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A Chair Encounter




By Andy Dappen

This incident occurred at the Solitude Ski Area near Salt Lake City, Utah, but it could have happened at most any ski area, including Mission Ridge or Stevens Pass.

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I'm getting on the ski lift alone when the older gentleman, who had been behind, gets impatient and decides to join me. He bolts from the line just as our chair swings around the bull wheel and is comfortably seated by the time the chair reaches me at the appropriate waiting area. 'Time waits for no Man' and my chairmate is, apparently, not wasting any of his.

The man is an interesting assortment of gear -- his ski clothes are old and faded but his skis and boots are modern. His hair is gray and thinning but he's far from bald. His skin is slightly wrinkled but also tan and healthy. If I had to guess, I'd put him at 70.

"Getting crowded," he says as our skis leave the ground.

It doesn't seem crowded to me at all, but there are some people on the slope now. "Yeah, people like me who are here for the event are clogging up the hill. How about you, you here testing skis?"

"Nope. Just skiing," he says. "I'll move over to another chair where you guys are less likely to be testing. If it's crowded there, I'll just go home."

"Pass holder, eh?" I comment.

"Yup."

"So why this hill?" 

"It's a good price," he tells me. "I used to get a combined Brighton/Solitude pass but it bumped up in price so I decided to concentrate on Solitude this year. Next year I'm going over to Alta for their $49 pass."

That news surprises me. "You can get a pass for $49? I want one of those."

"You may not want the entire package," he says cracking a slight smile. "You've gotta be 80 to qualify."

I look at him closer and with a great deal more respect. "Really? You're 80?"

"Will be this spring."

 "There's no way I would have guessed that."

"I must have some good genes," he tells me, "but I've been reading about how happiness at my age is so important for keeping you young. How can you not be happy skiing on days like this in these mountains?"

"As long as it's not crowded, that is."

"Right."

"Movement seems to be key too," I say. "Movement connects to fitness, weight control, moods, and ultimately to happiness. You look like you keep moving."

"I skied four days in a row last week," he tells me, "and then I had to give my legs a break so I took a day off and hiked up Olympus." He pats his ski pants which are a faded blue and have either a grease or coffee stain on the thigh. "Bought these back in the mid-70s. I think it's a good sign that 40 years later, I still fit them."

I look at those 40-year-old pants appreciatively, "Those must be one of skiing's best values ever. They've probably cost you about a penny per use."

"Less I suspect."

"So with all the money those pants helped you squirrel away, you couldn't buy a hat?" I tease him. "I'd be freezing right now if I followed your example and skied bare headed."

"I never ski with a hat."

"And you don't get cold."

"Earlier this year it was minus 15 and then I got cold. But I'm good up to about minus 10 without a hat."

"Seems to be working for you. Maybe hats are making me soft."

He chuckles. The chair has reached the top of the mountain and we slide off the exit ramp. He turns right, I go left. 

"Enjoy the pass at Alta next winter," I say as a farewell to my elder. 

"Enjoy not qualifying for it," he tells the youngster.