Holubar Mountaineering, Boulder, Colorado

at the top among the very first Gear Pioneers

HOLUBAR BOOK: My book about the history of Holubar was published late October 2009 and revised in 2013. It's the third book in my History of Gear series. It was honored as one of the year's best "Local History" books at Chautauqua in Boulder, Colorado, and given a rave review by famous Gear tester Larry Amkraut....Click here to go to a Book Review. Or you can Click here to go to page bottom. At page bottom, you click on the link provided. (French) Mon dernier livre de la série historique de train est sur la montagne Holubar du Colorado. Mon éditeur fait un bon travail d'expédition internationale. Allez au bas de la page où vous pouvez cliquer sur le lien dans site Web l'éditeur de mon.....My first book in the series was about Frostline Kits ( Please visit my FROSTLINE PAGE (click here) .) The second one was about GERRY Mountain Sports (click here)-- ("GERRY, To Live in the Mountains") .....A fourth book has recently be released; it's about the very early days of one of the 1960s company that made it big, and is still a very prominent name. I'm referring to MSR of Seattle/Tacoma, USA, Mountain Safety Research). The title is "MSR, Defying Tradition." SLACKLINES AND BOULDERING AND SLACK LINES AND SLACK-LINING SPORT.


THE HOLUBARS: Immediately after World War II, Colorado was a ripe market for a business targeted to mountaineers and skiers. In Boulder, Colorado, Alice and Roy Holubar officially opened for business in 1947 by purchasing a business license.... Roy and Alice had met as Juniors in High School, and were fellow students at Colorado University (CU). Roy graduated in 1936 in engineering and taught there until the demands of Holubar Mountaineering became too great in the later 1960s.

During the late 1940s, they catered to the equipment needs of Roy's companions in Colorado Search and Rescue, and to the needs of the hundreds of 10th Mtn. troops who had either stayed, been a part of Camp Hale, or migrated to Colorado after World War II... One climber remembers that in the late 1950s you'd walk down a walkway at the Holubars' house on Grandview Ave, go through a gate into the backyard, and enter the basement via a stairway to find Alice hard at work sewing!


Please Note: All Material in these pages is copyrighted, and no usage of my written or pictorial content is permitted unless explicit permission is granted. Much of the material on this page is derived from interviews and correspondence with ex-Holubar employees.... Others: if you were involved with one of the old-line, vintage gear companies and have a story to tell in these pages, please contact me soon.....Sponsors: if your outdoor company is interested in sponsoring this site, please contact me for details. Publishers: my books are published with "POD" technology, which has freedoms but leads to relatively expensive books; thus, The History of Gear Project is seeking a traditional Publisher.


Images: above, the small image in black and white is the front cover of 1950 Holubar catalog, which was Holubar's first catalog. The cover portrays The Maiden, a spire above Boulder in the Flatirons, an early ascent of which Roy had participated in.... To the left, with the big logo, is the cover of the 1971 Holubar catalog. The cover is emblazoned with the "Pryamid" version of the company logo, which first appeared in the '63-64 catalog, and emphasized the company's appeal to mountaineers and climbers.

Holubar Mountaineering co-holds with GERRY Mountaineering the title of the very first of the innovative outlets for modern American-made climbing/camping gear in the United States.... In fact, Jack and Joan Stephenson of Warmlite were inspired personally by the Holubars upon the occasion of their 1955 honeymoon trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The couple had suffered through a cold, miserable trip until Roy and Alice took the youngsters into their Boulder home and "turned them on" to custom down gear of the highest order. The Stephensons returned to California inspired, and began their own "business in a basement" (Warmlite link).

Their influence did not stop with the Stepensons... In 1962 Bob Swanson rolled into Boulder looking for work. GERRY Cunningham did not have work for him, but Bob found welcome with Alice and Roy at Holubar, and worked for them almost a year. Then he moved back to California, where he went to work for Trailwise, met George Marks there, and in 1965 the two of them founded the famous company called Sierra Designs!

