did a lot of other things the hard way, too. Like cinching up tight on rawhide laces. These stretched when they got wet and left no ankle support. Besides that we waterproofed the uppers with neat's-foot oil, and that, we found out, just made the leather limp. The first poles we had were cross-country-style , too - shoulder-high spotted bamboo - much too long. We cut these down to hip level but were never able to get the hand straps back on right. Pole baskets were rattan rings big as dinner plates and something of a drag. Nothing ever seemed to remain static. I mean we got rid of leather straps on bindings when heel-throw cables showed up.

With the skis themselves, ridge-top hickorys soon became the status thing. The first were made in Seattle basements. These dark, hand-rubbed balanced boards with perfect camber were expensive. Just buying them wasn't enough. You had to have a friend with a grooving plane to help you mount the durel edges, which came in six-inch fitted strips. Wood edges were out, because they wouldn't bite when you ran out of powder. Only problem with the steel edges was that the tiny screws worked loose, and catching an edge could turn into a disaster.

At first we really bundled up for the snow country. Some manufacturer of logger jackets - mackinaws? (he made them double at the shoulders and down the back) - turned out garments in about 12-ounce melton cloth that felt about two inches thick. Under this we skied with long johns, wool shirts, sweaters, and long Dutch-boy pants tucked into boot tops. Later we found out how to lighten up with airplane-cloth parkas. But these shells weren't waterproof. The stuff we used on them stiffened the fabric like frozen tent flies. Ski gloves were horsehide logger mitts with cotton liners that showed about two inches of red wrist. I'd say all in all our ski clothing made up the world's first portable sauna.

We noticed it especially in climbing. There weren't any lifts (oh, I guess a portable rope tow in Alta Vista), so to gain height we headed up with skis on. A few hotshots had sealskins - fur strips that could be strapped to the underside of skis. These made climbing easier and prevented sliding backward. Still it was hard work. As I remember it, we got kind of tired having to climb for several hours uphill just to get that one good day's run down. I remember once we talked about driving all night to get in a weekend of skiing at that new place called Sun Valley in Idaho. We heard they had this lift you sat in like a chair and it took you all the way to the top of Dollar Mountain.

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But I think you've got the right idea now with that helicopter. Love, Dad

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