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When Boomers Go Skiing

We were booting up in the main lodge at Sugarbush on a recent weekday when Carol looked around at our fellow skiers. 

There was a lot of gray hair. Ever the joker, she wanted to know, “Do only old people ski here?”

On weekdays, I said, that’s pretty much the crowd at Sugarbush.

The resort’s popular Boomer Pass — colloquially known as “the Geezer Pass” — makes it possible for anyone 65 and older to ski on all nonholiday weekdays through the season. 

For the bargain price of $169 for the entire season, the Boomer Pass has got to be the best value in all of American skiing. By comparison, a full season pass including weekends costs $1,199.

The result is that on a typical weekday there are scores of us young-old folks in the lodge. “It looks like they just unloaded a bus full of people from Eastview,” Carol quipped. 

The Boomer ski day begins for me with strapping on a heavy knee brace, downing a second cup of coffee, then reminiscing with fellow geezers about recent ski days as we chart our day.

A typical ski day would begin at the Gate House chair because it’s sunny and warmer. We’d venture up the aging North Lynx lift to ski Birch Run, then move over to the Super Bravo chair. All that would be followed by lunch at the base, an hour or two of additional skiing, a stop at the co-op for dinner fixings, and the rest of the trip home for a shower and well earned nap.

It’s not your typical workday. 

Which, for those of us old enough and lucky enough to enjoy it, is exactly the point. 

Another popular topic of Boomer skier conversation this winter has been the recent acquisition of Sugarbush by Alterra Mountain Company.

In contrast to the recent years of local ownership of the resort, Alterra is based in Denver. It describes itself as a company that “owns and operates a range of recreation, hospitality, real-estate development, food and beverage and retail businesses.”

Alterra owns one other Vermont resort, Stratton Mountain, along with Quebec’s iconic Tremblant, Deer Valley in Utah and Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows in northern California.

Sugarbush’s majority owner, Win Smith, sold to Alterra this season after pulling off an astonishing revival of the resort. Prior to his ownership, it was in danger of being run into the ground by a series of owners. 

Win and his crew replaced an aging and, to be blunt, embarrassing base lodge with several stylish new buildings including a hotel in the Vermont vernacular. They upgraded the snowmaking and machine grooming that, in the era of climate change, are the lifeblood of any good New England resort.

And in a gesture to the aging demographic of the skier population, Win several years ago instituted the Boomer Pass.

The resulting weekday crowd (I use the word loosely) is similar to what you’ll see at the Snow Bowl on weekdays: an enthusiastic collection of older skiers out to have a good time, as long as their knees and backs will allow. 

(Urgent plea to Alterra: Whatever changes you make at Sugarbush, please don’t kill the Boomer Pass.)

At both the Bowl and Sugarbush, mixed in there with the aging but sprightly weekday crowd are the college students. They’ve had the good sense to structure their class schedules to give them the freedom to ski on uncrowded days, when the snow is often better and the lifelines are nonexistent.

Most of the older skiers, whether at the Bowl or Sugarbush, have been skiing for decades. We learned to ski when we were young on family weekend trips to the local hill and to bigger, fancier resorts like Sugarbush, Killington and Mad River Glen (though “fancier” never did fit Mad River, which these days is so unfancy that it’s now retro-chic).

With few exceptions, we Boomer bangers never stopped skiing.

For many of us, the chance to make new friends is also part of the fun. We young-old have usually spent decades strapped to the wheel of Making a Living. Now liberated to work part-time or just enjoy retirement, we’re open to friendships that aren’t based on professional associations or the fact that the kids grew up together.

I’ve made many a new friend on a chairlift or over “apres” beers at the end of the day. 

At Mad River next month, two of those new old friends will again rent a house at the base. Every Friday in March we’ll gather there to drink a cool one, barbecue on the deck, watch the sun set over Stark Mountain, and act like a bunch of kids.

Because for every ski day, that’s just what we are.

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