There are plenty of reasons to come to Summit County, but arguably the main draw to our beautiful section of the mountains is the recreational opportunities that abound. Whether it’s the sun or the snow on the slopes, Summit and other such areas see consistent traffic from tourists seeking escape and fun.
Inevitably, there are those who decide that enjoying the mountains is something they’d prefer to do all year, not just when another vacation comes around. These people make Summit County their home, and they’re not always who you’d expect.
Physical activity — even extreme physical activity — is not limited to young people here in the mountains. Recreational enthusiasts of all ages can be found out on the slopes and trails of Summit County. That includes people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s.
Peter Lemis, a cardiologist at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco, said he’s noticed a trend of high physical activity among his older patients.
“All kinds of activities — in the summer it’s hiking and biking and in the winter it’s Nordic and Alpine skiing, and snowshoeing,” he said. At 62, Lemis himself enjoys similar activities, which are part of the reason he moved to Summit last year.
Anyone considering moving to higher elevations, particularly in older age, should pay particular attention to their health, he advised. Some problems may even have the potential to be lessened or prevented if proactive steps are taken, such as getting in touch with health professionals. And physical activity is yet another piece of the pie.
“Remaining active can certainly stave off other medical conditions,” Lemis said. “It’s good for your heart, it’s good for your bones, it’s good for your lung capacity. An active lifestyle is a healthy lifestyle.”
There is no shortage of people in Summit over the age of 50 who embody that sentiment. Simply head out onto the ski lifts or the hiking trails to find fellow enthusiasts making their way faster and more confidently than people many years their junior.
Doris Spencer and Kent Willoughby are two such locals. At age 60, Willoughby conquered his first 14er, via the Pikes Peak Marathon. Now in their 70s, the couple has climbed every 14er in the state and many of the 13,000-foot peaks as well. They also make sure to skin to the top of Arapahoe Basin Ski Area nearly every day during the winter.
Another example of the impressive athletic array of Summit’s older crowd is the Summit County 50+ Winter Games. Open to anyone over 50 years of age, the competition features events such as Alpine and Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, biathlon, figure skating and more.
It’s always a good time to start
While many of Summit’s senior population have been active all their lives, it’s not true of everyone. Gretchen Boetcher is a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator with Centura High Country Health Care. She teaches classes on weight management and healthy eating, among others.
“There are a lot of folks who don’t want to get out and be active because they feel they’re not as fit (as others),” Boetcher said. Her goal in the classes is to teach people how to improve their health, often through physical activity.
The key, Boetcher teaches, is to just get out and do it. You don’t need to be an expert, you just need to make the effort, she emphasized.
That is exactly what Spencer did in 1988 when she moved to Summit County.
“I kept looking up at Quandary and kept thinking, ‘I’m going to climb that,’” she said. And she did, step by step, despite being in recovery from various back injuries.
“After two years, I finally made it to the summit,” she said, and she hasn’t stopped since.
Simply being around the mountains is a good motivator for people wishing to start or maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Being here gives you the opportunity and also the desire,” said Lemis. “You look out the window, it’s so beautiful here; you want to be out there doing something. You don’t want to be sitting at home watching TV all day.”
And there’s no time like the present. As Boetcher said, “You’re never too old to get started.”