Wind: 6 mph
By Frank Covino
It was a hot July day in the backyard of a Manhattan apartment complex when I met the man. The year was 1962. He was a giant in the ski industry, a triple Gold medal Olympic champion, whose Hollywood perfect countenance charmed every woman who was drawn to the winter sport that was quickly spreading from the Rockies to the Appalachian Mountains. The sports agents who had hired me had laid white sheets across the small lawn to simulate snow. Their quest had been to find an artist who skied for the purpose of creating a King Features syndicated newspaper column called Stein Eriksen Ski Tips. Stein was to pose in a variety of postures that simulated ski movements from beginner to expert, in full ski regalia, while I was to shoot some reference photos for my sketches. The poor guy was dripping sweat, as he wore a beautiful, heavily knit ski sweater, created by his Norwegian mom, with a characteristic horizontal band across the chest that simulated equilateral mountain peaks. The thermometer hovered above 95 burning degrees!
Stein was a bit surprised at my scientific knowledge of the sport. I had noticed, from his films, and from his still poses in that backyard that the bold mountain peak stripe across his chest was always parallel to the slant of the slope, at the completion of every turn. His posture, an instantly recognized silhouette, was later identified by the Professional Ski Instructors of America as "angulation." Referring to my Physics 101 college textbook, I realized that the lower half of his body was leaning away from centrifugal force, pulling outside the turn, while his torso was tilted downhill, away from the pull of centripetal force. The angulated posture placed his torso exactly at 90 degrees to the slant of the hill, constantly, whether initiating or completing a turn. Breaking down the posture to a mathematical analysis quickly perfected my own form and made it easier to teach to anyone who understood its basic physics. Of course, when I confronted the Olympic champion with this analysis, like any gifted athlete would answer, he quipped "I don't know about physics. I just ski!" Our resultant column appeared in 45 newspapers, across the nation.
"Frank, you talk a good game...," Stein smiled, at the end of his July ordeal, "If you can ski as well as you talk, I'd like to have you on my team." He was referring to his new position, as ski school director in Vermont at our beautiful Sugarbush Valley. The instructor pay was minimum wage, but the area was known to draw some of the most beautiful women, in the latest fashionable skiwear, from the movie industry of Hollywood to the fashion industry of Manhattan. Stein's presence would bring even more, prompting the drooling public to call it Mascara Mountain. I quit my art illustrator's job and took the job.
The snow was very late in 1962. Stein had his instructors running up the grass of the ski trails, just to stay in shape. Some trails had cover on the Friday before Christmas, enough to lure over a thousand cars to the parking lot, but rain was predicted for Saturday morning, and it came with a vengeance! Damon Gadd called Stein and I into his office, quite frantic. "If we could only keep them a couple of hours," he pleaded, "I know the rain will change to snow...." "Let's have a chalk talk," I suggested. "What is that?" they answered in chorus. "Place a chalkboard on one of the Gate House tables. Stein, you start talking about the science of skiing, all the movements you have designed for us to teach to the average recreational skier. As you talk, I'll sketch...." The word spread over loud speakers throughout the parking lot. The cars that had been leaving came back to listen to the talk. Like a gift from heaven, surely a Christmas gift for Damon Gadd, we were about two hours into the presentation when the rain turned to snow. Let us pray.
Covino lives in Fayston.