Klaus Obermeyer: Celebrating 100 Years of Life and 70 Years of Innovation
As Sport Obermeyer’s CEO, Obermeyer goes into the Aspen office most days, that is if he isn’t on the slopes skiing
In 1947, after moving to Aspen from Oberstaufen, Germany, Klaus Obermeyer founded Sport Obermeyer at the age of 27. Now, after turning 100 years old on Dec. 2, Obemeyer is being celebrated for the innovation he has brought to the industry over the past 70 years.
Obermeyer first relocated to Aspen at the request of his friend Friedl Pfeifer, the founder of Aspen Skiing Corporation, who he knew from Austria. Pfeifer wanted to turn Aspen into a ski town. At that time, Obermeyer left his life as an aeronautical engineer to become one of eight ski instructors in Aspen — now, he says, the town has over 300 ski instructors.
“Our effort has been successful,” Obermeyer says of his and Pfeifer’s legacies in Aspen. “The downside is it’s hard to find parking.”
Quickly after arriving, Obermeyer saw that the gear used on the slopes was deficient and he used his background as an aeronautical engineer and natural innovator — he made his first skis at age three, nailing his boots to wood from an orange crate — to “make skiing safer and more fun,” he says. "That’s when the company started.”
During the company’s next 70 years, Obermeyer is responsible for the creation of the first prolonged ski brakes, the first alpine sunscreen (Sportana), mirrored sunglasses — that held out UV rays were shaped so “you could ski 60 miles-per-hour and you didn’t get wet,” Obermeyer says, adding that this was before the invention of ski goggles — double-lensed goggles and more. Not only did Obermeyer invent these technologies, but he worked with factories to set up manufacturing processes required to make them.
Each of these innovations has helped build the ski and outdoor industry that, today, massively contributes to Colorado’s economic prosperity. The outdoor recreation industry as a whole generates $37 billion in consumer spending annually, accounts for 18.7% of all jobs in the state and contributes an estimated $62 billion annually to Colorado’s GDP.
Obermeyer talks to Gov. Jared Polis at the 2020 Outdoor Retailer Snow Show. Gov. Polis wished Obermeyer a happy birthday after an exuberant greeting, in German.
Over the years, Obermeyer has been massively recognized for his contributions to the industry. Among other honors, he is the recipient of the National Ski Hall of Fame Medal of Honor (1997), a member of the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame (1997), Aspen Hall of Fame (2001), the Colorado Business Hall of Fame (2015) and in celebration of his recent birthday, had a ski run in Aspen re-named after him (Klaus’ Way).
Today, Obermeyer still serves as the CEO of Sport Obermeyer and goes into its Aspen office most days, that is if he isn’t on the slopes skiing. Obermeyer goes out to the mountain on “any good day,” he says, adding that these days, “skiing is easier than walking.” And on a day when Aspen gets more than 6 inches, he is joined on the slopes by his employees who, as part of their employment, don’t have to go into work until noon on snow days.
Sport Obermeyer sells outdoor gear and apparel for any type of outdoor enthusiast, made out of the company’s Denver factory warehouse. The company today is still adapting and innovating as the industry does, including joining the industry’s push toward sustainability. The 2021 Sport Obermeyer collection features jackets made out of 20 to 30 plastic bottles, in partnership with Repreve. In addition, the company’s Aspen office is run by 75% solar panels.
The company has survived and thrived for 70 years in a rapidly evolving and increasingly competitive industry, due in large part to Obermeyer’s dedication to skiing and outdoor recreation. “When I first started [Sport Obermeyer], I had no idea it would be this successful,” he says. “You start aiming and making things better and what you aim for you get. I had a huge opportunity and it ended up as successful as Aspen.”