Still Skiing, After All These Years |

Still Skiing, After All These Years

Every winter morning, it’s the same old grind: after the alarm chirps, they crawl from bed, bundle up, drive to the slopes, meet the other retirees, ski all day. …

Wait a minute – retired people? Skiing? Aren’t they supposed to be creaking the deck boards in a rocking chair? Knitting goofy socks for the grandkids? Joining mahjong and shuffleboard clubs? Not this crew. They live to ski, eagerly awaiting the season’s first snowflakes.

Since the heyday of the 1940s, when resorts and lift service were evolving, youngsters took up the fledgling sport and grew with the ski industry. Across the nation, as skiing celebrates a golden anniversary of sorts, there is a growing group of skiers in the 70-and-older category.

Some, like Wally Rothgeb, took up skiing early, excelled at racing and made his career at the resorts. In 1940, Rothgeb competed in the National Ski Championships, which called for competing in downhill, slalom, cross country and jumping events. Against names like Alf Engen and Bert Irwin, this Stateline resident placed 12th overall. He was the first patrol director for Heavenly; moving into mountain management positions there and at Ski Incline, Squaw Valley and Big Sky, Mont.

Having skied 70 years so far, Rothgeb still feeds a lifelong passion for his sport. “Skiing is one of the great joys of life. I’ll usually get in at least 80 days a year,” he said. “I haven’t changed too much of how I ski. I’m not interested in bumps, but I’ll still go in the trees occasionally. The best changes in the ski industry? Grooming! They make it so much easier now for an older person to ski.”

Then there is Andree Prevost, 70 years young and still passionate about skiing after her debut in 1945. She learned the smart way, spending three weeks at a resort in Canada’s Laurentian mountains. Her first instructor was Jim McConkey, father of present day extreme star, Shane. A positive learning experience led Prevost to teach and coach part-time over many years.

Now this Round Hill resident skis every day of the season, all 90 pounds of her. “I wake up every morning of the winter and know exactly what I’ll be doing that day,” she said. “But it never fails; the first day of the season, I always ride the chair with my little heart thumping – worried about how much I’ll remember. Of course, it’s always fine.

“After 35 years in Tahoe, I’m still awestruck by the beauty. I’ll always stop and drink in the view, and think how lucky I am to be living here. With skiing, even at my age, I’m always striving to improve. Last year, with fresh snow so often, I saw some improvements to my powder skiing. I figure, the only way to gain confidence is by doing it. Skiing makes me feel like I want to dance.

“The only thing I really miss over the years is the sort of old world, lodge feeling resorts had when they were younger. Sun Valley and Whistler are my favorite places to travel to when I’m not at Heavenly, and they still have that sort of feel.”

Another regular, who first met Prevost in the 1960s, is Jean Atherton. A recent graduate into the 70-plus club, this Round Hill skier has spent 48 years arcing down mountains. Her interest in the sport keeps building, even after a less-than-perfect beginning.

“At Dodge Ridge, when I was 22, a handsome young man decided to give me some pointers. He kept telling me to turn by pushing my downhill ski ahead of the uphill one,” she said. “Well, of course, every time I tried to turn, I just crossed my tips and fell! At the end of the day, despite all the falls, the bloody ankles and lousy turns, I was just determined to ski. I did know there was something wrong with my technique.”

Atherton taught school in the Bay Area for years, heading to Tahoe each weekend. “I skied every chance I got,” she said. “I drove through blizzards. I joined a ski club. I raced. I did everything I could to go skiing. Now, the only days off I take are when they shut the chairs or I have family commitments – in that order. Skiing makes me feel young again.”

Another lifelong skier, Dave McCoy, couldn’t get in enough skiing, so he built his own ski resort – Mammoth Mountain. Now in his early 80’s, McCoy still floats down his mountain four days each week.

“I have been skiing for 69 years and I actually get more pleasure now from the sport,” he said. “I always seem to learn something new every day. The new equipment is great. I use shaped skis and I love them. I don’t miss one thing from the old days.”

No cribbage and backgammon needed for this crowd. What these skiers all share – besides a few good stories – is a simple joy for gliding gracefully down hills. They are proof that there is no age limit to the sport. Atherton’s parents lived into their 90s, implying she may have 20-some years left to ski.

“I hope so,” she exclaimed.

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