The Dawn of Down Parka

Inspiring an Industry

Klaus Obermeyer and his down parka

It was 1947. Intrepid aeronautical engineer Klaus Obermeyer landed in Aspen from the Alps with the warmest down comforter his mom could stuff in his bag. Because, of course… “They wouldn’t call it NORTH America if it weren’t cold, Klaus!” But as a passionate ambassador of the burgeoning sport of skiing, Klaus spent most of his time out of the central heat and on the mountain… with no use for Mom’s comforter.

Back then, however, staying warm skiing looked nothing like it does today. Before there was such a thing as dedicated ski apparel, skiers would wear long woolen city jackets, which were unwieldy and couldn’t be worn while actually skiing. Worn only for the fifteen minute lift ride up the mountain, skiers would then hang their long coats on the lift chairs for transport back down. Yet while the run down was a swift five minutes, it took the coats fifteen to reach the basin, and the temperatures made the wait intolerable. This meant a very cold, often damp ride up the lift every other run… and a solution was sorely needed.

It was during one of those frigid rides up Lift One when Klaus and a regular student of his, movie star Gary Cooper, fatefully turned to each other with the same shivering conclusion - there must be a way to design a warm jacket tailored for skiing, that need not be taken off at the top. Without thinking too deeply about where this might lead him, Klaus eagerly eyed the fluffy white comforter his mom had packed him, and grabbed a pair of scissors.

After a furious night of cutting and stitching, Klaus had formed a comically puffy, white button-up jacket out of the comforter. Admittedly not couture, the rounded arms and broad torso were reminiscent of the Michelin Man, and on the jacket’s maiden voyage down the hill, Klaus was fed a breakfast of feathers as they flew from the seams in every direction.

But it worked – he enjoyed an incredibly toasty ride up the lift and an equally warm, effortlessly comfortable run back down. Gary ended up borrowing and later buying that first jacket, leaving Klaus to refine and formalize the design. But with that, the world’s first Down Parka, Sport Obermeyer was born.

And while neither Klaus or Gary Cooper quite realized it at the moment, that fateful lift ride, and the one-off jacket that resulted from Klaus’ comforter, would forever change the course of skiing. The sport itself would grow leaps and bounds, and the ski apparel industry would go on to become a behemoth, thanks to that down parka’s unparalleled warmth, ski-tailored comfort, and inspired ingenuity.