“Why are you…doing all this stuff?“ a friend asked me. “Is it some kind of midlife crisis thing?”
I’d posted a picture of myself preparing for ski school in Colorado. I was 54, and it was my first time on the slopes. My ski debut came on the heels of summer river rafting in West Virginia and off-roading in a UTV on a farm a few miles from my home. It had been an adventurous year, and like all good Gen-Xers, I’d documented my pursuits on social media.
My fifties have shaped into a surprising season of adventure — and also Advil. Some days I have the energy of a thirty-year-old, and other days, everything either hurts or makes me tired. Taking age out of the equation, I wouldn’t describe trying a few new hobbies as pointing to any sort of crisis, but perhaps the natural reaction when a person of a certain age tries something perceived as outside the box, we look for a reason to explain it or suggest they shouldn’t.
My early exposure to skiing was limited to seeing the sport on television. Everyone remembers the epic “Agony of Defeat” ski jump spill in the opening credits of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, which didn’t spark any “Wow, that looks amazing, I want to try!” sentiments. I grew up in Texas, which isn’t exactly known for its opportunities for winter sports. I brought home a flyer in ninth grade describing my high school youth group’s organized ski trip to Colorado, and my dad gave me a swift “no” when he saw the price. I remember being miffed, but that had more to do with not doing what my friends were doing than any genuine desire to barrel down a snowy mountain with two skinny sticks attached to my feet.
Other than an occasional passing interest in the Winter Olympics, snow sports weren’t part of my childhood landscape. As I got older and experienced more of the world, I met people from New England and the Rockies who grew up on skis. I learned about putting kids on skis as soon as they could walk and vacations completely centered around days on the slopes. While interesting, none of these ski stories left me lamenting that I’d left a box unchecked.
But now I was unexpectedly presented with the opportunity to ski with my 11-year-old son, who runs circles around me when it comes to athleticism. He was stoked, and while I was more enthralled with the mountain scenery and the après ski options, which had always sounded so glamorous, I was game to finally join the ranks of people who casually prefaced stories with statements like “The last time we went skiing.” We each had a day of group ski instruction, he with kids his age and me with five other first-time adults in their twenties and thirties, followed by a day with a private ski instructor together.
I thought being a first-time skier at 54 was highly unusual based on the demographics of my ski class, but it turns out that’s not entirely true. According to Whistler Blackcomb Snow School Manager Paul Sauvé, later-life ski adopters are common. Sauvé estimates that the average age of the adult beginner at the Snow School is 45-ish.
“The joy of seeing older skiers ‘get it’ when they accomplish a new ski move or a harder run is as good as watching a kid smile from their first time accomplishing something,” says Sauvé.
While I wish I could report that I took to skiing like a duck to water, and my agility on the slopes caused me to believe that I could have had a stellar Olympic career if only I’d grown up in Aspen or my dad had said yes to that ski trip back in ninth grade, I am a below average skier. They say practice makes perfect, but I’ll settle for practice makes better than the time before.
My first day of skiing involved tears, a lot of falling, and knocking over a small child. For me, the lessons with a young adult group weren’t the best fit, and I got more out of the private lessons I took with my son, even though the kid skied circles around me. I’m planning my next ski trip and will take a one-on-one lesson, which I think is better for me. Sauvé says choosing individual versus group lessons depends on the skier’s disposition. I didn’t ask a lot of questions before signing up for group classes, and while it gave me the basics, I think I’d have rather had the instructor’s full attention because I was slower to pick things up than the rest of my group and found that experience stressful.
The child I ran into was unharmed, by the way, but hopefully I won’t knock any kids off their feet next time. While younger, fearless skiers might get the hang of things faster, I don’t regret not getting to this earlier, and I believe I learned at the right time for me.
I’m immensely proud that I stepped out of my comfort zone to try something new. Athletic I am not. My sense of satisfaction came from being brave enough to show up for lessons, not that resort skiing is a particularly courageous endeavor.
I’m not sure questioning whether you’re too old to do something is some kind of aging rite of passage, but I have noticed a nagging little voice in my thoughts, telling me that perhaps the time to attempt something new has passed. I try to ignore self-doubt, but I also think it’s important to acknowledge that it creeps up on me. Lack of confidence is something everyone experiences.
Despite the presence of that voice, I’ve had opportunities to do things I hadn’t previously considered trying and thought, “Well, why not?” There’s a sense of comfort in knowing I’m still curious and can still look forward to firsts. I’m not reckless, and I wouldn’t call myself a thrill seeker, but I do get satisfaction from pushing myself to do something that I perceive as difficult or scary. Besides, exercise is healthy, no matter how uncoordinated or silly you think you look. It’s the movement that matters.
“Engaging in new forms of physical activity can help improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression,” says physical therapist John Gallucci. “Not only that, but being active can also help with social engagement and can be a great opportunity to interact with other people and feel a sense of community.”
Gallucci goes on to praise skiing for being a great cardiovascular workout. “Skiing works multiple muscle groups such as the core, quads, and calf muscles and also can help with balance and coordination and joint health.”
Although the past three years have brought me several adventurous firsts in addition to skiing, like whitewater rafting, off-roading, and hot-air ballooning, I’m not working off a bucket list, trying to fight time or prove anything to myself or anyone else.
If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, look for the opportunity to make it happen. Don’t jump to the “I’m too old” opt-out because, chances are, you probably aren’t too old, or there’s a way to modify or adjust an activity to make it safe or comfortable for you. The number of spins you’ve taken around the sun isn’t an automatic roadblock.
And trying something new to you – at any age – doesn’t equate to a mid-life crisis. Whether you’re talking yourself out of something you want to try or discouraging someone else who is interested in a new adventurous hobby, how about instead changing the narrative that what we do should be based on age?
So, back to the question: “Why are you…doing all this stuff?“ The answer is that I wanted to. Because I can. Because it looked like fun. All of those things.
There are times when a rocking chair on the front porch sounds like the perfect place to be, but that’s not where I want to be all the time. I know I can change my mind at any point and adopt a more sedate lifestyle or take up bridge or crocheting if I have the urge for something new and different, but I hope I keep to the path I’m on.
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