Ski jumper, inventor

Passing Date: 
Saturday, November 14, 2020

Peter Florjančič, the prolifically inventive ski jumper who patented the endless-carpet ski deck (among 400 other patents), died November 14 in his home town of Bled, Slovenia. He was 101 years old.

Florjančič was born in Bled, where his family owned several resort hotels. At age 16, he competed as a ski jumper for Yugoslavia in the 1936 Olympics at Garmisch. In 1943, when most of Yugoslavia was under German occupation, he avoided conscription into the Werhmacht by traveling to Kitzbuhel on a pre-posting holiday. According to biographer Edo Marincek, he and a friend staged their own deaths in a springtime avalanche on the Hahnenkamm – both to avoid pursuit and forestall repercussions for his family. They got a ride to Schruns, skied across the ridgeline into Switzerland -- a climb of about 2,400 feet -- and were interned at a refugee camp in Bern.

At the camp, Florjančič invented a simple wooden loom that could be operated by an amputee. The government bought the invention for 100,000 Swiss francs (about $335,000 in today’s coin). Relocated to Davos, Florjančič set up a factory to manufacture tweed. In Zurich he met a model and actress, and she became his wife, Verena. They had two daughters. While living in Davos, in 1945 he devised his patented treadmill ski deck and sold the device itself to an American.

In 1946 the family settled in Monte Carlo, where encounters with wealthy visitors led to financial backing for many more innovations. Over the years his successful inventions included a miniature purse-size perfume atomizer (1947), a line of injection-molding machines (1964), and the plastic frame for 35mm slides (1972). Selling and developing his inventions took him to the United States and around the world. In 1959 he moved to Villach, Austria, to be near Bled (Tito's government had confiscated his family's properties there), and set up a factory in Garmisch, Germany.

In 1998, Florjančič returned for good to Bled, where he was a local hero. –Patrick Thorne

See Florjančič recount his ski jumping career and escape to Switzerland.

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