Kneissl White Star: An oldie but still a goodie

While visiting Melbourne this week, my mum reminded me that my old skis were still in the garage and that perhaps I should do something about them….I was reluctant to throw them out as the skis, my 190 cm Kneissl White Stars AVT SL, are quite rare in Australia and are of enormous sentimental value. They also have quite a history. These skis are a classic straight edge ski born well before the development of shaped skis and decades before the development of fats, mid-fats and god-forbid, ‘rocker’. I did my skiing apprenticeship on these skis and I remember them with absolute fondness…

The Kneissl White Star ski (shown below next to my 2006 Fischer RX8s for comparison) originates from Austria. As far as I am aware, Kneissl skis were all handmade in a factory in Kufstein, Tyrol. According to Wikipedia, the Kneissl Company produced their first skis in 1919 (probably wooden) before developing the first plastic / wooden composite skis in the 1960’s. Around this time (1960-70s), ski racer Karl Schranz made the Kneissl White Star ski one of the most sought after in the world. And I now know why….

 

My White Stars were purchased second hand from none other than Peter Zirknitzer at Mt Hotham, Victoria in 1998, after my first pair of skis (K2 TRC 180 cm) were damaged in a skiing accident. They were purchased from Zirky’s ski shop which in those days was located in the basement of the lodge of the same name, but prior to it undergoing significant renovations. It was a magnificent ski shop – old and oozing with character, with an overpowering smell of molten ski wax and other damp musty aromas only found in ski lodges in the depths of winter.

Peter ‘Zirky’ Zirknitzer is a Hotham icon. He has a string of skiing titles to his name, including the unofficial title of being the first man to jump the Great Alpine Rd between the summit and the lower slopes of Heavenly Valley – others have followed, some recently, but none are more famous. There is an old black and white photo of him executing this feat in Zirky’s bar to this day (see below).

The skis were purchased after Zirky advised that the none of new skis in his shop were suitable..To this day, I am not sure why…The shop was full of new Atomic ‘capped skis’, and even some of the earlier shaped skis, which I really really wanted…Zirky instead coaxed me into his workshop at the back of the store (a shed within a shed if you like) and reached up to a set of skis hanging in the rack. Peter explained that the skis were Austrian-made slalom race-skis and that they’d belonged to his daughter, Annelise Zirknitzer, who at the time was also quite the ski champion and in my mind, an Australian skiing celebrity. She had just won a series of Australian school championships and was on the FIS world cup circuit, where she managed to finish 3rd in an event in Canada. Somehow this was adequate compensation for the fact that they were ‘girls skis’.

Peter explained that the skis were perfect for me, but added that it might take some time for me to adjust to the length. At 190 cm, they were quite long (I’m only 162 cm in height) and 10 cm longer than my original set of K2s. I immediately took them out for a spin, and unfortunately I also immediately disliked them!!….However, a few runs later, something clicked and I had my first skiing epiphany. I distinctly remember the moment: I widening my stance, let the skis runs and then rolled my outside foot, letting the edge dig in. I then rolled my inside foot, and ‘wham’ the skis bit and started to turn…and boy did they turn hard…Although very straight by todays’ standards, the natural arc of the ski and the razor sharp edges allowed the ski to carve exceptionally well……and at very high speeds (and only at very high speeds). I instantly loved them and felt like king of the mountain. My love affair with high performance carving skis had begun.

Later that season, I returned to Zirky’s and had the most enormous ‘riser’ plates fitted to the skis (see image below). At the time even Buff Farnell (aka DJ Eddie) commented that they were a “wicked set of riser plates”….These gave me even more purchase on the skis allowing more control at speed, which was a good thing given the speeds they were capable of. They actually got me into trouble with ski patrol a few times (*roll eyes*).

 

Despite the growing popularity of shaped skis in the late 90’s, I persevered with the White Stars through the remainder of the decade and even into the early 2000s. I even took them for a spin recently, just for fun. Although less agile than modern skis, to this day, the White Stars they are still among the fastest skis on the mountain, and they attract comments from some of the older crew on the mountain, who still remember them with fondness.

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