Aspen seniors still skiing after all these years
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – For the 24th straight ski season, a group of powder-loving senior citizens convened on a local mountain this week. However, for the first time since they got together, they were led not by one of their own, but by ambassadors from the Aspen Skiing Co.
Chris Kelly is the ambassador coordinator for the Skico and says the purpose of its all-volunteer program is to interact with guests visiting the mountains and enhance their vacation experience so they want to return. Those who opt to participate with the senior ski group will be doing so on top of their regular ambassador duties, without any extra benefits.
“Skiing with the seniors isn’t directly related to our mission,” says Kelly. “But part of Skico’s overall mission is to be an active part of the community, which means giving volunteer hours, and we are community-minded people.”
“It’s a wonderful thing. This is directly in line with the spirit of the ambassador program,” says Jeff Hanle, director of public relations for Skico.
Mary Barbour, Pitkin County Senior Services’ program coordinator, says participating in the ski group is a way for seniors to socialize and stay young and healthy. Previously they found volunteers – mostly seniors themselves – to lead the groups. But she called Kelly this season to see if the ambassadors would get involved.
“I’m so thankful for the coordination,” says Barbour. “Some of the seniors were not in the mood to be volunteers anymore. They wanted to just be retired, get out there, have fun and not worry about anything.”
Thursday morning, nine skiers met downstairs at Cafe Suzanne on Snowmass Mountain. After a few hugs and a quick powwow about possibilities for how the morning might unfold, everyone made their way out to the Elk Camp lift.
Tom Gardner, an ambassador in his 11th year, and Linda Gerdenich, a 14-year veteran, were the two leaders for the day. “We’re offering our services,” Gerdenich says. “Provided we can keep up with them.”
“If I’m too fast, tell me,” she announces to the group while waiting in the bright sunshine to load onto the lift. “If I’m too slow, too bad.”
The first run of the day was Gunner’s View, and the view was mostly of vanishing skiers as everyone took off like a shot. Phil Cohen, 81, who’s been participating in the senior ski club since its inception, however, grumbled good-naturedly at Gerdenich when everyone was gathered back at the lift that she hadn’t stopped along the way to wait for anyone. In the past they’ve sometimes split into two groups: one faster, one slower.
“Not slow, but a little slower,” explains Cohen.
Even so, he thinks having ambassadors join them will work out moving forward. He used to be one of the leaders, but eventually he and the others “didn’t want to do it all the time,” he says. “There was too much pressure to show up all the time or if the weather was bad, and please everyone.”
On the second run – Bull Run – the group stopped almost immediately after starting.
“There was a yard sale,” Gayl Miller, 63, says. “We had to stop and see if we needed anything.”
Cohen and Miller have been skiing together for 23 years.
“He’s one of the kids,” Cohen says of Miller.
“I used to ski with them just for the hell of it, and now I belong with them,” counters Miller.
On future runs everyone made sure to frequently stop for each other and laugh a lot with each other.
Seventy-six-year-old Valle Fuehrer says it’s a really good, compatible group of people. “We all seem to get along.” And when they haven’t? “She doesn’t ski with us anymore,” Fuehrer says.
They always stop to eat lunch as a group at noon and then usually break up a bit afterwards, although some hang in there until 2:30 or 3 p.m. They meet at Aspen Highlands on Mondays, Buttermilk on Wednesdays, Snowmass on Thursdays and Aspen Mountain on Saturdays.
“They canceled their day at Buttermilk last year because no one was going and instead they were meeting unofficially at Highlands,” Barbour says. “But they brought it back this year to make sure they weren’t being too snotty.”
It remains to be seen if Wednesdays at Buttermilk will catch on this season when they start there next month after the Winter X Games, although according to skier Jackie Kehle, it’s not debatable.
“We’re not wasting our time on Buttermilk,” says Kehle, 72, who has been part of the group since moving to Snowmass six years ago. “I don’t know who goes there, quite honestly.”
However, she is fine with the ambassadors taking over leadership of the group this season, just as long as the focus stays on skiing. “We don’t want to know any history. We just want to ski.”
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