Role models are not just for kids. They're as important to us aging Baby Boomers. During a frigid holiday weekend in Canada, I noticed seven happy French-speaking skiers busy buckling ski boots. They appeared athletic and vital. It wasnt until one turned that I realized he was over 70, as were the others. They were ready to go, as I sat thinking twice about layering up. They shamed me into skiing and inspired my desire to age like them. Last winter, I skied with the Snowboomers at New Yorks Whiteface Mountain. With the name Snowboomers, a group of about 20 hope to attract the newly retired. The group was formed three years ago and has an average age of 70. They meet twice a week for a total of 20 snow sports lessons. Alpine lessons are given on Tuesdays. On Thursdays, they switch to learning x-country. For many, this was their first experience with x-county skiing. I joined them for both an alpine and x-country day. My expectations were off base. I assumed the lessons would be about toning down speed and challenge to accommodate an aging body. This group proved a lifetime of exercising is the key to remaining agile. At my alpine lesson, the group was split in two. The other group took off with instructor, Nancy Colon. My group skied for several hours stopping just long enough for Instructor Ed Hale to give us pointers and a practice task. I saw no difference in the physical skills of this group compared to others I ski with. Although, one guy did say he turns up his hearing aid before putting on a helmet. It could be life long exercise builds not only physical strength but also the mental attitude to overcome physical obstacles. My group skied non-stop, top to bottom on Skyward, the mens 1980 Olympic diamond downhill run. Do seniors learn skiing differently then the younger set? Nope answered alpine instructor, Ed Hale, just before telemarking down Skyward in perfect PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) form. Telemark skiing is also known as "free heel skiing." Lets leave the explanation on telemarking to requires more effort and coordination. Ed, by the way, is in his eighties. On a less pitchy slope, we practiced 360s to learn more about edge control. The lesson gave me new moves to work on and an upbeat perspective on aging. Before writing about Thursdays x-country class, let me that in the past, my total lack of control skiing on x-country toothpicks without edges resulted in repeated injuries. I went to class anyway but immediately informed my new instructor, Joe Kahn, about the anxiety. Joe began our practice inside and taught us to glide from one foot to the other. He spoke about keeping your weight on your heels, exactly the opposite of my alpine muscle memory. It was comforting to see a ski patrol jacket on one of the group. Naturally, I stayed close to her. We started skiing by exchanging our poles for plastic soda bottles. The bottles were used to show how arm swing affects the skis glide. For the first time, I was learning to x-county ski. According to Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, skiers are staying in the sport longer. The newly retired are more active and staying fit well into retirement. As a result, U.S. skier visits were up in 2006 from 2005 by 3.5 percent, setting a record 58.9 million skier visits. 7.9% of the U.S. population that skis (6.8 million) is over the age of 55. That number is a 30% jump from the previous seasons 5.9. The number of skier visits has continuously grown for the last five years up to the 06/07 seasons. Due abnormally warm temperatures and below average snowfall, U.S. skier visits were down in 2006/07 seasons by 6.9%. Putting aside last season, several factors are contributing to the upward trend. Older skiers are staying with the sport longer because equipment has gotten lighter and easier to use; snowmaking and grooming have made snow conditions more consistent or gentle; clothing has gotten lighter, warmer and more comfortable; but most importantly Baby Boomers are seeking multi-generational recreational gathering places to lure their adult children. Snow sport resorts are tailoring areas to meet this growing opportunity. Most ski resorts now offer year-round activities for all ages ranging from snow tubing to golf. Lodging is going up to meet every size group and contain every amenity. The boomer generation is refusing to get old. They fight aging by staying active and with the help of medical advances. Its now commonplace to replace knees or hips, have a facelift or fat removed. Given the Boomer desire to keep their youthful lifestyle, it makes sense to take note of youthful seniors. Seniors that remain energetic, enthusiastic and physically fit make chronological age irrelevant. Peggy Blazer is one of the Whiteface Snowboomers with an enthusiastic outlook that shines with years. Last year she celebrated her 80th birthday and was hoping to ski eighty days but the weather wasnt cooperating. Skiing with the Snowboomers was inspirational. I saw in the group how attitude and physical fitness affect quality of life. At least part of the equation in aging has to do with choices and mine is to stay active, join a group for support and ski until I can no longer get my boots buckled.
Winter Ski Groups and Clinics for age 50+
Peaceful Valley Road, North Creek, NY 12853 Phone: (518) 251-2411 Ext. 1005
Fabulous 50+ is a two-day clinic on Jan 26-27 or Mar 15-16, 2008 Cost is $239 or $179 for pass-holders More Fun at 50+ is a one-day clinic on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2008 Cost is $135 or $100 for Pass-holders Whiteface Mountain
Rt. 86 Wilmington, NY 12997 Phone: 518.946.2223
Snowboomers Club offers group lessons for all ability levels of alpine and nordic skiers age 50+. Cost for season is $335 Daily guest fee $25 per time and fee does not include lift ticket. West Mountain Ski Resort
59 West Mountain Road, Glens Falls, NY 12804 Phone: (518) 793-6606
Syls Super Seniors (ages 50+) Group lessons for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities age 50+. Begin each session with a continental breakfast in the lodge. Six consecutive Thursdays starting January 10, beginning at 10 am with a 5-hour lift pass. Lesson are 1 1/2 hours and costs $198.