95 years young and still skiing: Copper Mountain’s Frank Walter
As he sits in front of his brand new painting titled “Going Up River,” 95-year-old Frank Walter says water — both flowing and frozen — has always been at the center of his life.
Born in 1922, Walter remembers water skiing as a child on Lake Winnipesaukee in Laconia, New Hampshire. He remembers his father wrapping leather around slabs of spare wood to help him ski atop a Northeast winter’s “hard water” in the family’s suburban-Boston backyard.
“I grew up a mile from the ocean,” Walter said, “and my family was very active in many ways and it always involved water — hard or soft.”
If Walter gets his way, the Copper Mountain resident of 29 years will have skied the hard stuff for more than nine decades.
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“My objective is to ski when I am 100,” he said. “And, the good lord willing, I can do it.”
It was nearly nine decades ago when Walter’s father and mother first helped him board that pair of ragtag skis at the age of nine. Their destinations included that snow-covered North Quincy backyard and the neighborhood golf courses.
“It wasn’t as great of a passion or even a wayward thing to enjoy back then,” Walter recalled Nov. 9 while seated at Timberline Adult Day Services in Frisco, with the sound of his Boston accent still clear all these years later. “But even so, my parents skied when all they had was a piece of wood and a little bit of leather going over your foot.”
When Walter skis this season — he hopes to hit Copper’s blue runs in December — it’ll be a far cry from those first experiences with his family. And when he, for the second straight year, pushed the button at 9 a.m. Nov. 10 to ceremonially start the first chair up Copper, his ski getup was also much different. Up until last year, he was in that first chair.
These days there is no leather wrapped around Walter’s shoes. Rather, he brandishes a vibrant yellow ski jacket, one that has a number across its back. And it’s one that changes every year.
On the eve of Copper’s open, “No. 95” was already set to go on Thursday at Timberline as he stood alongside one of his ski buddies, a neighbor who also serves as a caregiver and physical therapist: Timberline executive director Gini Patterson.
“He is totally independent,” Patterson said, “and he wants to carry his skis getting to the lift line. But he walks in his ski boots and uses his ski poles for balance, gets off the chair without any assistance and doesn’t like to stop, until he gets to the lift line again. He absolutely skis in control. And he likes to take up a lot of the run.”
Last year, by the end of the season, Patterson said she and Walter also decided to take on an “easy” black run. That more advanced trip set aside, the past few years she describes Walter as a “non-stop blue run skier.”
Still, his standard as to what constitutes a good day of skiing has not changed.
“How much vertical I get,” he said. “And I don’t stop except to get on the chair.”
That’s much the same advice he’d give to any Summit County skiers, new or old, this season.
“I’d tell them, ‘measure your vertical, top to bottom,'” Walter said. “It’s challenging in some spots. It gets you some black runs. Nowadays, I don’t do black runs that much anymore because of my age, but I can still get the blue runs in and enjoy them very much.”
Skiing is one of the regular elements of his life that Walter believes has enabled him to live as long as he has. But he doesn’t shy away from the reality that his consistent approach to staying active mentally has also extended his life on earth and on the mountain.
And it’s at Timberline where he continues to take part in his other passion: acryllic painting.
Although he never tried to make a living with a paint brush — Walter said it wasn’t a logical profession to take up during the Great Depression era — he has dabbled since relatives and family friends first took notice of his talent as a child in the 1920s and 30s.
At Timberline on Thursday, spread out in front of Walter was a handful of the paintings he produced at his art studio in Copper.
Walter didn’t base his “Going Up River” on a particular part of Colorado. But Patterson believes it represents the landscape of the home he fell in love with when he retired from Chrysler in 1988 and moved full time to the High Country — the snow-capped peaks, the pines trees and the common thread of Walter’s life.
“The water,” Walter said, “has to be involved.”