Harriet and Alison at Alta by Peak Photo

Aging comes with health issues — sometimes life-threatening health issues. Body parts wear out and disease happens. I often jest that it would take five or six seniors to have enough good parts to assemble one complete person. 

But in spite of fused spines, mechanical joints, heart stints and disease, we ski.  We ski for the fresh air, the whole body motion, and the camaraderie with other senior skiers. Skiing is such a positive sport it lets us shine even when the physical body is headed in the wrong direction. 

Senior skiers generally seem positive. When members of Alta’s Wild Old Bunch gather in the lodge for snacks and conversation, we talk about upbeat topics such as recent road trips or discovering a new restaurant. One subject never comes up: what hurts. That’s just the way it is. 

Then it happened. The leaves had changed color and snow was in the forecast when a gardening friend and I headed off for a day at a botanical garden. We hadn’t seen each other for a while, so as we drove we caught up on each other’s families and our recent gardening projects. 

Suddenly, she asked, “How long?” 

“How long — what?” I replied. Since she’s a non-skier I assumed she was asking about ski season. “Ski season starts around Thanksgiving,” I said, “ and I’m really looking forward to it.” 

That wasn’t what she wanted. She pressed on. “How long are you going to live?” 

Stunned, I shot back, “I’m not a can of soup. I don’t have an expiration date stamped on my forehead.” And I added, “Some people flaunt their life-threatening challenge. I guess it makes them feel unique. But I’m not discussing this because I don’t want my brain to lock onto the negatives. I’m going forward.” 

She batted her eyes at me and rushed onto her next question. “What do your doctors say? They must tell you when you’re going to die.”

“What my doctors say is none of your business. And your questions are ghoulish.”

Defensively she whimpered, “My aunt had cancer before she died. I’m just trying to be comforting.”


There are some take-aways that might be useful if you’re confronted by well-meaning friends who probe for details about a serious medical issue. 

Be strong. Don’t let people push you for details unless you really want to spill the beans. It’s your body and you’re under no obligation to tell all. In addition, everyone knows somebody who had “exactly the same thing.” You’re under no obligation to listen to those stories of struggles unless you really want to. 

Be bold. Decide what you’ll say to those who ask about your condition. Write your own script. For me it’s “Thank you for asking about me. It makes me feel good that you think of me, so please keep asking. But I’ll give you the same answer every time: ‘I’m fine.’ I don’t want my brain to lock onto the negatives. The more I’d tell about the down side, the more powerful those negatives would become.”

Look forward. There’s a saying I live by. “The best way to go forward is to quit looking in the rear view mirror.” 

I’ll see you on the slopes!


  1. Harriet,
    Such a great, useful and inspiring piece! I believe I remember another piece you wrote about the knee thing. I’ve learned to stay away from those people who think it’s their duty to pry into others’ lives – thanks for the suggestions!

  2. All my regular ski buds have 3 minutes at the start of the day to tell us what hurts. If the topic must come up again it will have to be tomorrow.

  3. Good stuff, Harriet. Thank you for the positive perspective. I’m getting ready for this season at Jay Peak after several health challenges. Meeting friends on line, even a nurse who treated me, and practicing French on those poor Quebec people keeps me coming back every year. Go get em Girl! Jay Mike

  4. William Geller says:

    We all spend time with people who have made exercise and adventure an important part of their lives. So far it has worked ( luck is part of it) but we do a lot to make our luck, so take credit for that.
    Most older folks I share experiences with enjoy their exercise experience as against the huge amount who think exercise is hard and something that they think has to be done and is not part of an activity that they look forward to. I bike, walk, play singles tennis, and ski a lot and often time when we finish somebody says we did a good job for our age. I always say that is talking yourself into thinking negatively and having a limited time to continue all these activities, I say stay very positive and just say WE DID WELL. As we all know mental attitude maintains and improves performance at every level.

  5. Debbie Shepherd-Gregg says:

    Thank you for the great words of wisdom. I appreciate your zest for life and encouraging words!. Looking forward to skiing this season and perhaps seeing you on the slopes

  6. Marypat Paxton says:

    Thank you, Harriet, for being a shining example of how to keep a positive attitude.

  7. Ron Ardizoni says:

    I have myxofibro sarcoma in my upper right thigh and it refuses to go away. I have had 10 recurrences and am recovering from my 12th surgery as we speak. I have skied all my life, I am 79, and can not find it in me to put my skies away. I am hoping to be skiing by Feb. Conditioning is always a problem but I will persevere, even one easy run on a sunny day is a wonderful thrill. I could loose my leg at some point in time and am working on the logistics to one ski skiing. Don’t know about you guys but I am not going down easy.

