By Sandy Caligiore
Our final ski column of the season reflects a theme contained in this issue of Capital Region Living. It’s senior-centric. In the snow department, the poster child is Bud Conger.
In mid-January, the 85-year-old Conger was featured on local television in Northern New York. The reason is that Conger brings the passion of a man one-third his age to the job he’s enjoyed for nearly 60 years.
Bud Conger has been teaching skiing at Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont since the late 1950s, save one year when he served in the Korean War, according to NBC5. His grandson and fellow Smuggler’s Notch instructor, Brendan Ketchum, told the television station his grandpa can still rip turns down the steeps. Another instructor, Randy Draper, said Bud “gives us hope. He’s a treasure.” It’s with that inspiration Capital Region Living encourages all the Bud Congers out there to continue motivating the rest of us, on and off the slopes.
With boomers in mind
Admittedly, not every resort gives top-of-mind consideration to the older skier and rider. As these sports have skewed toward a more youthful, edgier audience in recent years, some facilities but not all have left the senior behind. Or in the case of Gore Mountain in North Creek, you create a great package for those over the age of 70, by giving them a daily pass for $300 that allows access to both Gore and Whiteface mountains.
There’s a bonus at Gore Mountain, however, where the over 70 lift ticket also enables the user to take advantage of the cross country ski and snowshoe trails at the North Creek Ski Bowl. The trail network has snowmaking and lights.
This kind of recognition is smart business on several fronts. First, the over-50 crowd has time and some expendable income that can be spent on activities like snow sports. Secondly, wellness is a high priority with this group, especially if couples are of like mind on physical activity. Thirdly, with advances in medicine, hip and knee replacements will keep this crowd on their skis and boards longer than previous generations.
In addition, from a business standpoint, the ski industry would do well to pay attention to statistics provided by SeniorSkiing.com. The 45-54 age group accounts for 20 percent of the ski population; the 55-64 age demographic is most noteworthy in that it has more than doubled in size to 12 percent; participants 65 and older total 5.5 percent and growing. Doing the math, snow sports enthusiasts 45 and older total more than a third of patrons buying passes, lift tickets, equipment, clothing and hamburgers.
The National Ski Areas Association drills down further, reporting that skiers 65 and older hit the slopes more often than younger skiers. And seniors 68 and older are out there almost 10 days a season, compared with the national average of five.
So it’s very interesting that as the industry laments its lack of growth, it generally looks at appealing to younger audiences. What about enticing those at the other end of the spectrum? Sugarbush Resort, also in Vermont, addressed that with its Boomer Pass, where those 65 and older could ski mid-week, non-holiday all season for just $199. Smart for both parties: there’s plenty of room in snow country during the week, and Boomers feel like they’re skiing at a country club.
Ski Areas of New York (www.iskiny.com), a consortium of ski operations consisting of public and private sector facilities, is another organization that gets it when it comes to the older generation. No fewer than 18 operations offer deals like free skiing for the over 70 crowd at McCauley Mountain; a $25 lift ticket on weekends at Snow Ridge; at West Mountain in Glens Falls a pass starts at $20 for those 70 and older; and at Belleayre, pay $20 anytime if you’re 70 and over.
When it comes to addressing the senior audience, maybe the grand-daddy (no pun intended) of them all can be found at Maple Ski Ridge in Rotterdam. If you were lucky enough this season to cash in, MSR offered skiers age 60-69 a season pass for merely $139. Remember that for next season.
And a note to ski area management: At some point, these folks will spend additional money in the restaurant, bar and ski shop, not to mention the potential for room nights in hotels.
Seniors dig Nordic skiing, too
If time and expense are make or break items, cross country skiing and snow shoeing must be considered. Nordic trails are a bit less populated and a day pass is noticeably lower than its alpine cousin. One day at the Olympic trails at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid is $12. A half day is $10.
The Nordic experience is great for the heart and soul. You can elevate the pulse a bit (please consult your physician), which is healthy and offers a total body, low impact workout. Apply the right wax and the skiing can be downright easy. Also, the idyllic nature of venturing into a quiet woodland setting and striding at a comfortable pace gives one time to reflect on the meaning of life and skiing.
But it’s the health aspect that resonates with seniors and those who study them.
According to a report on LiveScience.com, “People who are active well into their elder years may rival the health of people 40 or 50 years younger than them. The study participants were cross-country skiers more than 80 years old, one of whom was a former Olympian, and had nearly twice the aerobic capacity of seniors who did not exercise. The aerobic capacity of these elite skiers was comparable to that of men 40 or 50 years younger who did not exercise to improve their stamina, the Swedish researchers said. Analyses of the cells and chemicals of the skiers’ muscles revealed they were similar to what is found in younger men.”
OK so you don’t need Olympic pedigree to benefit from the activity, but you get the idea. If you have further questions or concerns, you might just keep Bud Conger in mind.