Opinion » Maxed Out

George Huxtable could teach us a thing or two...



"Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough."
- Groucho Marx

Having already lived longer than I ever had a right to expect, given my attraction to motorcycles, mountain climbing and general mayhem, I've gotta say, in all honesty, aging sucks. It beats the heck out of the alternative, but sometimes it's easy to lose sight of that distinction.

Aging is a long prairie road of indignities, minor at first but growing in both number and magnitude. It was annoying, lo those many years ago, when I finally had to admit I couldn't read anything without glasses. All the more so since I'd always had outstanding vision. It was shocking when I realized those lighter hairs in my beard were grey, not blond. More shocking when they seemed to migrate to my ears where they seemingly serve no purpose whatsoever.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, joints I'd abused for decades without even thinking about it began to complain after what I'd always considered an easy run or a semi-serious ski day.

I have a very dark vision of what comes next. Based solely on the advertisements pitched at seniors, I fully expect my golden years to be a treadmill of incontinence, flatulence, erectile dysfunction, high cholesterol, higher blood pressure, acid reflux, and, of course, a generally frustrating battle with chronic constipation punctuated only by bouts of raging diarrhea, all of which will conspire to turn me into the junkie I spent so much of my life trying to avoid becoming.

Aging is, of course, worse for living in a town perpetually refreshed by a new crop of 22-year-olds every autumn.

But if there is hope — and I'm enough of a hopeless romantic to believe there is — it undoubtedly lies in the lives of so many Whistler seniors I've known over the years. If demographic statistics peg the average age of Whistleratics at around 29, that's largely because there are enough people in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s to offset the tsunami of young children and instant locals barely out of diapers themselves.

Whistler geezers still rock.

In fact, some of them will lay an ego injury on most 25-year-olds I know serious enough to make them think about hanging up their skis or mountain bikes and heading back home to join their mom's insurance business.

I can't begin to count the number of ski instructors I know who supplement their meagre income from teaching with monthly CPP cheques. They can go all day, six or seven days a week and still leave their students limp and out of breath. If they're lucky enough to get a high-level class, they'll be tempted to take them places that'll have their teeth chattering like castanets and their eyes telling their brains to back away from the edge.

I've decided, over the years of knowing and learning from my elders, that slowing down is never a good idea. The more you slow down, the closer you come to stopping. And there's no place for you in Whistler once you've stopped. This is a town with no room for the old and infirm. Aging in place largely means aging someplace else.

I'm not sure there will ever be enough social services or health care dollars to change that reality. So why worry about it. Better instead to embrace the best of what this town has to offer as long as possible. Better to emulate so many who have grown old here and still ski, bike, board, skinny ski, hike, climb and party like there's no tomorrow.

At the risk of pissing off some of my older friends — who can still hurt me on the mountain — there's one man who, had you been here a few years ago, could have taught you a lot about livin' the dream.

If passion is a young man's game, somebody forgot to tell George Huxtable that. Because if skiing is defined by passion — and make no mistake, it is — George was one passionate octogenarian when I met him.

Over a decade ago, someone in the marketing department of Whistler Blackcomb dreamed up a promotion to challenge and reward the mountain's most avid skier. Dubbed Live the Dream, the contest was designed to reward the season passholder who skied the most days during the meat of the season: January, February and March.

Doubtless, when the promotion was being knocked around and fleshed out, there was an idea the winner would be some young, hip, too-cool-for-school skier or boarder, maybe someone sponsored but at a minimum someone who could become a marketing icon to draw youthful visitors to the resort.

I'm pretty certain no one imagined that person would be 85-year-old George Huxtable.

So when January drew to a close and the numbers were tallied, George's name popped out on top. Thirty-one days in January, 31 days on George's Super Senior pass. An anomaly, no doubt. George won the prize for January.

At the end of February, George had been up the lift every day. Ditto March. And if they'd bothered to look, they'd have only found a handful of days during the entire season George hadn't dutifully — happily — headed up the lift.

He didn't ski a lot. Didn't huck any cliffs. In fact, his route was pretty much limited to up the Creekside gondy, Red Chair, Peak Chair, around Burnt Stew and Sidewinder to Green and back down to Creekside.

The day he skied me around his route, we stopped at a point with a stunning view of Overlord Glacier and George pointed over to it and said, "That's where I've told my son to bury me when I die. Three-thousand years from now I'll be spit out the end of the glacier and look just as good as I do today."

George barely missed a day the next season, crediting his stamina to his 4-S regime: "Skiing, soaring — he flew gliders — sailing and... I forgot the fourth one," he joked.

And when he finally got too frail to ski, he'd head up and spend a good part of the day at the Roundhouse, talking to old friends, making new ones. When even that got to be more activity than he could handle, George aged in place somewhere else, somewhere where he recently took his last breath.

Those of us who knew him won't ever forget him. It's probably romantic to say Whistler's poorer for losing George but then, Whistler's lost so many colourful characters in the last few decades.

But I'll probably stop the first time Overlord comes into view this season and raise a salute to man who showed some of us how to live the dream... and wonder whether he's really out there.