Retro ski suits are making a comeback on the slopes. Here’s why.

Whether its tight one-piece ski suits or block-print neon numbers, fashion has boosted the cachet of winter sports.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Three men model 1970s uniforms for the U.S. Ski Team during the Vintage Skiwear Fashion Show at the Alf Engen Museum at Utah Olympic Park in Park City on Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

Park City • The model strode down the catwalk outside the Alf Engen Ski Museum looking like John Travolta in “Urban Cowboy,” only more glamorous.

The wide collar of her white, lightly padded jacket came to a point at the shoulders. Blue denim swaths and red gingham checks accented the triangle snap pockets and the wide cuffs, which gave way to stoplight red, leather workman’s gloves. Underneath the outfit, made by Levi’s in 1977, peeked a pair of form-fitting, boot-cut denim overalls.

Skiing in jeans has never been so appealing.

Each winter, ski resorts and industry associations spend countless dollars on marketing and promotions to bring people into the sport. Sometimes, though, the same task can be accomplished by something as simple as a pretty coat or a pair of well-fitting stretch pants — perhaps in a blue jean pattern.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) A model shows off a ski outfit design from Levi during the Vintage Skiwear Fashion Show at the Alf Engen Museum at Utah Olympic Park in Park City on Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

(Julie Jag | The Salt Lake Tribune) A model shows off vintage ski wear at a fashion show kicking off Ski History Week held at the Alf Engen Ski Museum in Park City on Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

“I don’t know that people think of fashion or fashion shows as promoting the sport of skiing, but they do,” Barbara Alley Simon, aka the “First Lady of Ski Fashion,” once 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”

Decades after her own fashion shows brought national attention to slope styles, Alley Simon sat in the front row Wednesday watching dozens of the vibrant, vintage outfits she’s donated to the museum parade down the catwalk. Other ensembles — some blindingly bright neon, some combining classic colors and chevrons — came from designer Wini Jones, who also served as the event’s MC, and private collectors.

More than 200 people, several of whom once held a role in the ski fashion industry, attended the show, which served a dual purpose. It kicked off Ski History Week and raised money for a $388,000 museum remodel that, in part, makes room for the display of more vintage ski apparel.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Barbara Alley Simon, sometimes referred to as the "First Lady of Ski Fashion," stands in front of some of her favorite designs displayed in an exhibit at the Alf Engen Museum at Utah Olympic Park in Park City on Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

The clothing display already enjoys a prominent spot at the entrance to the museum. That coincides with what Connie Nelson, the ski museum’s outgoing director, said is a close-knit relationship between ski fashion and the sport’s popularity.

“Ski fashion has really helped bring awareness to the sport,” she said, “and encouraged people to go have fun in these great outfits.”

Alley Simon got her start in the fashion industry through events like this. With the encouragement of Jerry Simon, a promoter and U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame inductee who would become her husband, she held her first fashion show at a ski show. The shows grew in size and complexity, evolving from mannequins to models to trained dancers. She eventually created a TV tour called “What’s New in Skiwear” that ran for 11 years and gained appearances on the “Today” show and “Oprah.”

In 2020, she joined Simon in the Hall of Fame when she was inducted as a “builder” of the sport.

“My favorite ones were fabulous and colorful,” Alley Simon told The Tribune on Wednesday. Parkinson’s Disease has made her more feeble than when she was touring, but she still lights up when she talks about the designs. “But they also had to be technically sound, because they have to keep you warm.”

That’s what made winter apparel so interesting to Jones.

She designed for Roffe Ski Wear for 30 years before retiring in 1996. Now serving as the vice president of the Ski History Association, she offered a glimpse behind the scenes of the design process. Once, she said, she asked 3M for an insulated stretch fabric. They gave her a light version of a filter that they’d made to stretch over a car engine.

In her endeavors to create wearable, functional art, however, she did hit a few snags.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Models show off ski outfits from the 1960s during the Vintage Skiwear Fashion Show at the Alf Engen Museum at Utah Olympic Park in Park City on Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

Retailers wanted to return neon outfits, for example, because the colors faded so quickly that after a week in the display window, the front was a different shade than the back. Working with someone called the Senior Bunny Mother at a Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, led her to design her popular “cutout bust” jumpsuit. And once, after buying thousands of yards of a nylon print for an outfit that didn’t sell well, she said had no choice but to offload it to an umbrella company.

In addition to being on the cutting edge of the ski wear fashion industry, both Alley Simon and Jones could be considered at the forefront of an upswell of women’s participation in winter sports.

Over the past decade, women have accounted for roughly 40% of visits to resorts by skiers and snowboarders, according to both National Ski Areas Association and Snowsports Industry Association statistics. However, the overall number of visits has been growing, which SIA said in 2016 accounted for a 7% jump in women’s participation. Moreover, 60% of new skiers last year were women, according to the NSAA.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) A model carries matching ski gear during the Vintage Skiwear Fashion Show at the Alf Engen Museum at Utah Olympic Park in Park City on Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

Nelson said there’s probably a reason luxury brands like Coach and Prada now sell ski and snowboard gear, and why bright, even iridescent, fabrics and one-piece ski suits are making a comeback on the slopes.

“Products go where the money is,” Nelson said.

“[Fashion] has brought attention to the sport because it’s fun,” she added. “And it might have really encouraged a lot of women to go try it, because it’s typically seen as a man’s sport, and it isn’t. It’s for all of us.”

Maybe ski fashion isn’t just a fad. Maybe it’s in our jeans.

The Alf Engen Ski Museum is seeking donations to help it pay for its two-phase expansion, the first phase of which is underway. Visit engenmuseum.org to donate.

Correction • March 27, 12:45 p.m.: This article was corrected to state that John Travolta starred in “Urban Cowboy.”