Skiing: A Lifelong Sport
Aspen Times Weekly
I was skiing with John Kerby-Miller, who at 70 years of age knocked off 60 days of skiing annually despite his radiation therapy. We unloaded from the lift at the top of the Sugar Bowl ski area in the Sierra Nevada when John spotted a familiar skier who was gazing at the view. Kerby said, “Let me introduce you to the oldest skier I know.” Ellie Sharp, 94, had skied Sugar Bowl since it opened in 1939.
After introductions Ellie announced that she was trying to decide whether to stay another day. Storm clouds were gathering and she wanted to ski powder. Her alternative would be to return to her home near Sacramento to hunt ducks. Ellie’s two passions were hunting with her eight dogs and skiing with her younger friends. She often delayed beginning her ski season until duck season ended for the Sacramento delta.
After we all agreed a storm was likely, she decided to stay for powder and pushed off down the slope. I watched her for a few turns before beginning my descent, she skied so fast that I did not catch up with her until we were half way down the run. Ellie credited her continuing skiing career to having played tennis through her 80s plus daily doses of Wild Turkey.
Alan and Joy Best skied with Ellie that day. As members of the Marin Ski Club, they trekked annually to Aspen from the time they were teens. Now in their mid-80s they chart their ski day with an altimeter watch. Most weekdays they do not return their skis to the locker until they log 20,000 vertical feet.
One of Aspen’s best examples of an elderly skier was Aspen Highland’s ski instructor Max Bote, who continued as an instructor into his mid-80s.
Bote learned to ski while he was in the Swiss Army, from Fred Iselin’s father, who was one of the first Swiss Army ski instructors. Trained as an engineer, but unable to find work in his native country, Max immigrated to Chicago. From there he frequently traveled to ski areas with a ski club. On a visit to Aspen he became enamored with the town and, despite objections from his wife, bought an East End home. Skiing was Bote’s passion, so when Fred Iselin began his ski school at Aspen Highlands, Bote retired from his engineering career to join Fred’s ski school.
Bote showed up to teach at Highlands every day. You could spot him at the Merry-Go-Round restaurant with a glass of red wine, smoking a cigar. When not instructing, he entertained everyone at his table with delightful stories. Max claimed that his longevity was due to a healthy diet, but his sweet tooth remained as active as he was.
Senior skiers are more numerous than you might expect. The 70+ Ski Club, which convenes at Snowmass the first week of February, grew from a few founding members in 1977 to a national organization boasting several hundred skiers in their 90s, 5,000 in their 80s and more than 10,000 in their 70s.
Ski areas formerly enticed seniors with free or discounted tickets. As the number of seniors has grown in this country, the age of entitlement has increased. Skiing Heritage recently published a list of 103 ski areas offering senior discounts. Sunlight is the closest ski area to Aspen that offers free skiing to septuagenarians. More popular ski areas set the bar higher at 80: Alta, Mammoth Mountain, and Taos.
It warms the heart (but not necessarily the body) to consider carving turns well after turning 70. Perhaps a few pills and a couple of hours of Pilates can help us to extend skiing to a lifelong sport.
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”