Senior Skiers – Over The Hill Gang

SENIOR SKIERS – OVER THE HILL GANG

Free from the inconvenience of work, and no longer slaves to their children’s school holiday schedules, today’s seniors are super senior skiers, logging more downhill hours than most other age-groups, sending it on the slopes and rocking the ritziest resorts. With more spare time and disposable dollars, many have chosen mountain reinventions for an active third act, buying ski hill homes and inspiring younger generations into winter sports. And these senior skiers are doing it in style. No retro rags for these trailblazers, today’s seniors are fearlessly fashionable.

Watching Helen Roberds ski blacks and bumps at Solitude on a downhill day off, togged out in a fox-trimmed Skea jacket, sexy silver pants and matching Helmet Hugger, you would be hard-pressed to guess her age. Same if you spotted her working all winter in instructor garb. It’s only up close that you realize this 81-year-old glamorous gram with a goggle tan may well belong to the pre-Boomer generation.

Whinge about age at your peril, for Roberds will quickly drop the 80-bomb if she hears any complaining. “They’re aghast, mouths drop open, and they quickly stop talking about being too old,” she says. “I’ve enthused so many over the years, thousands probably.” Including children, who are particularly bemused. One four-year-old asked why Roberds looked “kinda old,” unable to compute wrinkles with such a rigorous role.

Klaus Obermeyer
Klaus Obermeyer

Technological advances in ski boots and skis take some of the credit, facilitating skier longevity. Like Roberds, who has boots customized for her stance, older skiers are buying better gear and heated accessories, as well as taking advantage of new ski technologies that decrease effort and enhance piste performance. Increasingly, resorts are developing masters’ and seniors’ programs, epitomized by Aspen’s Bumps for Boomers, dedicated to imparting techniques and tips that support a ski for life mindset. With 99-year-old Klaus Obermeyer still at the helm of Aspen’s Sport Obermeyer, and aiming for one hundred years on skis, senior skiers are making age all the rage.

“Dammit! I’ve been geezered,” is a familiar lament among many of Aspen’s finest when seasoned pro Chuck Tower beats their best efforts in the annual ski school race. At age 76, Tower is still outskiing half the juniors, and says his competitors fear two types of trouncing, “being geezered, or being chicked.” At the top of the teaching tree, he runs racecourse inspections and helps out over the hectic holidays, teaching everyone from level one to level ten. “I’m there whenever they need me, around fifteen to twenty days per winter,” says Tower, a hardy Vietnam vet who trains in the off-season by biking, hiking and golfing. “I have regular customers whom I ski with during peak periods, and with free skiing I get over a hundred days on snow a year.”

Having fallen in love with Aspen while in college in the 1960s, Tower returned with a hospitality management degree to run several on-mountain restaurants where his biggest beef was not getting as many runs as he hoped. “It was a pretty good gig as far as making money though,” says Tower, adding he was able to retire at age forty-six to concentrate on skiing. With at least a decade of downhill still ahead of him, Tower aims to take part in the 85-plus masters’ racing category.

Chuck Tower Aspen Mountain Ski Pro
Chuck Tower Aspen Mountain Ski Pro

Beyond destination resorts, heli lodges have also become havens for baby boomers, who more and more are populating CMH’s million-feet suits. Alchemy of Ride ski wear designer and expert skier Lynne Harrison – aged fifty-nine – recently branched out into heli-skiing with Mike Wiegele. “There were definitely lots of older skiers for heli and cat skiing, but also second and third generations,” says Harrison, who clocks up to fifty days skiing in the Banff Lake Louise area.

As a designer, Harrison believes looking good also promotes performance. “If you feel great, then you’ll love what you’re doing. Excitement and passion translate into fabulous turns on the hill,” she says, adding that age and glamor are not mutually exclusive, that it’s more about aging beautifully.

“Just because I’m almost sixty doesn’t mean I can’t wear stretch pants or lipstick. I’m certainly not defined by my age,” says Harrison, whose dazzling ski suits, emblazoned with multi-color mountain scapes, provoke considerable comment. “I get lots of smiles. Alchemy of Ride makes people happy. The colors are bold and the designs pop.”

