We're well into summer now, with long lazy evenings and sunshine and vacations, but still, you know you just can't stop thinking about klister -- how it smells when it's heated, how it sticks to your fingers and gets in your hair, how it can totally make or break an icy day -- and you wonder: who ever made up the idea of klister? Wonder no more, little friend. Per Johnsen has the answer, in an article he translated for Faster Skier back in 2002. Thanks for sharing this with us, Per!
An Ode to Klister and Its Pioneers
April 22, 2003 By By Gunnar Kagge, Translated by Per K. Johnsen
By Gunnar Kagge (Published in Aftenposten 4/16/03)
Translated by Per K. Johnsen, Kongsberger Ski Club, Seattle
Klister is synonymous with "Easter in the Mountains in Norway" in red, blue and universal. To smear klister onto the skis is hard enough, and to remove it is worse. But the worst is to cook one’s own batch.
For those of us who take the spring ski trip into the woods around Oslo, klister is literally a "mixed" experience, especially in late spring. The skis need to be cleaned each time. We scrape away enough pine needles for a Christmas tree and enough dog shit to fertilize a planter box. Still, without klister we would have missed out on that great orange on the hilltop before Kikut, the rest at Rolighaugen, and the candy bar at Spålen. The mess is simply necessary. Actually, we ought to send a few thought of gratitude to those long gone klister pioneers, as they stride diagonally through the eternal trails.
The Klister Patent
Peter Østbye was a professional. The young lad beat the legendary Lauritz Bergendahl in the Holmenkollen 18K in 1914. Everyone assumed that he was hiding a secret – he was, and he took out a patent on it. In his patent application it indicates that he mixed paraffin wax, resin, Venetian turpentine, and shellac. The product was to give grip in the uphills and good glide on the downhills.
But during the first years the klister was expensive, and it was difficult to sell many of the tubes as long as there were amateurs who had delusions that they could cook their own. In Krokskogen, near Kampen in Oslo, a ski club was called Mix, named after a klister concoction they had put together from bees wax, resin, melted phonograph records, and bicycle tubes.
I regret to report that this is a procedure I haven’t tried yet. But actually, a few years back I made a raspberry jam that reminded me of red klister, both in color and consistency. I also have a mother-in-law who makes sauces that probably give good grip on ice and crust, and stick perfectly to the roof of your mouth. But I have never purposely set out to cook klister.
To find descriptions of home cooking of klister you need to search the literature, and we find some in published Norwegian memoirs. From these, three stand out: The philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe’s "Daredevil Joys", the journalist Bjarne Jensen’s "Woodsmen and Practical Jokes", and the humorist Kjell Aukrust’s "Simen". Each one spells out in detail the self-made problems of getting into klister cooking, and the difficulty of getting out of it.
Zapffel realized as early as 1919 that you needed more than pine tar on your skis. But at that time, the Østbye klister cost 2 kroner per tube (about 30 cents). He figured that a little applied home economics could lead to substantial savings. Several other ambitious young men had arrived at the same conclusion. "The sons of the new day cooked klister in the catacombs," writes Zapffte.
Not exactly in the catacombs, but in the landlord’s kitchen. Lars, a good friend, came by one evening when the landlord was out, and he brought two liters of tar in a milk pail. In addition, he had a tube of klister as a sample of the final product. The theory was that one could smell one’s way to the right ingredients.
As a start, they realized that tar and resin was needed. The pail of tar and a container of heat-proof glass with resin were placed on the stove. Lars insisted that he could use his olfactory skills for the rest. Zapffe was sent out into the hallway to fetch the landlord’s galoshes, and to the living room to gather a few phonograph records. This was classical waxing and Beethoven seemed a logical choice. They also threw in a little shellac, before the cupboards were raided for butter and a little honey. And finally, they tossed in a couple of aspirin.
Zapffe could have used the aspirin the next day. When the mixture reached the boiling point, the resin was to be poured in, on the red-hot stove. "This was better done slowly that easily," writes Zapffe. The glass cracked and the resin spread over the stove and onto the large pail of the mixture. It boiled over and ignited. Then all hell broke loose.
But the author kept a cool head.
"Lars wanted to wash off the stove with gasoline, but after a few syllogisms from me, he agreed to extinguish the fire first." These "firemen" first tried the landlord’s lap robe from a chair in the kitchen, then the curtains. Finally they yanked up the living room rug (that is when the vase broke) and were able to douse the flames. The damage came to 1200 kroner, or about 600 tubes of Østbye Klister.
It didn’t go much better for Bjarne Jensen and his brother. These opportunistic lads waited until Mom and Dad were out of the house before they started up in the kitchen with tar, paraffin wax, records, and old bicycle tubes. As Zapffe and Lars learned before, the devil is in the details. Everything went well until, as a final flourish, they decided to put the dot over the "i", in the form of half a bottle of nail polish. Then it blew. The klister spread itself, over most of the ceiling. Young Bjarne had to make do with purchased tubes of klister after that episode.
According the humorist Kjell Aukrust, his brother was the one who got closer to the goal than anyone without risking life and limb. Nevertheless, the mixture had a strange rubber smell during the cooking, and it bent spoons and forks into spirals when he attempted to get it out of the pot. The real difficulty came when he tried to get the mixture into old toothpaste tubes.
Don’t Try This
The Brothers Jensen were never able to get the klister off the ceiling and onto the skis, thereby depriving them of the next step in the process, as described by both Zapffe and Aukrust. Aukrust reported that in Alvdal they had to resort to solder irons to spread out the mixture.
"The rubber bubbled and ran along the ski in giant globs – but it gave perfect grip on the uphills. Simen (Aukrust’s brother) ran the ramp to the barn on his skis both up and down. The skis grabbed snow and sizeable pieces of sod."
To remove the klister was harder than to apply it. Aukrust discovered one of klister’s damnations: "Wool cookies and tufts of hair stuck between the fingers." Zapffe describes similar aggravations: "What we had on our hands was fairly easy to rub off on the pants. It was harder to deal with what was in our hair and the inside of our shirts. It was especially bad when one of the skis slipped and fell onto the bed spread, and had to be cut off with scissors. That really hurt the glide."
Youngsters with initiative have probably already discovered that this article contains several recipes for klister. They need to be aware of the need for old 78’s. Neither CD’s nor LP’s can be used. But contemporary bicycle tubes will probably work. But as they say on TV: Don’t try this at home.
Better to depend on klister you buy and, Have a Good Tour!