70 is the magic number at Southern California ski resorts

By Art Bentley

Old age, it is said, is not for wimps. But it could be just the lift ticket for those who would like to ski or ride a snowboard without charge.

To do that in Southern California, all you have to do is live for 70 years and be able to prove it. Once you’ve met those two simple requirements, just stride, stroll, lurch or hobble to the ticket windows at Mountain High near Wrightwood or the guest services office at Snow Valley near Running Springs, display a valid driver’s license, pay a nominal one-time processing fee, pose for a photograph and you’re the owner of a season pass that’s good any time.

Mountain High charges $10 and Snow Valley $20. If you’d rather not pay at the latter, Snow Valley will give you a day ticket whenever you show up with valid identification. The double sawbuck, however, provides the advantage of being able to head directly to the lifts upon arrival.

“We feel these people 70 and over have been supporting the industry most of their lives,” Snow Valley marketing director Chris Toth said. “We want to recognize that and have them come up and ski our mountain. And they might bring the rest of their family and spend some money. That doesn’t hurt.”

Mountain High and Snow Valley, like just about any resort in western North America, could use more snow. Open runs are limited at both resorts. At Mountain High, the east side is shuttered, pending the arrival of natural snow or a cold snap of sufficient strength and length to permit the manufacture of enough of the white stuff to ski on. Slide Peak, beyond the reach of the Snow Valley snow guns, also is idle.

John McColly, chief marketing officer at Mountain High, also doesn’t feel the resort is hurting itself financially by giving away the product to senior skiers and snowboarders.

“For us, it’s a way to give back,” he said. “Not a lot of our guests are over 70, so it’s not a big financial liability and people over 70 really enjoy it. We like to see them up there.”

Several other western resorts apparently adhere to the same philosophy in varying degrees.

Seventy birthdays are enough to ski without charge the legendary powder of Alta, Utah, which gets 500 inches of snow in an average winter and arguably has some of the world’s best terrain strewn over 2,000 feet of vertical rise. The 43-degree pitch of Alf’s High Rustler, which dives about 1,500 vertical feet with a northerly exposure, is the best run for expert skiers in the U.S., in the opinion of many devotees of the steep and deep. Not all of those who ski it regularly are under 70.

For at least two other western resorts, Arizona Snow Bowl near Flagstaff and Big Mountain at Whitefish, Mont., 70 also is the magic number. It’s 72 at Mount Hood Meadows, Ore., and 75 at Whistler in British Columbia. The free ride at Monarch, Colo., starts at 69.

To slide free at several other places noteworthy for deep snow and challenge, however, one must be at least 80. The gravy train at Pachyderm Peak, otherwise known as Mammoth Mountain, begins at that age, as it does at such places as Taos Ski Valley, N.M., Brian Head, Utah, Wolf Creek, Colo., and Bridger Bowl, Mont. If you’re of that vintage and still able to get your lack of money’s worth at any of those places, you’re some skier.