Up and over the hill

Tim Holt
Jack Brooks in photos taken at the Mt. Shasta Ski Park, left, and at Bunny Flat on Mount Shasta, just as he is leaving to ski up to Avalanche Gulch. Now age 85, Brooks is a legendary backcountry skier who mostly skis these days at the Ski Park and occasionally on the slopes of Avalanche Gulch, where he's accompanied by his partner Jeanie Bond. Submitted

Under a sign that says “Senior Moments,” you’ll find them in a corner of the lodge at the Mt. Shasta Ski Park just about every morning during ski season – a group of older folks chatting away, sharing jokes, and getting ready to head out on the slopes.

They’re members of the Snowmen Hill Group, founded in 2002 and named after the spot off Highway 89 where some of them first learned to ski. The club is open to any skier, snowboarder or telemarker 50 years of age or over.

Some of them are quite a bit over 50. There’s Jack Brooks, 85, a legendary backcountry skier who skied the lush snowfields of Mount Shasta’s north side until just a few years ago. Now, as a concession to age, he skis mostly at the Ski Park and occasionally on the slopes of Avalanche Gulch, where he’s accompanied by his partner Jeanie Bond, who doesn’t like the idea of him skiing out there alone at his age.

My first encounter with Jack was about 10 years ago, when I was hiking with some friends in the snow midway between Bunny Flat and Horse Camp. With no visible trail, we were uncertain which way to go, when all of a sudden an older guy on skis appeared out of nowhere and came to a graceful stop in front of us. He pointed out the exact route we should follow, and, grateful for the unexpected help, we trudged along on our way. As we made our way to Horse Camp I couldn’t help feeling that he’d been waiting out there for us, on the watch for wayward winter travelers.

Another ski lodge regular is Jack Howard, who’s 78 and one of the founders of the Snowmen Hill Group. The organization costs a whole dollar for a lifetime membership and has no meetings, other than the informal get-togethers at the lodge and an annual breakfast get-together before the start of ski season. Howard is a Mount Shasta native but learned to ski at Boreal Ridge near Lake Tahoe when he was working for PG&E in the Bay Area.

Victoria Cadena, 75, is probably the most dedicated skier among those who gather at the lodge. She’s out on the slopes every day during ski season.

“It’s good exercise, and gives me a good excuse to get out of the house every day,” she says.

Monte Bloomer, 78, is another ski lodge regular. He didn’t get serious about skiing until he reached the ripe age of 69 and volunteered to lead a blind skier around the Ski Park, something he did for three ski seasons.

He and his partner Anne Johnson, 72, soon hooked up with the Snowmen Hill Group, finding mentors and teachers among the more experienced skiers in the club.

Bloomer and Johnson like to dress up in costumes for the annual Over The Hill Classic at the Ski Park. It’s for skiers 50 and over, a slalom race where skiers wind their way around poles to the finish line. A couple of years ago Bloomer and Johnson were a sight to behold, with Bloomer in his kilt and Johnson in a shimmering tutu.

“We’d probably be skiing with or without the Snowmen Hill Group,” says Bloomer, “but the whole experience has been enriched by the camaraderie we enjoy in that little corner of the ski lodge and out on the slopes.”