Is there an age limit to skiing? Is it ever too late to start?
“When I started skiing, my pants were baggy and my cheeks were tight. Now my cheeks are baggy and my pants are tight.” –Warren Miller, Filmmaker and Sage of Skiing
Americans over the age of 50 represent about 35 percent of the population, and as Millenials soon hit this mark (they just turned 40), the growth of these demographics will continue to outpace those in younger groups for several decades. Moreover, those over 50 are more health-conscious, active and adventurous than ever (yes, that’s my Instagram). They’re not just playing tennis and driving golf carts; they’ve added pickleball, triathlons and mountain biking to their mix.
And they are definitely skiing.
On the slopes, approximately 20 percent of skiers and snowboarders are over 50. The generations that grew up skiing in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s have continued to ‘shred the gnar’ into their retirement years. The Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are slaying groomers, finding powder stashes and bouncing over moguls…well, maybe not as many moguls.
No amount of exercise will make 65-year-old knees feel like 16-year-old ones. However, as most folks know, there is more to skiing than the bumps and cartilage isn’t the most essential requirement. Skiing requires a modicum of physical strength and balance, among other things, which are essential for anyone over 50 to maintain and improve for general mobility, health and, most definitely, happiness.
“There are only four things you can do on skis. Turn right, turn left, go straight, or sell them.” –Warren Miller
Talking about ski equipment and gear, there are several things skiers over 50 should know and consider. Foremost, your old gear may look cool, but the new stuff is far superior. Two words that changed skiing in the past 30 years – Parabolic Skis. A simple sidecut into skis lets them turn and carve much easier than the traditional alpine skis you grew up with. Talk to an instructor or rental specialist for recommendations on length, width and style, which vary greatly depending on experience and terrain. Ray and Susi noted that if you haven’t skied in a while, the recommended skis may seem shorter and wider than you’re used to. Don’t argue. Ray cautions, “They almost can’t be too short!”
Helmet…wear one. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never worn one. You don’t drive without a seatbelt anymore, either. Helmets are safer and warmer, too.
Boots may be the most significant gear issue for those over 50. Traditionally, ski boots were challenging to put on and remove. Many still are because they need to be stiff and fit snug to allow your feet to engage the ski. Consider using a ski boot horn to help you slide in. Rear-entry boots, where the back of the boot retracts, enabling you to slip into them like mules before clamping, are also making a comeback and are available at some rental shops. Preheating your boots using a boot warmer or heated boot bag helps too! Finally, use boot heaters. Many companies make disposable ones that adhere to your socks or, if you spend more time outside, heated footbeds or socks can be used in ski boots and other footwear. Although the latter might seem like a pricey upgrades, cold toes will never be an issue again!
Stay warmer longer with proper clothing, as well. Temperatures in Utah “seem” warmer due to its low humidity and often sunny skies. However, plan to spend your day outside in 30 degrees or less. Wear an insulated jacket (or layers with a weatherproof shell) and ski pants, neck gaiter, gloves or, better yet, mittens. It sounds like a new wardrobe, but staying warm means one less thing to impede or interrupt your skiing. Pro tip: Opt for brightly colored clothing. It’s easier for others to see or find you and, most importantly, it looks great in all the photos.
The single worst thing that a skier of any age can do is expect too much. Susi and Ray said they always chat with clients before getting on the snow to discuss their experiences and expectations. Susi explained that older clients have a lot of experience learning things and understand that it’s a process. “They allow themselves to learn,” she said, “If you’re in a choir, you don’t expect to sing a new song perfectly. You learn line by line. You’re open to taking steps to learn something new.”
It’s the same with skiing. If you expect to blaze down the mountain like Lindsey Vonn or Bode Miller on your first day, or your first day after a 20-year hiatus, you’ll absolutely be disappointed. It’s not like riding a bike. Even riding a bike is not like riding a bike! It takes muscle memory, mental memory and, even better, a good sense of humor. Skiing is fun, after all.
If you’re returning to the sport, acknowledge that you’ll first have to clear the cobwebs. Harriet advises starting on the flattest run or the bunny hill (which is an excellent opportunity to hang out with the youngest family members, who will love every moment as much as you do) before heading further up the mountain. Better yet, consider taking some half-day lessons with a certified instructor. Susi and Ray recommend asking for one that has PSIA Certification or regularly works with over-50 skiers. They both said that they map out clients’ goals for each lesson. Having skied with countless skiers over 50, Harriet’s advice was more direct, “Take a lesson and level with the instructor about what scares you. For example, ‘I’m here because (of this), and I’m scared to death because (of that).” Whether you’re learning or returning to skiing, discuss your expectations and fears with your instructors or those with whom you’re skiing. They’ll be supportive, and you’ll likely surprise yourself.
If you don't do it this year, you will be one year older when you do. –Warren Miller
This brings up the initial question: Is there an age limit to skiing? Have you seen 104-year-old George Jedenoff? Although Alta welcomes skiers 50 and over to the Wild Old Bunch (whose credo, in part, declares that “You’re never too old to be young”), the resort offers a Senior Season Pass only to those 80 and up. Alta’s direct-to-lift Senior Season Pass is $50 per year, but daily lift tickets are free at the window. You’ll see members of the Wild Old Bunch flying down Devil’s Elbow or Rock ‘n Roll. Just look for huge grins, gray ponytails or beards and smiley face Wild Old Bunch 80+ patches on their jackets. Every Utah resort has an abundance of over 50 skiers, but those patches might just be the ultimate status symbol on any Utah mountain. So, the answer is an emphatic, “NO!” If kids can ski before they can walk, then septuagenarians and beyond can ski if they choose.
There is a final consideration – or, perhaps, inspiration – for skiing over 50. The kids. Isn’t it always about the kids? Parents, grandparents or great-grannies are always looking for ways to spend more time with their families. Skiing is one of the best and most memorable ways to bring them together.
“Exactly one day in your life your kid will ski as good as you do. The next day, he’ll ski better than you.” –Warren Miller
There are endless options for a memorable ski trip in Utah. With 15 resorts to choose from, you can find the ambiance, atmosphere and entertainment for a "Let’s make everyone happy holiday." So, if Grandpa wants to ride the magic carpet with his 3-year-old great-granddaughter or shred the gnar with his teenage grandson or just share a quiet moment on a lift with his grown daughter or wife, it’s possible on The Greatest Snow on EarthⓇ.
According to one survey, over 60 percent of Americans hope to receive experiences instead of gifts this year. So give them or just yourself the gift of skiing. Get outside. Get to Utah, where the sky is blue, the sun is out or it’s not. It doesn’t matter. It’s just life…elevated, and it’s never too late to start.