Let’s face it, as some of us reach and proceed through senior citizenry, we search for, and take advantage of, every little special deal we can find. Not that those of us who’ve passed into what some call our Golden Years don’t have a great deal to be thankful for: making it this far, being able to enjoy our lives, our families, our memories and our ever-expanding circle of friends and, for some, good physical condition and the extra leisure time for recreation that retirement affords.
Cheap coffee at McDonald’s, the variety of discounts for the gray set at retail stores, hotels and restaurants are all appreciated. In fact, I occasionally ask myself “What did I do to earn this special treatment? All I did was get old!”
But don’t get me wrong, I proudly proclaim my seniority whenever it’ll save me a buck or two, as do every one of my contemporary friends.
For my skiing friends, getting older carries with it some pretty special benefits.
During the 2011-12 season there are 110 ski areas around the country that invite seniors to ski free. It needs to be noted, of course, that different ski areas have wildly different definitions of who a senior actually is. For example, if you’re just 65 years old, you’re given a free senior pass at both nearby Cannon Mountain and McIntyre in New Hampshire, as well as Mt. Crescent in Iowa (yeah, there’s a ski area in Iowa), and Cataloochee in North Carolina. And some ski area operators devise their own definition of a person old enough to ski for free, like The Homestead in Michigan, where it’s gratis if you’re 62 (the current American minimum), McCauley Mountain in New York if you’re 63, and, for some reason, Devil’s Head in Wisconsin, where you’re a senior when you reach 66.
Just as I’ve established a goal to ski one day each season for every year of my age (which means at least 75 days this year, without taking credit for the extra days I skied last year), I met a contemporary at Saddleback last winter who was attempting to visit every ski area in the United States where he could pop on the lifts for nothing, no small goal, but why not?
Here in Maine, ski area operators are especially hospitable and sympathetic to older skiers, although 70 is the threshold at the two most senior-friendly: Saddleback and the Camden Snow Bowl. In fact, you need to check every year to see if a ski area you’re planning to visit has changed its policy, as the senior age is creeping up as more of us are skiing more, and most area operators hate to give away something they might be able to charge for. For example, my old buddy Lawrence Nash in Camden celebrated when he reached 70 and could ski free at the Snow Bowl. Fifteen years ago, the senior age was 55, but the year he turned that age it was raised to 60. And wouldn’t you know it, the year he turned 60 it was raised to 65, and, you guessed it, the year he turned 65, it was raised to 70. At least that’s his story.
In addition to the generosity of the folks at Saddleback and the Camden Snow Bowl, you’re invited to ski free if you’re at least 75 at Big Rock in Mars Hill (the first ski area in the U.S. to see the sunrise), Black Mountain in Rumford and Lost Valley in Auburn. Mt. Abram and Shawnee Peak are a little more discriminating, as you need to be at least 80 to cop a free ticket, as is the case at Sugarloaf. If you’re at Shawnee, you’ll probably run into my old friend Jack Farrar, who can be found there regularly in the company of a bunch of older skiers who help make Shawnee such a special place.
In neighboring New Hampshire, in addition to the aforementioned deals at Cannon (another place where you’ll see what looks like a daily AARP meeting in the base lodge, with great skier Ronnie Sandler and her friends) and McIntyre, if you’re at least 80 you can ski free at Crotched Mountain (recently purchased and upgraded by Peak Resorts, the owner of Wildcat and Attitash, as well as Mt. Snow in Vermont), and at Dartmouth Skiway, Loon Mountain and Waterville Valley.
In Vermont, Mad River Glen and Smugglers’ Notch, let skiers over 70 ride the lifts for nothing.
It needs to be noted that virtually all ski areas that don’t give away passes to older skiers have special senior day and season pass rates. For example, I was in Aspen three winters ago for six days of skiing, which would have cost me about $80 a day, but the ticket seller generously suggested that I buy their Senior Season Pass for $299. I did!
The current issue of Skiing Heritage magazine, published by the International Skiing History Association, has a complete listing of areas where seniors can ski free, provided by the National Ski Areas Association. In that list appears my personal favorite price concession by a ski area operator, at Alta Sierra in California, where, with proof of date of birth, you can ski free if you’re at least 90!
John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He and his son, Josh, write ski columns on alternating weeks. John can be reached at: