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Skiing for Seniors - it's all downhill after 60!

Going downhill as you age isn’t such a bad thing. Folks over the hill are heading for the hills like never before. Silver Streaks, the Over the Hill Gang, the 70+ Ski Club, you name it - the nation’s average age is up and so is membership in senior ski clubs.

According to Snow Sports Industries America, 7.9% of the U.S. population that skis (6.8 million) is over the age of 55. That number is up a whopping 30% from previous seasons' 5.9%. Apparently, our expanding population of elders is more youthful than ever – how’s that for an oxymoron.

Greg Sweetser, Executive Director of Ski Maine said, “We are at the end of the baby boom generation. The population is aging, but is far more active – refusing to get old. With medical advances like new knees and a healthier lifestyle, the ski industry is seeing more skiers continue later in life.”

As the
Sugarloaf brochure reads, “youth is like fire, it goes out if unattended.” Venerable Sugarloafer Paul Schipper was the inspiration for that passage. Schipper certainly skewed any data by skiing 150 days a season and over 3,000 consecutive das of skiing  - every day the Loaf was open, Schipper was part of a generation of seniors skiing longer, legendary. Paul Schipper died at 85, in 2009, he skiing streak and legacy is tributed at Sugarloaf.

While Ironman Schipper received a lifetime free pass to Sugarloaf, most seniors are looking for deals and discounts for their “fixed income” and liberated schedule. Senior ski clubs that connect downhillers to deals continue to increase memberships, despite obvious natural attrition. These clubs also provide social opportunities for like-minded senior schussers.

The 70+ Ski Club is the largest senior ski club, with over 10,000 members, according to Executive Director Richard Lambert. His father, Lloyd Lambert, founded the Club at Hunter Mountain in New York in 1977 with 37 members. Lambert was a ski columnist and radio personality, National Ski Patroller, and skied vigorously until the age of 95.

Lloyd’s son took over managing the organization at the youthful age of 69 (one year before he could become a card-carrying member). Currently there are 250 members in Maine. In neighboring New Hampshire there are over 600 members.

70+ members pay $10 dues annually; couples joining together get a deal at $15, to receive a distinctive 70+ patch, and a privilege card with a list of ski areas that honor discounted or free skiing. The 70+ Club Newsletter is published twice annually with enticing ski trips and member news – a who’s who of hip and knee replacement, who is winning NASTAR races, and where the Club is heading on their next ski safari.

This winter’s 70+ downhill destinations include: Lake Tahoe, Steamboat in Colorado, Bachelor in Oregon, and Solitude and Brighton, Utah. Summer is no time to sit in a rocker and knit a ski sweater for the grandkids – the Club generally has a trip to the Southern Hemisphere for more skiing in Chile.

Younger sister club, The Over The Hill Gang was founded in Colorado the same year as 70+, and has over 5,500 members over 50. For a $50 membership fee (with a sliding scale for renewing and aging members), you receive a discount card good at 300 ski areas.

The real perk for Over The Hill Gang members is the annual catalogue of escorted group trips that reads like any skiers’ wish list. This winter, Over the Hill Gang has 22 planned ski excursions to resorts including Aspen, Sun Valley, and Innsbruck, Austria. This genial geriatric group has lost neither their wanderlust nor their sense of humor based on the OTHG motto - “once you are over the hill, you pick up speed.”

Seniors can find benefits at most mountains. Jay Hanlon, former president of Eastern Ski Writers Association and enduring skier said, “Being over 70 has been a blessing for me, given the price of lift tickets today. Every ski area I have approached has granted me privileges. Hanlon skis regularly at New Hermon where he says the Whitcombs welcome him with open arms.

Patricia Carrier of
Saddleback said, “Not many mountains are doing free skiing for 70 plus anymore. Saddleback does. Also, on Thursdays, we offer a cheap lift ticket for those 60-69.”

Shawnee Peak gives free skiing for those 80 and older, or a discount season pass if they prefer not to have to go to the ticket window each visit. Shawnee Peak also honors members of the "70+ Club" with $15 lift tickets, and season passes for age 65-79 are discounted.

Mt Abram provides senior skiers age 65 and over a savings of $10 on a full day ticket.

Sugarloaf and Sunday River sell discount day tickets to 65 and over. If savvy seniors go online to purchase two or more tickets, they save an additional 10%.

Sunday River has an “Over 50 Club” with get-togethers season long; these skiers share the lifestyle and explore the mountain as a group. The Over 50 Club meets every Tuesday and Thursday from January through March, except during holiday weeks. The River also hosts a “GO50 Week” in mid January with lift and lodging deals for five nights lodging, lift tickets, a clinic, plus organized après social events, and a Sock Hop.

New Hampshire’s Gunstock honors “Two For Mondays,” seniors can buy two lift tickets (non-holiday) . Gunstock also sells a 65+ Season pass for midweek, non-holiday use.

Bretton Woods offers midweek, non-holiday tickets to seniors age 65 and over, a huge discount off the retail lift ticket. On Senior Thursdays at Bretton Woods, including a 1-½ hour group lesson specifically for seniors.

Wildcat celebrates “AristoCat Tuesdays,” guests age 50 and up can purchase a lift ticket with a 10am ski lesson for a deal.

Greg Sweetser of Ski Maine said that today’s seniors benefit from discounts, and from technological improvements of snowmaking and grooming that make skiing more accessible and enjoyable.

“The standard gambit among the geriatric set is ‘Whoever said the Golden Years were beautiful was just plain nuts - unless, of course, you are a skier,” Hanlon says.

All Stories by Heather Burke
All Photography by Greg Burke

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