My father-in-law was 87 when he bought his last car, and he never described it as his last automobile. I just bought a pair of skis. I’m two decades younger than he was when he bought that Mercury Sable, and I’m hoping this won’t be my last pair of skis.
All this came into focus for me the other day when I noticed that my local ski area will give me a free ski pass when I reach age 70. That’s reason enough to hope for longevity. And I remember when Senator John Glenn of Ohio — who traveled into space in 1998 for the second time, on the Shuttle Discovery at age 77 — told me he was disappointed that Vail eliminated free ski passes for people age 70. He nursed that grudge until he died at age 95.
But before you go into orbit over this injustice — Glenn, of course, was the first American to do so, on Project Mercury’s Friendship 7 in 1962 — consider that nearly 120 ski areas provide free skiing for enthusiasts whose years number three score and 10. But several ski areas have postponed free skiing for seniors until age 80. I stay away anyway from Seven Springs in Pennsylvania because the clientele there is too wild, which is to say youthful; perhaps that is why its free-for-seniors age is 80. The same with Dartmouth Skiway, which I first zoomed down at age 18. I’ll have to wait until I’m 80 before I can ski there for free.
No problem. One of Oscar Wilde’s maxims fits us skiers beautifully. He said that a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. That’s why folks like me will hit the slopes even if we have to pay our way at 80. Wilde also said that “health is the first duty in life.“ He knew our type.
Now back to those new skis. They’re a nifty K2 model, though without the trademark red, white and blue stripes. They remind me of my first K2s, which did have that RWB motif, and of my second K2s, which did as well.
I am one of those skiers who marks his progression in our winter sport by the skis I used to have. Which is why, in my basement, you will encounter my garnet-colored Olin Mark II VCE (Variable Cracked Edge) skis, which reach to the ceiling, and my blue Rossignol Eagles, which are almost as tall. They were terrific skis in their day, and perhaps even now, if I had the will to try them. I wish I still had my black metal Head 720 skis, which I always thought were twice as good as the Head 360s, created by an astronomical engineer, that were all the rage decades ago but which are now marketed on Amazon as “wall sculptures.” My pair of 720s may be wall sculptures in the home of some criminal, because someone stole them. It was the worst theft of my lifetime, except of course the theft of youth.
But with age comes memories. I remember my first pair of skis — nice blue wooden numbers, with the sort of leather straps that I imagine now appear only in bondage movies. They would be terrific wall sculptures in a ski bar. Those skis, by the way, were what I used in the years my mother skied on wooden Northland skis the color of the paneling in your local ski bar. (She had a certain flair for fashion for someone who started, in the late 1930s, on Chalet skis, also wooden. They were marketed by the Hudson Bay Co. and today you can buy a pair online for $395. Talk about wall sculpture. They’re the Henry Moores of the mountains.)
I entered the Modern Age with a slick pair of epoxy skis created by Günther Meergans, who died a decade ago and was the German champion in combined in 1937, 1938, 1949 and 1950, and in cross-country relay in 1949 and 1950. He actually came to our house and my father bought me a pair of his skis, which were manufactured in Austria and which he insisted were the “Next Thing.” They were pretty good for a timid young skier whose leading performance on the slopes consisted of one of the most graceful traverses known in the state of New Hampshire. Those skis carried Salomon bindings that looked as if they came from an exhibit in a dental museum and a legend, in German and English, that read: “High quality, made from approved materials, with craftsmanship, with excellent turning qualities.”
Approved by whom, exactly?
No matter. They had someone’s seal of approval, and that was good enough for us. Besides, they were cheap.
And so as I prepare for my 55th year of skiing, I am haunted by one question, and it isn’t about when I qualify for free skiing. It is this:
When I was told as I was handed my new equipment that these would be the last skis I would ever buy, was it because they were so good that they would last forever — or was it because I am so old and decrepit that even a store manager with a gift for salesmanship figured that he wouldn’t see me in there again?
Don’t answer that. At my age, I’m content to live with some of life’s questions unanswered.