Senior citizen skiing on rise -- both cross-country and alpine

If you don't believe the population is growing older and younger at the same time, are you ready for a senior olympics for skiers over 70? Or how about a Senior PEP League -- cross-country skiing for older Americans?

There is now a national program to promote cross-country skiing for citizens 50 and older. It comes complete with an introductory booklet on some gentle forms of conditioning and warming-up exercises, selecting equipment, clothing, the "first day on skis," and safety. There are even free dry-land and on-snow workshops where coaches and other experts will give free lessons, demonstrations , and tips on cross-country skiing.

Many authorities consider cross-country skiing one of the best forms of aerobic exercise around, ranking right up there with swimming in providing a real workout without overtaxing any particular part of the body. But chances are that a chief promoter of cross-country for seniors was not thinking about aerobic exercises and physical fitness.

Rudi Mattesich, perhaps more than any one person, helped spread the word to Americans about cross-country skiing back in the 1960s, when "skinny skis" were almost unknown in the United States. Rudi called it "ski touring," to distinguish his pleasant idea of exploring hills and dales on skis from more vigorous and competitive forms of the sport, such as cross-country ski racing. He became president of the nonprofit Ski Touring Council, which sponsors tours and workshops throughout the Eastern United States.

One of Rudi's many fortes is being a natural promoter. Now in his 80s, he apparently took note of the rising star of the Gray Panther set and concluded this is the time to introduce senior citizens to ski touring.

Last summer a consortium of ski-touring organizations met to discuss the idea. Besides Rudi's Ski Touring Council and the National Senior Sports Association, whose executive director, Eugene Skora, already supported the idea, the National Ski Touring Operators Association, the Eastern Professional Ski Touring Instructors, the National Ski Patrol, and the US Ski Association joined to form the Senior Citizen Ski Touring Committee.

Out of that group has come a pilot program which includes "golden eagle" discounts for senior citizen tourers at participating ski touring centers.

The USSA, with a grant from the Travelers Insurance Companies, is sponsoring a Senior PEP (physical exercise pays) League, which includes the introductory booklet on cross-country for seniors and 16 preseason and on-snow clinics. In this first season, most are in New England, but some are also scheduled for Detroit, Chicago, and Syracuse, N.Y.

All of this must sound pretty tame to Lloyd Lambert, a veteran ski broadcaster and writer in the Albany, N.Y., region. In 1977 Lloyd looked around and decided it was time "seniors" got some of the lower ski-lift prices, privileges, and programs normally associated with "juniors." He formed the 70 -plus Ski Club, charged anyone who was 70 or older $5 to join, and solicited ski areas across the country to give his members free skiing, or the closest thing to it that they could.

Today, there are 351 members in 25 states plus Canada, Germany, and Australia. The names of ski areas that now honor the 70-Plus Ski Club patch with free skiing fill six pages, according to Lloyd. Each March the club's annual race at Hunter Mountain in New York's Catskill Mountains has become something of a media event. No longer is Lloyd startled when he gets a phone call from "Good Morning, America" or "Real People" or some other media heavyweight exploring the possibility of a story.

When the season is over, Lloyd and his wife, Elinor, ply any excess in membership dues over expenses into the US Ski Team Fund. So far, he says, $525 has been donated.

The 70-plusers, of course, are alpine or downhill skiers, which makes it all the more interesting when Lloyd reveals his latest project: a 70-plus ski olympics, perhaps at Hunter Mountain in 1982.

"I've been in touch with the foreign ski associations. The US ski team is working with me, and they think it's a fabulous idea," enthuses Lloyd. "There would be seven members on each team. Only five would race at one time, and only the four best times would count. We'd do it on the Eisenhower at Hunter --ing out a special course for the downhill."

The executive producers of Wide World of Sports and Over Easy must be fairly drooling with anticipation.

It must also be a sign of the times when the latest ski programs are not for juniors but for their grandparents.

(For further information on the Senior PEP League, contact the US Ski Association, Box 777, Brattleboro, Vt. 05301. On the 70-Plus Ski Club, write to the club at 104 East Side Drive, Ballston Lake, N.Y. 12019.)

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