I cut my teeth downhill skiing while attending college in Colorado. Learning to ski at mountains like Vail and Crested Butte was like having a first date with Farrah Fawcett, the pin-up poster beauty who starred in “Charlie’s Angels,” the hit TV show back in my college days.
I didn’t ski much after college, mainly because my wallet was thin and I lived in places without any ski areas. But when I moved to Maine permanently 30 years ago, I took it back up, loving that adrenaline rush of whooshing down the slopes, my mind uncluttered of everything but the snow under my skis.
My skiing time decreased after getting married and dwindled to near-zero after we had our son, Eli. But it was Eli who brought me back to the slopes when, at age 12 or so, he decided he wanted to try his hand at skiing. Eli had taken a ski lesson a few years earlier, but it was painful to watch as he fell every few feet and floundered in the white stuff while trying to get back to his feet.
But this time around, he discovered his love for the sport. That first season, I skied on my old, long skinny skis, drawing curious looks from other skiers who had shorter and easy-carving “shaped” skis that are now the norm on slopes. I rented Eli skis so he could decide whether he liked skiing enough to warrant spending hundreds on a set of his own.
That second season, I bought both Eli and myself new sets of skis, boots and poles, and my skiing career was revived. Within a few years, Eli was blowing by me on the steeper slopes, laughing triumphantly as he told me that he could beat me—the old man—down the hill no problem.
I’m not a great skier, but I can hold my own and I don’t shy away from black-diamond runs. Through the years, I’ve slowed down a bit. I don’t like moguls and I don’t feel the need to ski from first chair in the morning until last chair in the afternoon. I still ski hard, but I’m more into technique than speed.
On the slopes, I’ve taken notice of how many skiers are my age and older. I regularly meet people on lifts who are in their 60s and even their 70s.
But last winter I was astounded when I met a man at Sunday River ski resort named Steve Chandler, who told me he skied for free because he was over 80. In fact, Steve Chandler is 88 years old and skis regularly at Sunday River.
Steve’s been skiing for 70 years, having learned at Stowe, Vermont, in 1947 and later becoming a regular at Sunday River after moving to Bethel to teach at Gould Academy in 1970. He recalls the era of wooden skis, leather boots, cable bindings and the days when Sunday River had only three T-bars (and no chairlifts) to take you up.
These days, Steve is more selective about which days to ski—not too cold, not too windy. He goes slower than in the past and is more cautious. But when he does ski, he gets in 15 to 20 runs a day, a good day for anybody.
“Just the challenge of it keeps me going out,” he told me with a contagious excitement in his voice. “And I certainly do feel better after skiing. I think it’s worth keeping active whenever it’s possible. Do it while you can is what they say.”
Besides skiing, Steve likes to snowshoe, hike and row in his single-person scull on Songo Pond in Bethel. Until recently, he played tennis and golf.
The next time I’m near the end of my ski day, when my legs are burning, my body’s exhausted and my adrenaline is nearly used up, I’ll think of Steve and the advice he has for youngsters like me: “Just keep doing it and enjoy it. Don’t hesitate to enjoy.”
Clarke Canfield is a longtime journalist, writer and editor who likes to be active. He is the communications director at Southern Maine Community College.