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Living Legend: Klaus Obermeyer

Humble. Energetic. Wise. Three words that describe the 96-year-old pioneer.

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When Klaus Obermeyer started skiing 93 years ago, he skied on thin pieces of chestnut wood. The wood was from an old crate used to carry oranges. He nailed a pair of his buckle shoes to them with a couple of inches of nail sticking through the bottom, and tied one end of a string around the tips, and the other around his knees to create ski tips.

“When you’re three, you’re not a very good carpenter,” Obermeyer says.

It wasn’t until he was about 5 years old that he got his first real pair of skis, that were made by Stein Eriksen’s father (Marius) in Oslo, Norway. The 96-year-old ski industry pioneer says it was the best Christmas ever.

SKI caught up with Klaus to learn more about him, his inspiration, and whether he thinks of himself as a legend.

What is your perfect ski day?

Any day that I ski is a perfect ski day. If the sun is out, I ski faster. If the light is flat, I ski slower. Skiing is fun no matter if you’re on big hills or little hills.

You have all sorts of accomplishments; do you have something specific from skiing that you are the most proud of?

I’m most proud of changing from aeronautical engineering to skiing. That’s something I’m happy I did. It’s even more fun when you can share that fun with other people and teach people how to ski. The combination of choices you have when you ski is really, really fun. There’s just no other sport like it.

Do you think of yourself as a legend?

No. I think of myself as a lucky guy who was born at just the right time to grow up skiing. The sport of skiing started when I was born—kind of—in the Alps. There were very few people skiing at first, but it grew fairly fast. At that time, people came to St. Anton by train, and the only turn you could do was a snowplow turn. And there were no lifts, so you had to climb.

To be a ski instructor, you had to be what they called a “bone collector” the first year. You’d follow a ski instructor and a group of skiers down the hill to help people who fell or had binding problems. But you’d also learn better technique and how to teach.

What do you still want to accomplish in life?

What I want to accomplish is for our business, with its good intent and capability, will continue to make skiing and snowboarding more fun than it was without us. And I just want to ski more.

What is the most difficult thing you have overcome in running a business?

You have to have some aim. You have to look into the future and figure out what you want to accomplish. But you have to be honest and make a product that’s reliable an doesn’t cheat people out of their money. You also have to be inventive and make things better, so skiing is more fun.

If you don’t have an aim, you’re kind of lost. We really try to keep the business fun because skiing is fun. Those are things you have to overcome each day.

Do you have any advice for the younger generation on how to be successful in the ski industry?

To be successful you have to focus on how you can make life better for people. If you can make a difference to society, and make life better for someone, then that’s what really counts.

What do you think of the whole climate change debate?

I think it’s very, very important. I think it’s much more important than most people think it is. We’re spoiling the air and the oceans. What we’re doing to the planet is irresponsible as hell, and we need to figure out how to enjoy all the conveniences we have without hurting the environment.

That’s why our building in Aspen, Colorado, for instance, is 60-percent heated by solar. We even have a lap pool that’s heated with solar. And our warehouse in Denver doesn’t need much heating or cooling because we blow out the hot air and suck in cool air at night to be more efficient. We’re planning to put solar panels on the roof too, to be energy independent.

Whatever we do in this business, we need to be as nice to the climate as we can. It’s an important thing.