In the Holubar home, Alice, a brillant woman with a Master's degree in German, was "the brains of the outfit," according to Lou Barnes (see below). The image to the left is from the couple's 1950 catalog, which was their first one......Sometime in the early 1950s, Alice began to design and sew and sell featherweight sleeping bags that were quantum leaps ahead of what other American camping firms were offering. She used the best quality down and enclosed the fluffy stuff in the cutting-edge modern new shell material called "nylon," at first a luscious type called "French" nylon, and later very lightweight 1.5 oz. ripstops... Many detractors worried that the lightweight new material wouldn't be strong enough, and others were sure it wouldn't be downproof, but gradually over the years the detractors became believers, and by the late 60s everyone was packing sleeping bags made of nyon. At first Alice sewed with nylon that was war surplus parachute cloth for the baffling, and luscious "French nylon" for the shells. In later years she used modern ripstop nylons.

Roy, who was a math professor in the Engineering Department at Colorado University, had gotten a business license in 1947, and had been importing European gear like Molitor brand boots, and many items of climbing hardware; eg. Salewa, Grivel, and Stubai. In those very early times, circa 1950, Roy did not like Goldline rope, and instead supplied his customers, especially Mountain Rescue, with a made-in- America white, laid 3-strand rope named "Columbian."

Author's personal Holubar connections--- as a poor college student in 1972, it took me a long time to save up enough money for a premium down bag, but when I finally had enough, the choice was clear, and I purchased one of Holubar's premium down bags, in a winter weight, for $137.00. Its 1.2 oz. ripstop nylon shell was a beautiful blue, and it was so sensuously soft, puffy and WARM that I left it out unpacked in the living room just to find excuses to feel it on a daily basis....Its name was "Royalight," which I found out years later was an acronym for "Roy," "Alice" and "lightweight." It was the perfect name choice for such a sleeping bag-- it was very light and it was worth a King's ransom and it was a bag to treat royalty with, oh, and it was a royal shade of blue to boot......I miss that bag! Keith Jimmerson (see below) still fondly owns and uses his Royalight bag, believing it has lost little of its impressive loft even after 30 years! John Whitbeck and his wife both still use their Royalight bags year-around..... Years before the Royalight bag, my very first Holubar product had been their A-framed Mountain Tent, which was the "Royalight," model I (one). It is seen below during a blizzard-plagued snowshoe trip in 1967. We found the tent to be cramped for two guys in winter conditions. Although strong, it did not use use modern, lightweight ripstop nylon in the canopy; instead it used Holubar's own creation, NP-22 (similar to 60/40 cloth, which came along many years after Holubar began using NP-22)... The NP-22 created a tent that was somewhat heavy and opaque-- thus the tent was very dark and glum inside at night or during stormy conditions...On the plus side, it was not supplied with a rain fly, which was basically an outdoor umbrella for the tent, as it was supposedly not needed...Years later, manufacturers wised-up to the use of cheerful orange and yellow tent canopies, which helped to prevent "tent fever" among expeditionary climbers trapped for days at a time in their tents by severe conditions.

Four Selected Holubar "Firsts"

I. VIBRAM SOLES FOR CLIMBING BOOTS--- Look down at your feet next time you go hiking or climbing. Even if you're wearing the new-fangled VFF footwear (Vibram Five Fingers), you have Roy Holubar to thank! During the late 1940s, Roy's determined efforts brought the new European "Bramani" climbing soles (later generically known as "Vibram") to American climbers and hikers. Within a couple years more his lobbying efforts helped convince Goodyear Rubber of America to start manufacturing them. Roy offered a service where you'd send your boots to him, and he'd take them to a Boulder cobbler, then send them back to you with your choice of Vibram sole installed, all for $6 plus shipping! Of course, Roy also imported an elite selection of the best European boots with brands such as Molitor and Kronhofer.

II. 60/40 Cloth vs. NP-22 and Origin Story of the classic "Mountain Parka"--- Oral history states that Alice was perhaps the first person in the U.S. to commericially sew and sell garments made of 60/40 cloth, such as the famed Holubar Mountain Parka; however, the most reputable insider sources are totally clear that for some 15 years Holubar used its own innovative fabric, a nylon-cotton blend, which up until 1961 they called "Everest-type nylon-pima," and renamed to "NP-22" in their 1961 catalog. It was 50% nylon on the "warp," and 50% pima cotton on the "weft," with the "NP" probably standing for "nylon-pima" and the 22 standing for 1/2 nylon and 1/2 cotton. They sold many of the NP-22 parkas to Colorado Mountain Rescue (Rocky Mountain Rescue Group)... .Image: NP-22 parka worn by author's relative in 1972, sporting the trademark optional leather shoulder rappel patch; this orange-ish color began to be offered in 1970 for the first time.... ... Alice's use of a cotton/nylon blend in a shell parka design pre-dates the founding of Sierra Designs by over a decade (SD is well-known as the company which originated THE "60/40 Parka," in the late 1960s).... Keith J. relates that he donated one of Alice's early NP-22 mountain parkas to the Neptune Mountaineering Gear Museum. If you are in the Boulder area, the extensive gear/climbing museum put together by Gary Neptune is a true "MUST SEE." --Note: in about 1972-74, the company shifted to using 65/35 cloth, which they called "Storm Cloth." Of course their parka was still tailored and sewn to their insane levels of craftsmanship. Holubar could not have succeeded without the superb sewing skills and commitment to perfection of first Alice herself, and then later key sewing personnel such as Janet Folden (and other names that are included in the book about Holubar, released late October 2009).

