Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Head Flexible

Dick Crumb, who had a long career in sales and marketing at the original Olin Ski Co., writes:

While cleaning out my in-laws basement I came across a pair of Head "Flexibles" which look like a late 50's - early 60"s model based on the bindings. I have never seen or heard of these. A few questions for you: 
1.) Are you familiar with these? 
2.) If so, are they rare or am I not as good a ski historian as I think I am? 
3.) Is there someone or some place (museum) that might want these? They will just continue to gather dust I if keep them. I'm not looking for $ for them, just a good home. 

The Ski Free bindings look like they're no later than around 1954, and probably earlier (I have a pair on my 1948 Northland Hickories). Ian Ferguson, who joined Head in 1955, confirms that the Flexible pre-dates his era. He says it's a soft-flexing ski built in the same mold as the original Standard, and meant for lighter skiers. "It's not a powder ski," he said. "No one was thinking about specialized skis for powder yet. The first real powder ski we made was the Deep Powder, about 1956."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lovett XC skis

Had lunch with John Lovett yesterday. One of the advantages of living and working in Boulder: From my office I can see the entire history of the Colorado ski industry.

Lovett began making cross country skis in high school, and selling them, too. In 1970, at age 19, he set up his own factory in Boulder to make what may have been the world's first mass-produced fiberglass cross country skis -- and sold about 2,500 pairs that first year. By 1976 the factory was moving 30,000 pairs of skis a year and Lovett was also building alpine skis for a couple of boutique brands. By then he'd sold the company to Eastern Mountain Sports and was getting ready to move on.

John has some adventures to relate, involving helicopters and three Bobs named Burns, Lange and Redford. We'll get to some of those stories soon.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

V-Link and electronic speed training

By Seth Masia

VLink, a high-tech device invented by Hewlett-Packard scientist Richard Kirby, is now in use by the U.S. Ski Team to improve the carving precision of world class athletes and Development Team trainees. The chip, attached to the ski behind the binding, uses three microminiaturized optical tracking circuits to record movement through space in three dimensions and three axes. In training mode, the VLink transmits an audio signal to a set of earbuds, telling the skier about any sideways drift, to a precision of half a millimeter. VLink records data 6500 times per second, and is accurate to 70 miles per hour.

Bill Johnson at Sarajevo, 1984 (Sports Illustrated photo)
By looking at the graphic readout, a racer and coach can see where in the course of the turn the ski is skidding or slipping enough to cost speed.

This development reminds me that back in the ‘80s some of the national teams used downhill training skis equipped with pressure-sensing transducers above the steel edges. If a racer could equalize the pressure on the two edges of each ski, it meant that he was riding a perfectly flat ski and the theory at the time was that this was the way to maximize glide speed. Bill Johnson's string of downill victories in 1984 -- including the Olympic gold medal -- was thought at the time to be due to his talent for riding a "loose" flat ski.

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who can tell us more about the transducer-equipped skis. If you were a racer or coach who used them, or if you were a tech working with the skis, please give us more detail on how they worked and whether they were effective in improving glide speed.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Great Rossignol Boondoggle

By Seth Masia

I’ve just stumbled across a reminiscence by Jackson Hogen of a Rossignol-sposored junket to the Alps in the winter of 1993-1994 (see skinet.com/skiing/2009/01/musings-from-the-pontiff-of-powder-vol-1). Because Jackson mentions me in the article, I feel some obligation to elaborate, and to set the record straight on a few minor points.

Jackson is entirely correct on the market situation of the era. Salomon was on a roll, and had recently introduced its line of “monocoque” alpine skis. They were growing very quickly, mostly at the expense of Rossignol and Dynastar. Salomon was a powerful marketing machine. One of its tools was the full-bore press trip – the company would round up a dozen or so ski magazine staffers and fly us off to some snowy venue for a three-day new-product introduction. On occasion, the Austrian Trade Commission did something similar for Austrian ski and boot manufacturers. But Salomon seemed happy to spend the most money. By 1993, Rossignol’s management felt they needed to put on a full-court press in answer. The company sent invitations to all the American ski magazines (SKI, Skiing, Powder, Snow Country, Ski Racing) and flew us off to Europe.

