Skeezers: Still Snow-Crazy After All These Years

By Grace Lichtenstein
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, December 2, 2007

Playing in the snow with people your own age can be fun. I learned this last winter when I went on an Elderhostel package ski trip for the first time.

I was searching for reasonably priced trips to Western resorts and came across several run by the well-known travel and education outfit. Who, me? Elder? Okay, I am of a certain age. Still, at first I worried about finding myself among a troupe of white-haired grannies and gramps shuffling toward a lift line, barely able to heft their skis onto their shoulders. Surely an old-folks ski trip would feature slow folks -- the kind of people who took forever to make it down the mountain, with nap time before dinner built into the schedule.

But the price was right, so I signed on for an excursion to Winter Park, Colo., along with a friend, figuring that since we had skied there before, we could always go off on our own if the pace was too sluggish for us.

My concerns proved to be unwarranted. I had a terrific vacation with a group that was as diverse as any I have experienced: couples and singles, men and women, from as far away as Hawaii, England and Dubai. As a bonus, the package included two age-appropriate guides who knew the resort so well that we did not need to spend time peering through our trifocals at trail maps.

I arrived on a gorgeous January Sunday and caught the airport van for Winter Park, a 90-minute ride from the airport west into the mountains. Winter Park is not too far from one entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and near the town of Fraser, which calls itself the "Icebox of the Nation." (More about global cooling later.) The scenery changed from brown plains to glistening white peaks as we climbed over Berthoud Pass on a recently widened road known to be closed periodically by avalanches. While the landscape is not Jackson Hole-beautiful, Winter Park's four mountains looked impressively vast against a cobalt blue sky. At the Elderhostel's hotel, an older property that was a short bus ride from the lifts, we gathered in a private dining room the first night for a meal and introductions.

There were 20 of us, including three married pairs. A 70-year-old named Fred introduced himself jokingly as "Mary's wife." They were from Madison, Wis. Fred announced that this was his 54th year on skis. "The body does go south," he acknowledged, "but I still have the same zest as I did in college."

Jan and Bob Stratton of Muncie, Ind., were also a couple who, like Mary and Fred, had returned after a good first Elderhostel ski experience. "Last year, we looked at all these faces and wondered, 'What's it going to be like?' " Jan Stratton said. "We enjoyed it so much we signed up as soon as the catalogue came out for this year."

I was a bit surprised to learn that several married women were onboard without their husbands. "He's a non-skier," said Naomi Eckhaus, a grandmother from Chapel Hill, N.C., who started to ski at age 47, "so God bless Elderhostel." With her was a high school friend from Massachusetts.

One woman from Ohio boasted that she was in her 45th year of skiing -- now with one artificial knee. "I don't do moguls or black diamonds anymore, but I love skiing and I don't want to stop." Four people had flown to Colorado from England (including a professor from North Carolina on a visiting professorship to Dubai). A youthful Virginia fellow had come with his stepfather.

When we gathered the next morning at a fire pit at the base of the ski area, Gary and Dan, the two leaders, handed out orange streamers for us to tie to our ski poles, so we could easily spot our new pals. They explained that we could ski by ourselves or follow them -- one would lead a faster group, the other a slower one.

Almost immediately, my friend Evelyn and I (both of us 60-plus) were pleased to see that the faster group would be sailing along the cruising runs at a good clip. We followed behind Gary, a 64-year-old West Point grad who had retired from a career in the telecom industry. He had been both a ski instructor and a patroller in earlier years, as his precise form made evident.

Since I don't often go on a package tour, I didn't expect the camaraderie that develops as strangers eat dinners together almost every night, stay in the same hotel, and ski the slopes in groups. After exploring mostly intermediate runs on the main mountain, we all reconvened for lunch at Snoasis, one of the on-mountain restaurants. We had been given $12 meal vouchers; with a soup-and-salad combo costing $16, I was quickly learning how handy a package price can be.

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