What are the secrets to skiing into your… eighties? Flore Dussey spends a day on the mountain with some hard-charging octogenarians to find out
It’s –15˚C as we arrive at the top of the chair, with a stiff wind making it feel like –25°C. I’ve been riding up with ski instructor Charly Carroz, who grins, throws his arms in the air and pretents to take off like a bird as we set off down a red piste at a good pace. Behind us are Roberta Moore, Jacky Constantin and Arthur Ruchti, all of us relishing the crowd-free mountain and freshly groomed hard-pack on this sunny January morning. Apart from being excellent skiers, my companions have something in common. They’re all at least 80.
From left to right: Jacky Constantin (80), Arthur Ruchti (86), Charly and Roberta Moore (80)
We’ve met up on my home mountain, the compact Valaisan resort of Anzère, where I’m making a programme for the Swiss TV evening news on the ins and outs of skiing as an oldie.
There’s not an ancient outfit or outdated piece of kit in sight: instead, bright Gore-Tex outerwear and top-of-the-range piste skis, plus helmets for all but Charly.
Jacky, 80, took up skiing aged seven, skinning up on wooden skis to get his turns. After the lifts were built in 1965 he qualified as a ski instructor and opened Jacky Sport (still on the village square). He’s always been into top-notch gear, and by skiing, walking, playing golf and shooting, has kept an athletic physique. Each winter he visits other resorts in Austria, Italy or France with friends. “I’ve been lucky because I’ve never had a big accident and I’ve rarely been ill. I move around a lot, I don’t smoke and I have self-control. I have a glass of wine at lunchtime, but no more than one. I still absolutely love skiing.”
Charly, 83, lives near Lausanne but is originally from the village of Arbaz, just down the hill from Anzère. “I was pretty much born on skis,” he says, “and I was looking after sheep on the mountainside aged six.” Though his technique is old-school, he passes his instructor refresher every two years and continues to teach.
Charly says he found it hard to adapt to modern technique, but he loves today’s gear and finds it easier than anything from the past. Like the others, he has rarely been ill – although he was born two months premature and, in the absence of incubators in those days, was cocooned in a shoe box. His philosophy on life? “If a cloud comes along, there’s sun and blue sky behind, ready to break out.” His favourite resorts are Anzère, Grimentz, Saas Fee and Zermatt.
In terms of a healthy lifestyle, Arthur, 86, has a model approach. “When I was little, I got tuberculosis. But since going to school, I’ve never had a bad illness. The last time I had flu was at least 25 years ago.” His secret? Not too much to eat and a great deal of sport. Arthur is mad about cycling. Every summer he rides at least 5000km. He has pedalled over more than 1600 mountain passes, of which at least 100 are higher than 2000m. “Never stop moving,” he advises. “People who sit around at home on the sofa, or who spend their time in cafés, will get old much more quickly!”
Instructor Charly Carroz
Arthur still skis black runs with ease, his rhythmic turns not missing a beat as he takes on steeper pitches.
Roberta, 80, didn’t take up skiing until she was 35, and since the mid-1970s has spent part of each winter in the family apartment in Anzère. Her grand-daughters, who grew up in Chamonix, are fanatical skiers too: Layla does big-mountain descents with her boyfriend Bruno Compagnet of Black Crows (see FL146). Both she and her husband Jack (also 80 and still skiing) are in brilliant shape.
“I feel pretty good. I’ve tried to develop my capacity for endurance and have always done a lot of walking,” says Roberta. “Last summer, with a group of other octogenarians, we walked from place to place for 10 days in the UK, staying in B&Bs and doing six hours a day.”
These super-seniors hold the recipe for a barely believable degree of fitness in old age. And they all know it hasn’t happened by chance. Behind them they have hours, days and years of dedication to sport and skiing.
Watch the video here. Do you know a skiing octogenarian? What’s their secret? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us