In attendance were two or three writers plus a publisher or advertising rep from each publication, escorted by the senior management of Rossignol’s U.S. subsidiary, and Rossi had hired Andy Mill as athlete-host. We were supposed to have a good time. Jackson’s idea of a good time consisted very largely of ingesting whatever fell to hand, and then skiing hard.

The woods above Val Floret, Tignes.
First stop was Tignes. In theory there was a FIS race to be attended, but a blizzard was in progress so four of us (Mill, Hogen and me, and a local guide) jumped on some GS skis and headed for a steepish out-of-bounds hardwood forest on either side of the Les Lanches lift. The upper slopes were a complete white-out but in the trees we could see perfectly and the new snow lay about 18 inches deep. I should have felt sleep-deprived and jet-lagged but it was one of the glorious mornings of my life. I love skiing with Andy Mill – his knees are trashed enough that I can keep up with him, but not so trashed as to keep him out of trouble. Les Lanches was then a double chair, and because Mill and I were well-matched for speed (at least in powder) we sort of lost touch with Hogen and the ESF guide.

At lunch, Hogen passed out. In addition to the sleep deprivation and jet-lag, he was hung over and dehydrated. I was the volunteer who helped him stagger back to the bus and found him an overdose of aspirin and eau minerale.

We then toured the new ski factory. Rossignol had built this production line to make the 4SV, a light squirt ski meant to replace the popular 4SK recreational slalom ski in the line. Fat skis were already in wide use for powder skiing, Elan had already introduced the SCX shaped ski and the Austrian factories had their own shaped skis in prototype, so I thought it curious that Rossi had just spend about a million bucks to create a light, overdamped straight ski that would be obsolete before it cooled.

Then it was off to Grenoble for cocktails chez Boix-Vives, a fabulous penthouse. Then a late-night charter flight on a ratty but durable old Gulfstream I turboprop, to Venice. About two dozen of us were massed into what was really a 19-passenger airplane, so we got to make use of the cockpit jumpseat, the head, and the overhead luggage bins.
Jackson here begins to make frequent reference to a “whacked-out” boot editor. I won’t identify this personage, save to note that he seemed a marginal Asperger case, obsessively focused and oblivious to social skills. His obsession on this trip was to annoy the hell out of our host, Jacques Rodet, president of Rossignol's North American operations.

We toured the Caber factory in Montebelluna. Rossignol had just purchased the facility and begun making a bright yellow race boot under its own label, a stiff four-buckle boot that would eventually make a suitable stable-mate to the Lange race boots Rossignol already made in Bolzano.

There was some kind of mix-up over luncheon plans but we wound up in a wonderful haute-cuisine country inn somewhere between Montebelluna and Venice. Our table made far too much noise, disturbing a dining room full of well-dressed civilized folk. Jackson showed off his Italian with a loudly-declaimed toast in the form of an obscene bit of doggerel.

The Gulfstream I lofted us over the alps at dusk, and I was glued to the window watching the alpenglow from a new perspective.  We landed at Le Bourget half an hour after dark. On the bus to our hotel – an old monastery on the Left Bank converted to deluxe rooms -- the whacked-out boot editor asked Rodet, in all seriousness, “What river is that?” Rodet, who had graciously suffered fools for three days, finally lost it. “There’s only one river in Paris!” he barked. 

Dinner was at a three-star establishment overlooking said river. My chief memory of the meal is watching Rodet glare as the boot editor served himself with bare hands. The good-time tour concluded at the Crazy Horse. Like Jackson, I’ll leave that experience to your imagination.

Back at the hotel, we found that our hosts had thoughtfully left us each a pair of 4SV skis and a pair of bright yellow race boots. I’m sorry to say that the skis proved to be submarines, going to the bottom of any soft snowpack and staying there. They lasted one season in the market, then got blown away in the shaped-ski revolution. The boots worked well.

Related articles: 100 Years of Rossignol.