Beginners and experts are hitting the slopes in their senior years
By Natalie Hollingshead
Some say life after 60 is all downhill. And for a group of area seniors, that saying certainly rings true.
Every week during the winter season, anywhere from 80 to 100 Utah Valley seniors gather together to tuck and carve their way down the mountainside at Sundance Ski Resort.
With an average age of 70, many of these skiers have been hitting the slopes for what feels like, well, forever.
“Some didn’t start skiing until they were 50 or 60 years old, but most of them go back a long way in their skiing,” says Glen McGettigan, coordinator of the Sundance Senior Ski Program.
Glen started skiing after he graduated from high school in the late ‘40s and has skied nearly every snow season since. For years, his wife Mary Lou was his “absolute best ski buddy,” but she can’t tolerate the frosty weather anymore.
“It’s just too cold and it’s not fun for her,” says Glen, age 77. “A lot of people are in similar situations. They have a spouse, friend, relative or neighbor they used to (ski) with who can’t go anymore.”
The ski program gathers seniors who love to ski – or who would love to get better – for socialization and instruction.
“It gives people an opportunity to get up here and share the love of the game, the love of the sport with each other,” says Jerry Warren, director of mountain operations at Sundance.
Jerry and collaborator Wayne Mineer started the senior ski program in 1998 as a way to keep seniors excited about skiing and to give back to the community. The way Jerry sees it, those who can ski as well as the group members do have already given much to ski resorts.
“Where there is a great spirit for winter sports you might as well contribute to it as best as you can,” he says. “It really helps stimulate excitement from generation to generation.“
Although Jerry and Sundance have been involved since the beginning, the resort doesn’t run the program. Instead, they act as host for the group, providing a meeting place at the beginning of the season and footing the bill for any mailings or other expenses. They also offer the seniors discounted ski passes.
Social benefits aside, the ski program also arranges for instruction for group members.
Much of the teaching comes from fellow skiers since a handful are professional ski instructors. Karl Tucker, former golf coach at BYU, volunteers his ski instruction skills regularly.
Occasionally, Jerry (who was a member of Professional Ski Instructors of America’s national demonstration team for 14 years) will give training or famed instructor Junior Bounous will drop in.
“Some of these skiers ski better now than they ever have,” Jerry says. “They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Well, we’ve already proved that wrong.”
These seniors may be serious about skiing, but they’re also serious about having fun.
“We poke fun at ourselves and others,” says Glen. “No one in that group has anything to prove. If someone has a terrific crash and gets congratulated on a great yard sale – skis, poles and equipment everywhere – we all laugh.”
Seniors by the Numbers
Utah’s rank in increasing population of those age 65 and older
Percent of Utah seniors over age 65 who reside in their own homes
Number of Utahns who live in skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities or other long-term care settings
Utah’s median age, making it the nation’s “youngest state”
Percent increase projected for 2030 of Utahns age 65 years and older
Percent of seniors who still drive
Percent of seniors who only drive in a limited area
Percent of seniors in Utah who live with their spouses
Percent of Utah’s seniors who live alone
Percent of seniors in Utah who live with their children
Percent of Utah’s seniors who live with extended family
Percent of Utahns ages 61 to 70 who are working
Percent of Utahns ages 71 to 80 who are still working
Percent of seniors in Utah ages 81 and older who are still working