Klaus Obermeyer has seen the world change drastically in the last century. But he’s remained the same. The founder of Sport Obermeyer just celebrated his 100th birthday and is entering his triple digits with the vigor of a man half his age—he still goes into the office, skis as often as he can, and is perpetually stoked for fresh powder and fresh challenges.
“The first hundred years are behind me,” Obermeyer says. “Now it’s onto the next century.”
After World War II, Obermeyer moved to the United States from his home in Germany to search for work building planes as an aeronautical engineer. Unfortunately, he showed up a couple of years too late. “There was no more bombing to be done, so they didn’t need any more airplanes,” Obermeyer says. But there was work to be had in the fledgling downhill-ski industry, as single-lift resorts began to pop up all over the United States in the late thirties and early forties. In 1947, Obermeyer and a friend from Europe started running the ski school at a brand-new resort in the depressed mining town of Aspen, Colorado.
“It was a ghost town back then,” Obermeyer says. “There were some people living here, but a lot of houses had been abandoned after the silver-mining market collapsed. But then that first evening it started to snow, and I’d never seen snow that was so beautiful and so dry. It was champagne powder, and it was so easy to ski.”
Obermeyer taught skiing at Aspen Mountain for 12 years. He noticed pretty quickly that the gear people were wearing didn’t match the conditions on the mountain, as ski-specific clothing wasn’t widely available in the U.S. at the time. “People skied in suit jackets and regular shirts,” Obermeyer says. “Maybe they had a sweater. We’d ride up the single-chair lift wearing long city coats to try to stay warm, then send them back down on the chairs and ski down in our suit jackets. It was cold, and people were uncomfortable.”
Obermeyer took it upon himself to fix the problem, teaching people to ski during the day and making warm clothes for his clients at night. After he took a down blanket his mother had sent with him to the States and turned it into a ski parka, Sport Obermeyer was founded in 1947. Over the next 70 years, Obermeyer continued to sell upgraded outdoor clothing, at first importing ski sweaters from Germany. But soon he was on the cutting edge, producing early versions of products that would become staples in downhill skiing, like two-part boots with a separate liner and outer shell, mirrored sunglasses, and stretch ski pants.
As Obermeyer grew his company from a nighttime side hustle to an industry leader, he never lost sight of his love for skiing, hitting the slopes daily well into his nineties. It’s a passion that Obermeyer picked up when he was just a toddler, starting off with some unusual equipment: when he was three, Obermeyer made his first set of skis out of boards pulled from an orange crate. Two years later, he received a real pair for Christmas. “Those skis gave me so much freedom,” Obermeyer says. “They got me outside when most people were sitting in front of their stoves trying to stay warm.” More than 90 years later, when the conditions are right, you’ll find the centenarian making turns at Buttermilk at Aspen, best known for hosting the Winter X Games and its long top-to-bottom groomers.
“Skiing is easier than walking,” Obermeyer says. “You can ski wherever there is a mountain with snow on it—Norway or Switzerland or Colorado. You can slide on the snow and go pretty fast and get those zero-G feelings when you jump. You end up at the bottom of the mountain with a smile on your face.”
To stay in shape for the slopes, Obermeyer tries to watch his calorie intake and sticks to a strict exercise regimen, swimming an hour each morning and hitting the cardio equipment in the gym (he likes the recumbent bike and elliptical). “You have to keep exercising,” he says. “Your health should be your number-one priority, then your marriage, and then your work. Sometimes the order of importance changes, but your health is important. Your body carries your brain. If your body is healthy, then your brain has a chance to be healthy, too.” He also practices aikido, a martial art that uses an opponent’s movements and strength against them. He says the lessons of aikido translate to the mountain and his daily life: “It’s almost like a religion. It’s a different way to look at problems. Every problem is an opportunity to learn something new. That’s the way I try to look at life. You learn to like the problems.”
Obermeyer says he’s always had this sunny disposition, although skiing, martial arts, and swimming have all contributed to his outlook. Ultimately, they’ve helped him reach his second century, too. “Sport makes life sweet. You get in good shape, you feel good about your body and your spirit, and you enjoy life, so it’s easy to look at things positively.”
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