Friday, March 29, 2013

Friendship, fitness and second chances

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum’s Jim Rivetts knows what he likes. A few skewers of green olives in his après ski PBR. Skiing with hot pink ski poles wearing an eggplant (not purple but eggplant) helmet—mostly because it really bothers his son, Jed. Mostly he likes to ski on Baldy every single day of the season.

This week’s snowy Tuesday morning was Jim’s 111th on skis this season. If he makes it to the hill every day until closing on April 14, he’ll log 130 of the season’s 146 skiable days. Jim is your go-to guy if you want a weather report, a grooming report or an opinion. During the past four years, the fewest number of days per season that he has logged on Baldy is 117.

“This morning was a pleasant surprise,” Jim said Tuesday. “There were a few new inches of snow that fell after the groomers were finished and it was really soft and nice. We spent the morning on International and the Warm Springs side. Really nice.”

Jim hits the hill with a purpose. Sitting with him at the River Run Lodge, you’d never guess, but less than a decade ago, this now energetic, athletic father of three and grandfather of four with a wide smile and a wry sense of humor weighed in at nearly 400 pounds.

Though an avid skier in the Seattle area beginning in his 20s when he met his wife, Jim gave up his favorite hobby when Jed and daughter Jaime became ski racers themselves. He said, “My wife, Nancy, and I were very involved with the race program on Crystal Mountain and when the kids got serious, I stopped skiing for about five years. During that time I just gained more and more weight and let myself go.”

But the ski bug persisted. After buying a second home in the Wood River Valley (he and his family were frequent visitors to the area for years), Jim rekindled his passion for skiing. But the changes in his body and fitness caused difficulties. It was hard to find clothes that fit. It was difficult to bend over to buckle his boots. It was tiring to even walk to the lift in the morning from the parking lot. One day, he had had enough.

“I was skiing with [now daughter-in-law] Joelle [O’Connor] and had to stop four times from the top of the Greyhawk lift to the bottom of Warm Springs,” Jim said. “I was getting lapped by my wife, my kids, friends of mine who I knew didn’t ski as well as I did. I knew what a good skier I had been and that I could be but my body couldn’t do it. It was so frustrating.”

Planning to return to fighting (and skiing) form, Jim committed to diet and exercise. The dieting part was problematic. He needed LapBand surgery to make his stomach smaller and to help him to feel “full.” Also, Jim said, “I had diabetes that I had to treat numerous times a day. I was on all sorts of medication. It was unacceptable.” So, surgery and a firm commitment to redirecting his life were what the doctor ordered. And a lifestyle change was what Jim ordered. 

He and Nancy began to spend more time in Sun Valley. Along with the move and his diminishing belt size came a renewed passion for skiing and a dedication to incorporating the sport into his new active day-to-day pursuits.

“It was self-fulfilling,” Jim said. “To enjoy skiing again and to ski as well as I knew I could, I needed to remain committed to staying fit. Skiing helped me stay fit and active. Once the excess weight was gone, the passion returned, the speed returned, the stamina returned. My health returned. Now it is obviously a critical part of every day of the winter for me.”

Today, Jim’s skiing routine is pretty fixed day-over-day from mid-November through mid-April. He and his ski buddies Al, Steve, Mike and Mark, give or take a few, meet at the mountain with the goal of being on the 9 a.m. chair or gondola. At the base of River Run, they take over the “good old boys” table near the stairs and prepare for the day.

The group skis all terrain and all conditions. Usually, they head over to Seattle Ridge and hit all three doors as a warm-up, but from there, their day, which normally ends around 2:30 or 3 p.m. (so they can get some work in), takes them all over the hill.  After a snowfall, Jim said there’s a 90 percent likelihood you’ll find him in Mayday Bowl, but he skis everything and skis it pretty darn fast. No more stopping on the way down to catch his breath. Jim also skis regularly with his son and his friends. 

“I usually meet up with Jed and the young guys and chase them around the hill,” he said with a laugh.

A salesman by trade and social by nature, Jim isn’t even slightly surprised that lifelong, year-round friendships have evolved from chair chat and that he has connected with like-minded, like-ability men. In fact, many of Jim’s ski buddies are also his fishing buddies and people with whom he talks every day of the winter and throughout the rest of the year.

For Jim, skiing is a part—a large part—of his healthy new lifestyle. Part exercise, part fresh air, part friendship, the mountain culture works his legs and lungs and soul and heart. Other than the rubbery quads endemic to a powder day, Jim is strong and healthy and hundreds of pounds slimmer than he was a short time ago. By all accounts, he is back and better than ever. Is anyone else feeling inspired yet?

Everyone who skis or rides as a part of his or her everyday life gets something critical from the endeavor. Whether people are motivated by the perspective offered on the way down the hill, the joy of speed, the immediate physicality of each turn, the chance to think or to not think at all, the health benefits—it is all part of the intricate woven pattern of why we ski.

Skiers and riders can feel melancholy as spring approaches and ski days diminish. Jim Rivetts is no different. “It’s always tough for a few weeks, not having the mountain to look forward to,” he said, echoing the sentiments of many. But with the early spring conditions in the valley, Jim said he’s looking forward to getting on his road bike and into the rivers—both vital components of his summer mountain lifestyle.

“This is a magical place,” he said. “The mountains, the rivers, the trails. It’s much easier to stay on track and stay healthy when you get to live in the middle of all this. I will really miss the hill and my routine here, but there’s always next season to look forward to and some pretty amazing months in between.”



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