you have bound volumes or collections of old ski magazines, please consider
donating them to ISHA for inclusion in our reference libraries. A tax-deductible
donation or bequest will help us produce a better, more useful, more entertaining
magazine. Email email@example.com to
arrange for a pick-up.
Bill Kirschner, 87
Founder of K2 Skis died April 23
Vashon, Wash. -- H. William Kirschner, 87, the founder of
K2 Corp., died April 23, 2006, of pneumonia.
Bill Kirschner was born in Seattle in 1918 and graduated in 1939 from
the University of Washington with a degree in engineering. He married
Barbara Rankin, and spent the war years managing a mine in Idaho. Following
the war he worked in his grandfather’s garage on Vashon Island,
and with his father and brothers founded a business making veterinary
splints and cages from chew-proof fiberglass. Kirschner Manufacturing
became a world-wide supplier of cages for research labs.
Bill was an inveterate tinkerer and inventor. He began experimenting with
fiberglass skis during the 1950s, building a series of prototypes, most
of which came apart when tested at Crystal Mountain. In 1961 he tried
a wet-wrap process that worked well when he skied on the trial pair at
Sun Valley. He took this concept to A&T, the Seattle-based ski manufacturing
and distributing company, and they agreed to distribute the Holiday. In
1964, the Vashon shop delivered 250 pairs, then 1600 in 1965. In 1967
the ski factory incorporated as a separate business, as K2 Corp., named
for the Himalayan peak and for the two Kirschner brothers, Bill and Don.
In an era when the European ski factories Dynamic, Rossignol and Kneissl
built fiberglass skis by "armor plating" stiff hickory slalom
skis, Kirschner designed the light, resilient foam-core K2 Holiday. The
idea was to sell a ski that would work well in soft Western snow. He took
the market by storm.
In the spring of 1968 Bill hired Chuck Ferries to develop a line of racing
skis. Ferries had recently left his job as coach of the U.S. women’s
team, and he began sending prototype skis to Marilyn Cochran for testing.
Building skis to Marilyn’s specifications quickly led to success:
In 1969 Marilyn Cochran won a World Cup GS on a pair of K2's race skis.
By 1971 K2 had set up its own distribution system and severed ties with
Of his working relationship with Bill, Ferries said “We got along
so well. He was a genius kind of guy. He really understood what he was
doing. He’d been through the trial and error and knew his process
inside and out. The word ‘no’ was not in his vocabulary. No
matter what you wanted, he said ‘Yeah, I can do that.’ At
the end of the day he’d figured out how to do it.”
At one point, for marketing reasons, K2 decided to put red-white-and-blue
plastic on both the top and bottom of the slalom skis. Each of the three
colors had a different coefficient of elongation. As the skis cooled after
molding, they warped. “There was no way to make a straight ski,”
Ferries recalled. “But Bill solved the problem.”
“He was a soft-spoken, kind, nice person,” Ferries said.
Eager to build fiberglass skis, Howard Head is said to have
offered to buy the K2 factory. Vashon Island legend says that Kirschner
responded "Let's talk," then put off talking for several years.
In 1972, in order to finance rapid growth, Kirschner sold controlling
interest in the company to Cummins Inc., an Indiana-based manufacturer
of large diesel engines. Cummins helped the factory achieve worldwide
distribution, but then sold the company to a group of Seattle investors
headed by Jim Garrison. Bill stayed on as chairman of the company throughout
this period. At the height of its success, the Vashon Island factory employed
about 750 local people.
Kirschner retired in 1982 and began building high-end fiberglass fly-rods.
Bill was always interested in efficient engineering solutions. He had
his suits retailered so he could put a highball glass in the breast pocket.
This freed his hands during ski industry cocktail parties.
In 2001 Bill was inducted into the U. S. National Ski Hall of Fame, honored
as "one of the great ski entrepreneurs of the 1960s, the golden years
of the United States ski business." Bill received the 2005 Distinguished
Service Award from the School of Engineering at the University of Washington.
K2 Corp., now a U.S.-based public corporateion, now operates factories
around the world and is among the largest manufacturers of ski, snowboard,
baseball and paintball gear. It still employs 220 people on Vashon Island.
Kirschner is survived by his wife of 66 years, Barbara, his sons Bill
Kirschner and Bruce Kirschner, of Vashon Island, and his daughter Becky
(husband David) Pendleton of Vancouver, British Columbia. He also leaves
behind his grandchildren Brad, Victoria, Kimi, Kalie, Elly and Greg, and
five great grandchildren. --Seth Masia
OF ISHA, THE INTERNATIONAL SKIING HISTORY ASSOCIATION The
International Skiing History Association is a not-for-profit corporation,
whose mission is to preserve and advance the knowledge of ski history
and to increase public awareness of the sport's heritage.
530 Cheese Factory Rd., So. Burlington VT 05403 802-863-2511 x2020 Skiing Heritage, 133
South Van Gordon St #300, Lakewood CO 80228 303-987-1111