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President's Report

Karla Winterscheidt | Published on 2/27/2023

Presidents Report

On the Jackson Hole trip I was talking with Leslie Mullinax about an article she had read in the Wall Steet Journal about how to keep older skiers on the slopes. I know I’m getting older and my body doesn’t recover quite as quick as it used to when I was in my 20’s and 30’s. Aging happens to everyone and it’s important to be able to make modifications so you can keep doing the things you love like skiing and snowboarding! The article was written by Daniel McGinn for the Wall Street Journal about his dad and how his skiing has changed.


How to Help Older Skiers Stay on the Slopes

Skiing late in life can help keep you young, but it calls for some adjustments to stay safe


In February 2020, just before the pandemic began, I went skiing with my father, who was 76. A retired attorney who learned to ski in the 1970s and has descended mountains throughout North America and Europe, my dad skied the same as he had for decades. He adeptly traversed the intermediate blue trails and occasional black-diamond advanced runs at Gunstock Mountain Resort in Gilford, N.H., keeping pace with two grandchildren. His only concession to age was calling it quits soon after lunch—a practice he’d begun when he turned 70.

This past March, my father and I returned to the trails together for the first time since then. We spent four days skiing at Snowmass in Aspen, Colo.—and from the first run, his skiing appeared different. Now 78, he seemed tentative and uncomfortable on terrain that the resort hadn’t groomed for smooth skiing. Although he didn’t fall often, when he did, he had trouble snapping back into his bindings. Long top-to-bottom runs—one reason East Coasters like us travel to ski out West—taxed his stamina.

During our stay, we learned to adapt by studying the morning grooming report to pick trails, planning shorter runs and taking frequent breaks. After 45 years skiing together, it was our first outing in which his age required us to make concessions to when, where and how we skied.

Keeping older people on skis is vital to the industry’s bottom line. Skiers over 65 accounted for 7.5% of skier days in the 2021-2022 season, up from around 3% 15 years earlier, according to Dave Belin, director of consulting services at the market-research firm RRC Associates. These older skiers often have outsize economic influence, organizing (and sometimes funding) intergenerational trips that include children and grandchildren.

Watching my father’s skiing evolve, my inexpert view of what had changed focused on his conditioning (his gym had been closed during the pandemic) and his equipment (his new bindings seemed unusually stiff). When I talked with experts, however, they identified a range of other issues that typically limit older skiers—along with tactics for dealing with them. They include:


On the slopes, diminishing eyesight makes many older skiers less able to see the subtle contrasts that signal how terrain is changing, especially in the flat light of overcast skies. “Everything sort of looks the same,” says Robin Barnes, director of skier services at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., and part of the Professional Ski Instructors of America’s national alpine team. Cataracts, common as people reach their 70s, can compound this problem.

Ms. Barnes suggests that older skiers experiment with different colored lenses for their goggles, testing them out in snowy conditions. She also recommends that they ski the sides of trails, where shadows from trees can make snow conditions more visible. And a younger companion should ski ahead of an older skier, not behind. “Giving him a target to ski at [reduces] the demand for him to see where to go,” Ms. Barnes says.


People often underestimate the role that auditory cues play in skiing. The sound of skis on snow provides information about its texture (skiing on an icy surface is especially distinctive), and sound often provides the first warning that other skiers are approaching from behind. Beyond hearing aids, professionals suggest trying different combinations of helmets and hats to reduce physical obstructions that can impede sounds from reaching the ears.


All aspects of skiing rely on balance, but instructors say that someone who has trouble standing on one foot to snap into bindings is exhibiting particular weakness in this area. Balancing on skis depends partly on nerves in the feet sending signals to the rest of the body. These nerves can become less sensitive with age, but balance in general can be improved. Cross-country skiing, tai-chi exercises or simply standing on one foot while brushing one’s teeth can help. A 2004 study showed that novice skiers who spent 20 minutes a day wearing ski boots and balancing on wobble boards improved balance and skiing.


Pros say that ski shops, typically staffed by young and aggressive skiers, tend to do a poor job putting older skiers in the right equipment. Many older skiers use skis that are too long for them. Bindings are important, too: Ski shops adjust them based on a person’s height, weight and skiing ability, but they don’t factor in age. They probably should, because older people typically ski less aggressively, which may allow bindings to be set looser (making it easier to get skis on and off) with no ill effects.


Confidence and anxiety affect any athletic performance, and ski instructors say that’s especially true in their sport due to the risk of injury. “We start to see changes around age 45,” says Joe Nevin, 76, a retired Apple executive who founded Bumps for Boomers, an instructional program for older skiers based in Aspen, Colo. “People think ‘I have a family, I have to go to work, and if I get hurt on a ski trip, we’re hosed.’”

Aaron Greenstein, a geriatric psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Rippl Care, a mental health company focused on seniors, says that psychology can affect older skiers in two ways. Their conscious minds recognize that the risk of injury increases with age, while subconsciously, their cognition and processing speed slow down. “As a younger person, you can adapt more quickly, because your sensory nerves are quicker, and your processing speeds are faster,” Dr. Greenstein says. “You recognize ‘This snow is softer, so I’m going to have to adjust.’ For an older person, the processing may be slower, and that induces a fear response.” The good news, instructors say, is that older skiers are more self-aware about physical limitations and more willing to communicate limits on what kind of skiing they want to do.


It’s not surprising that if you ask ski instructors for the best way to help aging skiers, their answers focus on ski lessons. Despite that self-interest, they make a persuasive case. Most older skiers learned on straight skis using outdated techniques, before the industry moved to shaped skis during the 1990s. “If someone learned to ski before 1990, they learned all these bad habits,” says Seth Masia, 74, a ski historian and former instructor who ran an Aspen-based instruction program called Ski Younger Now. (He closed the business during Covid-19.) “They’re working too hard muscling their skis into turns. That’s unnecessary today.” After watching a video of my father skiing, Mr. Masia confirmed: “A more relaxed turn entry would produce a rounder turn with far less effort.” Mr. Nevin’s Bumps for Boomers program teaches seniors a similarly slower, gentler technique that reduces their tendency to sit back (which tires the quadriceps) and instead relies on “floating movements and effortless turns.” “Skiing is a ballet sport,” he says, and those are the movements skiers should mimic.

Pros say that just a few days of instruction can make a difference. Kim Hewson, a retired orthopedic surgeon, began teaching at Telluride, Colo., in the early 2000s. He created a four-day program called Ski Biomechanics, aimed at facilitating an “understanding of anatomic origins of movement, leading to efficient and precise ski performance.” He explains: “We can find that one little hitch in their technique that’s interfering or making the quads tire quickly.” Mr. Hewson, who is 90 and hopes to ski at least 60 days this winter, says friends tell him he skis better now than he did in his 70s because his technique is better. “My motto is: You don’t quit skiing because you get old—you get old because you quit skiing,” Hewson says.

As my dad schusses toward 80, those are words to live by.