Whether you’ve been skiing since the days of leather boots or if rockered sticks are all you know, you should care that the number of skiers over 65 is at an all-time high. After all, it bodes well for the future of our sport. In 2020-’21, seniors accounted for 16.1 percent of skier visits, totaling 59 million, while individual participants reached a record high 10.5 million according to the National Ski Areas Association, dispelling the myth that all seniors are snowbirds who fly south for the winter.
“I think we see so many seniors involved with skiing not only because they love it, but because skiing has that culture of being both a generational and a social sport,” explains Adrienne Saia Isaac, Marketing and Communications Director for the National Ski Areas Association. “The main way that folks get started in skiing is because their parents or friends introduced them to it. Family traditions become based around ski trips and holidays. And skiing has that social aspect. Skiers connect over the collective joy of sliding on snow. You’ve not only got the outside part, but the camaraderie in the lodge afterward. It’s all part of the experience, and there’s no age limit on who can have that connection to the slopes.”
Professional Ski Instructors of America Chief Executive Officer Nicholas Herrin adds, “Advances in technology including improved equipment designs and materials, increased snowmaking, and better grooming have made skiing and riding more accessible to everyone, including senior skiers.”
Also, the sheer volume of Baby Boomers is a contributing factor. Currently the United States is home to more than 70 million Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964). Many attended high school when ski clubs were first taking root, and students developed a love of the sport on Friday nights at their local hills. That love carried over as they reached retirement age and discovered that although their physical skills may have somewhat diminished, there was still plenty of fun to be had on the slopes.
Utah skiing legend Alan K. Engen, 81, former Director of Skiing at Alta, explains, “Senior skiers have more free time available to enjoy outdoor activities. Also, financial concerns of raising a family and being tied to a multitude of job responsibilities may not be as much of an issue after retirement. Finally, the tremendous advances made in ski equipment and ski instruction have played a significant factor in why more senior skiers participate now than in the past.”
Engen serves on the Advisory Council of SeniorsSkiing.com, a virtual community and meeting place for snow enthusiasts over 50. According to the site’s editor, Jon Weisberg, about 10,000 Americans per day turned 65, a trend that’s expected to continue through the mid-2030s. “Obviously, not all are skiers,” he says. “But that wave helps account for the substantial number of older skiers. There’s also the fact that the Baby Boom generation lived through the best of economic times and is now able to make lifestyle decisions that, for those who make the choice, allow them to keep skiing. Prior to the remote-working phenomenon, it was seniors who populated ski areas mid-week.”
Ski groups for seniors have never been more robust. Clubs such as Silver Streaks at Waterville Valley Resort, N.H.—the longest-running senior skiing program in the country—the Prime Timers at Bogus Basin, Idaho, and the Over The Hill Gang at Copper Mountain, Colo. are attracting new members on a daily basis. Over The Hill Gang members aren’t fair-weather skiers, either. The group meets 50 or more days per season regardless of weather, and skiers choose their group based on their skills, energy level, and their physical condition.
Seniors north of the border are also skiing more consistently and later into their 80s. Rosalynn Ruptash, 67, is president of Alberta’s Rocky Mountain Seniors Ski Club. She reports that the number of members has doubled since 2009, and is expected to reach close to 1,000 this year. “We have grown by about 100 members since the same time last year and of our 861 members, 67 are over 80 years old.”
Seniors retiring differently than previous generations has also contributed to skiing’s senior boom. Heading to Florida or other warm-weather locales is no longer the default for today’s healthier, more active retirees. “Fifty-five plus is the retirement age for many Baby Boomers who have done well financially and can afford to ski,” says Dr. William O. Roberts, Director of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “Many have maintained their health and are able to ski. Physical activity is a use it or lose it proposition so those who have stayed healthy and active are able to continue skiing. I have many ski friends who have retired and spend the winters in the west skiing rather than heading south for the sun.”
Roberts, who’s entering his seventh decade, speaks from experience. “I’ve had a personal goal of becoming a member of the Plus 80 Club at Alta since I first skied there in 1978,” he admits. “And in the spirit of exercise is medicine, I can think of few activities that are more fun and that keep me motivated to stay active and fit.”