It's never too late to hit the slopes. At least, that's what members of the local Wheel Ski and Sports Club say.
The group's oldest member is still snapping into his skis at 87-years-old, so they may have a point.
George Ferger, of Beloit, has been skiing since high school. He used to ski competitively and do jumps at Big Hill Park as part of the former Beloit Ski Club.
When the club was still in operation, Ferger even took second place at a local tournament. However, he's stayed humble about his skiing accomplishments.
"I was only about 10 feet off the ground," Ferger said.
As modest as Ferger is, he's an inspiration to his fellow club members.
"There's never an age where you're too old to ski," club treasurer Diana Schaefer said. "I want to be like George, who still goes out there. That's what I think all of our goals are."
Schaefer's sister and fellow club member Vickie Hanson agrees, saying that her goal is to ski as long as Ferger.
Depending on the resort, operators will give older skiers a special pin when they're in their 70s, 80s and 90s. Sometimes skiers who are over a certain age even get to ski for free.
"That's my goal, to be old enough to be able to ski for free," Hanson said.
Hanson has been skiing since she was 15, but many of the club members didn't even start skiing until their 30s or even late 40s.
Schaefer is one who picked up the sport later in life. She was an avid water skier who also enjoyed cross country skiing for years. When she took Hanson cross country skiing and loved flying down the hill, her sister convinced her to try downhill skiing when Schaefer was in her 30s. The rest is history.
Hanson said skiing has taken her all over the world. She's gone to Europe many times, along with Alaska and even New Zealand. Along with traveling, Schaefer said she enjoys the sport because of the camaraderie and the ability to be in nature.
Though a person is never too old to pick up skiing, Hanson believes she's too old to attempt to pick up snowboarding, as the board slaps athletes down more aggressively than skis do.
For those looking to pick up skiing, Hanson recommends taking a lesson the first day skiers snap in every year.
"You can always improve," Hanson said. "(The teachers) always teach or reinforce something new."
Mixed among competitive skiers, the club also has members who are instructors.
Member Micheale Adair, 70, is a ski instructor at Cascade Mountain in Portage, Wisconsin, and for 20 years has guided skiers who are visually impaired.
When Adair taught at Craig High School and started a ski club, she was moved by her daughter's friend who is visually impaired.
"I've always strongly felt if a school has a club, it should be open to all members of the school," Adair said.
She's now associated with American Blind Skiing Association out of Chicago and meets the skiers at local ski trails.
The most common way for a guide to ski with a person with poor vision is to be right behind and parallel to them, shouting directions. There also are headsets that people can purchase so the guide doesn't have to shout as loud to the skier. The guide also wears an orange vest to signify they're guiding a visually impaired person.
There's one universal experience for all the members of the club: no one can ski without mishaps, Hanson said.
All of the members have stories about coat hooks attaching to the lift and taking skiers back down the mountain. Members also have fallen off the lift or even ran into signs.
A few years ago Hanson got stuck on a mogul run, which are large mounds on the ski hill. Hanson was gliding between mounds when her knee gave out. She had to be put on a sled to get down the mountain.
Adair had her whole leg redone at 65 after damaging her Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), two meniscus's and an Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL).
"The surgeon yelled at me," Adair said. "She said, 'What're you doing? This is a twenty-somethings injury. Were you on the bumps at your age?'"
It took her two years to get back on the slopes, but like the rest of the club members, she's still skiing strong.
Schaefer also has blown out her knee when she was skiing aggressively while in Lake Tahoe.
"I was up so high they had to put me in that tobaggon and ski me down part of the way, then they hooked me up to a snowmobile," Schaefer said.
When Schaefer made it back to Wisconsin, she discovered she would have to have surgery to repair her ACL as well as a ripped MCL.
When discussing her surgery with her doctor, she told the surgeon she wanted to be able to ski aggressively again.
"She pulled in one of the surgeons that assists the Wisconsin Badgers and the Green Bay Packers, and I now have a biodegradable consumable component that put two of my ACLs together," Schaefer said.
After a year of intense rehabilitation, Schaefer is able to ski while wearing a brace.
"I don't ski as aggressively as I used to, but I still ski pretty well," Schaefer said. "I won't do moguls anymore."
Schaefer said it's the love of the sport, the beauty of the terrain and the companionship that keep club members going back up the mountain even after suffering a major injury. After her own, Schaefer said there was "no question" about whether on not she would get back on the lift.
Want to participate?
The Wheel Ski and Sports Club has been in existence for more than 25 years. It has approximately 25 active members and usually takes at least one large trip each year. This year, the group took two trips in January and February. The club just got back recently from Powder Mountain in Utah and leaves for Whistler Blackcomb in Canada towards the end of the month. Some club members also will be traveling to Snowmass in Colorado in mid-February. Next year, Schaefer said the club is heavily considering a trip to Europe's slopes.
The club has members from Beloit, Roscoe, Rockton, Clinton Janesville and more. There are minimal dues to join, and residents also can come to have fun for free even if they don't want to ski. The club meets once a month. For more information, contact Schaefer at 608-289-4924.