Hang Around Long Enough and You Get It

Free Stuff

Over the weekend I was riding a chairlift at Whistler with a cute blonde dressed entirely in pink. Even her skis – pink polka dots on a white background – were fashion forward. The potential for a relationship was sealed when we both got knocked down thanks to an inattentive lift operator as we were loading. After we got going again I asked her name.

“Chloe, but my friends call me Clo-Clo.”

“What’s yours?

“I’m Jack.”

“How long have you been skiing?”

“This is my 67th year. How about you?”

“Wow,” she said. I’m 6 but I started when I was 2.”

“Wow, back at you. Do you ski a lot?”

“Yes. I live in Deep Cove and I ski every weekend. Sometimes 2, sometimes 3, and sometimes even 4 days.”

At the top of the Solarcoaster lift Chloe waved and went right. I waved and went left. “Bye, Chloe.” “Bye,” she chirped as she adjusted her goggles and started down.”

Those of you who have followed me for a while know that I’m a little edgy when it comes to attitudes about age (http://www.jackbernardstravels.com/im-a-little-edgy). I don’t know how Chloe feels about it but I don’t like to be judged by my age. I hate “seniors” stereotyping, but lately I’ve been focusing on the positive. It turns out there are some real perks that come to men and women of a certain age. I’m not talking about Social Security or Medicare although it’s always good to have income, and “free” health care is better than playing Russian roulette with your bank account.

No, I’m talking fun perks – not AARP discounts or Senior Day at the supermarket, not discounted movie tickets or all you can eat at the Royal Fork buffet. I’m talking about the good stuff – like free (or almost free) skiing. It’s a perk for the ages… so to speak.

Skiing for free isn’t new at all; Chloe’s age group (1 to 6) has always had the perk and when I moved to Sun Valley in 1973 anyone over 65 qualified for it. I think Chloe and her sister, age 2, are likely to hang on but as the skiing population aged the 65 perk disappeared. It’s still around in various iterations and locations but it’s hard to find.

Four years ago, M and I began our annual winter odyssey and hit the road in search of snow – clean, fresh, white, dry, Champagne powder. Washington State is not the place to find it so we headed north and east. Whistler was our starting point and from there we worked our way east to Kelowna, Penticton, Rossland and Nelson. We didn’t make it as far as Revelstoke or Fernie but they’re on the list and justly famous for the white and dry. Instead, we dropped down to Schweitzer Basin in Idaho and on to Big Mountain in Montana. All of these resorts offer huge discounts for older skiers.

Years ago I tried heli-skiing in the Monashees and more recently Cat-skiing in the Selkirks. Lots of vertical with both conveyances, but I love the Cat. It’s warm and cozy instead of heli-cramped and heli-noisy. Both have become too rich for my wallet in recent years, but I will say, if you love powder skiing as I do and you get a chance to do it by Sno-Cat don’t miss it. The late Allen Drury who, with his wife Brenda, started Selkirk Wilderness Skiing in 1975 wrote the book on the experience. It’s a real treat. There is really nothing like it – tree skiing, glade skiing, big open bowls and steep couloir drops followed by good food and drink in a log cabin lodge. Terrific.

Big Mountain

These ghost trees are on the slope at Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana. I took the picture from near the top on a 10” powder day in 2014. I was there for a week in 2013 and another in 2014. No charge. 70 and older ski for free and it’s world class powder skiing. Two years from now Alta will be free too. Not bad, eh?

As a travel friendly aside, if you follow the lure of free skiing to Whitefish you should stay at the Good Medicine Lodge run by our innkeeper friends, Woody and Betsy Cox. They managed to escape from New England in 1993 and never looked back. Good Medicine isn’t free like the skiing but it delivers good food, great value, and a cozy rustic atmosphere. Across the road is McGarry’s Roadhouse, an upscale establishment run by Sandy and Steve Nogal, formerly of the famous Inn at Langley on Whidbey Island near Seattle. It’s where I learned to love the brussel sprout. My mother is cheering from above as I write this. She wouldn’t believe it? Try them. You’ll convert.

Whistler Cross

Last night I returned to Seattle after three sensational powder days at Blackcomb (Whistler) with a couple of friends. This picture was taken at the top of the 7th Heaven lift. What a place. When they opened 7th Heaven at 9:30 yesterday there was nearly a foot of untracked powder.

Unlike Big Mountain, Whistler isn’t free for older skiers but it feels like it. It offers discounts for skiers 65 and over, but BC and Washington residents get special treatment. If we buy early in the year we can score an amazing deal. I discovered the perk two years ago when the resort offered me a season pass for less than $200 US. Even if I don’t ski it pencils out over a couple of years. Last year was a terrible snow year and I didn’t use it but this is a great one and with the Canadian dollar now worth about 65 cents it’s almost like getting paid to ski. This year’s pass cost $182 and the season runs into May. It’s hard to beat – unless you live close to Big Mountain.

Season Pass

Clo-Clo is still on a free ride but she’s running out of time. I’m sure she’ll still be shredding the mountain next year when it will cost her $39 a day. I do hope to run into her the next time I’m at Whistler. She’s a charmer. The season is off to a great start so it might just happen. If it does I’m looking forward to another almost free powder day.

Free Stuff Rocks


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