Editor Seth Masia
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To preserve skiing history and to increase awareness of the sport’s heritage
Mason Beekley, 1927–2001
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Le Trappeur Elite: Killy's Winning Boot
1961 boot paved the way for avalement.
Photo above: The Elite, advertised in Skiing Magazine, November 1967. Skier is Guy Périllat. In that era, factories could not use the names of “amateur” athletes.
In the mid 1960s, when French racers began winning everything in sight using the new “avalement” technique described by Georges Joubert, (see page 18) journalists assumed that the breakthrough technique was enabled by a new generation of fiberglass skis introduced around 1961—notably the Dynamic VR7, the copycat Dynastar RG5 and the Rossignol Strato. Those skis, the gurus opined, stored energy in their tails, launching racers out of each turn toward the next.
They were partly right, but the French team had another advantage, little noticed at the time. In 1961, bootmaker Le Trappeur introduced the Elite race boot. It elevated the skier’s heel for what we would now call a steeper ramp angle, and the upper shaft had more forward lean than any race boot previously available. It was considerably stiffer, too.
Eight years before high-back spoilers, the Elite put skiers in an aggressive knees-flexed position that encouraged application of strong fore-aft leverage. This enabled a skier to selectively pressure shovel, center and tail in a way not easily achieved before. A racer could retract instantly to absorb a roll and then efficiently press the tip of the ski down the backside to pump a little more speed.
The Elite came about when Le Trappeur licensed Henke’s Martin buckle patent, becoming the exclusive maker of buckle boots in France. To support the buckles, company owner and boot designer Marcel Carrier created double-thick reinforcing of the leather outer “shell.” This made for a very stiff structure, supported by a steel shank in the sole connected to reinforcements on either side of the heel. To provide better lateral power, Carrier made the cuff a couple of centimeters higher and added a fifth buckle. Five-buckle boots already existed. Carrier’s innovation was to angle the fourth buckle downward to fix the skier’s heel in its pocket.
The boot was immediately adopted by the French team. So equipped, Charles Bozon and Guy Périllat took gold and silver in the 1962 slalom world championships at Chamonix. Marielle Goitschel took slalom silver and combined gold. Other bootmakers took notice. According to Sven Coomer, who was there, Hans Heierling met with Carrier and bought a license to reproduce the Elite. So did Aldo Vaccari from Nordica, who went home and built the first buckle boot from Italy.
Heierling was the exclusive supplier to the U.S. Ski Team, because Jack Beattie (coach Bob’s brother) was the American importer. When Buddy Werner, Jean Saubert, Billy Kidd, Jimmie Heuga and the rest arrived at Innsbruck in 1964, they skied in Heierling’s version of the Elite. The original Le Trappeur Elite powered five French medals: gold and silver for the Goitschel sisters in both slalom and GS, and downhill silver for Leo Lacroix.
Soon, more factories in Austria and Italy sold unlicensed imitations. In 1965, Canadian coach Dave Jacobs told Bob Lange to cant his new plastic race boot forward and lock the cuff—in other words, make it ski like the Elite.
From 1962 onward, Jean-Claude Killy used the Elite throughout his amateur career. The boot evolved over the course of the decade. By 1968, it had an injection-molded sole (a Nordica innovation) and a waterproof polyurethane laminate on the outside. The final version was the Elite Pro Blue of 1969-70. Killy stuck with the Elite until he signed with Lange in 1971. A year later, as he geared up for his championship pro-racing career, he was back in all-plastic Le Trappeurs.
Seth Masia is president of ISHA and editor of Skiing History.
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