Over the hill… but still on top | AspenTimes.com

Over the hill… but still on top

This winter will mark Klaus Obermeyer's 85th on skis. (Jordan Curet/Aspen Times Weekly)

The winter of 2007-08 will mark 85 years that Klaus Obermeyer has been on skis. And finally Im learning how, said the agile 87-year-old who is quick to smile and gleefully yodels at the drop of a hat. Born in Germany, Obermeyer has been addicted to that zero-gravity feeling of snow skiing from the age of 3, when he first strapped on two barrel staves (which he had to tie to his knees to keep the tips turned up) and headed out into the snow.Before we really could turn, we would jump, Obermeyer said. Its a wonderful feeling about skiing is that zero-g feeling.And those barrel staves took him far. Obermeyer would move to Aspen and in 1947 started what would become the Obermeyer brand of skiwear.And its that same feeling he enjoys doing high-speed airplane turns on wide groomed runs today.There are very few days that I miss, Obermeyer said.He skis Aspen Mountain most days, usually by himself and going from top to bottom on every run. His favorite runs are Point of No Return and Strawpile.I ski nonstop everything, Obermeyer said.And the secret to his health? I swim a half-mile every day, Obermeyer said.The weightlessness of swimming allows his body to stretch from all the pounding of his other sports: Biking, windsurfing and tennis (Obermeyer takes to the court every day at noon in summertime).The most important thing is not to eat more than you burn off, Obermeyer said, adding that staying trim allows people to enjoy their later years.In life, you have the choice of perception. You have the choice as to how you wish to perceive whats going on around you, Obermeyer said, a philosophy he learned from years practicing the Japanese martial art of Aikido.And hes always had his compass set to positive.Every time he rides up the lift, Obermeyer is grateful for the chance to be out in nature and for not having to walk up the hill as he did in the early days, he said.Its like a fairy-tale land out there, Obermeyer said. You become one with the mountain one with the universe. And riding the lift allows him to ski as much as 30,000 feet per day and get all the zero gs he can.Every time I ski down the mountain, I learn something, Obermeyer said.As a member of the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame, Obermeyer has a pass to any ski area in the state.And though he skis alone quite often, Obermeyer said sharing the slopes doubles the pleasure.And, as an instructor, hes brought thousands to the sport over the years.Asked about his plans for the future, Obermeyer said: You ski in the real snow and then you ski in the clouds. Charles Agar

It seems as though Jim Ward has always been one of those guys who has a hard time standing still. Even getting him to sit still for an interview proved a challenge. Its no surprise. From his earliest days in Aspen, back in 1964, until his current semi-retirement at the age of 72, Ward has been a skier, a hiker, a river rat and a desert walker.Arriving with a work ethic derived in part from his time as a Boy Scout, Ward worked with Dave Farneys Aschcroft Mountaineering School, teaching kids about the backcountry; was an early member of Mountain Rescue Aspen; and once was director of the 10th Mountain Hut Association.When hes not lending a hand to a friend, or climbing around on his own roof doing repairs, hes often making plans for one backcountry excursion or another, or returning from one.For instance, in the past couple of years he has gone on two different weeklong backpacking trips in Utah, one in the Escalante Canyon country and the other in Grand Gulch, with the Colorado Mountain Club.This year he and others floated the Yampa River while it was at low-flow, about 300 cubic feet per second, repeating a trip he had done a year earlier with his wife, Faylis, and their kids.It was low-water and rocky, it rained … it was the best damned trip ever, he recalled with glee.Ward also has done 11 float trips down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, including one seven years ago when he rode in a replica of the boat used by explorer John Wesley Powell in the first descent of the canyon in 1869.In 1990, when he was a youthful 55, Ward ran the famed Biobio River in Chile.In 1998 and 99, when he was still a relative youngster at 63 or so, Ward spent two months living at the South Pole, plus a month before and afterward at McMurdo Station. He was invited on the trip for a couple of weeks on the strength of his electrician skills, but ended up staying much longer after the previous electricians got into a brawl and were ejected from the facilities. Ward grew up in Minnesota, in a small town that was not far either geographically or metaphorically from the hometown of Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame. It was in Minnesota that he first learned to alpine ski, but it wasnt until he got to Colorado that he took up cross-country skiing with a vengeance.His first trip, in 1968, was from Aspen to Crested Butte on wooden skis, with the daughter of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and a few others and hes been at it ever since. During the 1970s, he was partners with Chuck Fothergill in an outdoor-equipment shop, where Fothergill was in charge of fishing gear and Ward was in charge of backcountry skiing. And while he was running the Diamond J Guest Ranch on the Fryingpan River, in the 1980s, he initiated a cross-country skiing program that dovetailed with the 10th Mountain trails development.Ward has been a busy man, and he still is. He continues to do boat trips, and hes a member of the ambassador program on the local ski slopes.And, of course, he still goes on as many backcountry hut trips as he can manage, with two in the works for the coming winter.These days, he stressed, hes very involved with the Colorado Mountain Club.Its a really active group, he said of the club, pointing to recent group excursions to Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon, a sea-kayaking trip to Lake Powell and other activities, as well planning for future hiking, boating and skiing or snowshoe trips. John Colson

