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Story and photos byYvette Cardozo

High on Adventure, September 2019

  Silver Star ski run sign   Silver Star senior skier  
Silver Star's Over The Hill ski run
Silver Star senior skier

    “Um, where’s the guy you said is 83?”

    “Oh he took off to ski. He’s heading for the backside runs.”

    Sure enough, Mike had decided the lure of back country powder overrode sitting to talk with somebody about folks who are still skiing into their 70s and beyond.

    When you talk about senior skiers, especially at Silver Star Mountain in British Columbia’s interior, you’re not talking about somebody mincing their way down a green run.

    This group seems to be all ex-ski patrol, ex-instructors, ex-racers. And, well, not all of them are ex. A couple showed up in their instructor jackets.

    They jokingly said the area used to refer to them as “senior instructors” but they now prefer to be called “arctic blonds.”

    And yes, they were virtually all guys.

  Ernie Sollie skiing   Silver Star senior skiers  

    But that’s just Silver Star. Over at Sun Peaks, further north, the senior group is more of a mixed bag. In fact, the husbands of the Polar Bears (all women) got so jealous they talked about forming their own guys-only group, the Grizzlies. And there are the Antiques, a mixed group of Kamloops local men and women who also ski at Sun Peaks and socialize together regularly.

    The ski areas have bought into all of this.

    Silver Star has a fun race called the Annual Over The Hill Downhill and actually includes training camps, qualifiers and, of course, the actual race, usually in February.

    The idea, said Chantelle Deacon of the area’s media relations, is to dress in your oldest, most archaic ski clothes and gear.

    “You see people in super tight one-pieces. Some unearth these old straight skis with really pointy tips.”

    There’s also a ski run called Over The Hill.

    And there’s a senior clinic called Master Academy aimed at folks 50-plus. It’s a two-day clinic with skiers split into intermediate, advanced and expert and, the area’s website says, “We will work to simplify your ski technique, allowing you to ski with less effort and fatigue. Let us show you how to use modern ski design and equipment to your advantage giving you more time on the slopes.”

  Silver Star Village at dusk   Entrance to Silver Star back mountain ski runs  
Silver Star Village at dusk
Entrance to Silver Star back mountain ski runs

    Plus, there’s Masters’ Monday, weekly co-ed programs January through March run by instructors but aimed more at fun skiing than lessons.

    At another British Columbia resort, Big White, there are entire Masters’ Weeks, fashioned after those old ski weeks of the ‘80s. Lessons in the morning, social stuff at night. It’s so popular, there are now three Masters’ Weeks each season.

    Meanwhile ...

    All these “elder” skiers have one thing in common.

    They are fit. They exercise regularly. They never really were couch potatoes. Most of them have been skiing since they learned to walk.

    Well, not all. A few (like me) didn’t start skiing seriously until well into middle age.

    But the one thing that binds them is their love of snow, of winter, of all things ski.

    Ok, there have been some concessions.

    Steve Hubbard, one of the younger Silver Star guys at 67 confessed, “I don’t ski bumps any more because I skied too many when I was young.

    “I used to terrorize the bumps. Now they terrorize us.”

    Another chap admitted his hockey days were over.

    “You think maybe a bit before you do something ... you take fewer chances,” someone else chipped in.

    “One of the things keeping a lot of us in the game is knee and hip replacements ... and at least one back fusion. Knees and hips are almost routine and Art has fused ankles,” another added.

    Ah yes, we don’t grow old. We accumulate injuries.

    But that hasn’t stopped them.

    Ernie Sollid, 77, sent me a picture of his back X-ray, the slightly terrifying one that shows lumbar 3+4+5 bolted together. He also sent along a screen shot of his stats for last Feb. 1... the one showing he hit 46 mph, skied a total of 25.5 miles with 22,145 vertical feet. All this over four hours.

    “I usually quit after lunch,” he added.

X-ray of Ernie Sollid's back
  Ernie Sollid ski stats  
Ernie's 'restructuring' ... an X-ray photo showing lumbar 3+4+5 bolted together. Photo courtesy Ernie Sollid
  A day on the slopes for Ernie Sollid, age
77. And that's 22,145 vertical feet he skied.

