Snow skiing may be an X Games sport, but for Gail McLeod and her husband, John, getting out on the slopes is just another way to exercise and enjoy nature with their friends.
Both of them are 70 years old, but neither considers skiing to be an unusual activity for a couple their age.
“You’ve got to do something,” John says with a nonchalant wave of his hand.
In fact, their friends 76-year-old Janet Bill and 77-year-old Gary Bill of Newport News, Va., say that skiing has become such a popular sport with their generation that most resorts have reintroduced a lift ticket fee for people older than 70.
Dr. Anthony Carter has seen the same trend in his practice as an orthopedic surgeon and chief of surgery at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News, Va.
In the past, patients would only come in for a joint replacement if they were experiencing major pain.
Now, he says, patients often ask him to perform those surgeries just so they can maintain the high level of physical activity they’re used to.
“You know, 70-year-olds now are not like the 70-year-olds we knew several decades ago,” he says.
He also says snow skiing can be a great workout for those who know what they’re doing.
If you skip the moguls and keep your speed conservative, skiing is a low impact and aerobic exercise.
Head and hip injuries are the major concerns, Carter says, so starting to ski in your 70s is a risk. But if you get clearance from your doctor, there’s no reason to sit out.
Both the Bills and McLeods stick to medium-level difficulty slopes, and all four wear helmets. They’ve taken some spills, but aside from Janet injuring her thumbs a few years ago, no one has been seriously hurt.
Gail and John took up the sport in their 50s, and Gail says she was petrified. But her husband wanted to be involved in their church youth group’s skiing trip and talked her into trying it.
“Anybody who knows me would say they are absolutely shocked that I ski,” Gail says. “I’ve never done any kind of physical activity before. I’ve had a few hard licks, but I go at my speed. I don’t go as fast as I can.”
The Bills also took up the sport in their 50s and say that it’s much easier, and less expensive, to take trips now that they’re retired.
“Retired people can travel during the week when the rates are better,” Gary says. “You’ll see the young people out on the slopes on the weekends, but during the week it’s mostly people our age.”
Both couples take two or three week-long ski trips per season with the Peninsula Ski Club. By joining the club, they can get additional trip discounts and take advantage of the social aspect of skiing. The club skews older, they say, but all age groups, and families, are encouraged to join.
“We want people to know that you can ski at any age,” Janet says.
“Yes, we plan on doing this for a long time to come,” Gary adds.