Seniors & Aging

Snow sports not just for the young

Duncan Howat, general manager for Mt. Baker Ski Area, has been skiing and snowboarding for more than 40 years.
Duncan Howat, general manager for Mt. Baker Ski Area, has been skiing and snowboarding for more than 40 years. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Duncan Howat, general manager of Mt. Baker Ski Area, has been skiing and snowboarding for more than 40 years.

Name: Duncan Howat.

Age: 65.

Residence: Bellingham.

Family: Gail Howat, wife of 43 years; two children; a grandchild on the way.

Snow man: "I've been skiing and snowboarding for more than 40 years," says Howat, the general manager of Mount Baker Ski Area. "There's nothing like getting out of the city and into the mountains. It's exciting; the challenge of it and the beauty of being up there."

Getting started: "I taught myself just by watching people and working at White Pass ski area," Howat says. "I started working there because I went to Yakima Valley Community College nearby and needed a job on the weekends. That was more than four decades ago. My wife and I moved to Bellingham shortly after and have lived here ever since."

Skiing versus snowboarding: "It depends on the snow conditions," says Howat, who skis or snowboards for an hour once or twice a week. "For soft powder snow, I'd rather snowboard. For harder, packed snow, it's better to ski."

Working at Mount Baker: "I really like working with all the employees and customers and creating an enjoyable experience for Whatcom County," Howat says. "I also enjoy the business of it; making sure we have enough money to keep going."

Family business: "My daughters also work at the ski area," Howat says. "Gwyn is an operations manager and my daughter Amy is in charge of the Web site and marketing. My wife, Gail, volunteers with the gatekeeping and will help organize races and events we put on."

Teach your children well: "Gail taught our daughters how to ski when they were teenagers," Howat says. "My wife is also an especially good snowboarder, and she's in her early 60s."

Older participants: "We get a lot of skiers and snowboarders in their 60s and older," Howat says. "I've seen someone who still skis at 92.

"There's no organized group for seniors, but retired people usually come to enjoy the slopes on Tuesday or Wednesday."

Give it a try: "If you're a senior and you want to try skiing or snowboarding for the first time, start out slow - maybe even with snowshoeing," Howat says. "You walk around in the snow and just put the snowshoes over your hiking shoes. You use long ski poles to stay on the trails."

Where to snowshoe: "I recommend Salmon Ridge, which is a snow park with flat terrain for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing." Howat says. "Salmon Ridge is located half a mile past milepost 46 on Mount Baker Highway, east of Glacier."

Staying in shape at 65: "I row and bike competitively during the summer and fall, which gets me in shape for winter," he says. "Now that I'm older, I don't go as fast down the mountain. I had a knee replaced this summer and I'm considering a hip replacement."

Before hitting the slopes: "You want to have a good breakfast, because the energy will help you stay warm throughout the day," Howat says. "Wearing the right kind of clothing is important, too. You need to have a layered clothing system with a water-resistant jacket, so you can stay dry."

Picking the right conditions: Beginning skiers and snowboarders want to pick a day where it's either not snowing, or snowing lightly," he says. "You want the snow to be soft, not icy. Soft snow is best for learning in."

Looking ahead: "I've been skiing for more than 40 years, so I'd like to get more involved with surf ski, which is a very difficult sport where you catch waves on a boat that looks like a long, narrow kayak, in places like Hawaii." Howat says. "Yes, I'm trying to learn something new in old age. If I can learn to surf ski at 65, anyone at any age can learn to ski."


Tammy Bennett, director of healthy lifestyles at the Bellingham YMCA, says getting and staying in shape is important for people who enjoy winter sports.

"Knee injuries are an even greater risk for seniors who ski," she says.

The YMCA offers a mountain fitness class each fall for people of all ages. Other seasons, the YMCA maintains a busy roster of yoga, stretching, swimming and other fitness classes for senior citizens. For details, call the YMCA at 733-8630.


Mt. Baker Ski Area snow information: 671-0211 or

Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center: (206) 526-6677 or