                               Photo courtesy Ernie Sollid.
  Ernie Sollid skiing   Ernie Sollid  
Ernie Sollid on the slopes Photo courtesy Ernie Sollid
Ernie Sollid Photo courtesy Ernie Sollid

    But not everyone is held together with bolts and pins.

    Sigi White, 81, over at Sun Peaks, whose idea of keeping in shape is back country touring because she says downhill skiing isn’t taxing enough, has managed to escape injury.

    “I ski anything on the mountain,” she said, adding “I’m not fond of bumps. I want to save my knees. I prefer powder.”

    And off season, she hikes, often doing multi day backpacking trips.

    Another thing that seems consistent is that these folks ski a lot. They’re retired and this is what they like to do. “The guy with two new knees skied 105 days last year,” one of the Silver Star skiers said.

    A lot of senior skiers also become ski hosts. It’s a great way to stay active on the mountain.

    And maybe this also explains Silver Star’s season pass figures.

    Last season, 32 percent of all season passes were sold to seniors, aged 65 - 80. But astonishingly, another 30 percent went to what they call the Young At Heart group aged 81-plus. The rest were scattered among adults younger than 65, and kids. That means nearly two thirds of all their season passes went to seniors.

    “They don’t all ski every day, all day. Many just come up for a few hours,” one ski area rep said.  And yes, I understand that. I have a senior season pass for my local hill outside Seattle and it lets me go for a run, a few runs, half a day. I don’t feel pressured to eke out every second because I shelled out for a one day ticket.

    Ok, I remember when I first moved to the Seattle area and joined a group called the Crazy Ladies (yes, they earned that name on the slopes). I was in my early 40s, a few were in their 70s and I remember saying I just wanted to still be upright at 70.

    Yet here I am 74, still skiing. Though not fast. Not in powder. No longer through the trees and definitely not bumps.

    But give me a steep cruiser and yes, I’m on it.

  Silver Star perfect grooming   Silver Star Village  
  Silver Star perfect grooming photo by Dave Heath   Silver Star Main Street photo by Amanda Wallace  

    Peter Ypma, 69, added something else - the joy of skiing with the kids and, later, the grandkids. Many raised kids who became serious racers. And they all share a love of the slopes.

    “Kids would WANT to hang out with their folks on the ski hill,” Ypma said. “Grandkids and great-grandkids relate. They still have fun skiing with grandpa, partly because of all the fun the family had skiing throughout their lives.”


Silver Star Mountain Resort - http://www.skisilverstar.com/home?location=US     
Sun Peaks Resort - https://www.sunpeaksresort.com/     
Silver Star’s Master Academy clinic for skiers 50+ - http://www.skisilverstar.com/snow-school/academy-programs/masters-academy
Big White Masters’ Weeks - https://www.bigwhite.com/ski-school-rentals/camps-special-programs/masters-week


    The food and beverage manager over at the Den calls it classic cocktails “with a twist.” And, indeed, these are not your usual Old Fashioneds served at the Den & Bar Bistro at Silver Star Mountain in British Columbia, Canada … case in point - Tom, the bartender’s Smoked Old Fashioned - one example of many of his creations.

Silver Star Den drinks
Silver Star Den old-fashioned drink
  Tom and his tools to make old-fashioned drink  
Finished smoked old-fashioned drink

    Ingredients ... a couple of bourbons, vermouth, bitters, a ball of ice in a glass, orange rind, cherry wood chips and a beaker with a strainer.

    Tom torched the wood chips, set an upside down glass over the smoke, mixed the alcohols, bitters and sugar syrup, shook with ice, poured the alcohol over the ice ball and added a slice of orange rind. The result was a smooth taste that rolled gently around the tongue. There was a hint of whiskey, a hint of orange and the barest hint of smoke. Perfect after a day of skiing and before you tucked into the Den’s BBQ ribs.

The Den Bar and Bistro - http://www.skisilverstar.com/my-village/restaurants/den-bar-and-bistro

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