Join a club, keep fit, enjoy a lighter burden on your wallet.
Resorts offer great discounts — even free tickets — for skiers of a certain age.
That’s because so many skiers give up the sport as they get older. Only 7 percent of the skiing population is older than 65 in Washington and Oregon, according to the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association.
But for those who can still turn, the passion still burns.
John Andrew, 85, of Renton, is one of the alpine faithful: Since retiring 20 years ago, he’s been diligently trying to ski every resort in North America. The former Boeing executive has visited 528 of nearly 700 resorts on his list, keeping meticulously detailed records documenting his adventures.
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“I won’t get it done, but I’m going to keep trying,” Andrew says. “I’m going to die trying to finish my quest.”
It’s not about the money for Andrew, who refuses to take free ski tickets. He enjoys the social aspect of his journey as much as he does the skiing.
“A big part of it for me is talking about life with the people I meet,” says Andrew, who plans to visit several small ski areas in Alaska, the Yukon and Alberta this season.
White Pass faithful
At White Pass Ski Area, a dedicated group of older skiers hits the slopes to take advantage of free tickets for those 73 and older.
“A lot of them will stop by after a great day and make a point to tell me how good it is out there,” says Kevin McCarthy, general manager of White Pass. “It’s a funny group — they’re very active guys. They’ll say, ‘Now we’re going to go down and play golf.’ They’re really living the life.”
Bill Weigand, 75, is one of the regulars. He and a few retired friends drive to White Pass from their homes in Yakima to enjoy the empty midweek skiing.
“It’s a beautiful mountain,” Weigand says. “On weekdays, it’s like having your own ski area.”
Dave Joynt, 78, particularly enjoys the slopes of Paradise Basin, the newer, predominantly intermediate portion of White Pass, where he meets up with friends at the midmountain High Camp Lodge.
“It’s a little like ‘Cheers’ when you walk in,” Joynt says of the atmosphere of older regulars. “If you ski there a lot, you know everyone.”
Ski clubs are another way older skiers stay connected.
Ancient Skiers, a Northwest-based club of more than 1,000 members, celebrates the mountain lifestyle with events on and off the slopes (ancientskiers.com). The group includes some former Olympians, ski-movie legend Warren Miller, and some world class-climbers, says Bill Price, president of Ancient Skiers.
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“We have been skiing all our lives and we are passionate about it,” Price says. “It’s a wonderful way to spend the winter.”
Price, 75, splits his winter between the Seattle area and Sun Valley, Idaho, and regularly logs more than 70 ski days a season.
“I ski with people who are in their upper 70s, 80s, all the way to 90 years old all the time,” he says. “You find that you’re running out of time and you better do what you can to keep going.”
Like White Pass, Whitefish Mountain Resort in Western Montana offers free skiing for “super seniors.” Those 70 and older ski for free, giving rise to an active group of older regulars.
Many regularly score among the leaders of the resort’s annual vertical-feet-per-season competition, tracked through passholders’ electronic tickets.
One of the top competitors is Fred Frost, 74, a retired schoolteacher from Pateros, Okanogan County, who now lives in Whitefish. Frost skis six days a week and regularly logs more than 4 million vertical feet per season.
Keeping fit is key
When he’s not racking up the vertical, Frost stays in shape by bicycling and hiking.
“If you don’t stay active, you die,” he says bluntly.
“You need to have a regular workout program,” agrees Mary Germeau, 71, co-owner of Olympic Ski School, which runs a lesson program that caters to older skiers on weekdays at Stevens Pass (olyski.com).
“The people who keep going are the people who stay in shape,” Germeau says. “You need to keep walking and doing something all the time.”
Strength training and balance exercises also should be part of the routine, says Jennifer Lesko, clinic director of Queen Anne Physical Therapy, in Seattle. Her clinic offers ski and snowboard conditioning classes in the fall.
“People forget that if they sit in front of a computer all day, they can’t just get up and go skiing,” she says.
Continually updating equipment is the other piece of the puzzle for skiers trying to keep going.
“Boots are the number one item,” says Price, of the Ancient Skiers club. “If your feet are hurting, you’re going to have a lousy day.”
And the newest skis, tailored for the type of conditions you’re likely to encounter, also make a huge difference, Price says.
“Now because of the flex of the skis and the cut of the ski, one ski is going to work better at Crystal Mountain, one is going to work better at Sun Valley,” he says.
Once you find the right ski, Price says, the turns will come easily.
“The skis today are so good they’ll do everything for you,” he says.
IF YOU GO
Free or discounted tickets for older skiers
Need an incentive to keep skiing into old age? It’s hard to beat free tickets.
White Pass Ski Area offers free skiing to those 73 and older. At Bluewood, near Dayton, Columbia County, and Whitefish Mountain Resort, in Western Montana, those 70 and older ski for free.
Other resorts, such as The Summit at Snoqualmie, Stevens Pass and Mission Ridge, discount heavily: 70-and-older skiers pay just $15 for full-day tickets.
Here’s a closer look at senior ski discounts in the Northwest and British Columbia:
49 Degrees North: Master (70 and older): $49 (14 percent off regular adult all-day ticket rate)
Bluewood: Senior (65-69): $32 (18 percent off); Super senior (70+): Free
Senior (70+): $50 (32 percent off)
Mission Ridge: Senior (70+): $15 (75 percent off)
Mount Baker: Senior (60-69): $51; Super senior (70+): $38 (14 percent off for seniors/36 percent off for super seniors)
Mount Spokane: Senior (62-69): $45; Super senior (70-79): $31; Seniors 80 and older: Free (18 percent off for seniors/45 percent off for super seniors)
Stevens Pass: Senior (70+): $15 (80 percent off)
Summit at Snoqualmie: Senior (62-69): $45; Super senior (70 and older): $15 (32 percent off for seniors/73 percent off for super seniors)
White Pass: Super senior (73+): Free
Mount Bachelor: Senior (65-69): $76; Senior Plus (70+): $52 (17 percent off for seniors/43 percent off for senior plus)
Mount Hood Meadows: Senior (65-74): $54; Seniors 75 and older: Free (32 percent off for seniors)
Timberline: Senior (65-70): $46; Senior Legacy (71+): Free (32 percent off for seniors)
Idaho and Montana
Schweitzer Mountain: Senior (65-79): $69.30; Super Senior (80+): Free (10 percent off for seniors)
Silver Mountain: Senior (62 and older): $45 (18 percent off)
Whitefish Mountain Resort: Senior (65-69): $66; Super senior (70+): Free (13 percent off for seniors)
(All prices in Canadian dollars)
Whistler Blackcomb: Senior (65+, for two-day ticket purchased on site, midwinter): $192 (10 percent off)
Apex Mountain: Senior (65-69): $64; Master (70+): $44 (18 percent off for seniors/44 percent for masters)
Big White: Senior (65+): $77 (regular season; 15 percent off)
Silver Star: Senior (65+): $75 (18 percent off)
Sun Peaks: Senior (65+): $74 (20 percent off)