COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The 2013-14 ski season was only a couple of hours old and there was still plenty of fresh snow to go around Nov. 23, but Bob Wight was calling it a day before noon.
“I can’t stay out as long as the young kids,” said Wight, 66, of Salida, Colo. “Twelve to 15 runs absolutely max, and that’s at the end of the season.”
But statistics show older skiers such as Wight are hitting the slopes a lot more than the “young kids.”
According to the National Ski Areas Association, while young people make up the majority on the slopes – the average skier is 38.5 years old – the person who skis the most in a given year is 65 or older.
Credit advances in artificial hips and knees that make it possible for skiers to continue enjoying the sport; shaped skis, along with better snowmaking and grooming that make skiing easier; and high-speed lifts and luxury touches such as ski valets that make it more pleasant. And retirees have a lot more free time to ski in the middle of the week to avoid the crowds.
Bragging rights go to those age 68 and older, who averaged 9.5 days skiing last season. Boomers – those age 49 to 67 this year – also skied more than the national average of five times per year, according to an NSAA survey released in August.
Colorado Springs, Colo., skier Jimmy Rogers learned the sport in the 1980s, when skis were long planks designed for speed and not ease of turning.
“The technology, right now they’re going to a great big wide ski, and it just helps you ski better. It’s easier to execute the turns. The equipment, you don’t have to fight it,” said Rogers, 73. “Ski boots are so much more comfortable and warmer. The clothing is warmer.”
Sure, soreness comes on a little more readily than in his youth, but, he said, “some ibuprofen will relieve some of the aches and pains and a couple of Budweisers will knock out the rest of it.”
He finds the 2.5-hour drive each way from Colorado Springs even more exhausting than the day on the hill, so he only skis with the Blazer Ski Club, a Colorado Springs club that provides rooms, bus rides to the slopes and older skiing partners.
Similar clubs have emerged all over ski country. The Colorado Springs-based Over the Hill Gang International has 3,000 members, offering camaraderie, discounted tickets and ski trips near and far.
The 70+ Ski Club, based in North Kingstown, R.I., has more than 4,000 members. Even Florida, a state where retirees settle to get away from the snow and cold, has 17 clubs and at least one trip going every week of the ski season. The largest club, the Tampa Bay Snow Skiers and Boarders, takes about 1,000 people a year skiing, said Clair Quenzler, the council president.
“You don’t want to sit in your rocking chair and look at the view,” said 70-year-old Billy Kidd, who won a silver medal in the slalom at the 1964 Olympics. “You want to remember your days of youth and you love that feeling of adrenaline and dealing with the variables of skiing.”
Clearly, others old enough to remember Kidd in his heyday feel the same way. Those ages 45-54 made up 20 percent of skiers last winter, up from 14 percent in the 1997-98 season; the 55-64 age group made up 12 percent, up from nearly 5 percent; and those 65 and older rose to 5.5 percent from 2.5 percent, according to the NSAA study.
Kidd, who skis nearly daily in his role as an ambassador for the Steamboat Ski Resort, said one thing that has changed as he’s gotten older is his gear.
Indeed, Kidd is a walking billboard for the latest innovations. His skis and poles are lightweight carbon fiber. His Osbe helmet does away with goggles and replaces them with a built-in visor that provides better peripheral vision. He traded in traditional ski boots for soft Apex boots, which provide support through an external frame. (For putting on traditional ski boots, many older skiers swear by the Ski and Snowboard Boot Horn.)
Rogers, the Colorado Springs skier, said staying in good shape is as important as the gear, and more people his age are health-conscious.
Still, he doesn’t ski as often as he used to, or attack the hill with as much ferocity as in his younger days.
“I can pace myself a little better. Before I thought I had to ski every black run that was up there. Now I’m starting to realize I don’t really have to do that. I can go hit some blue bumps,” he said.
“If you’ve got good form in the bumps and you don’t try to fight them, you just enjoy them, you can ski all day.”