The risks and rigors of recreational skiing and snowboarding will always make them activities dominated by young folks, but there are powerful reasons to keep hitting the slopes for those at age 40, 50, 60, and beyond. Some resiliency is required, but snowriding is truly a sport for a lifetime. The veterans out there will be able to relate to much of my rationale, but I feel it’s my duty to apprise the younger demographic of a charming factoid: skiing remains really fun even with wrinkles, gray hair, and some worn body parts.
A quick search with Google reveals that approximately one-third of the current snowriding population is over age 45. Supposedly, this group is on the increase as a percent of the total. In recent years, however, I’ve lost some of my closest skiing contemporaries to the demands of life, injury, or dare I say it, advancing age. So I feel the urge to proselytize. What follows, from an average skiing joe ensconced on the AARP junk mail list, are my top ten reasons to keep on skiing or snowboarding into the golden years. The notional terrain I cover awaits many recreational snowriders with a little luck, persistence, and passion to keep goin’ big.
Could be much higher on the list, but I personally haven’t yet leveraged age to save on ski related costs. My father did before arthritis finally forced him to hang up his boots in 1994 at age 75. During his last few skiing years he enjoyed sneaking up to the newly-opened Whitetail on weekdays to catch a few free hours of over-70 slope time. I know there are organizations out there such as www.go50.org that work hard to capitalize on this angle. Connie Lawn wrote an article for DCSki not long ago on the ageless appeal of skiing. It drew a detailed comment by a retired poster named Dicky Do who attained ski-cheap hero status by working an ingenious combo of senior discounts and weekday specials to finagle “10 days of downhill skiing, 2 days of cross country skiing, 2 days of cross country rental gear, and seven nights lodging for the grand total of $291.00.”
If you hold a season pass and ski 50+ days a season, you already have a very legit winter exercise program. But even for the many of us in the mid-Atlantic that are lucky to get to the hill a dozen times a season, ski fever can have beneficial effects on overall health. Just the thought of my precious few annual ski days is enough to motivate me to pursue a moderate, if sporadic fitness regimen throughout the rest of the year. The pride and joy of laying down a few well linked turns keeps me pushing through many an off-season swim, jog or bike ride. Last fall as I readied for an early season ski trip to Colorado, every climb on the local bike trail induced my exercise mantra, “first day at altitude.”
Like they say, in the end all that really matters are family and friends. I’m not much of a social butterfly and skiing has been a useful facilitator for a number of fine interpersonal relationships over the years. As a career civilian, about as laughably close as I’ll ever get to the camaraderie of war was in 1997 when a couple of ski buds and I survived and thrived during a January week of zero-degree temps in Sugarloaf, ME. Thank God for hot tubs, those modern day fountains of rejuvenation. And there is nothing like a long ski road trip for catching up with old friends. Ten hours in a Chevy flies by when you’ve got to discuss ten sports, twenty women, and thirty years of skiing memories.
No doubt, as you pass through life you take more time to stop and smell the roses. Where better to ponder the beauties of God’s creation than from the clarity of a mountain peak? And it doesn’t have to be from a cable car climbing the Matterhorn during a $2,500 ski trip (not that there’s anything wrong with that). During a January cold snap in the marvelous mid-Atlantic winter of 2003, a friend and I had a great day ripping down groomers at one of the Snow Time Inc. resorts in Pennsylvania. The temperature was 15 degrees Fahrenheit, but the sun was out, the snow was good, and there were few others to share it with on that weekday. We spent several lift rides discussing how most folks our age were probably indoors cursing another harsh winter day, while we were bundled up warm and reveling in some of Ullr’s finest blessings.
Kind of goes with #6. I think as you get older the neat places and new faces that skiing brings your way gain even greater richness. The city of Santa Fe, New Mexico has to be one of the most memorable cultural stops I’ve made during my skiing sojourns. The food, architecture, and feel of Santa Fe are light years from dinner at Applebee’s. The historical and melodic aspects of my ski trip to the Austrian Province of Salzburg a couple of years ago were just amazing, more than enough justification for the trip alone. Then there are the lift ride conversations - everywhere. You can’t go wrong with a captive audience that loves doing what you love doing.
You may not get religion on a ski hill like I did last year with my church group at Bryce Mountain’s lovely slopeside chapel in Virginia, but you can find peace and spiritual nourishment all around the ski world. While driving to Wisp, MD I’ve seen a heavenly manna of frost all over Frostburg. I’ve parted a sea of perfect corn during the spring at Massanutten, VA. I’ve seen the light radiate from evergreens drooping with a foot of freshies at Snowshoe, WV. I’m pretty sure I found Nirvana one day on a powderfield at Smugglers Notch, VT. Injuries, aches, and fatigue are a fact of life for older skiers, but a good prayer life can help overcome many obstacles.
There are fewer and fewer things that take me back to the unabashed gleefulness of childhood and when I get that frisky feeling, I’m more grateful than ever. Thankfully, the bliss derived from cutting up some freshly rolled corduroy or poaching a leftover powder line does not diminish with age. I spent last Christmas Eve on a ski slope with my family. That was MY Christmas present and I wore a big, tacky elf hat and a smile all day. My 15-year old daughter was mortified, but another thing about old fogies, they don’t embarrass easily when acting silly.
Like a romantic interlude between aging spouses, the joy of skiing can get better with time. The heart pounding intensity may not be quite the same, but soulfully savoring the aggregate rewards of a lifelong love delivers the ultimate sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.
Husband, father and retired civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim's ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism's Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article.