Think about women’s skiing, and a lot of young faces come to mind: Mikaela Shiffrin (19), Lindsey Vonn (30), Lynsey Dyer (31), Julia Mancuso (30). Let’s give them their due. These are amazing female athletes who have made some remarkable achievements.
But to be honest, Mikaela, Lindsey, Lynsey, and Julia might as well live in a different planet than the rest of us. Because not only can’t we ski like them (no surprise there), but they’re also considerably younger than many of us who’re out there on the mountain.
Me, included. I just passed a fairly significant birthday, so getting older has been on my mind a lot lately. On the upside, I’m healthy, I have the physical ability to continue skiing, and to be honest, I’ve reached the point where I don’t feel like I have to ski to impress anymore. If I don’t want to ski something, I just don’t do it (hey, I could break a hip). On the downside, however, I do notice that my stamina isn’t what it used to be. Even though I ski a lot, I don’t ski first chair to last. I’ll ski maybe from 9 to 1/1:30/2 and then go home. (Then again, that might be because I ski nearly every day.) I also have osteopenia, which is a bit troubling. And I have a little arthritis creeping in. If I ski too hard, too long, or too many bumps, I feel it in my hips. Ugh.
As a weekday skier, I see a lot of older people on the mountain every day, and while they may not be hucking cliffs or setting any speed records, they do manage to have a heck of a lot of fun. One of these is my good friend, Lil Georg. At nearly 72, Lil skis at least every other day at Okemo here in Vermont, and she does just fine, thank you.
Recently I spoke to Lil about the challenges and rewards of being a senior skier:
SD. So Lil, how and when did you start skiing?
LG. I started in 1986, when I was 43. My daughter married a skier, and the whole family started skiing together. He wanted his wife to ski, and the only way he could get her to do that was if all of us would go along.
SD. How has skiing changed for you as you’ve gotten older?
LG. It’s an interesting thing, because I’ve gotten better as I’ve gotten older. So things that were harder for me in the beginning are easier for me now. Even five years ago, I would’ve been exhausted from skiing hard 3 or 4 days in a row. But it doesn’t take so much energy now because I ski better. I go home tired, but not exhausted-have-to-go-to-bed-at-seven-o’clock tired, which I did when I first started. So in that respect it’s easier. In another respect, I get colder more easily. I have to wear more layers. Where you wear three, I have to wear six. So I just pile the layers on.
SD. Do you face any other particular challenges, now that you’re older?
LG. Not really. It’s been good. Before I started skiing every other day, I was diagnosed with osteoporosis and I was taking Fosamax. After I started skiing every other day, in two years’ time I was diagnosed as no longer having osteoporosis/osteopenia, and I went off the medication. It’s about the weight bearing exercise. I think skiing has made me healthier.
SD. What are people’s reactions when you tell them you ski?
LG. They say, Really? You’re still skiing? And then, if they ski with me, they say, My God, I can’t keep up!
SD. Why do you think your peers don’t ski?
LG. I think they stop because they get cold and because it’s no longer fun. And why is it no longer fun? People are pushing them to do things they don’t want to do, they’re afraid of getting hurt, and frankly, some of them have trouble getting up if they fall.
SD. So what keeps you going?
LG. I think it’s partly social. You know, they say as you get older, what keeps you healthy is social interaction, and skiing is a great means for that. Plus if you look at any of the lists for things you should do to live a long life, skiing fills the bill on most of them. They nearly always include exercise, staying active, doing something you’re passionate about, being social – for me, the answer to all those is skiing.
SD. Any advice for senior women who ski?
LG. Yeah. Ski what you want to ski and don’t ski what you don’t want to ski and don’t let anyone force you to ski what you don’t want to ski.
Lil’s not the only senior woman skiing out there. According to data from the National Ski Areas Association, even though seniors make up a smaller portion of the skier total, they spend 25 percent more time on the mountain each season than any other group.
Mike Maginn, co-founder of SeniorsSkiing.com, a recently launched online ski magazine and resource for the fifty-plus crowd, agrees. “This is an age group that’s seen a lot of growth,” he said. “All the other age groups are flat. It’s one of the reasons we started our site. Sure, we thought it’d be fun. But we wanted it to be a place where seniors could learn about deals just for them and read about things they’d find of interest. Beyond that, we wanted to be an advocate for senior skiers. We want resorts to do things that are helpful to us, as well as influence manufacturers to think about things that are appropriate for seniors: lightweight equipment and warmer clothes, for instance. I think we have a point of view that since we’re here, why not pay attention to us?”
According to Mike, many in this age group have come back to skiing after being away for a period of time. “They have time on their hands that they didn’t have before,” he said. “And lighter weight gear and more technical, warmer clothing, have certainly helped. Modern technology makes it easier to ski now than ever before. I think a lot of seniors are realizing that. Still, there are those who may be apprehensive. Fear of injury is a big deterrent, and some aren’t familiar with the new gear or the new skiing technique that goes along with it. They need positive reinforcement, a hand holding experience. Some resorts are offering programs that provide that. I think it’s great that they’re seeing that skiing isn’t just for young people, and are taking steps to keep them involved.”
So what does this mean for senior women who ski? Maybe more of them on the hill. As for me, I definitely plan to ski as long as I am physically able, no matter what my age. So all this is very encouraging.
After all, you’re as young as you feel, right?