Have baby boomers, who made skiing popular in the 1960s and 1970s, reached their demographic peak on the slopes? After all, what person over 50 wants to wait in long lines and risk breaking a bone only to feel as unsteady as a toddler on ice skates?
But many ski resorts -- recognizing the reservations baby boomers may have about their slower reflexes, aching joints and declining strength -- are seeking to win back the affection of the age group that built the industry. They are rolling out ski programs designed specifically for post 50s, as well as après ski locales featuring music for boomers (Woodstock anyone?) and even wellness events designed to teach healthy eating and physical conditioning.
"I don't think you're ever too old to ski. Maybe there is a point where you need to stop, but I've kept skiing throughout my 50s and have enjoyed it immensely," said John Hurlock, an accountant in New York City. "It can be a bit intimidating when young kids are flying by you, but I try to go when it's not so crowded and to resorts that aren't so crowded."
Colorado's Keystone Resort, for example, has developed a guided ski program for guests 50 and over that's complimentary so long as you have a lift ticket or season pass. You can explore the terrain while enjoying the company of other boomers.
Afterwards you can let their hair down at the Last Lift Bar at the Mountain House base area, perfect for midlifers with its vast seating area and regular performances by a swing band on weekends.
"Keystone is an incredibly accessible and friendly mountain full of pristinely groomed runs perfect for the 50-plus crowd," said Tucker Burton, Keystone's communications coordinator. "Most of our parking is free and exceptionally close to the lifts."
Besides Keystone, many resorts also report focusing more on their grooming to appeal to older skiers. In the past, resorts typically concentrated on beginning and intermediate runs, smoothing out bumps while leaving behind areas with distinctive grooves dubbed "corduroy." In general, boomers prefer corduroy as it allows them to tackle steeper mountains without putting as much of a strain on their bodies.
The Windham Mountain Ski Resort in New York said it has built great loyalty from older skiers through its Senior Program that begins every January and runs for eight Tuesdays, with four hours of lessons each session.
"Each session begins with a yoga program for those who want to partake, plus we have various guest speakers address the participants over the eight weeks," said Beth Berry, a spokesperson for the program.
One full program lesson and single day lift starts at $75 and an eight-week session including instruction and midweek non-holiday season pass is $375. Other pricing options include a Senior Pass for those 65 and over for $369 with no blackout dates and free season passes for those 75 and over.
In addition, Berry said boomers can enjoy free live music and drink specials every Saturday evening at Legends Lounge where themed weekends are tied in with great bands.
A boomer favorite is the annual Woodstock Weekend -- coming up on February 9, 2013 -- that transports guests to 1969 with live music from the era.
"More than one-third of our guests fit into this demographic group and though we have a reputation as a family-friendly resort close to the New York metro area, we have found great loyalty with the baby boomer generation," Berry said.
Julia Littman at the Beaver Creek Mountain Resort in Colorado said the resort seeks to draw boomers not only with great ski programs, but also with themed weekends such as the Beaver Creek Food & Wine Weekend coming up January 24, 2013, which includes interactive events and seminars while showcasing the culinary talents of well-known area chefs.
Another themed event -- the Wellness Weekend starting December 6 -- features health experts, physical conditioning classes, ski instruction and healthy eating seminars.
Yet an additional program designed with midlifers in mind is Bumps For Boomers in Aspen that teaches those over 50 how to tackle moguls and powder with ease -- and without end-of-the-day aches and pains. Now in its 10th season, the program asks that boomer skiers start out on short skis so that they can relearn how to balance their weight.
Short skis are the older skier's new best friend. Indeed, many resorts catering to baby boomers are offering skis that are shorter and wider, with a new design change that helps keep ski tips above the snow. The advent of these skis has helped make skiing accessible again to post 50s who've been away from the sport for several years.
All the marketing to boomers seems to be paying off as the National Ski Areas Association reports an 11 percent increase in skiing and snowboarding for people 45 and older. Strangely, on the flip side, there's been a decrease in skiers 35 and younger.