 

 

III. Sleeping Bag Design: arguably, Alice Holubar, as one of the very first people in the USA working in nylon and down, created designs and set standards for everybody who was to follow. Among the firsts Holubar can claim are bags that draped the sleeper in a wonderful warm embrace due to the use of a purposefully non-differential cut. Alice also perfected the use of the "V" baffle and longitudinal baffle construction. Such inner construction, coupled with the innovative down-filled collar (the "Holubar Collar") made Holubar bags the preferred choice of many early Himalayan and Alaskan mountaineers during the 50s and 60s (before most of the big-name Companys like North Face or Sierra Designs had even opened their doors). An interesting story in this regard is about the naming of their down collar, which was called the "Kara Koram collar" for years, until the use was challenged by Eddie Bauer, who also had a line of expedition-oriented down gear (click for more).....Pictured is the Holubar top of the line expeditionary bag, from their 1975 catalog. This 40-below zero-rated monster contained 4 lbs. 3 oz. of superb down and is the only bag I have ever seen that was covered in an ultra-ultra light 0.75 oz. nylon.... In todays dollars, its price seems unbelievably low, a mere $215.00. At least one company insider states that the Ultimate, and also the Paragon clothing below were excessively warm for anything but the most extreme arctic/antarctic/high altitude survival-type conditions!

 

IV. Down Insulated Clothing: Lou stated strongly, "Holubar Mountaineering, (was) a Boulder-native specialty retail chain and catalog house which manufactured possibly the best down-insulated clothing ever made." He described to me proudly the Holubar "Paragon Parka," which was a completely V-baffled expedition parka of the very highest caliber. With the beautiful baffling and a full 30 oz. of top-quality down, this parka was very popular in Antarctica, with Himalayan expeditions, and also was ordered by the military for some of their extreme outposts, such as on the DEW Line. This image of the Paragon is from the 1975 Holubar catalog, where this beauty cost only $155.00. You could also purchase a matching pair of fully V-baffled down pants for $110.00, which could be zipped into a toasty sleeping bag for your lower half!

Many of the Holubar designs are still so popular that when an example comes up on eBay, it gets many bidders and sells for a lot more than it cost when new, 30 years ago! As an example, a pair of ladies down-filled mittens recently sold for $32, with 8 bidders fighting over the privilege of owning them!

 

The End of Holubar

By 1979, Holubar had expanded into a chain of ten retail stores, with storefronts in Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins and in Colorado Springs. There were also five out-of-state locatons: Edina, Minnesota; Salt Lake City, Utah; Phoenix, Arizona; Tempe, Arizona; Santa Ana, California, and Glendale, California (click for detail about the Kelty connection). In addition to the stores, Holubar owned a large in-house manufacturing operation, and a huge kit-selling enterprise (Carikit) that had its own catalog (see image on page bottom , taken from 1978 kit catalog). This kit component challenged Frostline, the giant kit company of the times. And of course Holubar had a robust catalog sales division as well, presided over by Byron Evenson......But only a year or two later, Holubar was gone forever.

THE EXIT OF ROY AND ALICE FROM THE BUSINESS---- In a way, the stage had been set eleven years previously, in 1968. That was when two key events had occurred. The first led to the second. Alice Holubar contracted cancer and passed away late in 1968 (Roy continued to live in their home at 1215 Grandview until his death in 1992)....Earlier in 1968, because of her condition, Roy and Alice had decided to travel as much as they could, and that had meant selling the business, in about March, to an enterprising 25 year old MBA named Jim Kack from North Dakota (born 1941). Mr. Kack wasn't a climber but did enjoy fly fishing and other outdoor pursuits. The picture of Mr. Kack to the left is from the recent Holubar Reunion in Boulder, in July 2008 (image compliments of John Rutkowski).

