How I persuaded my 70-year-old mum not to give up on skiing

Rebecca Miles
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“New isn’t necessarily better,” says my mum. She might be right on some fronts but when it comes to skiing, I don’t agree. I love exploring unknown and unusual resorts, and seeking out new runs, new views and new restaurants

After learning to ski in her 30s, introduced by my dad, Mum used to be just as keen as me, and family ski holidays to various resorts have always been a joy. But these days she only skis the same slopes in and around Champagny, one of the resorts in the La Plagne sector of the huge Paradiski ski area, because our family owns an apartment there.

When we’re there she never fully explores Paradiski’s 425km of pistes; despite being a good technical skier she just potters around slopes she knows and loves, not skiing to the full as she used to. Mum is not alone. My dad happily claimed his free lift pass for over 75s this year, but after a hip operation a few years ago (understandably) skis less.

Their previously ski-mad friends have also stopped because their knees are less robust, or they’ve become increasingly nervous. Figures from the Ski Club of Great Britain back up this anecdotal evidence, showing a noticeable drop in the number of skiers and snowboarders aged 60 and over, compared with those in their 40s and 50s, and the reasons given include, "I’ve no one to ski with anymore", "It is too much hassle", and "My age". 

I’d been trying for a while to convince Mum that visiting a new resort might restore her vim and vigour for skiing and, with her upcoming 70th birthday to celebrate, would take no more excuses.

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I took the bull by the horns, and booked us a surprise short break to Italy, staying in the village of Ortisei in Val Gardena, a spot in the spectacular Dolomite mountains neither of us had been to before. In Val Gardena’s favour were three major Mum-pleasers that I hoped would rekindle her skiing mojo. 

Firstly, instead of our lovely, but compact – and of course self-catering – apartment, we would stay in the five-star Adler, one of those wonderful hotels that functions seemingly effortlessly, and would thoroughly pamper her. 

Though it’s been open since 1810, and is a labyrinth of a place, this is no stuffy establishment time warp, but a timeless haven with exceptional service. An ever-changing gourmet buffet of intricate delicacies was served at breakfast, lunch and dinner (alongside magnificent à la carte dishes), and the extensive spa has fabulous spaces such as a sauna with views of the Dolomites and a floral steam bath in a rock grotto. 

Secondly, Val Gardena – a valley that is home to the ski resorts of Selva and Santa Cristina as well as Ortisei, which between them have a 175km of slopes – has a dedicated Active programme of extra-curricular activities designed to show there’s more to a holiday in the Dolomites than skiing. It proved a nice distraction from my focus on reviving Mum’s interest in skiing.

One evening, we joined a guided tour around Ortisei and discovered lots about its history; another day we learnt new skills on a cookery course lead by local farmer’s wife Isolde Grossrubatscher Ploner. 

And, we were in the Dolomites. I calculated Mum would fall head over heels with these stunning mountains, and the food too. 

But first and foremost, I wanted Mum to fall in love with skiing all over again – and my secret weapon was a private lesson with Daniel Goller, an utterly charming instructor from SkiSaslong Ski School, and I tagged along on the easygoing blues and reds of Alpe di Siusi, above Ortisei. 

It was a perfect bluebird-sky day in late March – the snow on the pristinely groomed slopes had just the right amount of give, the sun had just the right amount of warmth and we came across just the right amount of other people on the slopes to boost Mum’s confidence – barely any.

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Quite frankly, Monday mornings don’t get any better and I was so relieved. Mum’s sense of excitement and passion for the mountains seemed reignited by Daniel’s pointers – not to mention his flattering surprise at her age. 

My other secret weapon was to inspire her with tales of fellow skiing septuagenarians – and there are more around than the statistics seem to indicate.

John Lewis and his wife Susan are 80 and 75 respectively, and aim to keep skiing for as long as possible. When I met them on holiday in Val d’Isère at the end of last winter, John said, “What can be better for the aged than to spend a good part of the day sitting on a chairlift being wafted up the hill while admiring the lovely scenery, then using gravity to slide back down? The nature of skiing means my ability to do it has declined much less than my ability at tennis over the past 10 years.”

Andrea Todd, a friend of Mum’s, learnt to ski at 34 and, after her husband died in 1997 when she was in her 50s, went to Courchevel and worked a ski season as a chalet host. She told me she has made a date to return in two years, so she can claim her free lift pass at 75.

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“Skiing is all about confidence,” she says. “It’s 60 per cent courage, 40 per cent style, and I always aim to avoid the last run of the day, particularly if the light is starting to go.” 

All good encouragement, but the battle to convince Mum wasn’t over. Round two went to Mum, when we headed to the slopes above Santa Cristina on our second day. By the time we reached the runs they had been in the sun for too long; they were slushy, bumpy and busy. Mum didn’t enjoy it and, with Andrea’s words about confidence ringing in my ears, I was feeling the pressure of being tour guide and cheerleader. 

“That’s why I like familiarity,” Mum said. “It’s so nice to go back to the same resort because you know exactly where everything is and there’s not something scary round the next corner.”

While she may have a point, our holidays in Champagny don't include the Adler. So we cut our losses to go back to the hotel for coffee and cake, followed by a soak in the outdoor hot tub, watching the Dolomites turn pink as the sun set. Glorious, we agreed.

10 rules for staying safe on the slopes

Our final day was make or break for skiing. Making a concession to Mum, instead of our initial plan to tackle the Sella Ronda, a full day circuit around the Sella massif, we returned to the Alpe di Siusi slopes. 

With Daniel’s ski tips still fresh in Mum’s mind we made the most of the empty slopes and confidence-building terrain. We even tore ourselves away from a fantastic red run beneath the Monte Piz-Icaro lift, with rollercoaster dips ideal for getting a bit of speed, to explore pistes we hadn’t been on with Daniel. 

We were both in our element, and there was no question Mum enjoyed it – we spent seven hours on the slopes, a recent record for her. 

So we ended our celebration trip on a high and my work was complete when Mum vowed to return to the Dolomites next season with Dad. Looks like I’d best start planning a trip to celebrate Mum’s 80th. 

Need to know

Seven nights half board at the Adler hotel in Ortesei starts at €1,175/£1,003 per person, based on two sharing, and the hotel offers a 50 per cent reduction on lift pass prices. For more information on Val Gardena and its Active programme, visit valgardena.it.