Monday, March 16, 2020

Longevity on the Lifts

Latest published articles about life in lockdown:
March 2020 – Style Altitude

March 2020 – Style Altitude

Race training on OSV at Sun Peaks Resort - Photo by Cedar Line Creative

For some skiing is a serene solo sport but for many others snowsports are synonymous with group giggles, sociable solidarity and mountain memory-making en masse. And there's growing evidence that group activities like this are good for your health and even longevity.

Peak Pride at Sun Peaks Resort - Photo by
Louise England
School groups, university ski clubs, corporate confabs, National Brotherhood of Skiers, family and friendship groups, racing and freestyle clubs, Pride piste parties, festival frequenters – group activities of every kind abound at most resorts. At Sun Peaks, BC, for example, over 35 race teams from all over Canada, Japan and the USA train at the Nancy Greene International Race Centre in November and December each season. Other groups come from afar too – for example, Rusty Bindings from California, dubbed ‘East Bay’s most active singles’ club’; S’no-Joke Ski Club from Seattle; and Diamond Dogs Ski and Snowboard Club from NYC. A new company, Snowlife Tours is bringing Australian groups to the resort January-March. And every season corporate groups such as the National Electrical Contractors Association and SkiBEEM (Best Evidence in Emergency Medicine) organize jaunts to Sun Peaks. During school breaks, you’ll see student groups from all over, including UBC Kinesiology and TRU Law departments.

While advertising stereotyping typically focuses on glamourous young people posing on the pistes, it’s not always the young who dominate the downhill. Granted, many people drop off the radical and ripping radar as they get injured, unfit or encumbered with expensive overheads. But there are still plenty who ski on into their 70s and beyond. There are many different ski clubs world over to accommodate this generation, proving that seniors and skiing do go together! And, according to JoAnn Grand, President of Rocky Mountain Seniors Ski Club, this kind of outdoors sporty socialization is helping seniors live longer. “It’s an extended family really - as you get older socialization is so important,” says Grand. “I think our members live longer because of skiing and our tours make the winter fly by.”

Rocky Mountain Seniors Ski Club
The RMSSC January schedule focuses on Sun Peaks where this over-55s club has been coming for more than 15 years. Due to large numbers – membership has now exceeded 700 – the club divides into three groups, each staying in the Nancy Greene Cahilty Creek Hotel during consecutive weeks. “Over the years, it went from one week, to two, to three as numbers increased,” Grand recounts. “The Sun Peaks tour just got more and more popular, becoming our members’ favourite hill – it’s just a love affair.” And, in fact, some members do actually fall in love with each other. In Sunburst Eatery where members munch every morning on freshly-baked cinnamon buns, I met Lang and Alan who both hooked up with romantic partners through the club. “I had lost my wife to cancer a few years before, and I met someone in the hot tub on one of our trips,” Lang told me.

Rocky Mountain Seniors Ski Club
Rocky Mountain Seniors Ski Club
This year their oldest Sun Peaks participant, at 84, was Edmonton ice sculpturer Fran Cuyler. “She is an unbelievable skier,” says Grand. “She’ll take Crystal chairlift and ski the trees and say ‘come on JoAnn, let’s hit the powder’.” With around 75 octogenarians on their books, the club’s oldest member is 94-year-old Muriel Watterworth who still skis.

On every tour, club volunteers organize the group into smaller, likeminded segments. “They might split people up into greens and blues or blacks etc and arrange for newcomers to get to know the right people,” explains Grand. “But by now most of us know each other and we all wear badges and encourage everyone to have a ski buddy.” Many of the group know the hill really well and their five day visits have encouraged some to stay longer. “One member rents here for a whole month and another one came for the whole season once,” says Grand. During the visit there is a group reception and a private dinner party in the Cahilty Creek Kitchen. Other social activities are set up ad hoc by participants. “They are all so fun, so lighthearted,” says Grand. 

