By Rashelle Brown
Whether they’re swooshing down steep slopes or gliding silently along woodland trails, skiers are a dedicated bunch. To those who have never skied, the thought of donning bulky layers to head out into freezing temperatures might not sound like fun, but the skiers we talked to don’t mind it a bit. If you’re among this hearty group, we’ve got tips on how to keep skiing safely for decades to come.
One name, two sports
Downhill and cross-country (XC) skiing share a common name because their essential gear also does — you need skis, boots and poles for each. But experienced skiers from both camps know that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Our primary focus for this article is XC skiing, because it tends to be gentler on both the body and the budget. J.D. Downing, president of the World Masters Cross-Country Ski Association (WMA), told us that he did a fair amount of downhill skiing from childhood through college, but, “more recently the cost and risk of injury would make it unlikely that I do much downhill ever again.”
However, the other skiers we talked to said that, while they primarily focus on XC skiing now, they still enjoy zooming downhill from time to time.
Skiing past 50? You betcha!
Skiing is incredibly popular among adults over 50. The WMA, comprised of around 20 to 30 member nations, organizes Masters World Cup events and promotes the sport world-wide for skiers over 30.
There are 14 age groups, in five-year brackets, from ages 30 to 90-plus, and they have skiers racing competitively in every bracket.
What’s more, Downing said of membership, “there’s definitely a bell curve, and we’ve seen the peak of that curve move upward in age over the past decade.” In 2019, the age group with the most skiers was 65 to 69.
Apart from those serious 50-plus skiers who like to compete, many more people simply ski for the health benefits and the joy it brings.
A lifelong passion
A pair of friends from the Twin Cities suburbs have been joyfully meeting up to ski for decades.
“We love everything we do, but skiing is probably our favorite,” Karen Casper, 57, of Roseville, Minn. said. “When it’s 40 below, we’re the only people that can get each other to go out.”
Casper’s partner in crime is Kerry Bogenreif, 61, of Lino Lakes, Minn., who said: “Given the choice of anything, if there’s snow, I’d choose to ski.” Both women have been skiing since their early teens and find the sport perfect for those seeking outdoor adventure in the dead of winter.
I interviewed the two together, in a Zoom /zigman2/quotes/211319643/composite ZM -0.03% video chat, and their faces lit up as they described their many adventures “bushwhacking through the woods.” They’ve even done a winter trip in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area, skiing from island to island across the frozen lakes that people normally canoe in summer months.
This adventurous spirit seems to be a common trait among skiers. When there’s snow on the ground and he’s not busy with WMA duties, Downing, 55, skis near his hometown, Bend, Ore. XC skiing has been his sport for over 45 years, and he says, “When I want to, I have the experience to ski into many backcountry areas.”
How to keep skiing, injury-free
Even if you only stick to groomed trails, XC skiing is a great workout with a low risk for injury. That’s one reason why it’s so popular among adults over 50.
“It’s a workout that encompasses the whole body, and it’s really safe for athletes of all ages,” Zuzana Rogers, 49, of Anchorage, Alaska, said. Rogers is a physical therapist for the U.S. National XC ski team and the clinical director at Runner’s Edge Alaska , a clinic focused on outdoor activities for people of all ages.