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Klaus Obermeyer, 94 Years Young
Lurching from one near disaster to another...
It was nice to congratulate Klaus Obermeyer on Sunday on his 94th birthday. I think he is the ultimate entrepreneur in the American ski industry. He owns and manages the largest ski-only clothing company in America. His trip to the top was not an easy one.

When I first met Klaus in July of 1948 he was way over his head digging a hole for a septic tank for Flush the Plumber in Ketchum, Idaho. I knew Flush as I had planned on eventually hiring him to do the plumbing in my log cabin that I would build on Trail Creek.

After Klaus climbed out of the hole he had dug, Flush drove us both down to his log cabin on the Big Wood River. Klaus had recently arrived in New York City with $10 dollars before hitchhiking to Sun Valley.

His first full-time job in America was digging that septic tank hole for Flush while he was waiting to hear from Otto Lang about a job in the Sun Valley Ski School.

While skiing all over Austria, he had managed to get his hands on a movie camera and then show up at a resort. There, he would convince the local tourist director that he was producing a major theatrical ski movie. Once filming started Klaus would run the same roll of film through the camera over and over. The filming did not start until Klaus had spent a few days of free skiing while he was scouting the surrounding mountains for the “proper locations.”

We had a monumental journey together selling his Koogie ties and my nylon-parachute, ski-boot laces. I sold a pair of my laces for $1. They cost me less than 10 cents to make.

We lived in the back of my ’46 Ford business coupe that I had hollowed out to live in when I went on my many surfing trips in Southern California.

During our three-week trip we stopped in Seattle, then down the West Coast to Los Angeles and on to Salt Lake City. We called on every ski shop along the way to sell our one-of-a-kind products. After three days of skiing while living in the Alta parking lot I said goodbye to Klaus at the bus stop and went on to Sun Valley to teach skiing that winter.

Klaus went on to Aspen where he went to work for Freidl Pfeiffer teaching in the Aspen ski school. Today, Klaus operates out of an industrial park by the Aspen airport. He no longer sells his infamous Koogie ties, but it is estimated that he sells between $30 and $40 million worth of ski clothing annually.

For all of those reasons and a lot more we have chosen Klaus to be the Entrepreneur of the Year at our annual fundraiser for the Warren Miller Freedom Foundation dinner in February at The Yellowstone Club in Montana.

Our foundation teaches young people basic business practices and to think like an entrepreneur. We believe that America’s strength has grown on the backs of small business owners and will continue to do so with hard-working people such as Klaus.

When I caught up with Klaus on the day before his birthday he had just finished laps in the local swimming pool and was at his 100-acre ranch 25 minutes down valley from Aspen.

We reminisced about sleeping in the ‘46 Ford and cleaning up in gas station restrooms, putting on our neckties and then getting the ski shop addresses out of the yellow pages and selling to them, one shop at a time.

I wonder what the two of us together might have dreamed up if we both lived in the same ski town. But a tremendous friendship was the result.
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