Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

March 2, 2014

Not So Downhill From Here

THOMPSONVILLE — Barry Cook was certain that a lifetime of hard work, a hip replacement and 25 years away from Michigan’s slopes meant downhill skiing was out of his grasp.

Sure, he spent most of his younger winters gliding over powder-covered hilltops and cutting an edge on corduroy-blanketed valleys, but he hadn’t strapped on a pair of sticks for two decades.

“I was a little leery,” said Cook, 61, of Traverse City. “I thought it was out of reach.”

Cook worried that one fall — maybe even a minor one — could do irreparable damage.

That was before he met Rick Robb, a man on a mission to push retirees out of their houses and onto the slopes.

“I’m thinking, ‘Hey, somehow I’ve got to bring my friends back to the sport’,” said Robb, a veteran ski instructor and former National Ski Patrol member.

A life-long downhill enthusiast, Robb, 78, watched while careers, families and injuries pulled most of his friends away from skiing. The active ski instructor for Crystal Mountain grew tired of teaching children to ski while their grandparents sat sidelined from their once-beloved winter sport.

They were people who could be enjoying the activities they once loved, but needed a nudge to get moving.

Robb knows that story well. He nearly lost his ability to ski a few years ago when his knees began to surrender to seven decades of outdoor adventures. Then, in 2009, knee replacement surgeries breathed new life into his favorite pastime.

Fear of injury, up-front costs and need for instruction were issues for fellow skiers, Robb said.

That’s when he pitched his idea for the “Retired not Tired” ski program to Ron Shepard, director of snow sports at Crystal Mountain Resort and Spa.

The program, launched last year, offers skiers 50 and older cheap lessons, ski rentals and lift tickets Tuesday through Thursday during the heart of northern Michigan’s ski season. The price tag for a day on the snow is a mere $29 and after three sessions, members can buy a season pass for $42, Robb said.

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