The bike ride up to the Maroon Bells is no simple feat, but its a whole different deal when youre 81. Thats the story of Patty Epler, who still tackles the ride to the Bells every now and then. I dont like to climb as much as I used to, said Epler, who lives in Snowmass Village. I rode up to Maroon Lake one day this summer, and it was kind of tough.Epler grew up in California but moved to Aspen in 1967. She still hikes, skis and bikes on a regular basis. In the warmer months, she bikes to Carbondale from her house once a week. I have a mountain bike but I dont really mountain bike anymore, like Moab and stuff, Epler said. I use my mountain bike now if Im going to be on a trail or uneven surface.Epler hasnt ever been competitive, although she used to take part in local running races. Nevertheless, she has accomplished some impressive feats, including a 54-day bike ride across the country in 1998.But for Epler, its more about just getting out and doing the things she loves to do. Im not some whiz on a bike, I just get on and ride at my pace, Epler said. Im not tearing around like a lot of young people around here. I just get out and go.In winter, Epler still gets out on the hill on a regular basis, usually on Tiehack. She enjoys skiing there because there are fewer people and the snow stays less cut up later into the day. And while she doesnt hit the moguls or terrain park, Epler will definitely get into the powder if theres some fresh snow. Im 81 and proud of it, Epler said. When Im riding my bicycle, Im never unhappy and I never feel old. You dont ever have to feel old. Joel Stonington

Dusty Hamrick came to Aspen in 1969 to escape Chicago and a period of fierce social conflict. I came on a lark and was never intending to stay, said Hamrick, who will turn 70 in February. I decided to stay for a while. It turned into a lifelong thing.In nearly four decades since arriving in Aspen, the Illinois native has worked as a waitress at the Crystal Palace, the Wienerstube and Little Annies, and started her own seamstress business. She even survived a bout with breast cancer in 1986.I happen to be a fighter, Hamrick said. The more trouble I get into, the tougher I get. Im very thankful and very blessed.While she relishes her low-profile, carefree existence these days, Hamrick is still going strong. Now, its on a bicycle. Her fondness for sport, one forged playing basketball and softball while growing up in a small farming community, has developed into a two-wheeled obsession. Shell soon log her 3,200th mile on her road bike since March. Its common to see Hamrick pedaling up and down local roads on excursions to Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. But this passion extends far beyond the valley. Hamrick has taken part in Ride the Rockies on numerous occasions and has toured California, Vermont, Canada and Texas on bike. Two summers ago, she was one of 20,000 to take part in the Registers Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa the worlds longest, largest and oldest touring ride.And when she travels abroad, Hamrick always ships her bike. Four years ago, she completed a 28-day trip around New Zealands southern island. And earlier this fall, she and a group of friends toured Eastern Europe, traveling through Vienna, Prague, Bratislava and Budapest.Spain and Italy are on her list for the future.I went to Europe in 1962, and I was vowing to come back soon, she said. I took me 40-something years, but I made it.Hamrick intends to take advantage of the next few weeks before snow envelops the valley. Then shell trade in ski boots for bike shoes and her road bike for her old clunker for those early morning rides from her home on Riverside Drive to Aspen Mountains Gondola Plaza.If shes skiing well, Hamrick indulges in favorite runs like Summit, the Dumps and the Face of Bell. And if not, I take one run and go home, she joked.Hamrick fell in love with skiing in 1961 during a weekend trip with her then-boyfriend. She said that, even now, she still has a lot to learn.I loved skiing and when I came to Aspen I felt rather proficient, she remembered. Then I came down Little Nell I wouldve killed my mother not to have to go down Little Nell. I had a lot to learn. In fact, Im still in ski school every winter.Hamrick insists she has found no secret, no fountain of youth that keeps her charging on road and snow. Rather, she merely enjoys good friends, good rides and her good fortune to the fullest.Theres not a secret, Im just lucky, she added. And I take full advantage of it. Jon Maletz

