Following his first awful outing — skiing the slopes of Stowe in 1947 — aviation engineer Howard Head famously blamed
the wooden skis instead of the inexperienced skier. If wood’s so good, he reasoned, why aren’t they making airplanes out of it anymore?
Beginning with the aid of $6,000 in poker winnings and engineers moonlighting from the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company, the thin, mustachioed man worked nights building a new kind of ski. It was a metal, plywood and plastic ‘sandwich’ ski that was lighter than wood, more durable and easier to turn. Head broke countless prototypes in the process, handed IOUs to all his workers and was laughed off several ski hills. But by 1968 Head skis were on the feet of one-third of the top 10 finishers in the World Cup. And Americans — inspired by his easy-turning, one-year-warrantybacked black Head Standard ski — grew skiing from a few hundred thousand participants to more than four million. By the time Head sold his company to AMF in 1969 for $16 million, it had 500 employees and was the world’s largest ski manufacturer, selling more than 300,000 pairs a year.
Head took up tennis when he retired and he was bad at that as well. After tinkering with his ball machine, he bought a controlling share in Prince, where he invented
oversized tennis racquets, again replacing wood with an aluminum alloy that was bigger, lighter and easier to use.
After tennis — and Prince — exploded in the ’70s, Head sold his shares in that company for $62 million and moved to Vail. Howard Head’s relentless pursuit of perfection
had already cost him three marriages and on his second retirement he seemed intent on enjoying one of the sports he had worked so hard to improve. After meeting and marrying Martha Fritzlen in Vail, he finally found what he was looking for. Or, to paraphrase filmmaker Warren
Miller, he didn’t need to invent anymore.