Then and Now

Going skiing back then meant in a four-door sedan with room for six people you sat jammed in a car

By Warren Miller

If you’re lucky enough to have skied as long as I have, you’ll know that the ski season then was completely different than today.

In 1940, the day after Labor Day I would stop by a sporting goods store, go way back to the seldom-visited ski department and look at a blackboard with all the local resorts listed and the snow depths. It was written in chalk so it could be changed as soon as any snow arrived.

First thing on the agenda was to remove the skis from the piece of lumber that they had been clamped to for the summer to prevent them from warping. Then you would check your edges. Nearly always that would result in a trip to the hardware store to buy two dollars worth of stainless steel Phillips-head screws to secure the edges for those that were missing.

While there, you also bought a handful of copper rivets. If your skis were as worn out as mine usually were, with the hickory so soft it could no longer hold a Phillips-head screw, then you drilled all the way through the ski. I would insert the rivet with a big copper washer on the top of the ski and I thought somehow the skis would last another winter. But they never did.

When I made sure that the edges were firmly attached, I would remove the bindings and sand the tops of the skis and apply many layers of varnish to them.

Next I began working on the bottoms, sanding off the lacquer from the previous winter and applying all new coats of lacquer and reattaching the bindings.

Perhaps you put in extra shifts at the drugstore or the malt shop to earn the extra money to buy some new stuff; perhaps a new pair of gabardine pants with the seam in the front and tapered to fit smoothly inside of your boots.

Snow tires had not been invented yet, so you had to make sure that your skid chains from the winter before still fit the tires on your car and you had a couple of coils of bailing wire to fix them when they broke.

At that time I was skiing at nearby Mount Waterman on a single rickety old chairlift for $2.50 a day. Another prerequisite was to have friends who had enough money to help pay for 15-cents-a-gallon gasoline to get you there and back.

You put your boots on while sitting on the running board of the car in a muddy parking lot, and then with the heavy hickory skis and bamboo poles, over your shoulder, we’d walk the mile or so to ride the chairlift. If you were lucky you got in the chairlift line early, but the line was probably already 45 minutes long.

It would be many years before snow grooming was invented and as the winter progressed in snow depth, the moguls progressed in altitude with each new snowfall. Before long, the hill looked as if random Volkswagen bugs had been parked everywhere and then snowed on.

There were many end-of-the day runs that were a sheet ice so we did nothing but traverse between trees and execute kick turns while hanging on to a tree and then traverse back.

Going skiing back then meant in a four-door sedan with room for six people you sat jammed in a car with seven other people, everyone smelling of melted snow and sweaty, wet wool.

When I was paying $2.50 for a day to ride the Mount Waterman chairlift in 1940, I was earning two dollars every Wednesday and Saturday morning delivering 300 copies of the Los Angeles downtown shopping news. Times have changed. I never hear of kids today having paper routes to enable them to buy what they want.

Today many people don’t even buy skis because it’s such a hassle to get them back and forth from your hometown to the ski resort and back, so they just get demos or rent skis every day of their vacation. Times have changed.

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