Jim Kack was the able businessman whose vision expanded the Company vastly in just a few years, with the able assistance of such key employees as Bob McFetridge and John Whitbeck. Soon Holubar became such an exemplary business success story that by 1974-75 it caught the eye of Johnson Wax ("Pledge" wax, "Off" insect repellant; "Edge" shaving gel, among others). Kack sold Holubar to Johnson Wax at this point. Holubar's new owner was truly a corporate giant with many resources and talents, and it purchased Holubar at the same time it was busy buying up a number of other high-quality outdoor gear companies, eg. Eureka tents; Old Town Canoe, Camp Trails packs, and Leonard Rod.

Unfortunately, Holubar did not thrive under Johnson Wax, although most seem to agree that it was no one's fault in particular. Huge amounts of effort were expended for about 4 years in trying to find a financially viable direction for the now-struggling company, but the end was nearing when Johnson Wax took semi-truck loads full of Holubar Kits to its Racine, Wisconsin headquarters in about 1980 and sold them out of the back of the trucks for pennies on the dollar. An economic recession was afoot in the U.S., fueling store closings at about the same time. Sometime in 1980, Johnson Wax made the hard decision to close down Holubar's remaining operations.

In a piece of serious irony, Lou Barnes, the ex-merchandising manager for Holubar, had switched careers and was in Boulder in 1980 working as a real-estate person. It was he who managed the sale of the Boulder holdings of Holubar, which included the retail store on 30th Ave., the Administration headquarters on 55th St., the warehouse, and the manufacturing plant. (Note: the original retail location prior to 30th Ave. had been a much smaller place on 13th St., across from Flatirons theater, a block off campus)..... The real estate proceeds went to the Company's corporate owner, Johnson Wax.......

Enter The North Face

The Pseudo-Holubar Days: The September 1981 "North Face Newsletter" proudly announced its acquisition of Holubar from Johnson Wax; Hap Klopp himself signed the landmark newsletter. The nine Holubar stores in three States, the Holubar name, and all the inventory became North Face's... Greg Grant remembers how The North Face swiftly established itself at the 30th Ave. main store in Boulder, but left all the Holubar signs in place (30th Ave. was the original Holubar store, and had originally also contained both headquarters and the sewing operation). Sometime in 1981, a planned shopping mall forced the closure of the original store, and pseudo-Holubar moved to South Broadway St., and was still using the Holubar name in 1983 when Greg left. ....Greg said, "We would receive North Face payroll checks, but our signs all said Holubar....no one would have known we were owned by the North Face unless we told them." This pseudo Holubar at first was selling many brand names,including actual old Holubar-made inventory, but later "Holubar" labelled garments were really being made by North Face in Berkeley, but in gradually diminishing numbers. It remains unclear at this point in my research exactly when "Holubar" labelled gear stopped being manufactured and sold by North Face. Eventually, though, the Holubar name seems to have been let to die by North Face. (The North Face itself was later absorbed by a major corporation, click here for details about its fate)

But former Colorado Springs Manager Bob Clemen has a final Holubar report, "One interesting twist -- when I was back in Colorado Springs in 1990 for a High School Reunion, I discovered that a couple of people had resurrected and licensed the old original Holubar logo, and they had opened a Holubar store in one of the shopping centers there. No relation to the previous company except for the name and the logo. I have no idea if the store is still there." As a sidenote to this story, I will note that the Colorado government site that lists businesses and their registered names has NO listings for "Holubar," and those listings generally go back at least 15-20 years, so we can conclude sadly that "Holubar" as an official business name in Colorado is no more.

R.I.P. Holubar, 1947 to 1980, or shall we count the pseudo-Holubar as the real deal? In which case it becomes R.I.P. Holubar, 1947 to November 21,1985, when the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper announced that the "Holubar" sign on the Boulder store was coming down and being replaced by "The North Face" signs... Some might think the "Thanksgiving" timing was in poor taste!.....But then again, maybe the ghost of Holubar is still alive and about to open a store somewhere in Colorado! You decide!

