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USA Retrospective

An overview of the first incarnation of ski-biking in America

By: Rod Ratzlaff

   With the proliferation of ski areas in the 50's and 60's, the popularity of the sport continued to grow in Europe. The Federation International de Skibob (FISB) was formed in 1961. The devices were termed "skibobs", apparently derived from the bobbing of heads and bodies as they rode over bumps on the slope. See the International "History" section for further information.

The Beginning....................................................................................................................

   It was just a matter of time before the bikes made the Atlantic crossing into North America.

In 1956, German skibob racer,club President and bike builder Lorenz Ertl attempted to introduce the sport to the eastern ski establishment. He demonstrated at several ski areas using a bike he had built and planned to manufacture, but he could not convince the resorts to allow the bikes on their slopes as a matter of policy. He did succeed in garnering some publicity for the sport by way of sports show exhibitions, appearances in commercial advertisements, and a feature article in Look Magazine in 1958 (see The Lorenz Ertl Story). This effort did not produce enduring results, although a children's skibob was manufactured in the U.S. during this period.       

  The timing was more favorable for the next initiation a few years later. California resident William Cartwright became interested in skibobbing during a stay in Europe after he and his family were introduced to the new sport. He imported several bikes, and in 1963 adult skibobbing was successfully introduced to the United States through Mr. Cartwright's efforts.  

 

Organization.......................................................................................................................  

   In February,1965, the Skibob Club of Santa Rosa was organized with the aforementioned William Cartwright as president. There were ten members of the club. The club became a member of the FISB, and was recognized by that international body as the only official skibob organization in the US.

   It was not an easy task to pioneer a new sport in the States. Lacking the necessary funds to popularize the sport, plus experiencing hostility from most ski areas and the US Forest Service, he approached the American Athletic Union (AAU) with the possibility of having it adopt the sport and take over its government and promotion in the US. In 1966, the AAU adopted the Skibobsport as one of its three National Wintersports and placed it under the National Luge Committee as a sub-committee with Mr. Cartwright as Chairman.

   By this time Bill Cartwright had moved to Missoula, Montana and had invited the Swiss Champion Skibob Team of seven members; plus an FISB vice president, to conduct a series of demonstrations and races to promote interest in the sport. From January 13 to 25, 1967 the Swiss team performed at the Snow Bowl, Missoula, Montana, Treasure Mountain in Park City, Utah, and at the Broadmoor Hotel slope in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

   In February, 1967, the FISB granted membership to the AAU sub-committee as the only official representative in the United States with Cartwright as Council member. Through his efforts, the FISB awarded the Third World Championships to the United States.

   In November 1967, a rival organization was formed. The American Skibob Association (ASBA), headquartered in Littleton, Colorado, would become a prominent entity in the sport. Their stated purpose was to "promote the sport of skibobbing as a recreational and competitive activity and to help regulate the growth and development of the sport in an orderly and healthy manner". The board of Directors included renowned ski authority Willy Schaeffler. On February 10, 1968, the ASBA sponsored a skibob clinic at Arapahoe Basin (CO), with Austrian racer, skibob manufacturer, and world speed record holder (102 mph) Erich Brenter providing the instruction. Mr. Brenter also designed the course for the first competition event, held at Aspen Highlands (CO) on February 12, drawing over 40 entries. As time passed, regional ASBA chapter organizations were formed across the country, as well as various local clubs.

History...

History > Menu

Left: The "Skibob Times" industry news-magazine was published by the ASBA. They also developed a skibob design standards code. Above: The standards test committee inspect a new skibob (Sitzski) at Arapahoe Basin (CO) in 1968.

ASBA / USSBF Headquarters

Littleton, Colorado

   In 1968, the United States Skibob Association (USSBA) was formed in Missoula, Montana by U.S. skibobbing pioneer William Cartwright. This was essentially an evolution of the Skibob Club of Santa Rosa.

