Skiing With A Centenarian At Michigan’s Crystal Mountain
I’m not sure if I’ve ever stood next to someone 103-years-old, let alone ski with someone that age. I fixed that omission Sunday at Crystal Mountain, when I got to ski with centenarian Lou Batori, very likely the oldest living skier in the world.
He lives in nearby Glen Arbor, and we were able to get in some early morning runs on freshly groomed crisp slopes before the temperatures started climbing into the 50s turning the slopes into mashed potatoes. The skiing was a treat, and skiing with Batori was an extra-real treat.
Dressed in a white jumpsuit with a 100+3 patch stitched on the arm and a sleek Giro silver helmet, one would never guess his age. He heads gracefully, skis together, down a corduroy carpet of snow making perfect turns. Also skiing with us was George L. Petritz, son of Crystal Mountain founder George Petritz.
He frequently skis with Batori acting as a wing-man protecting him from oncoming skiers and riders. The resort has provided the skiing legend with his own parking space, which is closest to the high-speed Crystal Express lift.
“A run, a weekend of skiing justifies my existence,” he said with a grin as we paused for a cup of coffee and mid-morning break in the cafeteria. “It’s funny, but when a person asks me why I ski, I immediately know they are not a skier. A skier wouldn’t have to ask that question.”
A bit of a celebrity, people and especially young children were stopping to speak with him as we made our way towards the lift after the break. Some wanted pictures with him, which he would always stop for. He was featured in a 2011 CBS Sunday Morning segment when he turned 100 and still skied.
Batori is known for pushing the upper boundary limits of NASTAR racing. He’s the oldest racer to ever compete in the popular citizen racing format.
“When I started racing in my early 80s the handicap system top limit was 70-plus, which I didn’t think was fair. Ten years can make a big difference, especially when you’re in your 80s. They established an 80-plus, and have gone on to create a 90, 95 and now 100-plus categories,” laughed the centenarian.
He sees skiing and racing NASTAR as one.
“I may be the only one in the category, but if I can ski I can race. It’s a normal part of the ski season.”
Batori first learned to ski in Hungary at the age of 10 on handmade wooden hickory skis equipped with leather straps for bindings. He continued to ski in New York and New England when his family immigrated to the United States a few years later.
“I rode the first chairlift in the east at Stowe in 1940, the year it was constructed. That was a while ago,” he said with a big grin.
He moved to Michigan in 1973 after he retired, and, of course, has continued to ski.
“It was a bit of a surprise, but I found that I could log as much vertical feet in a day here in Michigan as I could in the mountains where you spend a lot more time riding a lift,” he told SnoCountry.com. “Here the lift ride is shorter, and you spend more time on the slopes. It may not be a mountain, but at the end of the day it all adds up.”
He credits grooming and the new gear with extending his skiing years.
“Today’s grooming leaves the slopes in immaculate condition. I don’t have to worry about changing slope conditions, and the new equipment is much lighter, more efficient and easier to use. Boots have improved immensely, and to me, they are the most important part or your equipment. If your feet aren’t happy you won’t enjoy skiing,” Batori emphasized.
During the summer he continues to bike ride, and he owns a Honda Gold Wing motorcycle with a sidecar that he and his wife enjoy touring with.
Although he doesn’t like the word, Lou Batori is an inspiration. He certainly is to me, and I’ve got a ways to go before hitting 103.
Photo: Lou Batori still skiing at 103 years old (Crystal Mountain)