In the 1950s people idolised champion sports people whatever their sport. Ted Winter was a champion in the true sense and a great all rounder. Academic, poet, writer, bushman, skier, you name it and Winter met the challenge.
I first met Ted at his home on Olivers Hill Frankston Victoria in 1954. There, a group of physical education teachers had gathered to meet this unique man of the mountains. We were there for our introduction to ski touring. This was skiing of a different kind involving rough camping, lugging heavy loads and man handling sledges over the Snowy Mountains. This was hard labour on skis yet the prospect excited us all. We couldnt wait to get into it! Most of us had never seen a ski up close, remembering that this was a time well before polymers and lamination, so what would we ski on? Where would they come from? And how much would it all cost? Ski gear was never cheap and teachers salaries never high.
So said Ted, we make our own and out of hickory. Here beginneth the first lesson. However before Ted struck a blow he described where we were going , what we were doing and what other equipment was needed, boots, binding, seal skins, sleds, harness and provisions. Being a teacher he omitted nothing.
The shaping of the skis was fascinating and they turned out to be a cross between a downhill and a cross country or langhoff ski, long, strong, pliable and almost bullet proof.
Ted took a pair of planks and with the aid of a spoke shave, a rasp, a plane and sandpaper he shaped them into an approximate profile, cut the shape of the tips and tapering the rear ends. He then cut a splice with a handsaw on the way you would cut the last slice off a loaf of bread. From the heel up towards the back of the foot plate and forming an exaggerated camber, he glued the splice in position. This camber which was centrally placed served to take the body weight allowing the ski to flatten and to remain level over its entire length and no further. In other words the ski could not bottom out past the horizontal position when weight was applied.
The next task was to steam up the toes. This was done by placing the tips in a metal steam box, (for how long I cannot remember) bent to shape and cooled suddenly creating permanent upturned ends.
A little more shaping produced a holding knot on the very tip of the ski to hold a loop on the end of a seal skin strip which allowed the skier to walk uphill. It was a tedious business taking the seal skins on and off to meet the changes in terrain but it served to improve your stepping up skills.
All that remained then was to cut or scour out a groove or channel on the bottom or under surface of the ski to prevent clogging and insert steel edges in place which were anchored by counter sunk screws. A foot plate, and a clip forward of the footplate and ski was read for bindings.
These Kandahar bindings were based on a spring tension system which could be used in a heel free or heel clamped position according to what you were doing.
I remember Ted giving me these boards free of charge and they served me well. They were excellent for our needs in these rugged mountains and ahead of their time as a forerunner to some of the sophisticated models seen today. Modern day cross country skiers would probably view these "old timers with horror" their length, weight and difficulty in turning etc but they did the job splendidly for the likes of us. Admittedly turning was awkward for the novice, but Ted put us through our paces, step turns, snow ploughing, side stepping herringbone stepping, the lot!
Though very thorough with any task at hand, Ted had the habit of taking some things for granted eg. he assumed after a while that I was managing quite well; well enough to attempt the long ˜down hill challenge! Talk about a baptism of fire! We climbed to the top of the Grey Mare Range, turned, removed my skins and with the words follow me ! we launched into a hell ride. The downhill speed was amazing and in no time Ted was out of sight and having leapt over the roof of the Grey Mare Hut was hammering down the ridge in front of it, screaming like a banshee and pelting down at a cool 80 miles per hr. I was 300 metres back in petrified pursuit, lurching back and forth, feet 5 feet apart totally out of control, with no visibility flying over the roof and onto the deadly ridge which dropped as if into a chasm. The end was obvious. After 5 punishing somersaults (all unintended) I finally came to a halt landing right at Teds feet. Shaking and bruised I struggled to stand up. A stern, unsympathetic stare was accompanied by the tense words Now climb up and do it again, only this time tuck one knee in behind the other and leave it there, stay upright and try to read the terrain.
The next attempt was different altogether. Effort number one proved to be the shortest yet the best lesson I've had at anything. Only Ted Winter could have administered it.
Incidentally, the fact that these old skis remained intact is testimony to the way in which they were made. That primitive steam box on Olivers Hill was certainly part of the life that passed before me during that frantic first descent!
Neil Roberts 2010