Vintage Ski World Sells Pieces Of Ski History
From the outside, the storage unit near Carbondale that houses Vintage Ski World looks the same as the others. The space inside, which is roughly the size of a tennis court, is packed full of antique ski gear.
Richard Allen, the owner and self-titled “Ski-E-O,” has been carefully amassing the collection for decades and is now selling it, piece by piece.
I visited Allen recently, and he led me through rows of skis, some more than a century old, some more than 9 feet tall, to show me a “bear-trap binding” used in the ‘40s.
He fitted the wire cable of the binding around the heel of a leather ski boot and pushed down on a lever near the toe.
“Clamp that down like that and then you’re ready to go,” he said.
As Allen showed me his collection, I felt I was touring a museum; it’s a real-life skiing encyclopedia, stuffed into a warehouse. He handed me a pair of square-toed leather boots with a strap across the front. The heel felt sturdy and supported, but otherwise felt like a shoe.
“They’re pretty soft, otherwise,” Allen said.
Up on the wall are the bulkier, clunkier ancestors of today’s ski boot.
“The Dale boot was made out of magnesium. Really heavy, but stiff,” he said.
On another wall, Allen has a few of the very first snowboards, like the “Snurfer” (think snow-surfer), which isn’t much wider than a water ski. You’d stand on it in your snow boots and hold onto a rope attached at the tip, in case you fell off.
The only reason Allen ever uses this equipment is for antique ski races. He has no doubts that today’s equipment is better; he skis on modern, shaped skis.
“You just roll them on edge and you turn. Way less effort, way more fun, and way less dangerous,” Allen said.
People aren’t buying the old skis for skiing, though; they’re putting them up on the walls of their condos, or using old boots as funky door stops or book ends, because he old equipment is really...cool. He has framed pictures of professional ski races at Aspen Highlands where racers whizz past bamboo gates. He has coats used by soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division. He sells this stuff every day, to people around the world. A few years ago, he sent a big shipment to Dubai.
“That was kind of unusual, seeing that they don’t have a lot of snow,” he said.
Pieces of his collection have gone to lots of unusual places. Abercrombie and Fitch once requested old skis for a window display for their 5th Avenue store in Manhattan. A few designers from Louis Vuitton in Paris visited the warehouse in Carbondale to see the vintage ski clothing.
“They just loved it. They were having a great time, they were oohing and ahhing, and touching the fabric, ‘Look at those zippers.’ That was really fun,” he said.
Some of his ski clothing is featured in ski scenes from the 2010 movie “Hot Tub Time Machine.”
The question, though, is why spend your life collecting gear that, for the most part, won’t ever be used again?
“That’s a good question,” Allen said. “I think a couple of my ex-wives would wonder why.”
He collects it for the same reason people buy it: nostalgia.
“It just really brings back the memories of my skiing days. You know, my dad was a ski bum and brought us out to Aspen. I learned to ski in Aspen in 1969, they’re just so vintage and just so classic and just so warm and so authentic,” he said.
That’s what Allen says he’s selling: Memories of the good old days, which, these days, more and more people are buying.