"Father of Modern Skiing" Dies at 100
He won four world championships at the dawn of competitive skiing; helped found one of the world's largest ski schools (École du Ski Française); coached French, Canadian and U.S. Olympic ski teams; helped Rossignol develop the first-ever metal-edged skis; taught skiing at Sun Valley and Squaw Valley; and helped develop four French ski resorts, along with Chile's Portillo.
But above all that, the number one thing Émile Allais did to promote the sport of skiing and meet his goal of helping skiers experience the "sense of speed and the sense of freedom" the sport had given him, was to popularize keeping your skis parallel. It sounds funny, but up until the late 1930s, almost everyone on the slopes angled their skis inward in the V shape that has come to be known by novices everywhere as the "snowplow." But Allais took to keeping his skis parallel, embracing gravity rather than fighting it, and throwing himself wildly down the hill. It's no wonder that Jean-Claude Killy, that other, later brash French champion, would call him "the father of us all."
Allais died last week at the age of 100, just eight miles from his birthplace in the French Alps town of Megève. Over the course of his competitive career, he became known for his reckless style of skiing, so much so that The New York Times once called him "a congenital candidate for the suicide club." He once reportedly performed a somersault mid-race without losing any time. And, late in life, he bet his cardiologist that he'd beat him in a race down Chamonix's Valle Blanche on his 100th birthday. Sadly (or impressively, if we're being honest), he only skied into his late-90s.
Allais was a true ski pioneer, and we can all be thankful that, once a broken ankle ended his competitive career in the 1940s, he threw himself into promoting the sport with his equally wild, by-now-signature abandon.