Keystone reconfigures senior ski program |

Keystone reconfigures senior ski program

Bob Berwyn
Summit correspondent
Summit County, CO Colorado

KEYSTONE, Colorado ” Under sunny blue skies and the Vail Resorts banner, more than 50 senior skiers gathered at the Keystone’s Summit House to celebrate a reconfigured ski program designed to replace the popular Over-the-Hill Gang sessions that were canceled earlier this season.

The new program is called 50 Plus Ski with Us and operates with volunteer guides under the auspices of Keystone’s guest-services program.

“We’re proud to have the Keystone snowflake on the jackets of the guides,” said ski patroller Craig Simson, referring to the resort’s trademark logo while offering a brief safety orientation in the Summit House.

After all the participants signed waivers, Simson highlighted some recent statistics from the National Ski Areas Association showing that skiers more than 50 years old are among the most likely to suffer serious injuries.

“Sometimes, especially on these bluebird days when it’s groomed edge to edge, we tend to turn up our speed to where we can’t shut it off,” Simson said, citing last year’s death of former ABC News correspondent John McWethy as an example.

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“We’re the BeeGees, and our theme song is Stayin’ Alive,” joked Summit County resident John Karras before leading a group of skiers down a combination of blue and green runs on Dercum Mountain.

Vail Resorts disbanded the popular Over-the-Hill-Gang program at the beginning of the season in a move that drew some criticism from seniors who had participated in the social ski sessions for many years.

Vail Resorts executives said that, as the program grew over the years, it no longer fit into their operations scheme. Keystone senior vice president and chief operating officer Pat Campbell said the resort couldn’t reconcile the fact that a for-profit travel agency ” Colorado Springs-based Over-the-Hill Gang International ” was operating a tour business on its mountain.

During the past few months, the resort negotiated with members of the group to develop a new program that fit into the Vail Resorts business model and addressed some of the concerns, including liability issues.

The talks went well, according to local member Linda Ginsberg, who was part of the team that cooked up the new deal. Breckenridge Ski Area is working with some of the members to develop a similar program but likely won’t have it up and running until next season, according to Ginsberg.

“We appreciate the enthusiasm of the 50 Plus Ski with Us participants, and we are optimistic about the future success of the program,” said Campbell.

The new program is more inclusive than the previous version.

“We’re running this and training the guides for free,” said resort spokeswoman Kate Coble. In its incarnation, the program is open to all guests and not just members of the Over-the-Hill Gang, she said.

“One reason we started it, after the issues we had, was to cater to and address the demand,” Coble added.

Summit Cove resident Barbara Bond said it made sense to encourage seniors to ski and that the association with the for-profit Over-the-Hill Gang International was unimportant.

“Too bad they didn’t think of doing this years ago,” she said. “We live here to ski. We don’t need to be part of a travel agency.”

Her husband, Keith Bond, said he didn’t understand all the indignation over the earlier decision to end the former program.

“There were some big things going on in the world. It didn’t seem that big of a deal in the bigger scheme of things,” Bond said.

The 50 Plus Ski with Us program will meet every Thursday at 9 a.m. at the Summit House through March 26.

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