The Heli-Ski Blog

How a WWII veteran inspired ski technology

Posted by Topher Donahue on Aug 21, 2012 8:10:00 AM

We’ve all stood in awe, watching one-legged skiers navigate a steep run; the outrigger skis on poles carving alongside the one ski, their single ripped quad absorbing G-forces, the balance of the skier making our own bipedal battles with gravity seem trivial. 

But who had the idea to try skiing with one leg in the first place?

And what is the story that led to such a fantastic pursuit for so many people?

Well, I just found out.  And it’s an even better story than I’d ever imagined:

Paul wins bike race 1938It started with a cyclist, skier and speed skater named Paul Leimkuehler.  After competing in the 1936 Olympic cycling trials, he left his beloved world of sports and travelled overseas to fight in WWII. 

Leimkuehler found himself in the legendary Battle of the Bulge, considered by many historians to be the greatest battle in the history of the US Military.  Emerging with his life, but missing a leg, Leimkuehler returned to the United States and a different world.

With the motivation of a professional athlete, Leimkuehler committed the rest of his life to making life better for amputees.  After designing his own artificial leg, he started the Leimkuehler Limb Company in 1948 and went on to develop a system that would allow him to return to the slopes.

Rather than try to ski on his artificial leg, he designed small outrigger skis to be fastened on the end of poles, so he could stand on his one leg and balance with the outriggers.  This is the same method amputee skiers use today.

Leimkuehler went on to star on the lecture circuit, become part of the National Ski Hall of Fame, the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, and the National Disabled Skier Hall of Fame. 

paul leimkuehler

But that’s not the biggest news. 

Now, his granddaughter, Katie Leimkuehler, is working on a screenplay about her grandfather’s life.  The trailer for the film, “Ski Pioneer” is an inspiring glimpse into the potential depth of the project.  From footage of Leimkuehler racing on his bike, to developing his own prosthesis, to ripping difficult terrain in a ski area with his ski invention, the trailer promises great things.

“It’s about his great life accomplishments from losing his leg in World War II, to overcoming it by creating his own artificial leg, and eventually designing ski outriggers,” she said.

However, the project is yet to receive the support to take the idea from concept to reality.  Katie, a journalist and creative writer by profession, has written the screenplay, but is currently looking for the resources to produce the film. Check out the captivating trailer here:

Any intersted film producers or ski history afficionados can contact Katie through her website.

Topics: Ski Heroes, ski film, adventure, Announcements, resort skiing