Helmets. Goggles. Face Masks. How do you eyeball the age of the person next to you on the chair?
Check out the skis. They speak volumes. Many older vacationers returning to the slopes for their annual holiday are on equipment they bought long, long ago. Outdated equipment can interfere with a good time, and it may be a safety hazard.
"Newer equipment tends to be safer than old gear, but only if it's properly sized and set up," says Anne Terwiel, an academic ski safety researcher, professional instructor, and Canada's delegate to the International Society for Skiing Safety. She recommends that every skier, regardless of age, have bindings checked and reset at the beginning of each season. Age and weight are factors in how bindings are adjusted and worn boot soles can impact how bindings release. She recommends the services of a certified binding technician (generally available at specialty ski shops).
In the hierarchy of equipment importance, boots are at the top. Good fit is essential for boots to be comfortable while doing the important job of transferring movement effectively to skis, especially skis with modern design and technology. But it's not unusual to see Boomers wearing rear-entry boots from the 1980s. You can understand why. They're easy to get on and off and ever soooo comfortable. Mine were like slippers on skis and way below any threshold of effectiveness. I replaced them with custom fit boots fifteen years ago. Now, I'm a few seasons into my second pair. There are many reasonably priced boot options for older skiers that combine comfort and performance. If you're upgrading equipment, start with your boots.
Wider, shorter skis make a big difference in turning and require much less effort throughout the day. Alan K. Engen, former racing competitor and retired Director of Skiing at Alta (UT) is in his mid 70s and has two new knees. "Modern ski design technology allows me to ski longer and enjoy the sport under all types of snow conditions...a big plus at my age." He advises occasional skiers on vacation to carry their boots and rent their skis. "Good rental shops will match skis to ability and current snow conditions." No need to schlep to the airport, pay extra cargo fees, then wait at Baggage Claim.
Keeping skis properly tuned is essential to getting the most out of them. Rented or owned, skis should have smooth, waxed, divotless bottoms and sharp edges. You can tell by looking and by gently scraping your thumbnail against the edge. They're sharp if you produce a thin curl of nail. Vacation visitors are wise to tune up when reaching the resort. That way the skis will be waxed for local conditions, not the ice or slush left back home.
Regardless of how often you ski, "Your body is the most important piece of equipment. Take care of it to get the most out of it," says Joe Nevin, whose Bumps for Boomers® program in Aspen, specializes in teaching older skiers. That was the common thread of advice from every professional ski instructor who weighed in on older skiers using outdated equipment. Skiing is a physical sport and we need to be in reasonable shape to enjoy it.
Once you upgrade to more modern technology, invest in a lesson or two to learn how to use it. "When booking the lesson, tell the agent you want to focus on adjusting your technique to use your new equipment. It will help you reach your goal more quickly," says Rick Certano, recently retired President and General Manager of Brundage Mountain Resort (ID) and long term professional ski instructor.
As you think about this year's skiing holiday, consider skiing out of 1980s time warp and dropping the old gear off at the thrift shop. On second thought, no need to burden anyone with that stuff. Know a good place for a bonfire?