Tony Vagneur: Don’t discount the over-80 skiing crowd
Several years ago, we were sitting around a large dinner table in the second floor, large-windowed dining room of one of those mountain cabins built for the view and not the Feng shui of the customary configuration. My remark that Chamonix was on my list of places to visit, at least for a snowy, winter month, was met with a reply from a more wizened skier, an experienced world traveler, who said, “Go whenever you feel like it. Age is not a factor — you can ski at any age.”
That was at least 10 years ago. The European snow that winter was sparse and my interest wasn’t aroused. “Age is not a factor — you can ski at any age,” keeps ringing in my ears. Chamonix is still on the list, but now it’s on the other side of St. Bernard Pass from my main destination — northern Italy. One of these days, maybe.
The day after Thanksgiving, this year, an older gentleman shuffled through the cider line at the ambassador embassy near the top of Aspen Mountain. Steve Wilhite, ambassador-supreme, had it under control from the start, explaining that said skier was a young 90 years old.
“It’s been 15 years since I’ve skied,” the elderly man said, “and I only have two free days this trip, so I’m using them to ski.” He gave us the cursory rundown about his home in ever-temperate Hawaii and no matter, he said it was good to feel some cold air on his face and snow under his feet.
I watched him shove off, a man who clearly knew how to ski, a little shaky maybe on his first trip down the mountain on shaped skis. Later, spying him on the Sundeck, I teased him about taking time out for lunch knowing he only had two days to ski.
With a genuine smile, he gave me an unprintable remark in exchange, followed up with the explanation that it had been a great morning and he just needed to recharge for what he expected to be an exciting afternoon. “I’d like to come back later this winter,” he remarked with a lit-up face.
On another day this winter, a single, 86-year old skier decided to come along on my history tour, which already had a hotshot ski pro and a well-known ambassador signed up. “We’re not gonna ski anything too tough, are we?” he asked. “Not today,” I replied, eyeballing his randonee bindings and other backcountry gear. “You’re just right.”
He was fearless, not intimidated by his tour mates in uniform, and off we went. As he and Tim, the ski pro caught up to us at Buckhorn Saddle, Molly the ambassador exclaimed, “He’s making telemark turns!” Yes, he was. Molly and Tim begged off at the bottom of No. 3, and John the old-timer and I continued down the mountain.
We’d hit a little slick stuff, then some clumps of manmade, and I’d stop after a hundred yards or so, checking on the strength of his legs. Finally, about halfway down Spar, he said, with a wry smile, “You don’t have to stop so often. My legs are strong — not so sure about my mind.”
Fittingly, as I explained the story behind the Compromise Mine, he asked a thousand questions, indicating that his mind was every bit as supple as his legs. His parting shot, as he poled off with a grin: “This was fun. I’m going to do a lot more skiing this winter.”
As the marketing gurus burn the midnight oil and drudge over their charts and demographic spread sheets, darting here and there for more information, they should think about those two older skiers mentioned above. Neither of them had skied in years, but the desire, the love of the sport hadn’t left them, and they finally had to give into its pull.
They came directly to Aspen Mountain, because that’s where they remembered the action to be. “Over 80” might be the fastest growing group of serious skiers in the market today.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Like the trails we hike and ride upon, our forest journeys can be capricious, going down an intriguing path, unintended in the beginning, but bringing a sweet, or bitter, experience before we’re through.