Boomers going downhill – and loving it |

Boomers going downhill – and loving it

Susan Wood
Nevada Appeal News Service
Curt Barnes, 77, of Stagecoach owns the House of Ski on Kingsbury Grade. Here, he explains the finer points of a pair of flexible boots, equipment he says is increasingly favored by older skiers. Dan Thrift/ Appeal News Service

Ski areas and equipment makers have gone to great lengths to appeal to a generation many consider over the hill – or mogul.

Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, represent a large market to ski areas trying to accommodate more than youngsters having fun on the slopes.

House of Ski owner Curt Barnes, age 77, who started skiing 60 years ago, knows all about the need to play in the later years.

Barnes is beyond the boomer age, but some may argue he and his wife, Hillis, 71, don’t act that way. They trot out their Stagecoach-area home in ski boots to ski Heavenly in the mornings four times a week. Then they meet up with friends at East Peak Lodge.

Barnes believes many aging boomers still skiing have mellowed, going in for lunch and other breaks more frequently. They’re enjoying the complete ski resort experience with lodge improvements, food variety, season-pass and lift-ticket discounts, flexible and softer skis and boots, and more slope grooming options.

“Grooming has been a tremendous boon for the ski industry,” Barnes said.

The equipment he sells and rents caters to this trend. Much the same way shaped skis can make boomers better skiers, Barnes has discovered most aging snowboarders have gravitated toward the equipment that saves their joints and bones.

New bindings have plates that break off the ice that can collect on the boots, thus contributing to more leg breaks when the devices don’t release.

“I’d say this causes 95 percent of the leg breaks,” he said.

Barnes also pointed out how older skiers seek more comfortable, softer boots as well as skis that are shorter and more flexible.

“Forgiving – that’s a good word,” he said. “But they need to be tuned. You can be the best skier in the world, but it won’t make a bit of difference if (the equipment) isn’t tuned properly.”

The National Ski Areas Association released results of a survey showing the percentage of skiers 45 or older has climbed from 21 percent to 31 percent in the last eight years. There are reasons for this. American boomers have made the case they’re more fit – but they also don’t want to wreck their knees or joints.

Lake Tahoe-area resorts have responded with more groomed runs and upgraded snowmaking equipment. Every major resort includes a variety of ski runs – beginner, intermediate and expert – with some also offering extreme terrain that’s particularly steep.

With its high-angle grooming, Kirkwood Mountain Resort seeks to cater to the aging demographic still in love with skiing and boarding. In the last few years, the Alpine County resort has smoothed out nooks and crannies thought to be unheard of as groomed runs a decade ago.

This year, Kirkwood plans to expand the popular program – with grooming possibilities off Thunder Saddle and The Wall runs. The resort received a lot of requests to post or notify homeowners or out-of-town guests of grooming the steeps. Many of these requests come from the older set.

“Being out there keeps them younger,” Kirkwood spokeswoman Tracy Miller said.

Sierra-at-Tahoe picked up on the demand for expanded grooming three years ago. It is known for split grooming, doing half the run and leaving the other part untouched.

“It’s a great way to ease (boomers) into the powder conditions. Believe it or not, we’ll have people say there’s too much powder, so we try to satisfy both groups,” Sierra spokeswoman Nicole Belt said.

Terrain and snow conditions lead service and amenities as top priorities mentioned in Sierra’s customer service surveys.

The resort has found that 20 percent of its ski and boarding population over the last three seasons is older than 45. The majority of the population is between 45 and 54.

Some aging skiers have even made the case that having lower season-pass rates allows them to go out for a few hours, instead of feeling committed to be outside for eight.

n The Associated Press contributed to this report.