Kneissl White Star
ski – the first
synthetic ski with
a wooden core, and
a milestone in ski
ski boot (c.1963-4) is
leather with metal
Austrian binding is
one of the first
The age of fibreglass and plastic
During the 60s, fibreglass came to prominence as the crucial component in high-end skis. As well as the Kneissl White Star, the first generation included the Rossignol Plume and the Dynamic VR7. Their rise to dominance in the slalom discipline was sudden.
Snow sport heritage expert Seth Masia, of the International Skiing History Association, says: “The 1964 Olympics were interesting because they were the last time major alpine ski races were won on wooden skis. By the next year, all the slalom competitors were on fibreglass ones. The giant slalom and downhill skiers, of course, were already on metal skis.”
These skis had far superior grip thanks to continuous steel edges, rather than the screwed-on metal sections of the old timber models. But the ability to carve turns more easily was just as much to do with the other items that formed the interface between skier and snow. Bindings became more sophisticated and safer. Plate bindings (which necessitated attaching a metal plate to the boot sole), systems such as the Marker Rotamat, and the first Salomon step-in models all reached the market, though no single solution gained strong precedence.
The true game-changer was the plastic boot, pioneered by boot manufacturers Lange. “These arrived on the scene in ’65, ’66,” says Masia. “They were in evidence in the ’66 world championships in Portillo, and by 1970 you couldn’t win a ski race in leather boots.”
Once boots were fastened with levered buckles, the stiffness of the synthetic material allowed skiers to transfer pressure to the skis much more efficiently. It also far extended the life of a pair of boots and eliminated waterproofing problems. “But what plastic would really enable over the next decade was a reliable inter-face with the binding,” says Masia, “and this would bring modern safety standards to skiing.”
After the giant leaps of the 60s, changes in ski technology became a matter of evolution rather than revolution. “Ski development stalled,” says Masia. “Right up until the late 80s, there was an assumption that the standard Telemark-style Norwegian ski shape, established in the 30s, was the way to go for alpine skiing.”
This is not to suggest that ski design didn’t take some radical turns, but none became the norm for recreational skiers. A 60s vogue for short skis, driven by the Graduated Length Method of tuition, was carried into the 70s by the first freestyle skiers (known as “hot doggers”, often dismissively). One freestyle ski, the Olin Mark IV, even pre-empted the twin-tip designs that would become popular 25 years later.
Now Ski Coach for Aiglon, David Mansfield (Belvedere, 1982) first arrived at the College as a student in 1976. “When I started skiing, skis were just beginning to resemble the form they have now,” he says. “They had metal edges, proper materials, with more attractive designs.”
Again, the ancillary technology of boots and bindings had as much consequence as the skis. In 1979, the German DIN standards were adopted, finally standardising boot sole shape and binding function across all makes and models. This, along with far taller boots, caused rates of ankle injuries to plummet.
The 70s saw the first widespread adoption of another safety device: brakes that would stop runaway skis in their tracks after a fall. “In my second year I had my first skis with stoppers,” says Mr Mansfield. “They were a good invention. Before, you had a safety strap that attached you to the ski, so if you fell, you could get your skis clattering about your head. Now, the ski would go on its own way and stop.”