An Ode to Klister and Its Pioneers

FasterSkierApril 22, 2003

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

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

Cooked Klister
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 gathers 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 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!

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