Picture of model wearing ‘Riviera’ vintage inspired ski jacket: Hanson Leatherby
Archaeological evidence of skiing dates back to 6,000 B.C when it was used as a means of transportation or getting around in a snowy environment. In the mid 19th century the Norwegians pioneered skiing as a leisure activity and by the end of the 19th century, the social elite were taking to the Alps, seeking a diversion during prolonged winter stays at Alpine resorts. Initially, skiers were mocked as “plank-hoppers” given that the preferred activities of the day were ice skating and tobogganing but by the turn of the 20th century, skiing began to emerge as a popular leisure option, marked by its thrilling speed and appreciation of nature. (Skiing into Modernity: A Cultural and Environmental History – Andrew Denning)
In the early decades of the 20th century, skiing symbolised luxury, requiring the wealth and means to decamp to remote Alpine locations for weeks at a time. However, it was with the introduction of ski lifts in the late 20s and 30s that we began to see the changing face of skiing as we know it today, with the development of ski resorts and tourism. After World War 2, skiing was becoming recognised as a popular choice for a ‘sporting holiday’ that continued to grow into the 60s and beyond.
Today, skiing is more readily accessible, with a range of resorts and prices to suit a variety of pockets. You don’t even need to go abroad as Scotland offers plenty of ski opportunity, weather permitting!
In terms of ‘vintage skiing’ there are some resorts that are still true to their origins such as the Strawberry Lodge in Kyburz California, old-school, with bad taxidermy and historical oddities, or the art nouveau Hotel Belvedere, Wengen, built in 1912 and refurbished sympathetically to provide today’s comforts without losing the atmosphere of the olden days of the “Grand Hotel Belvedere“. However it is hard to find many regular vintage ski events or festivals. In March 2016 the Scottish Snow Festival included a retro ski exhibition where you could have a go at skiing using vintage equipment with a prize for the best outfit. In February 2015 La Clusaz celebrated its centenary with a retro ski event at the resort. While events are few and far between it is certainly worth keeping an eye out for celebrations of this kind.
While Miss Bamboo is a ‘Pacific’ gal at heart and has always been drawn to warmer climes, it was nice to experience a onetime skiing trip to the beautiful resort of Courchevel in the French Alps. It really was truly breathtaking on those snowy pine lined slopes with amazing views. Lured in by ski poster visions of the past and the glamour of 60s and 70s Bond films, I was not thrilled, however, by the realities of having to wear more practical modern ski wear. I nevertheless insisted on ‘white’ ski boots while sporting a vintage look where possible! The holiday was going swimmingly until I ended up on the top of a mountain that was too terrifying to ski down. After slight (ok, perhaps more than slight) hysteria, the rescue mission set in, courtesy of Phillipe and his snow mobile! By the end I’m pleased to say that Miss Bamboo really could ski quite well though perhaps did not feel fully at ease with this pastime – more practice required!
A far more accomplished skier is Bridget (Biddy) Stanford, well known on the ‘vintage scene’, for her glamorous 40s and 50s style. She has been skiing since she was 10 years old when her parents used to send her and her siblings to Switzerland in the Easter holidays, to a ski school for Parisian children – in the hope that they would learn to ski AND speak French!
In the late 70s her parents moved to the Alps and skiing became an integral part of their lives. Biddy has an array of fabulous skiwear from various eras – from the heavy wool of the 40s (“very uncomfortable when wet”) to her mother’s coordinated outfits of the 60s (“neither warm nor waterproof”) and 80s graphic printed Patricia Roberts jumpers worn with 50s ski pants.
Her favourite outfit is her mother’s pale pink ski pants and matching anorak, trimmed with white rabbit fur around the hood, though always freezing cold when wearing it, it certainly looked amazing. For Biddy, the 40s and 50s are the most stylish eras but as she points out, the lack of waterproofing makes the outfits more suitable for ‘après ski’ than actual ski!
So whether or not skiing is your ‘thing’, you can still embrace your inner vintage ski bunny this winter with vintage ski style. Keep an eye out on eBay and Etsy for original pieces or go repro. Retro stirrup ski pants can be found on the high street from Bon Marche and Mango (stirrup trousers) and look great paired with the ‘Belle’ alpine sweater from Hell Bunny and a 40s/50s inspired ski jacket from Riviera clothing’s online store Morellos. I also found a very 1950s inspired ski patterned sweater in TK Maxx but you could always get a matching hat and sweater combo knitted from an original vintage pattern for a truly authentic look. If only we could still buy those outfits from my 1939 Montgomery Ward catalogue!
In terms of vintage memorabilia, check out www.vintageskiworld.com for a great selection of vintage ski posters, antique skis and lodge décor. Richard Allen, founder of Vintage Ski World, has been skiing since he was a child and has over time, acquired one of the largest private collections of antique ski equipment, clothing, posters and memorabilia in the world. A fascinating website with links to an interesting in house blog and other vintage skiing related sites.