Friday, July 29, 2011

Sun Valley for all ages

If a substantial population of some of the oldest active people in the nation didn't call the Sun Valley area home for some or all of the year, it would be a sign of failure. After all, the Sun Valley Resort began in 1936 and at 75 is the oldest destination ski resort in the United States.

Some people view the age of the resort and some of its fans as a negative characteristic. On the contrary, it's something to be proud of. It means the Sun Valley area is a place where people can balance their mental and physical lives. It's a place that can inspire the whole nation.

This week's lecture by Dr. Henry Lodge, author of the book "Younger Next Year," drew a packed house of about 500 of the most active aging people to be found anywhere. Just a handful were under age 60. Most were over 70 with a spattering over 90, and all had the look of people active in outdoor recreation.

The packed auditorium was a sign of success, full of individuals reaping the benefits of their own efforts—a country that produces healthy food and advanced medical technology, both of which increased average life expectancy in the U.S. from 49 years in 1900 to nearly 78 years today.

Lodge pointed out that there is a difference between being alive—and really living. He told the story of an 80-year-old woman who was dissatisfied with her time in a marathon, trained for another year and cut an hour off her time when she ran it again at age 81. She, like her impressive Sun Valley counterparts, is "living," not just being alive.

A local drumbeat dubbing the Sun Valley area as "too old" was triggered by census data that showed a steady increase in the median age of residents, driven by an influx of baby boomers in the 1970s. Marketers and businesses feared the sky would fall on the area's economy and frantically looked for ways to reverse the trend.

Snide locals began to refer to Baldy's base lodges as God's Waiting Rooms.

The Sun Valley Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Bureau wrung its hands over demographics that showed the numbers of older skiers and boarders outstripping those in their 20s. An elected official regularly told members of the CVB that they were too old to "get it."

There's no getting around the fact that the area needs to develop new fans. But instead of rejecting the old ones, we should regard them as an asset and use their stories as magnets for like-minded younger people who love the outdoors.

Being strong and healthy enough to join the Ancient Skiers who visit here every year or to emulate the World War II-era members of the 10th Mountain Division who walked the three miles from Sun Valley to ceremonies in Ketchum in their last gathering, or to be as strong as the septuagenarians who leave younger folks on the trail in the dust, this is the Sun Valley state of mind—suitable for people of all ages.

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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.