A salute to George Stewart, Scotland’s oldest skier

George Stewart, still sliding at the age of 98
George Stewart, still sliding at the age of 98
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We are all, apparently, in spite of the stresses of Brexit and the proliferation of Krispy Kreme outlets, living longer than ever before. According to the Office for National Statistics, by the year 2066, 50 per cent of newborn girls and 44.2 per cent of newborn boys should make it to 100. A few months ago, as if to prove the point, a book landed on my desk entitled The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. The premise was that these days, thanks to healthier diets and better medical care and a general lack of natural predators, we should all now be planning to live to 100, as, for the first time in history, there’s a decent chance we might actually get there. Of course, for many people (read: anyone without several million quid in the bank) such planning will mostly be of a financial nature, and that seemed to be the main thrust of the book. “Does the thought of working for 60 or 70 years fill you with dread?” ran the blurb. Why yes, I thought, eyeing my “to do” list for the day, it does. But if “the 100-Year Life” really is going to become as commonplace as the ONS number-crunchers predict, there are other things to think about too, in particular: what will I do for fun when I hit 80, 90, 100, even perhaps 110?

Fun, of course, means different things to different people. If, in your 20s, the most fun thing you could possibly imagine was playing board games, you will find the 100 year life a doddle: Monopoly, Cluedo and the like will all be there waiting for you when you reach your dotage, and the buzz of fleecing your grandchildren and perhaps even your great-grandchildren every time they land on Mayfair with a hotel on it will never grow old. But what if your idea of fun is a little more active? What if the most fun thing you can think of is whitewater rafting? Or downhill mountain biking? Or some form of snow-sliding? If you’re going to live for a long time, and if these are the things you truly enjoy, shouldn’t you be doing everything you can to make sure you can keep on doing them for as long as possible? Maybe right up until the very end? Or is that just crazy-talk? Is it more sensible to resign yourself to the fact that, at some point, you’re going to have to hang up your mountain bike, deflate your dinghy, turn your skis or snowboard into garden furniture and reach for the Monopoly board?

For those hoping to ski well into their old age, Stewart recommends using familiar gear and sticking to familiar runs.

For those hoping to ski well into their old age, Stewart recommends using familiar gear and sticking to familiar runs.

Outdoors enthusiasts who prefer the sound of doing what they love for as long as possible will have been heartened to read a recent article in The Scotsman by George Stewart, who is believed to be Scotland’s oldest skier. Still carving turns at the grand old age of 98 (and very stylish ones, too, judging by the pictures), George had some sage advice for wannabe nonagenarian skiers, from getting younger family members to deal with your travel hassles to sticking with boots and skis that work for you, even if they might not have been fashionable for a couple of decades. Indeed, for George, familiarity seems to be one of the keys to a long skiing life: in addition to sticking with familiar gear, he also advocates sticking to familiar runs in familiar resorts. As a creature of habit, I like the sound of that: I can think of a couple of runs that I could quite happily ride every day for the rest of my life (and no, sorry, I’m not going to tell you where they are.)

George Stewart is by no means the only person to have kept on skiing into his 90s. The incredible Lou Batori, originally from Austria and latterly a regular at Crystal Mountain resort in Washington State, kept on sliding until the age of 107. Meanwhile, Hilda Jamieson from Angus, who passed away in 2016, was still hitting the slopes at 102. Similarly, on 5 July 2017 the perma-happy George Jedenoff celebrated his 100th birthday by skiing at Snowbird ski resort in Utah. As it was July, the snow was pretty wet and heavy, but George powered through the slush like a man a quarter of his age.

Clearly, then, skiing up to 100 and beyond is possible. But what if, like your correspondent, you prefer one plank to two? Given the constant standing up/sitting down/standing up again that snowboarding entails, is it realistic to expect to be able to snowboard for as long? Perhaps. The businessman, barefoot waterskier and snowboarder George Blair, who died in 2013, reportedly rode between 40 and 65 days a season until he was 92. Known as “Banana George” on account of his insistence on wearing a bright yellow wetsuit for waterskiing and a bright yellow one-piece ski suit while snowboarding, George’s motto was “Don’t wait for life to happen – make it happen!” Sounds like a decent recipe for a happy 100 year life.