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On The Hill, Not ‘Over’ The Hill; Seniors Have Fun For Less

70+ Ski Club at HunterIf there is one person in this world who could make me wish I were 90, it is Ted Heck. He is living proof that skiers have more fun—and perhaps that they live better as well.

One person whom I would love to thank for a goal of keeping seniors active is (the late) Lloyd Lambert, founder of the 70+ Ski Club in 1977. He persuaded many ski areas to offer free or discounted lift tickets and to organize events to bring skiers together. Today “senior” clubs abound, many starting at age 50.

The number of skiers ages 50 and up on the slopes has been increasing each year while other age groups hold steady or decline. A 2013 National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) survey shows that ages 68 and older averaged 9.5 days skiing in 2012-13 and ages 49 to 67 also skied more than the national average of five times per year. So what’s up?

Seniors are the latest beneficiaries of advances in technology, from shaped skis to modern grooming and detachable lifts that make it easier to participate today. They also benefit from modern medicine — replacement hips and knees make it possible to ski because of operations and devices such as pacemakers that keep people living longer in general.

Combine these seemingly disparate factoids—passion for snow, reduced cost, increased ease, and physical ability—and you have thousands of seniors enjoying snow today.

70+ Club

Nonagenarian Ted Heck represents the passion for snow that Lloyd Lambert didn’t want to see end just because another birthday rolled around or because seniors experienced reduced incomes.
Lambert’s grandson Richard Lambert Jr., current president of the 70+ Club, notes, “Free skiing was essentially the tool my grandfather used to accomplish his real goal, which was to keep seniors active. He hated to see folks wasting away in rocking chairs. Like the seniors who join the 70+ Club today, he knew keeping active was the key to staying healthy.”

The club, with more than 3,000 members nationwide, has a newsletter that lists discounts and shares news and inspiring stories of interest to senior skiers and snowboarders. Trips are offered to different U.S. ski resorts and international destinations along with day events with races and other opportunities to meet fellow skiers.

You haven’t experienced unadulterated exuberant, crazy joy until you see race results announced over a club meal -- as I witnessed at Hunter Mt. -- and an 82-year-old woman jump up and down, exclaiming, “I won, I won!” Yes, they have medals in the 90-Plus categories, too. A nonagenarian winner introduced me to a son who drove him there.

Free To Almost Free

There are over 100 areas in 29 states (Alaska to Wyoming) that provide free skiing to “seniors” according to the NSAA. Senior status ranges from age 65 at areas like Cannon Mt. and McIntyre,  N.H. to 90 at Welch Village, Minn. and Alta Sierra Resort, Calif. The majority list 70-plus for senior status with 80-plus a runner up.

Reduced rates for senior season passes and tickets abound, but there’s a new trend brewing in Vermont with Bolton Valley’s Senior Plus Season Pass (ages 75-plus) for $29. Killington and Pico offer a new Super Senior (ages 80-plus) pass for $39. Mature Mondays program at Pico includes complimentary pastries and coffee, meeting with resort personnel, and skiing together. Those age 50-plus who don’t have a season pass ski for $24.  

Among other ways for seniors to ski free is to serve as volunteer ambassadors or paid instructors. It’s one occupation where age discrimination does not seem to have set in; several resorts report instructors in their eighties.

A Stoneham and Mont-Sainte-Anne Mountain Guides program in Quebec, Canada gives volunteers who are predominantly retired the opportunity to ski with all ages. “They get free skiing all season long and share and hang out a lot together,” reports Lisa Marie Lacasse.

Role Models And Clubs

Since skiing at Garmisch-Partenkirchen where he “first stepped onto skis in the summer of 1946, flopped frequently on the glacier, and got hooked,” Ted Heck has skied in so many countries and with so many luminaries that one can only envy the fun he has had -- and written about.

Stein Eriksen and Ted HeckHis love of skiing led to writing about it in 1974; he’s still editor of the Blue Book of European Ski Resorts and pens occasional ski columns online and for newspapers.

Among his best memories are skiing with legend Stein Eriksen, trips to Europe, meeting Olympian Tamara McKinney, and, oh, the stories could go on and on -- as they did as we chatted recently.

Although he tore a rotator cuff last year while “handling a boot bag and luggage”, he was back skiing a month later. Ted explains that “it is a wonderful sport” and he remains hooked.

“People see me putting on my boots and ask ‘how old are you?’ That’s a blow to the ego. Then they see me skiing and say, ‘I can’t believe it.’ That’s a compliment.”

Almost 92, Heck’s “cardiologist told me all the reasons I shouldn’t be skiing -- worse possible sport for me [pacemaker, blood thinner], cold is bad for blood vessels, less oxygen at high altitude.”

“I have a solution,” Heck told him. “I need to get a cardiologist who skis.”

Not oblivious to risks, he added, “I take it easy, avoid ice and deep snow, and look for corduroy.”

Charles Elliott with Scott Rahlves USSTCharles Elliott, one of the pioneers of skiing in the San Juans and a founder of Wolf Creek in Colorado celebrated his 100th birthday on the slopes last November.

“It just shows you’re not too old to do anything, and you don’t have an excuse to say that you are when someone [aged] 100 is doing it,” Wolf Creek’s Rosanne Pitcher told SnoCountry.com. Elliott has skied “every year since 1934 except for five years service during World War II and is still skiing,” she noted.

U.S. Freestyle Ski Team Coach Scott Rawles presented Elliott with an official team jacket, making him an honorary member of the USST. Members of the Gray Wolves Ski Club also helped Elliott celebrate, attesting to the camaraderie and social aspects that exist among ski groups.

The Gray Wolves was founded in 1984 to promote skiing, other outdoor sports, and fellowship for people 50 and older. There are some 600 members from throughout the U.S.

“They come every Tuesday to socialize and ski together. They have lots of parties and luncheons up here; they do love to eat and drink,” Pitcher observed, adding, “They talk about their grandkids; it’s a good thing for intergenerational skiing, and in this respect it works for everybody, areas included.”

The Silver Streaks at Waterville Valley, N.H., started in 1985, claims to be the “longest running senior skiing program in the country,” notes Waterville’s Peter Weber. Silver Streakers 50-plus ski non-holiday Mondays through Thursdays for fun and friendship. Program perks include: preferred parking; coffee and pastries, 8:30 to 10 a.m.; 10:30 warm-up run with Waterville staff; complimentary clinics; Wednesday après-ski parties; Nordic Streaks program and more.

From The Prime Time Club of 50-plus skiers at Sunday River, Maine to the 3,000-member Over the Hill Gang International (50-plus) clubs promote the opportunity to ski/ride with someone versus alone.

“Old Skiers Never Die, They Just Go Downhill” is a pun that brings hope and fun to the aging process.

Top photo -- Members of 70+ Ski Club at Hunter Mt. N.Y. (70+ Ski Club); Center photo: Stein Eriksen and Ted Heck (Blue Book of European Ski Areas); Bottom left photo: Charles Elliott and U.S. Freestyle Head Coach Scott Rahlves (Grey Wolves Ski Club and Wolf Creek Resort)
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