I am dedicating this month’s Vertical Runway Report to my ski fashion idol and trailblazing mentor, Barbara Alley Simon.
On April 4, Barbara will receive the United States Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame’s first Women in Industry Award to recognize her more than 50 years of dedication to alpine fashion. This award, which will be given annually, provides recognition to the outstanding women whose lifetime contributions have helped shape the U.S. snowsports industry.
The recipient of this award is a pioneer of the industry who has made an extraordinary impact through innovation, product design and functionality, fashion, marketing or any area within the industry. Barbara’s love of snowsports, the mountains and fashion spans decades, and I am thrilled that her incredible contributions to the growth of the snowsports industry are being recognized.
She always has been a head-turning beauty who has never shied away from breaking through glass ceilings and empowering other females to challenge the status quo, and ultimately, themselves. Barbara’s journey from fashion student and glamorous model to the fashion editor of Skiing Magazine and producer of nationally televised ski fashion shows is incredibly inspiring. Her next-level zest for adventure led her to not only ski the world but also climb mountains such as the Grand Teton and the Matterhorn. She has flown airplanes solo, made many parachute jumps and never allowed others to quell her exuberance for challenging herself.
After graduating from the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina, Barbara studied fashion design at the esteemed Parsons School of Design in New York City and learned to ski in her 20s at Snow Valley in Vermont. She fell in love with the sport and became a weekend ski instructor at Hunter Mountain, where her good looks and style caught the eye of her future husband, ski show pioneer Jerry Simon.
Barbara had posed for a photo at the fall 1967 ski show to promote a February 1968 pro race. Simon spotted that picture in the Hunter base lodge and wondered how it had been taken at the ski show without his meeting her. He turned around and saw her across the room, and the connection for both of them was immediate. They would go on to marry at the top of Jackson Hole, but first there was work to do.
Barbara was selected to manage the fashion booth at the 1968 ski shows, but there was a problem — no one stopped at the booth to ask about the 6-foot slides on display. Jerry solved that problem by creating, with no budget, a live fashion show utilizing the slides as background, and calling on exhibiting ski shops to supply sponsor-dressed employees as models. Barbara was a natural narrator at her fashion shows and never used a script or notes. With each season, Barbara’s ski fashion shows grew in size and scope. She brought in performance by hiring dancers as models and choreographed fashion presentations that wowed audiences and drove sales for the brands that she featured. “I don’t know that people think of fashion or fashion shows as promoting the sport of skiing, but they do,” she said. “Seeing good-looking people in appealing outfits certainly attracts attention, and it is my personal conviction that stretch pants played a great part in the growth of skiing. Everyone looked sexy in them … and wanted to try this new sport of skiing!”
Her passion for ski fashion and presenting it to consumers led her to take a live choreographed ski fashion show to local and then national TV shows. Barbara and her troupe of ski fashion dancers appeared on popular shows such as the “Today Show” and “Oprah.” For many years she also produced and styled the fashion shows at the Snowsports Industry America conventions, the most important annual gathering of snowsports industry leaders.
From 1974-80, Barbara was fashion editor of Skiing Magazine and later was the ski fashion editor at Snow Country Magazine. Over the course of her career, she collected and preserved hundreds of pieces of ski fashion and accessories. In 2014, The Barbara Alley Collection of “30 Years of Ski Fashions” officially opened at the Alf Engen Museum in Park City, featuring 65 accessorized outfits plus TVs screening 11 years of TV fashion shows and a display of fashion pages on mens’ styles, which Barbara produced/wrote for “Skiing History” magazine. Since its initial installation, the museum expanded the exhibit to 70 outfits with 350 assorted accessories.
Olympic gold medalist Donna Weinbrecht donated a one-piece Bogner to the exhibit and has this to say about Barbara: “I love the forward-thinking spirit of fashion, style and enthusiasm that Barbara has brought and continues to bring to the skiing lifestyle with her zest for and love of life.”
Today Barbara lives in Las Vegas, and while she had to give up skiing for health reasons a few years ago, she still travels the world seeking new adventures and excitement. Beloved and respected by the industry, athletes and those who understand her tremendous contributions to alpine fashion, Barbara Alley Simon is my fashion hero.