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Retirees on Skis. `Getting started has nothing to do with age,' says 1964 Olympics silver medalist. NEVER TOO OLD

By I. Herbert GordonSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / January 13, 1989


TRISH'S face broke into a smile as warm and bright as a sunny spring day. Her eyes sparkled as she shared the excitement of her first ski lesson two years earlier. ``You see, the instructor took one look at me and he saw I was really nervous. Well, he was laid back and very casual and he said anybody who wanted to learn to ski, young or not quite so young,'' she interrupted herself with a giggle, then continued, ``could be skiing on those long blue trails all over the mountain in a week.

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``And you know what? I did.''

She laughed. ``Oh, it was such a wonderful experience for a woman my age.''

Ah, would Trish be willing to share the secret of her age?

``Maybe I shouldn't because I'm still working and you know what weird ideas people get when they think about someone my age. But, well, I'm 71.''

Why did she decide to take up skiing?

Trish says her husband had died a year or so before, and she had gone to Steamboat Springs, high in the Colorado mountains, to visit a son. The huge Steamboat Springs ski complex was only a snowball toss away.

``My son suggested it. He said maybe if I added something new and exciting it would help fill the void.

``It did, but I also discovered something else: It's a wonderful way of turning the clock back.''

NO one would agree more heartily that wondrous benefits await seniors who take up skiing than Billy Kidd, director of skiing at Steamboat Springs. Mr. Kidd won a silver medal in the 1964 Olympics, then captured the coveted World Cup in 1970.

``Getting started has nothing to do with age,'' Kidd says, tilting his trademark Stetson back on his head. ``You need the same thing at any age - good health.''

He points out that many non-skiers have a misconception that skiing is a wild and dangerous sport:

``You know, every major ski area has more novice runs than steep trails for experts. The real thing to understand is that you ski at your own pace, on the trails that you like. You set your own level of safety.''

Kidd adds that today's ski equipment is ideal for beginners who are spending pension dollars, as well as for noisy, enthusiastic teen-agers who are spending parents' dollars:

Bindings are the safest that have ever been designed, according to Kidd. Skis now are released during slow, rolling falls that once meant trouble because the skier turned and the ski didn't.

Today's novice skis are more responsive, more forgiving, and easier to control than any skis ever made, he says.

Boots for beginners are easy to get into and far more comfortable than they ever have been.

KIDD forgot one other important item: Seniors look just as dashing in colorful ski gear, jaunty caps, and nifty goggles as youngsters 50 years their juniors.

Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, a New York orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine, agrees age is no barrier to those who would like to join the waiting lines at the lifts, or the apr`es ski life that glows after the lifts fall silent on winter nights.

``It's important for seniors to have good joint flexibility and muscle tone. If they're couch potatoes, it's especially necessary to shape up physically through an active exercise program before heading for the slopes,'' he says.