Meet the vintage ski guy 

You will say "Holy jeez " when you see Frank Salter's ski collection. Or maybe not. Anyway, that's what I said.

"Holy jeez !"

"I've heard that before," Salter said when he turned the lights on in the storage facility housing his collection, grinning and eyeing me as if he had predicted exactly what I was going to say.

The room is small but the collection is vast. End to end, it's lined with about 450 pairs of skis. The north wall is lined with vintage ski suits; the east wall racked with boots as clunky as old Cadillacs. The skis point skyward from the ground like mutated tall grass. Poles hang around the perimeter of the room from the ceiling.

"When we were kids, we wanted all these skis," he explained. "They were worth big bucks and we didn't have any money. There a sort of heritage, you know? And they're going to the dump if we don't save them."

Salter's an insanely likeable middle-aged father of two and is very proud of his collection. He had no problem inviting an absolute stranger over to see his collection of ski history.

At the OCP open house a few weeks prior, a number of the RMOW staff were wearing ill-fitting and violently-coloured vintage ski outfits. Salter, it turned out, was the owner of the suits and it was revealed there that he has one of the most extensive documents of ski culture in the town, possibly in the province. I asked to see it.

And so there we were, in the storage space of a townhouse he moved out of years ago so I can snap a few shots of wooden skis from the 1920s and a couple pairs of the ugliest goggles I have ever seen. It's a collection that borders on obsession.

"I figure it's better than drinking," he said.

And like any collection driven by obsession, the enormity of it is completely unnecessary... but here it is anyway, contained in this little wooden room.

He started collecting in 1991, when his work as a medical researcher took him all over the Western U.S. and Canada. He'd work throughout the day and haunt the thrift shops in the evenings.

"If I flew in early, I could hit six or seven of them (thrift shops) before I even get there for the day," he said. "And then another two after work."

Salt Lake City was a goldmine. Utah's rich ski history coupled with the Mormon culture of charitable good will meant the variety of, er, junk was virtually bottomless. Of course, the impoverished missed out on the skis, which ended up in the possession of an enthusiastic medical researcher instead.

Salter would pay between $5 and $10 for a pair of vintage skis; bringing two or three pairs back to B.C. on the airplane, back when people could fly skis for free. He did this continuously throughout the next decade and a half

The bulk of his collection is from the 1970s freestyle era, a favourite for him because of the experimentation with design and style.

"Like they tried lots of stuff in the 1970s," he said. "It was experimentation, the wild graphics," he says.

"Look at these graphics," he says as he holds up a pair of K2 skis with an abstract expressionist design. "You don't see anything like that now. Although they do have some very good graphics on fat skis these days."

His job doesn't take him on the road as much as it used to so his collecting has slowed down considerably. His goal is to "pare it down" this year, to get rid of some of the less than noteworthy items, and then ultimately hold an exhibit with his rarest and favourite items, as a sort of History of the Sport display. He's done this a few times before, including during the Olympics when his skis adorned the Village Stroll.

But ask him if you can see his collection. I don't know him at all, really, but I'm guessing that he'll probably show you. And when he does, he'll probably test your reaction, so make sure you say "Holy jeez " or something equally eloquent.

 

 

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