Talk about elderly role models Glenwood Springs runner Paul Driskill is displaying true grit and tenacity this fall that athletes of any age would want emulate.Driskill, 70, was nearly killed Sept. 22 when an unknown motorist plowed into him on a dark Glenwood side street and left him for dead. He suffered a brain injury, broken neck, broken ribs and his elbow bone poked out of his skin. No arrest has been made.Driskill was lucky to survive. And now the fanatical runner has set his sights on pounding the pavement again.I think Ill be back at it again, he said while recuperating at home. Im walking now. I walked three miles this morning.Driskill, a retired schoolteacher, is legendary in the lower Roaring Fork Valley for his dedication to running. He is spotted running in all conditions. Driskill has a long white, somewhat unkempt beard, and he often wears socks on his hands during cold weather. He sticks to himself.Driskill said his pre-accident routine was to run nearly every day, roughly 15 miles. He took no days off except for illness. He figures he exceeded 4,000 miles annually. Hes been running for more than 30 years.He also had a competitive streak. He competed in events up and down the valley. The Senior Games, which are held annually in Grand Junction, are his favorite event because he could compete in events of various lengths.Convalescing hasnt been easy hasnt been easy for such an active guy. He was in the hospital for five weeks before finally returning home in late October. He is in physical therapy three days per week, and the walks are easing his antsy-ness.His goal is to is participate in the Turkey Day 5K race in Glenwood Springs. He may have to walk rather than run, but he will be there. His doctors dont want him to jar his neck, his wife Jeannie said.He really loves to run, she said. He really hates it right now that he cant run.Jeannie, who also ran before arthritis slowed her down, said Paul has always been in great shape. She has no doubt that his conditioning helped save his life.Driskill has always managed to avoid the aches and pains that so many runners eventually seem to suffer. Ive just been lucky, he said.His wife said he was dedicated to stretching about 20 or so years ago, but thats tailed off. He doesnt have an incredibly healthy diet. Jeannie revealed that Paul likes his sweets. Mental toughness is something Paul has always possessed, though.Driskills family wants him to vow not to run in the streets once he recovers from his injuries. They want him to stick to the bike paths. He reluctantly agreed, but the woman who knows him best isnt certain that condition will stick.He will do what he wants to do, Jeannie said. Scott Condon

