It’s time for this town’s over-the-hill gang to show off their stuff.
On Monday and Tuesday — oh, and don’t forget the carb-loading pasta kickoff dinner tonight — the annual Summit County 50+ Winter Gamescomes to the Frisco Nordic Center and Keystone’s NASTAR slalom course. Now in its 36th year, the games features typical winter events like giant slalom, figure skating and various Nordic events (there’s even a biathlon), plus a few oddities like the hockey goal shoot, an alpine skiing rally race and the infamous snowball throw.
Registration is open for all events today from 4-8 p.m. at the Summit County Senior and Community Center, found at 83 Nancy’s Place just past Frisco on the way to Breckenridge. The opening night dinner and silent auction fundraiser begin at 4 p.m. to raise cash for senior programs across the country.
The 50+ Games is something of a ritual for Summit residents in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Folks come from every corner of the state and country to compete, like Minnesota native Dick Hawley and his wife, Claudia. The Hawleys first competed five years ago when their good friends, Breckenridge locals and longtime 50+ Games coordinators, Steve and Sandy Bainbridge, basically told them they had no other choice.
“Steve said to me, ‘Well Dick, I’ve got you entered in a race,’” the 69-year-old Hawley remembered from his first time competing in 2011. “So I said, ‘This is my first time out (this season) and you’ve been ski instructing. You must want to beat me bad.’”
That’s all it took to get Hawley hooked on the 50+ Games, and he now makes the annual February trip with his wife to compete. This season he’ll do his usual events: the ice skating race, hockey shoot, giant slalom and obstacle course, all held the first day of competition on Monday at Keystone.
“I’ve met a lot of other people from Summit County and across the country just coming into town to have a good time,” Hawley said. “It’s just very social and very friendly, and for us that’s nice. We’re no longer just locked in a room. We have people we can meet up with.”
SLALOM AND ICE
After the $15 opening night dinner tonight — rumor has it they’ll serve lasagna — competition gets underway with skiing and ice events at Keystone. The day starts with hockey and ice skate events at 9 a.m., held at Keystone Lake outside of the Keystone Lakeside Village. The lake is a true outdoor venue, and for a Minnesota native like Hawley that means a taste of home during the ice shoot — even if people come out in tennis shoes.
“You don’t even have to have skates to do that one,” Hawley said. “You just need shoes and a hockey stick and good aim. It’s not too strenuous — you get lots of people involved in it. People both encourage and heckle each other standing around.”
Good-natured heckling is part and parcel of the 50+ Games, Hawley said. Things never get too competitive, but he still likes going head-to-head with the Bainbridges and anyone else on the GS course. After all, what’s life without a little friendly competition?
“I like to think I’m a good skier,” Hawley said. “I’ve spent time skiing with Minnesota ski instructors and they like to get competitive. It’s just fun, you know?”
ON THE TRACK
Tuesday takes the 50+ Games to the west side of Summit for Nordic skiing and those odd events at the Frisco Nordic Center. Hawley doesn’t do the Nordic races — yet — but they’re how Joyce Bearse fell in love with the games. Well, after she finished a 5K she only thought was a 2.5K in the 70-75 age division.
“I didn’t get off the course when I was supposed to get off, so I won gold by accident,” Bearce said with a laugh. “Like I say, this is really just fun for me.”
Bearce will be back this year for the ice skate (a race of three laps around a course on the lake) and two Nordic races, the 2.5K and the relay. Teams are picked on the spot to make things fair across the board, and it fast becomes one of the most social events.
“I’ve met a lot of people who do it and we have a great time getting together for it,” Bearce said of the Nordic races and games. “There are a couple of serious groups that participate, but a lot of us just head out to have a good time.”
It’s why organizers have events like the obstacle race — an event held on Nordic skis with barriers like logs — and the snowball toss, like a winter version of dunk-the-clown with snowballs, targets and, unfortunately, no clowns.
The biathlon is a favorite for veteran sharpshooters, like first-time competitor Bill Handley. He’s a 65-year-old Breckenridge second-home owner who retired from the military and settled in Florida. His background with the U.S. Army Reserves means he has the chops to do just fine with a rifle — as long as the skis don’t get in the way.
“I figure I can make up for any skiing deficiency with my shooting,” Handley said. “I haven’t done it consistently in a long time, but I’ve probably shot a half-million rounds in my life. I just want to finish the biathlon without falling.”