Rocky Mountain Seniors Ski Club
Rocky Mountain Seniors Ski Club
With Snow Valley as their home hill, the club also arranges group tours to Sunshine Village, Marmot Basin, Silver Star, Big White, Whitefish, Panorama, Lake Louise and, more recently, Red Mountain. Towards the end of the season, the RMSSC descends on Jasper for a costume race. “It’s a ski improvement trip with lessons and, as we take a lot of members, we get a really good deal,” says Grand. “We get hilarious, excellent costumes, all homemade – there was a guy in a pink leotard and tutu last year even though it was freezing.” Over the years, club members have developed some novel ways to overcome physical issues. For example, baby powder is used on socks to make putting on and taking off ski boots easier. And one member uses a tampon to cushion the tongue of her boots against her shins. “She was putting on her boots at Sunshine once and another elderly guy saw what she was using and was horrified,” laughs Grand. “She used to ski with Hans Gmoser and she’d been using this method for years.”

Rocky Mountain Seniors Ski Club
In the summer, activities focus around cycling, golfing and hiking as well as a pre-ski conditioning program. “It is phenomenal how the club has grown and how everyone supports each other,” says Grand. It just shows what a need there is out there that this fulfills. We seem to get new members every day just through word of mouth. I tell people ‘you have to stop saying what a great thing it is or we’ll get too many’!”

The RMSSC attracts members from all over Alberta but there’s also another ski club based in Calgary – the Seniors Alpine Club

Skiing weekly at Sunshine Village, the club also includes Marmot Basin and Sun Peaks on its regular tour schedule. 

I bumped into a few of the members on the Sundance chairlift during their recent visit. “Our club has been visiting Sun Peaks for over 25 years,” says club publicity director, Marilyn Fedderson. “We typically have one or two trips a year, consisting of about 50 people on each trip.”

Sun Peaks' groomed Main Street

Seniors Alpine Club at Sun Peaks Resort
“We stay at a somewhat modest hotel which we love because it is right on the hill and we can ski to and from the door.” I asked Fedderson what the 400-plus members liked best about Sun Peaks: “The natural snow, beautiful snow ghosts at the top of the Crystal chair, the exceptionally well done grooming of the hills, the variety of runs for all levels of skiers, the history and legacy of Nancy Greene and skiing with her and Al Raine,” she replied. “Nancy is a member of our club and makes a point of welcoming our groups and skiing with the members.” Based from the Cahilty Hotel & Suites, wandering around Sun Peaks Village is also a highlight for the group – “all the lights, charming buildings and snow-filled, skiable streets and interesting cafés, restaurants and shops to pop in and out of,” Fedderson enthused. Among the members’ top skiing spots, she rates the variety of runs on Mt. Morrisey, the Three Bears glades, the long and cruisy Five Mile run, and anywhere with fresh powder.

Cahilty Hotel & Suites
And it’s not just about the skiing. “Many members participate in other activities while at Sun Peaks and some partners who are not downhill skiers will join the group and enjoy the beautiful groomed snowshoe and cross country trails,” she explains.A number have enjoyed the torchlight fondue night. And most frequent the lovely variety of good restaurants and pubs in the village.”

Seniors Alpine Club at Sun Peaks Resort
With ages ranging from 56 to 92, everyone is attracted by the sense of belonging and joining in. As well as the camaraderie of making likeminded friends in a similar age-group, Fedderson cites the affordable group rates as incentives. Using buses for the away trips takes away the burden of driving long distances on winter roads. “It is fun to ski with others and to try new runs and techniques encouraged by others,” she says. “It is an opportunity to connect with others who are still skiing after many of our friends have given it up.” She adds that it is personally inspirational to see people much older than herself, many with injuries and joint replacements, still skiing, keeping fit, enjoying great conversation and having fun. Outside of the ski season, the group organizes social activities including a Christmas dinner dance, pub nights, potluck dinners and parties, and a summer golf tournament.The club has become a highlight of my retirement years,” Fedderson concludes. “And keeps me active during the winter months.”

Seniors Alpine Club at Sun Peaks Resort

Thinking of skiing with your own piste posse next winter?
So, what actually constitutes a Ski/Ride Group? At Sun Peaks as few as 15 people counts as a group which then requires one person to act as coordinating liaison responsible for a single payment via the online store for lift tickets. For groups with over 41 people, email And for accommodation and other info, contact There are blackout dates for peak periods - December 2; December 21 - January 5; February 15 – 23; and March 14 – 29 for 2019/20 season. Savings are best for Monday-Thursday visits.

Sun Peaks joie de vivre! (Wearing Alchemy of RIDE jacket and Obermeyer pants)