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Many Find No Upper Age Limit to Skiing Thrills

<i> Gordon is a New York free-lance writer</i>

Trish’s face broke into a smile as warm and bright as a sunny spring day. Her eyes sparkled as she shared the excitement of her first ski lesson two years earlier.

“The instructor took one look at me and saw I was really nervous,” she said with a giggle. “Well, he was laid-back and very casual and he said anybody who wanted to learn to ski, young or not quite so young, could be skiing on those long blue trails all over the mountain in a week.

“And you know what? I did.”

She laughed. “Oh, it was such a wonderful experience for a woman my age.”

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Ah . . . would Trish be willing to share the secret of her age?

“Maybe I shouldn’t because I’m still working, and you know what weird ideas people get when they think about someone my age. But, well, I’m 71.”

Why did she decide to take up skiing?

Trish says her husband died a year or so before and she had gone to Steamboat Springs, high in the Colorado mountains, to visit a son. The huge Steamboat Springs ski complex was only a snowball toss away.

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“My son suggested it. He said maybe if I added something new and exciting it would help fill the void.

Clock Turned Back

“It did, but I also discovered something else: It’s a wonderful way of turning the clock back.”

No one would agree more heartily that wondrous benefits await seniors who take up skiing than Billy Kidd, director of skiing at Steamboat Springs. Kidd won a silver medal in the 1964 Olympics, then captured the coveted World Cup in 1970.

“Getting started has nothing to do with age,” Kidd said, tilting his trademark Stetson back on his head. “You need the same thing at any age--good health.”

He said that many non-skiers have a misconception that skiing is a wild and dangerous sport:

“You know, every major ski area has more novice runs than steep trails for experts. The real thing to understand is that you ski at your own pace, on the trails that you like. You set your own level of safety.”

Kidd added that today’s ski equipment is ideal for beginners who are spending pension dollars, as well as for enthusiastic teen-agers who are spending parents’ dollars:

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--Bindings are the safest that have ever been designed, according to Kidd. Skis now are released during slow, rolling falls that once meant trouble because the skier turned and the ski didn’t.

--Today’s novice skis are more responsive, more forgiving and easier to control than any skis ever made, he said.

--Boots for beginners are easy to get into and far more comfortable than they ever have been.

Colorful Gear

Kidd forgot one other important item: Seniors look just as dashing in colorful ski gear, jaunty caps and nifty goggles as youngsters 50 years their juniors.

Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, a New York City orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine, agrees that age is no barrier to those who would like to join the waiting lines at the lifts, or the apres-ski life that glows after the lifts fall silent on winter nights.

“It’s important for seniors to have good joint flexibility and muscle tone. If they’re couch potatoes, it’s especially necessary to shape up through an active exercise program before heading for the slopes,” he said.

Lloyd Lambert of Ballston Lake, N.Y., is perhaps the nation’s best-known senior skier. His first skis were seven-foot pine slabs fastened to his hiking boots with leather toe straps.

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That was in 1915. Soon after that Lambert left Hermosa Beach and moved east. Now 88, he has been skiing ever since.

In his youthful 70s, Lambert, at that time still an active ski reporter for radio stations, decided that what this country really needed was another organization. The result: formation of the famed 70+ club.

Today 70+ has a worldwide membership of 4,500. Members must be at least 70 years old.

Over the Hill Gang

About the same time, three Colorado ski instructors were troubled by the disappearance of older skiers from the mountains. They started a high-spirited organization for older skiers known as the Over the Hill Gang.

Now numbering several thousand members, these ski enthusiasts belong to local chapters mostly in the Western United States.

Both 70+ and the Over the Hill Gang sponsor wide-ranging ski junkets throughout the world for their members.

Katie Dillman, a spokeswoman for the National Ski Areas Assn., said resorts across the nation are trying harder and harder to attract seniors. Lift ticket rates tend to drop sharply for the 60-and-over crowd, especially on weekdays, and an increasing number offer free skiing to the seven-decaders.

70+ charges $5 for a lifetime membership. Members get an identity card, a patch and a 10-page listing of where to ski at big discounts, or free, in the United States, Canada, Australia, France and Switzerland.

For more information on the 70+ club contact Lloyd Lambert, 104 Eastside Drive, Ballston Lake, N.Y. 12019. Prospective members must include documentation of age.

For information on the Over the Hill Gang, contact Earl E. Clark at the club’s international affiliation, 13791 E. Rice Place, Aurora, Colo. 80015.


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