Skiing is a way of life for Bob Murdoch. As a youngster, he took his wooden skis with a single leather foot strap and slid down hills at the local golf course. Now he skis Alta’s slopes three days a week. “I ski for the thrill of it. I used to ski the steepest slopes and the deepest powder, but I don’t do that anymore,” Bob says, admitting he has slowed down some. Now he sticks to Alta’s gentler runs, and during the summer, he golfs just two days a week. He’s 95 years old.
Then there’s 102-year-old Alta skier George Jedenoff, who coined the phrase “Age is just a number.” It certainly hasn’t stopped him from doing what he wants to do. He charges down the slopes, hooting and jumping into even a tiny patch of powder. At 102, he still works out every day of the year for 45 minutes before breakfast to stay physically fit.
Alta’s Wild Old Bunch
Bob and George are the oldest members of Alta’s Wild Old Bunch, a group of enthusiastic senior skiers for whom age really doesn’t matter, but who generally range from 60ish up. Unlike most groups, the Wild Old Bunch has no dues and no officers. Instead, the 100-plus members are bonded by a love of life and the love of skiing. Blue skies, sparkling snow, and fresh, high mountain air ramp up the pleasure.
“I love to ride up the chairlift and see the beautiful scenery and breathe the crisp air,” says Judy Brunvand. “It’s good for the soul.”
After a morning of skiing, Wild Old Bunch members start to drift into Alf’s mid-mountain restaurant for camaraderie, conversation and snacks. They gather at the only round table, which was specially purchased for the group years ago. You might find these senior skiers talking about gardening, golf, how to solve a home plumbing problem, or about the porcupine they saw in a slopeside pine tree. Conversation is always upbeat.
Enjoying life since the 1970’s
Interestingly, they don’t talk about their grandkids or what body parts hurt. They don’t dwell on how advancing age challenges them, focusing instead on going forward to enjoy life and, of course, continuing to ski. It’s a positive mind set, and it has always been that way.
The group was founded nearly a half century ago in the early 1970s. A group of friends took powder lessons at Alta and got so excited they wanted to share the joy of snow with others. It was the Jurassic period of home movie technology. Video cameras were bulky and often hard to hold steady. But the group made remarkable videos of themselves skiing in powder, dubbed in music, and showed the videos to friends. They called themselves the Wild Old Bunch—with a little “o” because they wanted to de-emphasize the age factor. The name stuck and the circle of snow-loving friends continued to expand. The group continues to expand today. Members come from as far away as Maine, Canada, England, Germany and Australia.
Bob Phillips from Tennessee met the Wild Old Bunch in an unusual way. “We were skiing off-trail in the woods and it was tough. We came upon an older guy who was skiing it with ease. We followed him but we had trouble keeping up. We got on the lift together and he invited us to meet the Wild Old Bunch and find ski buddies.” Most skiers meet the group through such chance encounters.
Robin Roberson, who is definitely one of the youngest members, also had a chance meeting. In 2011 she saw a story about Alta’s Wild Old Bunch in Sunset Magazine and asked for autographs of those who were in the photo. She was enthusiastically adopted by the Wild Old Bunch.
How to stay in shape
But what makes this group tick? And how do they stay in shape?
Every member has a personal spin on what the Wild Old Bunch means to them, and how they stay physically fit so they can continue to ski as they grow older.
Bill Roberson enjoys the camaraderie and the stories about the old days. “These energetic skiers reminisce about $3 lift tickets, using the first single-seat lift and skiing untracked powder with the legendary Alf Engen,” he says. To stay fit, Bill and Robin walk several miles a day, and while Bill opts for a full body workout doing heavy duty yard work, Robin’s workouts include stretches and yoga.
Jan (pronounced yawn) Brunvand, 86, says, “I love coming into the lodge and seeing the friendly faces of people I know. When I go to other resorts, I don’t know anybody.” The camaraderie of the group is extra special to him because he skis mid-week when his kids and grandkids cannot ski because they’re at work or school.
Jan’s wife, Judy, is 80-ish, and stays fit playing tennis, but Jan says he’s a bit lazy about traditional exercise. However, he’s an avid fly fisherman and there’s more to it than standing peacefully by a stream. Getting to that stream means trekking along overgrown banks, climbing over logs, stepping around rocks, and then keeping his balance while standing knee deep in the rushing water. That’s real exercise.
As the days get shorter and ski season gets closer, many members admit to ratcheting up their workouts to be ready for the slopes.
Alta’s motto is “Come for the skiing. Stay for the skiing.” The Wild Old Bunch continues to live up to the motto by doing exactly that.