ENTER THE ITALIAN HOLUBAR (2009-present)

But Holubar is too good a brand to just die forever. In 2008-09 I began to work with an Italian clothing company (Fritz s.r.l.) seeking to bring back the heritage of a great American outdoor brand. Based in Northern Italy in the city of Pordenone, they chose Holubar.... Fall 2011 will be their second season of exciting Holubar-labelled jackets and parkas, all with the love of the Holubar tradition modified for the fashion consciousness of Italians and other Europeans. See their website at www.Holubar.it (it's in Italian, but you can view the jacket styles; don't miss the selection of about 50 pictures that show most of the classic Holubar catalog covers, as well as selected pages therefrom!).


CONTRIBUTORS: Lou Barnes described to me many of the Holubar "firsts," and he should know. Lou is the former Merchandising Manager for Holubar, and was with the Company from 1973 to 1978. While Lou was with the Company, he scored several industry-wide firsts in design and product mix. A second contributor has been Bob Clemen, who worked several Holubar stores between 1976 and 1980, ending up managing the Colorado Springs store under Bob Peto. A third contributor has been Greg Grant, who knew Roy Holubar; Greg worked under John Whitbeck in the Boulder store, 1979-80, and went on to work from 1980-83 in the pseudo-Holubar store in Boulder that was really owned by The North Face! (see below). A fourth contributor has been Keith Jimmerson, who worked in the Denver store on Exposition from about 1969 through 1978. John Whitbeck has also been a contributor; John had managed the Boulder GERRY store on Pearl St, and then was hired by Jim Kack in late 1968, after Alice Holubar's death; this was soon after Roy and Alice had sold the company to Jim Kack (see below). Most recently, I have spoken with Charlie Lincoln, who joined Holubar in 1973 and had risen to General Manager before North Face's take-over in the late 1970s. Even more recently, I have spoken with John Rutkowski, who was Store Manager at the Salt Lake City store, and later at the Glendale, CA store when Holubar bought the Kelty store there. After Holubar closed down its factory, John began Mountain Mend in Boulder, and did Holubar warranty work. Interestingly, he and Charlie got together at this time and sewed up the last dozen Ultimate bags (see image below); they used the nylon shells found when the factory closed down.


Gerry Cunningham (click for two full pages about GERRY) This innovator and climber also lived in the Boulder area. He was one of the very early pioneers, and founded his company in 1946, the same year as Holubar Mountaineering....... Gerry C. was a veteran of WW II and was 84 years old when I established contact with him in 2006. Notes: "GERRY" is a well-known brand which continued to produce gear, mostly clothing for skiers, for many decades after Mr. Cunningham left the company in 1971. Recent Labels such as those on the left claim that the Company's location is in Seattle; the explanation of course is that GERRY (the company) was long ago absorbed by a big corporation.


Please Note: All Material above, and in all my "History of Gear" webpages, is copyrighted, and no usage of my material is permitted unless explicit permission is granted by me, Bruce B. Johnson, owner of OregonPhotos.com. Some of the material above is derived from interviews and correspondence with ex-Holubar employees.... Editors: Please contact me if you have interest in publishing....Others: if you were involved with one of the old-line, vintage gear companies and have a story to tell in these pages, please contact me soon.

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Holubar Kits, aka "Carikits."

To the left is an image showing the complete front and back cover of the 1978 Holubar Mountaineering Ltd. Kit catalog. Prominent on the skyline are Boulder's famous "Flatirons," a climbing/hiking mecca right in the backyard of the Holubar offices/stores in Boulder. The string of hikers are all Holubar employees! Can anyone identify any of these folks?


 

This Page last revised 07/16/2014


Historical Detail. During the mid-late 1970s, Holubar's Jim Kack/Johnson Wax and Kelty's Dick Kelty were carrying selected products in each other's retail stores. Camp Trails packs were part of this mix, too, through the ownership of Johnson Wax. As Kelty grew larger, its stores, and Camp Trails' stores, moved into Holubar management, eg. Kelty's Glendate location and Camp Trails' Phoenix location. Thus, when the end came for Holubar, it had some out of state stores under its management that also needed to be closed down.


HOLUBAR BOOK. Just click here, and you will be able to preview and purchase my 90 page lavishly-illustrated Holubar book. While on my publisher's site (www.Blurb.com), you can also preview/purchase any of my other History of Gear books. Note: Alternatively, you can contact me directly and purchase an autographed copy for somewhere between 10 and 25% higher price (depending upon what special publisher promos I'm able to access at the time).