   In February, 1970, the American Skibob Association (ASBA) and the United States Skibob Association (USSBA) merged to form the United States Skibob Federation (USSBF), with headquarters in Littleton, Colorado. This amalgamation became the officially sanctioned national body for skibobbing in the U.S, with Mr.Cartwright serving as the FISB representative. The primary initial focus of the new organization was the 3rd World Skibob Championships, to be held in the United States in March, 1971. State and regional qualifying races were scheduled prior to a national championship in order to finalize the membership of the official U.S. Skibob Team to compete in this world event. Another USSBF and FISB goal was to establish skibobbing as an Olympic event by 1976, which would have required 25 participating nations. There was a gradual erosion of support in the 70's, and the USSBF was officially dissolved in 1980.

 

   In 1971, the American Skibob Instructors Association (A.S.I.A) was organized with the cooperation of the USSBF, based in Park City, Utah. The primary mission was to properly educate the public and certify instructors in the Skibob sport. Donald Heins, president of the dynamically growing NorthWest SkiBob Association, contacted Gerald MacDonald, head of the USSBF Education Committee and an Austrian certified skibob instructor, and prototype program work began. Gene Zenger, Captain of the U.S. Skibob team, was consulted for his special expertise in management, policy and technique. The result of these efforts was the "Check Out" instructional program outlined in the manual:   The A.S.I.A Handbook of Skibobbing

Photo:

Gene Zenger >

A.S.I.A director,  and one of the top skibob racers in the U.S.

Competition.........................................................................................................................

ASBA / USSBF Sanctioned Events

  ASBA GIANT SLALOM, Aspen Highlands (CO), February 11,1968

This was a 22 gate course set by then world speed champion Eric Brenter. Mr. Brenter was in the US to conduct skibob clinics at ski areas, his first was at Arapahoe Basin (CO) on February 10. There were 30 entries in the Men's Division and 10 entries in the Women's Division.

   ASBA DOWNHILL, Arapahoe Basin (CO), May 4,1968

A 1 2/3 mile course with 39 competitors was held in a heavy wet snowstorm with the best time put in by Alf Tieze of Dillon (CO) with a 3:01 effort. Vail co-founder Earl Eaton had the second best time to win the Senior I division. Max Dercum, A-Basin Ski School Director won the Senior Mens II division. Iise Tautz of Littleton (CO) had the best time in the Womens Division. There were three ASBA sponsored races in the '67-'68 season--Aspen Highlands and two at A-Basin.

   ST. PATRICKS DAY SPECIAL, Arapahoe Basin (CO), March 17,1969

A Giant Slalom and Special Single Pole Dual Slalom was won by Alf Tieze. A surprise entrant and a first time skibobber who captured the 1st. place trophy in the Special Slalom was Milo Belonoznik of Liberec, Czechoslovakia. He was in Colorado as an FISB Committee member to inspect the proposed ski jump site in Denver's bid for the 1976 Winter Olympics. The 50 year-old Czech decided to get involved with the skibob club in his home town when he returned home.

   OTHERS

There were also races held at Mt. Telemark, Wisconsin | Lookout .Mountain, Minnesota | Rebel Ridge, California | Slide Mountain, Nevada | Mt. Rose, Nevada | Breckenridge, Colorado | Park City, Utah | *Plus a cowboy ski bob race in conjunction with the Western Stock Show in Denver.

   3RD NATIONALS, Arapahoe Basin (CO), April 11-12,1970.

Giant Slalom on Saturday and the Downhill on Sunday, the combined winner was Art Kormgiebel, Bogus Basin, Idaho with Fred Petersen of Minneapolis, Minnesota second and Alf Tieze third. A 14 year-old girl from Ironwood, Michigan, Ingrid Gallo won the Women's Combined. There were 32 competitors from eight states competing. Several skibob clubs in various states also held competitions this season.

   4TH NATIONALS, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, February 27-28, 1971

A 32-gate Giant Slalom and a tough 1 3/4 mile Downhill was won by Gene Zenger of Salt Lake City, Utah. Second in the combined was Fred Petersen of Minnesota. A total of 38 men and women participated. Women's Division champ was Joan Mansfield, Seattle, Washington. Runner-up was Iise Tautz, Littleton, Colorado. Qualifying racers from this event would form the nucleus of the official International U.S. Skibob Team.

