The Winter Sport of Skeeing. In the east, the Theo. Johnsen Company of Portland, Maine, sensed the possibilities of a wealthy clientele and produced its finely made Tajco products, which it advertised in America’s first ski sales catalog in 1905. Half of the catalog was devoted to instructing readers in “The Winter Sport of Skeeing.” Top-of-the-line ten-foot skis sold for eighteen dollars, and skiers were advised to have three pairs to ensure good sport in all sorts of snow conditions. The company proved unprofitable and only marketed its skis for a season or two.
The Winter Sport of Skeeing
Martin Strand commented on the excellent quality of the Johnsen skis but knew why he was more successful than the Maine company. “The average young American is a sort of hot house plant,” he wrote to a customer, “who does not wish to spend very much time out of doors.” The majority spent their money on show houses and pool rooms rather than on good skis, he went on a little bitterly. He was successful because he had opted “to make skis in this country that the people will buy” cheap skis.
Early bindings had been simple pieces of leather tacked to the sides of the ski, but Strand cut a mortise in the wood for the leather strap to be slipped through before going over the boot. The more sophisticated binding, often imported from Norway, included a heel strap with assorted buckles and clips which held the foot on the ski while allowing the heel to be raised. There were many local variations.43 This simple and cheap binding was common into the 1920s.
The ski pole shows various cultural influences. Partly because Norwegians used either no poles at all or, more usually, one strong staff, in America a single pole was used only as a balance or braking device, although many felt even this “pole riding should be tabooed” because of its gracelessness. Of course, beginners might use the pole “as a third leg to stand on” but it was thought better to avoid using it as much as possible.
The use of two poles appears to have originated in Finland.46 The stigma attached by the Norwegians to needing two poles caused one Dartmouth undergraduate in 1912 to try out his new pair at dusk so no one would see him.47 But even in the early 1920s, Dartmouth’s first ski coach approved the use of one pole and encouraged the use of two.
It was one of the important issues for college skiers in the 1920s, Betty Whitney remembered from her Smith College days.49 Drawings and advertisements in popular magazines continued to show the use of one pole until 1934.
The Aurora Club debated whether to use “high or low overshoes.” Both were a moccasin type of oiled shoes that offered extra play in the ankles to accommodate the thick socks that were essential. 51 The Johnsen Company sold a special Norwegian-made boot for twelve dollars.52 American manufacturers competed for a lower scale market with “shoe-pacs of oiled cowhide.” Chippewa took out a full page advertisement in the 190910 Skisport for a $5.50 pair of ski boots, but there was little to distinguish them from work boots. Bass began marketing ski boots in 1912.
Socks and stockings were important for warmth and also as a way of displaying club colors. Legginsthick toeless stockings of a loden materialwere popular with some groups. Toqueshatswere available in different wools and worsteds.
This emerging equipment industry was nan by immigrants who saw possibilities of diversification from their established line of manufacture or found enough of a market to warrant continued production of skis; Wold’s, a piano maker, supplied skis to U.S. troops patrolling Yellowstone, and Strand switched to paddle and oar manufacturing for summer business.
Only the Theo. Johnsen Company made an effort to expand the base of its clientele, and their success was short-lived.56 The problem was keeping up with the demand from recreational enthusiasts. As jumping became increasingly a sport for experts, most skiers left it to the star performers. All manufacturers made jumping skis and advertised the successes a particular performer had obtained on their model. However, most skis were sold for recreational use and, as Martin Strand wrote, he made skis to public demand, rather than trying to market high-quality models.
Although the NSA was the organizing and controlling body of American skisport, it found itself increasingly unable to enforce its viewrooted in the Norse tradition of Idraetof the way skiing was meant to be. As immigrant communities became more American, and as more people took up skiing who were not steeped in the Idraet ideal, the NSA was plagued by the ethos of achievement measured in terms of length of jump and amount of prize money. Moreover, it was faced with the difficulty of enforcing regulations nationally. It would be wealthy easterners who would give a new direction to American skiing as a social sport.