Senior Steamboat residents remain active on mountain
January 17, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Like a little kid, Harold Fischel, with his snowboard in hand, sat on the handrail outside the gondola building at Steamboat Ski Area and slid down — a wide smile across his face.
Fischel said he grew up in a New York City neighborhood with a lot of long rails. Fischel said he slid down rails as a kid — and it's easier than walking down stairs.
The brief act encapsulates Fischel's youthful personality, but he's no kid. He turns 75 on Wednesday.
With that smile and eyes a couple of shades lighter than his blue jacket, Fischel doesn't look 75 — an age he said isn't that old. He took up snowboarding 15 years ago after nearly four decades of skiing. He said he envied snowboarders. It looked cool, and his kids snowboarded. Fischel said it's been a challenge but has turned out to be a lot of fun.
Fischel said he wakes up every morning to do push-ups and pull-ups. He said he can do about 70 and 10, respectively. In addition to a gym membership at Old Town Hot Springs that Fischel uses a few times a week, his morning routine keeps him in shape, he said.
He rides nearly every day and meets younger snowboarders and chats with them on lifts. They don't know how old he is. To Fischel, he's just another snowboarder. He falls. He gets back up. He gets stuck in deep powder. He gets out.
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Fischel said he was happy with his skill level but wouldn't mind getting better.
"It's exciting," he said. "I keep pushing myself a little bit. I've been to North St. Pat's. I've been on all the tree runs. And, of course, with Steamboat and the lovely weather, I'm living my dream."
A real estate developer who has split time between Steamboat Springs and Westport, Conn., for seven or eight years, Fischel is one of many seniors in Steamboat Springs who have continued to stay active as they get older.
Fischel said he's convinced that snowboarding has prolonged his downhill life. But that's not the case with every active senior in Steamboat.
There's a photo of 2 1/2-year-old Ray Heid at the Steamboat Ski Area offices next to others of Olympians and other famous Steamboat residents. The photo was taken just before his first ski jumping meet.
About 70 years later, Heid still skis. He straps on his Telemark skis to run gates on the NASTAR course at Mount Werner. Or he'll ski on his family-owned Del's Triangle 3 Ranch in Clark.
Heid, a fourth-generation Routt County resident (his grandchildren are the sixth), won last year's Telemark division of the Race of Champions in his age group at the NASTAR National Finals. He's been a ski racer his entire life and doesn't plan to slow down anytime soon.
"It's amazing," he said. "What else can you do at 2 1/2 years old and still do at 72? And still love as much? There hasn't been a year in my life I haven't skied."
Heid works on his ranch and said he rides horses everyday. Others who've remained active take a different approach to stay fit.
Alpine skier Tom Baer, 70, has a gym membership at Old Town Hot Springs and works out several times a week. In the summers, he said, he hikes, bikes and travels. Baer, who worked for 12 years in the ski area's video production department and spent two years as an ambassador, started skiing in 1966.
Last year, he skied about 60 days. Baer said he still skis pretty hard and is fortunate he's never gotten hurt.
"When you get to be 70 — I can't believe it — next year becomes today because you don't want to put things off," he said. "You want to go for it while you're still healthy."
Baer said the advances in ski equipment are part of the reason he's continued and will continue to ski well into his 70s, but that's not the only reason.
Something about Steamboat
Baer said there's something about Steamboat that makes it easy to stay active as a senior.
He said people are just fit, leading fit lifestyles. Baer said he has younger friends in their 30s and 40s but that he has a few friends his own age. Heid says a buddy in his 80s regularly runs gates on the NASTAR course at the ski area.
Frank Dolman, 66, of the Over the Hill Gang, said there's something to the active-seniors-in-Steamboat argument.
The Over the Hill Gang leads skiing and snowshoeing expeditions in winter and hiking, biking and fishing trips in summer. The group requires that its participants be at least 50 years old and charges a $50 annual membership.
Dolman said the group, which has several active members in their 70s, has seen its membership grow to more than 400 locals, second-home owners and visitors since it began in 1982.
In Steamboat, Dolman said there's rarely a day his phone doesn't ring with someone asking him to join in an outdoor activity.
"It's so conducive here," he said. "At home, people think they're busy. Until they get here. It kind of feeds on itself."
No slowing down
Until this year, Fischel hadn't skied since he took up snowboarding. But he tried Telemark skiing a couple of times this year and found that he could ride longer on a snowboard.
He thinks skiing puts more pressure on one leg at a time, while snowboarding allows him to split that pressure between both legs.
Like Heid, Fischel said he has no plans to quit going to the mountain anytime soon.
"My dad died at 104," he said. "That's not an answer to your question, but I'll go as long as I can."
Fischel looked upward at the sun Tuesday afternoon, strapped into his snowboard while stopped on Heavenly Daze.
He looked to his left, that smile still stretched across his face, and said, "Ready to go."