   3RD WORLD SKIBOB CHAMPIONSHIP, Mount Rose, Nevada, March 22-28, 1971

This prestigious International FISB sanctioned event was the climax of skibob competition on American soil. 110 racers from 11 countries would compete, including the fledgling U.S. Skibob Team.      EVENT REPORT

Erich Brenter at Aspen Highlands (CO), 1968

Third World Championship commemorative decanter

Fred Petersen en-route to a 2nd place finish at the 1971 National Championship Downhill, Jackson Hole, WY

The Bikes.............................................................................................................................

Several skibobs were manufactured in the United States during this period...   REPORT

 

Ski Areas..............................................................................................................................

Some skibob friendly resorts of the time:

   AngelFire (NM), Arapahoe Basin (CO), Aspen Highlands (CO), Beaver Mtn (UT), Breckenridge (CO), Brian Head (UT), Brighton Ski Bowl (UT), Bogus Basin (ID), Boreal Ridge (CA), Ski Brule Mt. (MI), Crested Butte (CO), Donner (CA), Elk Mtn (PA), Geneva Basin (CO), Glenwood Acres (NY), Gorgoza (UT), Hyak (WA), Indianhead Mtn (MI), Iroquois Mtn (MI), Jackass Ski Bowl (ID), Jackson Hole (WY), Jiminy Peak (MA), Lookout Mtn (MN), Mission Ridge (WA), Monarch (CO), Mt Agamenticus (ME), Mt Baker (WA), Mt Peter (NY), Mt Telemark (WI), Park City (UT), Powderhorn (CO), Powder Ridge (MN), Purgatory (CO), Seven Springs (PA), Sipapu (NM), Ski Blue Knob (PA), Skyline (ID), Solitude (UT), Snow Bowl (NJ), Stevens Pass (WA), Sugar Hills (MN), Tahoe Ski Bowl (CA), Welch Village (MN), Whitecap Mtn (WI), Wolf Creek (CO)

Etc..........................................................................................................................................

Astrounaut Wally Schirra was the master of ceremonies for the Third World Skibob Championships

Renowned journalist Lowell Thomas was an honorary board member of the USSBF
 

Some popular alternative skibob activities of the time included Johring, defined as towing a skibob behind an animal or vehicle. And, Waterbobbing, which is towing a bob on water behind a boat.

Ski authority Willy Schaeffler predicted that skibobbing would grow to be two to three times larger than skiing...

The Warren Miller film, "This is Skiing" (1969) featured a 5 minute segment on skibobbing filmed at Arapahoe basin (CO)

Lift rates at Jackson Hole (WY) for the 70-71 season were an astronomical $8 a day

Colorado Governor John A. Love and family were introduced to skibobbing during a ski holiday at Purgatory Ski Area (CO), during the 68-69 season. (See photo below)

Triple Oympic gold metal winner Jean-Claude Killy gave skibobbing a try and commented "Great fun, I never realized it was this much fun". He later endorsed the American Sitzski brand skibob.

(see photo below)

Gallery...................................................................................................................................

Colorado Governor John Love (front, 3rd from left) and family experience skibobbing

Vail Ski Area co-founder, skibobber and racer Earl Eaton

Olympic skier Jean-Claude Killy

Rebel Biker...

Charlotta Dercum, age 87, demonstrates fine form

The Wild One's...

How to ride the Poma...

Hitchhiking...

Cowboy-abob...

I wish to thank Lee MacDonald for providing materials and insight into the skibobbing scene of the 60's and 70's. Lee served as ASBA/USSBF Executive Vice President/Secretary and Board Member. He also manufactured the All American Skibob. Also, thanks to Fred Petersen for photographic support.

* This is a work in progress... If you have any information or photos relevant to this subject that you would like to share, please contact: postman@ski-bike.org

Lee MacDonald

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Archie Comic Publications - 1969

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Fast forward to February 2007 >

The late Gene Zenger's children and relatives take a commemorative ride at Beaver Mtn, Utah on what would have been his 75th birthday.