Riding with a 76-year-old snowboarder was humbling. But also inspiring

Mark Z. Barabak in his snow gear.
Mark Z. Barabak, above, discusses riding with fellow snowboarder Dick Schulze, 76.
(Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times)

Dick Schulze broke me.

Like the 76-year-old competitive snowboarder, I came to the sport late, while in my early 50s. Unlike Schulze, I wasn’t an expert skier.

Dick Schulze strikes a pose on a snowboard.
Dick Schulze has made one concession to time: He no longer seeks out the biggest, gnarliest jumps in the terrain park.
(Katey Hamill)

I’d tried a couple of times in high school, in a haphazard way that guaranteed I’d fall a lot, be cold and miserable and hate it.


And I did, for more than 30 years. On ski trips my family would hit the slopes and I’d stay behind, reading, taking long walks, cooking dinner. I was a serious runner (45 to 50 miles a week, a 3:15 marathon) and wasn’t about to risk a broken leg or torqued knee for a few stupid hours of no fun.

But in time I tired of the dinner-table conversations about this amazing run, or that incredible powder stash, and on. I decided to try snowboarding, since that’s what my two daughters and their cousins were doing.

It took several lessons, a very sore rear end, a severely sprained wrist, countless spills and, collectively, the worst aches and pains of my life, save for the time I was bedridden with meningitis. But eventually snowboarding became more fun than work.

I was hooked.

Now I go every chance I get — 25 or so days in a good year — and what I lack in skill, I make up in stamina. I’m adamant about making the first chairlift and go without stopping — save for the occasional bathroom break — until the last one, seven or eight hours later. Typically, I get in 25 to 30 runs, depending on the crowds and how long each run takes. Any less and I feel cheated.

I’m not particularly fast but can manage all but the most treacherous or icy terrain, though not always as gracefully as I’d like. I’ve got a long way to go before I’m as good as I’d like to be.

Up until recently, though, I had a ready-made justification whenever I failed to keep up with my kids, or others decades younger: I’m 62 and didn’t really learn to snowboard until a dozen or so years ago.

Then, I rode with Schulze to profile him in Column One. He smoked my butt. There went that excuse.


We had fun traversing the mountain, and he never seemed to mind having to wait for me. Schulze offered some helpful tips, like a technique for navigating moguls, which helped right away. But he left me with something even better by telling me his intention was to snowboard at least until he reaches 100.

Mark Barabak's snowboard, as seen from his vantage point
Mark Z. Barabak snowboarding at Northstar California Resort in Truckee in 2017.
(Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times)

For a while now, I’ve been planning my death. (Not in any morbid way.) It’s going to come in the far-off future, at age 120, as I glide down a mountain on my board. It will happen suddenly, to avoid drama, tears and the sad goodbyes I hate. I’ll fall and simply won’t get up again.


People laugh when I tell them my plan.

But Dick Schulze inspired me.