Golden on the slopes

Senior instructors Don Swift - aka 'ťol Swifty' -0 and Ollie McEvoy, right, at Big White Ski Resort...

Senior instructors Don Swift - aka 'ťol Swifty' -0 and Ollie McEvoy, right, at Big White Ski Resort in Kelowna, B.C. TRACY MCLAUGHLIN/Special to QMI Agency

TRACY McLAUGHLIN, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:21 PM ET

BIG WHITE, B.C. -- Around these heavenly snowy peaks they call him "ol Swifty," but I think they should call him ol' Smooooothy.

Because when Don Swift rides his snowboard down these mountains, he is as smooth and sleek as oiled ball bearings.

And today, ol' Smoothy -- a Level 2 snowboard instructor at Big White Ski Resort -- is celebrating his 79th birthday.

Wish you could ride the same dream, but feel like your old ball bearings are wearing out now that you have hit your 50s, 60s, 70s or beyond? Think again.

"You absolutely don't have to be young to ski or snowboard," Swift says. "Anybody can do it. It's all in the mind -- and in your stance."

Like many of the Big White instructors, Swift has a passion for teaching aging Baby Boomers and proving we don't have to grow old too fast.

"There is no better feeling than working with a new student and watching that grimace turn into a relaxed smile when they say, 'gee golly, I can really do this!'"

Swift -- who is also a Level 3 ski instructor and Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance hall of famer -- has skied since he was a toddler but took up snowboarding at age 65 because he wanted a new thrill.

"I decided to switch it up," he says. "It made all the hills brand new again."

He says older skiers don't have to be athletes, but he does recommend using an instructor and following an exercise routine for 20-minutes per day.

"It doesn't have to be strenuous," Swift says. "And don't worry, you don't have to give up beer and chicken wings."

With cheeks still rosy from his last run, Swift sips on a cold beer at one of Big White's cozy pubs before heading out to his birthday dinner. Sitting next to him, also enjoying a cold brew after a day on the hills, is good friend and ski instructor Ollie McEvoy.

"Hey you're not old enough to drink," McEvoy quips as he clinks glasses with Swift.

Incredibly, the 65-year-old McEvoy took up skiing at age 50 and now is a Level 2 instructor despite two hip replacements.

MONDAY MORNING SOCIAL

McEvoy is so passionate in his desire to pass along the joy of skiing and snowboarding to other Boomers that he coordinates a Monday morning 50s Plus program at Big White. The class, for ages 50 to 100, is big hit. The $45-fee includes a morning of ski instruction matched to your ability, followed by a gourmet lunch at Big White's Kettle Valley Steakhouse with a menu of grilled New York steak, grilled salmon or roast duck and a beer or glass of wine.

"It's the best deal on the hills," McEvoy, says. "It's not just a lesson, it's a social event."

Skiers and boarders return year after year to take the program, not only to keep up the sport but also to reunite with life-long friends from all over the world.

"I guarantee we can get people skiing until they are well into their 80s," McEvoy says, and he means it, adding that it's crucial to take some lessons. "I promise, you will get a bigger bang for you buck for the rest of your ski week."

He says even good skiers can benefit from a lesson as it gives them something brand new to work on. "And it's a lot more fun than sitting in an armchair."

CONFIDENCE BOOSTER

The Tuesday-morning Ladies Day program, which attracts women aged 40-100, is similar to the 50s Plus. It includes the same lovely lunch at Kettle Valley, where MC Mark Tillostson -- a ski instructor, comedian and actor -- entertains, and offers door prizes and lots of laughs.

"It's a hoot," says Abigail Achtzner-Young, 72. The feisty Big White instructor skied with Nancy Greene on the Canadian Junior team and won at Osler Bluffs in 1959.

The women call her Abbey, and she is known on the hills for inducing peals of laughter while instructing female students to "stick your bums out, lean from side to side and squeeeeeeze those luv handles," as she works on confidence and stance.

Choosing the right terrain for older skiers is also important, Achtzner-Young says: "And we know all the secret soft snowy stashes that are hidden away here."

At 62, Australian Noreen Coombs lost her confidence after a fall and thought her skiing days were over for good -- until she met Achtzner-Young.

"I credit Abbey for giving the joy back to me. "Abbey believes in you. She is there for you. She doesn't give up on you, and she gave me my confidence back "¦ now I wear knee guards, and I'm skiing again!" Coombs says.

"It's all about confidence, and 80% of that is up here," Achtzner-Young says, pointing to her head. "Sometimes you have to be a bit of a psychologist. You have to find the right button to press to boost confidence, and the skiing technique improves. You absolutely don't have to stop skiing just because of the ageing process."

BEST OF THE BEST

Younger Boomers Christine Watson and Mike Critchley made a 22-hour trek to Big White from England to celebrate Watson's 50th birthday. They say the mega trip was worth it.

"What you have here is the best of the best," says Critchley, who has skied all over the world. "At Big White you have the hills of Austria, the apres ski and party scene of France, and the efficiency of the resorts in Germany "¦ you put it all together and you've got Canada!"

While the pair have visited many Canadian ski resorts, Big White is their favourite. Watson loves the fact more than 50% of the runs are blues with a nice selection of what she calls "light blue" -- gentler runs that still offer a snowy mountain thrill. They both love Big White's ski-in, ski-out facilities.

"Once you get a little older you really want the convenience," Critchley says. "While many resorts advertise ski-in ski-out, they really aren't. But here, you snap on your gear and go. This really is the best of the best."

NEED TO KNOW

-- If you've had skis stashed in the basement for 20 years and are taking up the sport again, "do yourself and favour and get rid of them," Swift says. "Spend some of that retirement money on the new shaped skis," which, he says, manufacturers have done amazing things with. "Heck, you can turn these skis by wiggling your ears."

-- Take a lesson on Day One, McEvoy says. If you take the lesson on your first day, you will get a bigger bang for your buck for the rest of your week.

-- Fly Westjet and bring your boarding pass to the ticket desk for a free ski-pass the day you arrive.

-- Bring the following: A hot/dry pack for tired muscles (chill it in the freezer or warm it in the microwave). A pair of Crocs for trips to the hot tub and the ski equipment room. A small humidifier -- mountain air is very dry. (Home hardware sells a mini humidifier that uses a regular water bottle.)

-- Big White is a great choice for low impact skiers who prefer blue, light blue and green runs. My favourite "light" blues: Never Never Glades, Red Hawk Trail, Born to Run and the Black Forest.

-- For more information, check out bigwhite.com.


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