In a town where hard-core athletes are as prevalent as polypro, Betty Severy insists shes not particularly competitive in the plethora of running and uphill events that mark Aspens true social calendar.After all, shes 55, the mother of six children and a relative latecomer to running as a competitive sport. Ask her about long-ago high-school athletics and she mentions fencing and a fondness for horseback riding. She doesnt train, per se, though she enjoys zipping up Buttermilks snow-covered slopes in the wintertime, and shell run to the bank from her home near the golf course on the edge of town. She doesnt travel to race, sticking to participation in local challenges. And, she never walks up Aspen Mountain, unless shes racing, but she loves to hike up Highland Bowl and ski down. Trust me, Im not very fast anymore, Severy insists.That depends on ones definition of fast.Check the finish results of Aspens popular endurance events the annual Buddy Five, Americas Uphill on Aspen Mountain, the K-9 Uphill at Buttermilk and Severys name pops up regularly. Though she downplays her speed, now that shes in her 50s, Severy often finishes among the top-five or 10 female competitors despite her age bracket. Shes often older than all of her closest rivals.The 2007 Americas Uphill, the grueling March race up Aspen Mountain on skins, snowshoes or other traction devices, put Severy at No. 56 out of 284 finishers. She was seventh among female finishers and her time 1:01:31.828 bested the lions share of the field, including men and women and some competitors who were half her age.Shes a humble lady and a very talented lady, says Erik Skarvan, a local adventure sports instructor and a fellow competitive uphiller. Betty, she just keeps doing it. Shes definitely a role model for all of us.Severys the matriarch of a running family. Six children all showed a talent for the sport, though some have pursued other interests namely hockey. Many of the Severys have won local races (the typical Buddy Five is a Severy family affair) and running, their mother notes, put three of her offspring through college. Betty Severy first hit the pavement with her eldest son, Chris, who would become a three-time state champion for Aspen High School and an All-American runner at the University of Colorado before his death in a bicycling accident in 1998. Later, she found relief in running when her now-late husband, Charles, was diagnosed with cancer.I would leave the hospital and just tear up Castle Creek Road, either on a bike or on foot, just to calm down, she recalled.She ran her first Golden Leaf Half Marathon, a challenging trail run from Snowmass Village to Aspen, in 1997, but doesnt recall doing particularly well in the race.A year later, Severy surprised herself, and perhaps a few competitors, when she placed first among women overall in the 1998 Americas Uphill. She was 45 years old. I was really stunned, she said.In 1999, she broke the womens record in the event (her mark has since been eclipsed). Fast forward to a year ago in December, and there was Severy with two members of her tribe son Jon and daughter Robin Severy-Pfautz winning team honors in the Aspen Summit for Life event, a nighttime race up Aspen Mountain. (Robin, by the way, was this years overall womens winner of the Golden Leaf, while Jon, a former collegiate runner, won the Buddy Five last July. Daughter Christie is running for CU-Colorado Springs, while children Elizabeth and Patrick took a shine for hockey.)Watch for Betty and Robin at next months Aspen Summit for Life, but the elder Severy will enjoy something more compelling than crossing the finish line.Im not really that competitive, she said. I just like getting out. I like the social aspect of it. Janet Urquhart

Even in a cycling-crazed town like Aspen, youd be hard-pressed to find anyone more dedicated to the sport than Robert Beige Jones.Hes probably logged as many miles on Roaring Fork Valley roads as any cyclist during the last 40 years. He was traveling rough mountain trails between Aspen and Crested Butte before mountain biking really existed. And at age 58, he still kicks ass in the handful of premiere races he targets in Colorado.Jones was into bikes like any good American kid while growing up in the 1950s and 60s. But it wasnt until the self-described science nerd read an article in Scientific American that he became enthralled. The article detailed how the wonderful machines maximize mans efficiency.The cycling junkie gravitated to Aspen in the late 1960s and was able to indulge in his passion. He rode with the Grewal brothers and watched Alexi evolve into a world-class competitor who won an Olympic gold medal in road biking in 1984.Jones started making trips between Aspen and Crested Butte over East Maroon Pass and Taylor Pass in the mid-1970s on a cross-bike. Wilderness areas werent off-limits to bicycles at the time. One summer, he recalls, he made the round trip 15 times while helping a friend construct a house in the Butte.The trips over the rocky trails inspired him to rig his own version of an early mountain bike. I dont remember anyone having a mountain bike except me, he laughed.(That bike eventually was stolen and possibly helped inspire Crested Buttes evolution into a mountain-biking mecca.)At age 58, he isnt slowing down. He puts in about 5,000 miles per year. Anyone cycling or driving downvalley roads in spring and early summer crosses paths with Jones a lot. He said he logs 1,500 miles on the flats before he even thinks of serious climbs. That means covering a lot of ground between his home in Snowmass Village and towns farther downvalley. Hes also a big fan of the Fryingpan Valley. He estimated he made 12 trips up that valley to the end of the pavement this year. Later in the season he is tuned to the point where he can cover Aspen to Twin Lakes and back to Aspen in 4.5 hours.But to truly appreciate Jones accomplishments you have to look at race results.Jones, who races for the Vitamin Cottage Cycling Team, placed third in the 55-and-older category of the American Cycling Association-sanctioned Colorado Road Championships in Salida July 28. He finished fourth the year before in the road race among the best in the state.The other big race he targets is the Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb, a grueling road race up a 14,000-plus-foot peak south of Idaho Springs. It attracts top riders from throughout the region.Jones was seventh in his category this year even though he shaved time off his second-place showing in 2006. But the telling statistic is Jones time is better than the vast majority of younger cyclists in the competitive category.Jones said he doesnt feel his skills slipping. He said he lacks some of the muscle power he once had, but still feels his endurance is at a high level.The race results arent all that important to him. He said he likes getting out on a cycle and clearing his head.I just think riding a bike is good for us, he said. Scott Condon

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