    • Ron
      I just recently had a below the knee amputation, and at 72 I am actively working to get back on the slopes this winter. It is very doable even with above the knee amputations. Perhaps the hardest part is finding the right prosthetic and learning to ski with it. This problem is becoming more common with young and older skiers and it would be nice if this publication dedicated a little more time to the handicaped skier. For instance, which is better, a prosthetic that will fit in my boot or one that attaches directly to the ski? I know how to buy a pair of skis, not so much a new leg. Good luck to you

  8. Harriett,

    Great article. Thanks for sharing it.


  9. Just say,’ when the good Lird is ready to have me and not a minute sooner!!’

  10. Dear Harriet,
    It’s always a pleasure reading stories with your byline. When I think of all the lives you have touched with your bracing attitude and buoyant prose, I doff my Moriarty hat in your honor. Keep on enlightening and entertaining us.
    Your forever friend,

  11. Richard Kavey says:

    Harriet, Thanks for your thoughtful article. Your “friend” requires toilet training if not an open hand slapdown. Health is personal, for someone to interrogate a friend about health status is both inappropriate and supremely obnoxious. If I encounter such a friend a will respond by consigninging them to full ghost status. Of course a person can chose to reveal health details to a friend: that’s every persons right. However what you describe is far different, eighty years ago your “friend” might have would our employment as a Gestappo interrogator.


      I get where you are coming from, but I feel it may be a bit harshly expressed. Some people are lame and have poor social skills. Or, they hang out too much with other people who start every conversation off with an “organ recital”. As my 94 yo friend’s doctor said “Just keep moving”. Thank you Harriett.

  12. I try not to associate with people like that, or people who don’t live the same lifestyle I do. I get tired of being asked, “Aren’t you scared, what about (cars, ice, rocks, roots),blah, blah, blah when asking me about cycling, x country skiing, hiking.”

  13. David Wahlstrom says:

    Harriet – Your light shines on Alta and the rest of us “Oldies but Goodies”. I cherish our friendship and look forward to each day I see you on the slopes and make a few turns with you. Your smile is infectious, your wit uplifting, and your movement on the slopes is an inspiration. Keep on “churning”.


  14. MICHAEL ROTH says:

    As far as I am concerned, it is a state of mind that keep us seniors and our bodies going, the more active you are the better chance you will have to live longer. Skiing is my primary love, and golf, racquetball, pickleball and riding you bikes (motorized and non-motorized) fill up the rest of the time between ski seasons. When and if the body parts go, they will go, and I will succumb to their needs. but now I just keep going and having a great time doing it. Forget sitting in front of the TV on that recliner!

  15. Harriet,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. Stay strong.

  16. Great article Harriet,
    Our season has just finished in Australia, although I can still see some remnants of snow on Mt Hotham. Lucky you. You have a season just starting. I am looking forward to our next one. Who knows how many more there will be? Like you, and others in the senior skiing community, I just focus on what I can still do. I started skiing 65 years ago on a rope toe with lace up leather boots. Modern equipment, snow grooming and some pointers from my husband, a former ski instructor, has allowed me to modify my skiing so I can keep doing it. I find skiing more exciting than ever. Enjoy the season ahead Harriet.

  17. Well stated Harriet. Love the nice turns you are making in the picture.

  18. Marvin and Betsy Chapman says:

    Love the article and the attitude! Look forward to seeing you at Alta this season.

  19. Harriett,
    Love your forward looking attitude and making the most of the time we are given!
    It sounds like you are facing a challenge worse than your knees and I will be praying for you.
    And that we will get to meet in Utah this spring!
    Like to many others, you were a voice of comfort and positive vibes during my total knee decisions and recovery! And everything good you said about them has come true!
    Blessings to you !

  20. Lynne Meixell says:

    Harriet is my role model, she is a woman that is strong mentally and physically. I am grateful to call Harriet my friend!

  21. Very Inspiring! I have a few sayings: Keep the old man out, life is a series of decisions, you don’t have a good day- you MAKE a good day. Know when to hold and know when to fold!⛷

  22. Very inspiring!
    I have a few sayings: I try to keep the old man out, life is just a series of decisions, you don’t have a good day You MAKE a good day and you have to know when to hold and know when to fold.⛷‍♂️

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