Driving property prices up in many areas, resort retirees are redefining the word ski as an acronym for Spending the Kids Inheritance – dominating cafés and après, volunteering as ski hosts, patronizing the arts and influencing the cultural development of ski towns. Though it may be the winter of their lives, they’re maximizing every mountain minute. Kept partly afloat by this dollared demographic, resorts are in turn responding with enhanced amenities, targeted season passes, and part-time job opportunities for seniors. Where younger seasonal workers are increasingly discouraged by spiraling winter season overheads, the affluent older gen can afford to buy or rent property, run cars, and fork out for inflated grocery prices and restaurant tabs.

From Sugarbush to Aspen, 52-year-old Kristine Shadek has been skiing since she was six. Notching as many ski days per season as her age, she plans to follow her own father’s footsteps and keep going into her eighties. “My ski regime is amazing,” she says. “I love to begin my day with a steam and some simple yoga. Lots of water, protein and a power drink with apple cider vinegar for my immune system, energy boost and overall incredible wellness.” Embracing every opportunity to optimize her health and refine her ski technique, Shadek saves her risk-taking for après. “I think Aspen has the ideal blend of people who love the outdoors, health and wellness, community and culture,” she says. “This season my boys each told me in their own way that I belong in the Aspen environment. In a way, they gave me the permission I have been searching for to make the big move.”

According to a 2017 Ipsos/USA Today survey, one-third of North Americans aged 45 to 65 are planning a destination and lifestyle-driven relocation, making former holiday havens home and looking for après-career reinventions. In the US, where 10,000 people retire each day, the Jackson Hole area tops the rankings for retirement destinations, with the state of Wyoming rated the best for early retirement, due in part to extremely low taxes. It’s what brought 53-year-old Tenessa Gottlieb to Jackson Hole. That and the skiing, of course. Gottlieb’s financier husband continues to run his own business, while she polishes her piste performance skiing seventy days per season, working part-time as a dance choreographer, volunteering, and rocking the local Western swing and tango classes.

Skiing Jackson Hole Off Piste
Skiing Jackson Hole Off Piste

“I start fitness prep in the fall with Ski Fit at Crystal Wright training, and continue working with her throughout the season,” says Gottlieb, who’s also a member group. “Year round I do yoga and love to be outside hiking. With training and conditioning, I plan to be skiing the rest of my life.” Alongside Jackson’s considerable cohort of octogenarians who still do tram laps, Gottlieb is in good company. “The whole community is very dedicated to the outdoors and fitness,” she says. “My daughter calls Jackson Hole a college town for need to study.”

Like many luxury brands, ski resorts are using social media influencers to help spread the word about winter sports with cool Facebook photos and trendy Twitter two-liners. The difference is, ski influencers are not solely the domain of youngsters. Steamboat resident Cindy Kinnear, aged fifty-nine, posts persuasive pics on Facebook and Instagram daily (@ cinkinbikes), showcasing the magical mountains that motivated her to relocate two years ago. “Many people say they love my photos, that I have an eye for seeing things,” says Kinnear. “Trying to find a daily photo opens my eyes to my surroundings. I notice things that others may not, and can show them these sights.”

Heading up the Steamboat Springs Over the Hill Gang, Kinnear is inspiring others in her age demographic to join this growing group of three hundred and sixteen members, the majority of whom are over seventy. Including a Steamboat ski instructor, aged eighty-six, and 75-year-old Jack Ferguson, the ripping ringleader for the most gung-ho of the group, organizing daily senior skiers skiing for all levels. At a recent happy hour, Kinnear asked members what they loved most about being part of the gang. Answers ranged from camaraderie with skiing chums and meeting new like-minded people, to the virtues of age-appropriate company and the benefit of safety in numbers. “I truly believe SSOTHG is the reason my husband and I have made a smooth transition into retirement in a town where we knew no-one when we moved here,” says Kinnear. “The Gang is like family to me.”

Happy 100 year’s young Klaus Obermeyer.

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