Back when lifts were scarce and folks were hardy, skiers hiked to the top of the ski hill. Clad in wool sweaters and stretch pants, Dick Durrance and Betty Woolsey wannabes shouldered hickory "sticks" and climbed the hill. At the top, skiers adjusted cable beartrap bindings to leather boots, pushed off with bamboo poles, and somehow made it back down on glideless wooden bases.
Thankfully, those days are gone. But hickory Northlands are still stacked against many a cabin wall today not to ski on, but rather as d้cor. These "woodies" are prized collectibles for cabins devoted to snow sports.
You don't have to ski to appreciate the aesthetics of vintage planks, poles and related gear. Even if you prefer reading by the fire to schussing down the hill, you can still evoke a cozy ski lodge with a few well-placed winter sports accessories from skis, boots and poles to toboggans, snowshoes, ice skates, dogsleds, ice fishing gear, ice boats and more.
Skis are perfect for decorating large walls, especially the fireplace area. Mounted above and/or beside the hearth, they provide a conversation piece and a glimpse into the evolution of skiing. Hang 'em high parallel or crisscross; both ways look great. Or just lean them against the mantel. Collector and dealer Mark Miller favors propping skis up against the fireplace, along with a pair of boots and poles. "It looks as if someone just came in to warm up with a mug of hot chocolate," says Miller, who has decorated numerous ski resort lodges and condos.
Jacky Fischer of San Francisco Design in Park City, Utah, also likes to stage an area by creating a vignette with ski equipment. Typically, her clients own second homes with two-story-tall great rooms. "Skis liven up spaces you can see but can't touch because they're so high," says Fischer. Most often, the skis are placed on a high plant shelf and lean against the wall.
The stairwell is another prime display area. When you can't get close enough to see and enjoy a traditional wall-hanging like a picture, large or tall items like skis adds character and visual punch.
Skis can also be leaned in the corner of a guest bedroom. "The nice thing about winter antiques, there's no rhyme or reason, no right or wrong," says Miller.
Just don't over-decorate the area so much that it detracts from the skis, he adds.
Along with a touch of nostalgia, skis add color to a cabin. "In the late '40s and early '50s, skis became more colorful, especially European brands like Hohnberg and Otto," says Miller.
Take your inspiration like the pros do from a ski poster and build your vignette around it. With over 3,000 pairs of skis in his collection, Miller often supplies designers with skis to match the color of ones in a print. You can also coordinate skis with a poster's graphics or matting, he notes.
When creating a vignette, include related ski items such as vintage hats and sweaters, race bibs, metal signs and pennants. Mix accessories so that you have colorful, shiny items along with natural wood to add texture and a finished look, suggests Fischer.
And who says vintage skis can't be fun and functional, too? Miller sometimes fashions coat racks for clients from three skis assembled like a teepee. "You can hang your coat on a hook between the binding and tip, and your hat on the tip," he says. Miller also makes custom mirrors with antique wooden ski frames.
A single ski can be mounted as a shelf, or made into a shot ski for the cabin bar. (For the uninitiated, a "shot ski" has five or six shot glasses attached so apr่s-skiers can knock back a drink together.)
Hardcore skiers will appreciate the funky furniture from Vermont Ski Recyclers. VSR's Adirondack chairs, tables, bookcases and more are made from recycled "modern-but-older" skis or snowboards.
Like skis, snowshoes also set a winter scene in the cabin. Snowshoes can hang on a wall either crossed or parallel at an angle. Create a wall arrangement with two or more pairs. Another option is to simply stand them in a packbasket or large ceramic pot. Native American snowshoes are the most desirable, according to Ralph Kylloe, rustic furniture dealer and author of "Cabin Collectibles." Handmade of wood with caribou skin weaving, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit terrain and snow conditions.
Antique snowshoes also make great sconces (check out the Pike's Peak from Woolrich), chairs, lamp bases, photos frames and tables.
Vintage sleds, toboggans and sleighs are just right for virtually dashing through the snow. Miller suggests mounting a 7-foot toboggan vertically on the wall and adding six shelves spaced a foot apart. The shelves are ideal for displaying snapshots of your little snow angels along with sport-related trophies and memorabilia.
Sleds can stand on a plant shelf, adorn a mantel or hang diagonally on an interior or exterior wall.
When you're hanging big items, consider suspending them with screws from the wall so they stick out. That way, says Fischer, you'll incorporate the shadow into your design.
For a centerpiece, Fisher suggests placing a child's sled on a large table and surrounding it with boughs and candles. And of course, for the holidays a larger sleigh by the fireplace or in a guest room will come in handy for Santa to pile up presents or extra camp blankets for guests.
Ice skates can be draped over the mantel or displayed on rustic coat stands. Old Hans Brinker-style wood runners that clamped onto shoes are curiosities, as are brass or tin ice skater lanterns from Oley Sled Works.
Showcase old ice fishing poles (shorter than regular poles) with other ice house paraphernalia: augers for drilling holes, small ice-fishing flies, painted decoys, and tip-ups flags that come up when a pike or Mackinaw trout bites.
Framed vintage ice boating photos look cool in a winter cabin. What's an ice boat? It's a boat with sails and runner blades that skims across a frozen lake faster than the wind, sometimes reaching speeds in excess of 100 mph. "A stern steerer model gives a vintage feel," says Deb Whitehorse, wife of longtime ice boater and renowned carver and painter, Harry Whitehorse. (The stern steerer class was the first type of ice boat raced in the United States. It has a rear steering rudder like a regular sailboat, and a small sail in front of the mast.) "Heck, if there's room, full-size DN class ice boats can be hung from a ceiling much like a canoe," says Deb. (The 12-foot-long DN is the largest ice boat, so named because it was the winner of a 1937 Detroit News competition.)
Old winter sports gear is readily available in winter resort area stores from Bangor to Nome, or via the Internet. For local color, select items manufactured in your area e.g., Tubbs skis and snowshoes for a Maine woods retreat, Strand skis or snowshoes for a Wisconsin chalet, etc. The same goes for photos or paintings of your region in winter, along with posters of nearby ski resorts.
As always, there are the familiar hunting grounds including antique stores, estate sales and eBay.
Best of all, though, are the items you retrieve from the attic. These are the ones that spark memories and inspire fireside tales of family legends.
So whether your passion at this time of year is snowmobiling, mushing or cross-country skiing from your cabin's back door, let the world or at least your guests know.
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