At 80 years young, Lake Tahoe man is Heavenly Mountain Resort ski instructor |

At 80 years young, Lake Tahoe man is Heavenly Mountain Resort ski instructor

by Dave Price

Joe Hayes exudes a certain enthusiasm that is contagious. Especially when it comes to talking about education.

The Stateline man has devoted his life to sharing his knowledge with others, which can be seen by the 34 years he spent as an elementary school teacher and principal from 1962-96, not to mention eight years as a trustee for the San Juan Unified School District in Sacramento from 1996-2004.

And now, at 80 years young, he continues his work as a part-time ski instructor at Heavenly Mountain Resort. The only difference these days is that his classroom at Boulder Ski and Ride School on Heavenly’s Nevada side offers a much different scenery.

“Yes, it is,” Hayes said, laughing. “It’s a gorgeous classroom.”

And, of course, he is still teaching.

“You do the same thing,” Hayes said of his role as ski instructor. “First, you find out what they’d like to know and what they’d like to do. Then you assess what they can do, and you come to a mutual contract of what they’d like to accomplish in the lesson. You go from there, and then in the end, you say, ‘Well, how did we do?’”

Hayes has spent time as an instructor at various ski resorts around the Tahoe Basin, from Donner Ski Ranch to what is now Sierra-at-Tahoe (formerly Sierra Ski Ranch). He has been at Heavenly since 2000 and shows no sign of slowing down.

Well, maybe a step or two.

“When you get to a certain age, you back off a little. Actually, common sense has overtaken me,” he said, laughing. “I used to be able to take any terrain, I choose not to do it anymore because you get older and you get wiser.”

The best part is that he loves coming to work on weekends.

“I work with a good crew of people and I like working with people,” Hayes said. “That’s why I still do it.”

An epic snowpack this winter — possibly the best at Tahoe since the winter of 1982-83 — has certainly helped.

“This year, it’s gorgeous up there. I think Heavenly probably has a hard time digging the lifts out, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s gorgeous coverage, you can ski in the trees, you can ski anywhere.”

This is actually the realization of a dream that goes back to a time when he was an educator at Orangevale, Mariposa Avenue, Del Dayo and Woodside in the San Juan district.

“I used to tell people, I just want to be a ski instructor,” he said with a smile.

Skiing has provided some good family stories, including the time when his daughter literally married on the run at Sierra-at-Tahoe.

“Of course, she wore a wedding dress,” he recalled. “You know how the father gives the bride away? We had to synchronize going down there — she in her wedding dress, me in my tux — then we go down there and I give the bride away. Then when she got to the chairlift, they had tied some cans to the back of the chairlift and a sign that said, ‘Just married,’ and they went up on a chairlift.”

Oh, by the way, he isn’t the only family member who works at Heavenly. He isn’t even the oldest. His wife, Margaret Aikin, works in the ski school reservation office at Stagecoach Lodge.

“She’s 86 and they love her up there,” Hayes said. “She knows the program, she’s able to work a computer. She doesn’t ski anymore, she stopped about 10 years ago, but she is still able to drive up to the top of Stagecoach and get back down again.”

Hayes stays active during the off-season by riding a mountain bike, which helps him maintain conditioning for the winter months.

“I am still able to ski, so I’m not complaining,” he said. “I’m just thankful for every day. It’s the first day of the rest of your life and you may as well enjoy it.”

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