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WINTER SPORTS MUSEUM
EDUCATES CUSTOMERS

by
Bob Brooke

 

Snowshoe exhibit in Winter Sports Museum.While all antique dealers sell items from the past, few take advantage of them to teach their customers a little about the items’ history. The folks at Ski Country Antiques in Evergreen, Colorado, have done just that by creating a winter sports museum right in their store.

Sure, customers can sometimes find information on any antique if they want it, especially on the Internet, but how many take the time to do it. Also, shops selling unique items like the skis, skates, snowshoes that Ski Country Antiques offers its patrons, often miss out on the fringe buyers–those who might buy an item if they knew more about it or its relationship in history.

So to educate their customers and potential customers, sales manager Jeff Hume decided to create a small museum within the shop. Brian Kleinwachter, the shop’s owner, had been collecting old skis, skates and snowshoes for 10 years when Hume came up with the idea for the museum at the end of 2001. "It was my idea to arrange his collection so that our customers could understand about the history of winter sports," said Hume. At first, Hume arranged the items in a corner of the shop but as the collection grew, Brian decided to renovate the entire front room for the museum with signs directing customers to the shop in the back room.

With winter sports gear being made of all sorts of ultra modern materials like fiberglass and steel and aluminum, it’s hard for some people to realize that all the equipment started out being made by hand in a rather primitive way using natural materials. Even if visitors don’t buy any antique equipment, they come away from Hume’s museum with a better understanding of how it all began.

So far, the museum contains 15 pairs of skis, 18 pairs of snowshoes, 20 pairs of skates and 12 snowboards. The Scandinavians have used skis for transportation for a long time. It was they who invented cross-country skiing, so it’s fitting that the collection includes a pair of 11-foot-long, Swedish hunting skis, c. 1790-1830. Hume also has Norwegian downhill skis from the 1860s and 1880s. The museum’s collection includes a pair of 1920s jumping skis. "The latest skis we have date from the 1940s when metal edges were introduced," Hume said. "We also have a variety of ski poles, including ones made of bamboo and hickory." One of the museum’s prized pieces, according to Hume, is a pair of new, 5-foot, kids’ skis made by Northland of Minneapolis and still in the box.

With 20 pairs of ice skates, the museum shows their evolution nicely. Beginning with hand-forged Dutch skates with blades that curl in front to thicker Dutch work skates from the 18th Century with heavy blades for more stability, the display shows customers how unsleek these pieces really were. "We then move up to a pair of queen skates, with brass foot and heel plates and better leather bindings," added Hume. "Skates with further improvements in heel and foot plates, nail foot plates that a skater could kick down and contoured shoe plates are also on display."

According to Hume, outfitting skates with leather boots began in the 1920s and early 1930s, along with welded steel blades. Two of the skate manufacturers represented are Barney and Berry of Springfield, Massachusetts, and Planert, which made racing speed skates. Hume also has on exhibit a pair of child’s figure skates with white leather boot and a 1950s hockey skate with rigid leather boot and steel toe.

Unless someone lives in the far North or at higher altitudes out West where there are deeper snows throughout the winter, they most likely aren’t familiar with snowshoes, according to Hume. "The earliest snowshoe we have is a Native American pair with a super tight weave, leather strap and bindings, and excellent craftsmanship," Hume said. The museum also has pairs of Alaskan Eskimo snowshoes, Canadian snowshoes, and U.S. military snowshoes in its collection.

But Hume’s first love is snowboarding and even though the sport is relatively young, early snowboards are already a hot collectible. Believe it or not, snowboarding goes back all the way to 1929 when M.J. "Jack" Butchett cut out a plank of plywood and secured his feet with a length of clothesline and horse reins. It took another 30 years before anyone took snowboarding seriously. In 1963, Tom Sims, then an eight grade student, constructed what he called a "Ski Board" for a class project. Hume displays an early Sims Blade Snowboard with high back bindings in the museum.

By 1965, Sherman Poppen had invented "The Snurfer" as a toy for his kids by bolting two skis together. It looked like a weird cross between a plywood sled and a skateboard. "We have an original Snurfer, as well as a SnoSurfer," said Hume. "We even have one called the Snookie, made by a company out of White Bear Lake, Minnesota."

One of the earliest snowboards in the museum, called a Skeeboggan, dates from 1930s and 1940s. It’s a metal board with a shaft on a hinge that flips up from the front. And then there’s the budget model, the Arctic Snoboard, made of fiberboard.

Burton and Winterstick introduced the first real ski technology for snowboards in 1980. Their new prototype had a P-Tex base. And in 1982 the first international snowboard race was held in Suicide Six, outside of Woodstock, Vermont. Hume is proud to display three Burton boards which look drastically different from earlier models.

"We established the museum more for education," he continued, "especially in the categories that we sell–ice skates, skis and snowshoes–in our store. Having it has helped sell some of the higher end items because people are a little more educated to the range we do have. For instance, a pair of 1950s Canadian snowshoes that are wood with cowhide cost only $60, while nicer ones sell for $265 to $395. Since we opened the museum, those above $200 are selling better."

Ski Country Antiques’ Winter Sports Museum has been so successful that Hume said they’re planning on adding more space. "In the next couple of years, we’re planning a 14,000-square-foot addition to the shop, and I’m confident that the museum will get an additional 400 square feet of space."

So whether dealers sell winter sports equipment or specialize in glass, types of furniture, ceramics, or tools, establishing a small museum can do wonders for business. Just ask Hume and Kleinwachter.

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