Like riding a bike, skiing just seems to be one of those things you either learn as a kid or you never learn at all. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Plenty of people successfully learn to ski later in life, including Ginny Ludwig, who picked up the sport for the first time in her mid-30s.
“In order to see my friends in the winter, I had to,” the Cheshire resident said. “Sitting around the lodge all day got wearisome quickly, so to the top of Stowe Mountain I went.”
It didn’t come easy, however, and Ludwig said that her inability to pick it up quickly was frustrating at first. But she stuck with it and, now, more than three decades later at age 69, she not only remains an avid skier, but she also serves as the media secretary for the Connecticut Ski Council.
Ludwig’s husband, Don, also came to the sport later in life and, at 74, he’s currently a senior alpine patroller and OEC (outdoor emergency care) trainer and examiner for Mt. Southington ski area in Southington.
Because it’s a smaller mountain, he sees a lot of beginners, and not all of them are young. “Quite a few people over 40 are novice skiers,” he said.
In fact, according to a recent Physical Activity Council and SnowSports Industries America study, nearly 20 percent of all alpine skiers last season were over age 45, indicating that there are plenty of older skiers out on the slopes.
And the Ludwigs serve as proof that it’s never too late to learn or continue to remain active in the sport.
“People shouldn’t be wary of taking up a sport later in life,” said Dr. Jay Kimmel, an orthopedic surgeon and co-director of the Connecticut Sports Medicine Institute at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford. “You may just have to do a little more work.”
That’s because as we age, we lose a certain degree of flexibility and no longer have the same muscle memory or ability to learn that we had as children. “When you’re younger, your muscles are much more flexible,” said Kimmel, “but when you’re older and take up a sport, you need to do more work than when you were a kid.”
That means doing things like stretching before and after any activity, staying well-hydrated and, with skiing in particular, keeping warm, because as Kimmel said, your muscles are more likely to tear in the cold. “It’s a good idea to warm up a bit before going out on the slopes; it can help prevent general orthopedic injuries.”
For the most part, it’s the fear of those injuries that stop many would-be skiers from giving it a try.
“Everybody has inhibitions,” said Lorraine “Rainy” Hughes, a member of the Connecticut Ski Council and a ski instructor at Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow, Vt. “But we try and get that anxiety out of their system.”
As an instructor, she routinely teaches novice skiers ranging anywhere in age from 3 to 60 and said that age isn’t as much a factor as confidence. “It’s about assessing the person and making them feel at ease when they are doing this sport, because we want them to feel comfortable, to feel good.”
Hughes said that she sees a lot of parents who are learning for the first time alongside their kids, skiers who are returning after a long absence from the slopes, as well as active older adults who are just interested in trying a new sport. And with all of them, she recommends starting with a lesson.
“Sometimes you’ll find a new skier go right up [the mountain] and think that they can do it,” she said. “But it’s better to get the basics down, even if it’s an hour lesson and then go from there.”
However, once you’ve got it down, said Hughes, there’s no better way to meet people and to enjoy the outdoors. And as far as being too old to learn, she said that it’s never too late. “Life is to be lived, even if it’s not skiing.”
“Pursue something that’s going to make you feel good and something that’s really going to be healthy for you in respect to being outside and living life.”