Klaus Obermeyer: Skiing's 96-year-old miracle man

Story highlights

  • Skier, entrepreneur and pioneer Klaus Obermeyer is still going strong at 96
  • German has revolutionized skiing with a series of innovations
  • Obermeyer swapped Germany for Aspen in Colorado over half a century ago

(CNN)You'd have a hard job keeping up with 96-year-old Klaus Obermeyer -- and not just on the slopes.

He's the man who not only revolutionized the sport he loves -- skiing -- but made it a darn sight more fashionable and comfortable.
Pioneer, entrepreneur, martial arts practitioner and avid swimmer, Obermeyer has lived to the full since swapping Germany for Aspen in Colorado over half a century ago.
    "Skiing was in its childhood," Obermeyer told CNN's Alpine Edge show as he recalled his arrival in the U.S. back in 1947.
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    "Skis were long and were hard to ski on. We had the world's longest single chair lift and that was a cold ride.
    "I thought wouldn't it be nice to be warm enough going up but stay also warm skiing down?"
    After spending the day teaching at Aspen's ski school, Obermeyer devoted his evenings to coming up with entrepreneurial ideas, founding his company in the attic of his house.
    After tinkering with a goose down comforter, Obermeyer concocted the first incarnation of what would become one of skiing's most popular accoutrements -- the down parka.
    But that was just a taste of what was to come from this man who was born in the small Bavarian alpine village of Oberstaufen.
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    After developing the plastic ski boot, he then invented mirrored sunglasses, the aluminum ski pole and that most fashionable of items, the ski turtle neck.
    "Most companies have copied us -- we were the first ones with so many things," explained Obermeyer.
    Testament to the quality of his products comes with a comment from a reader on a recent Wall Street Journal article profiling Obermeyer.
    It reads: "I purchased an Obermeyer sweater in 1968 during my first Colorado ski trip. I wore it while skiing for more than forty years. Now, my nephew wears it."
    Obermeyer's talents didn't just stop at fashion.
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    "There were so many things that people did not like in skiing," he said of his early years in Colorado.
    "In spring they got sunburnt, there was no suntan lotion that worked. So we made the first sun tan lotion that worked at this elevation."
    What started as a family business is still a family business, though a family business with a global reach.
    Such is the nonagenarian's love for skiing -- he still hurtles down the slopes himself every day -- he refused to patent any of his inventions, waving goodbye to untold riches at the same time.
    "We love skiing and we want to share it with people," he explained in his typical, warm-natured fashion.
    "You don't want to get hung up on money, you want to make things good."
    Apart from skiing regularly, Obermeyer also practices aikido every day, a peaceful martial art that aims to control an opponent rather than attack or hurt them.
    "Every attack that comes at you can be seen as an opportunity," he said in that Wall Street Journal interview. "You can make it work in your favor."
    Another motto of his is: "Being old is not an excuse to be lazy."
    And each day he wakes up to snow, which he still views in almost reverential terms.
    "To be able to experience frozen water falling down in the form of ice crystals, waking up to a fresh carpet of snow every morning ... it was and still is a miracle," he says on his company's website.