- Karen Cummings
Ageless Racer Arthur Doucette
When he was a mere 68, J. Arthur Doucette of Jackson had the lowest handicap of any skier in the country in the 50 and over age division of NASTAR. This year, he traveled to the finals at Snowmass, Colorado, and while there saw some grafitti that really tickled him. "Old skiers never die," it read, "they just go downhill." Arthur and his fellow members of the 70 Plus Skiing Club have taken that saying to heart. Still racing at age 76, Arthur can add, " And some just go faster than others."
The 70 Plus Skiing Club was first formed in 1976 by Lloyd Lambert, a retired sports writer and radio and TV announcer who covered skiing during his career. When he turned 70, Lambert still enjoyed the privilege of skiing for free, but was dismayed to find his contemporaries had to pay full fare for a lift ticket. "He thought that was wrong," explained Arthur, "because no many people over 70 could spend a whole day on the slopes -- it was too tiring. Therefore, they never got their money's worth."
Lambert formed the club for two reasons: to help his fellow septugenarians get lower rates at ski areas, and to provide an arena for social get-togethers for the circle of 70 plus skiers. "Everyone loves the parties," said Arthur. The club's qualifications are very specific -- members must be over 70 and like to ski. For an intitial fee of $5.00, the senior skier can joing the 70 Plus Club for a lifetime. "No annual dues are assessed," said Arthur.
As a result of the efforts of Lambert and the 70 Plus Club, the older skier now enjoys free skiing or reduced rates at almost any ski area in the country. Arthur joined the organization three years ago and has been an active participant ever since.
"I first heard about it through Norman Bell, a former member of the 10th Mountain Division who still skies in veteran races even though he is almost 80 years old," said Arthur. "It's great for me because if I had to buy a full day's ticket, I probably wouldn't ski. A couple of runs and that does it for me for the day."
The club now boasts an international membership of more than 1300. Though most are from America, many grew up in foreign countries, making the social part informative as well as fun. "The age factor is important," explained Arthur. "The come from all walks of life and a wide range of experiences, but you find there are many other things that you have in common just because you have lived through the same era."
It is not likely that many of the 70 Plus members have been a part of quite as much skiing history as Arthur Doucette, however. His early efforts teaching the proper Alpine technique to other enthusiasts, promoting the sport at ski shows, and using his familiarity with the mountains and terrain of Jackson to supervise the clearing and developing of additional trails helped to establish the skiing industry in Mt. Washington Valley. In addition, following World War II, Arthur was director of the Black Mountain Ski School for 25 years until health concerns forced his retirement in 1971.
Having grown up on Prince Edward Island, Arthur first came to the Valley to visit a sister living here. Liking the area, the young 18-year-old stayed on, taking a job on Henry Hatch's Grandview Farm on the West Side Road, delivering milk throughout the Valley. "I got to know every man, woman, and child," said Arthur. "After all, delivering the milk, I got to meet all the new babies that needed it."
Skiing was not his first sport in the Valley. Being from Canada, he naturally gravitated toward ice hockey, joining the newly formed North Conway Granites in 1926 and playing with them until 1934. It was during this time that he expanded his athletic activities and tried skiing and mountain climbing, both of which would have long term effects on his life.
"I first tried skiing as a joke in 1930," Arthur said. "For the fun of it, we went sliding down the ruts on a logging road." What appealed to him then, as it sill appeals now, was the exhilirating feeling of speed. Speed under his own power rather than that of a vehicle.
Those first attempts at skiing were crude, but Arthur persisted. Taking the intellectual route, he purchased a book to assist in his learning. "I bought the book Modern Ski Techniques by Otto Schneibs and John McCrillis," he explained, "and I learned by reading and then going out and practicing."
Birchmont Hill, which is now the front lawn of the Red Jacket, was the favorite ski hill in the Valley, and Arthur used every opportunity to get out with his pine and hickory 7' 6" skis with leather toe straps to perfect his technique. "I skied pretty fast, but I didn't know what I was doing," he said.
In 1935, Arthur came to the attention of Carroll Reed, who was then recuperating from a bad skiing accident. It was Reed's idea to establish a ski school staffed with knowledgeable instructors so that the risk of skiing accidents similar to his own would be reduced. "He wanted to know if I would be interested in being an instructor," said Arthur, "and I said I would."
Reed followed through with his idea, and in 1936 the Austrian Skimeister Benno Rybizka came to Jackson to establish the first ski school in the area teaching the "modern" Arlberg method. the name of the school was almost as long as the slope -- Carroll Reed's Eastern Slope Region Ski School, American Branch of the Hannes Schneider Ski School of St. Anton von Arlberg, Austria, Benno Rybizka, Skimeister. Arthur was one of the local skiers selected by the demanding Austrian to serve as an instructor.
At the end of the first season, in April of 1937, firve of us were chosen to go to Austria with Benno for four weeks of intensive training and teaching," said Arthur. The five were Tyler Micholeau, Francis Savard, and Arthur Callan, and from Hanover, rock climber and mountaineer, Bert Jensen, in addition to Arthur. They trained in St. Anton, which, at the time, had no ski lifts. Skiing was a combination sport that involved much mountain climbing. "In the early days," Arthur explained, "if you wanted to ski you had to climb. There was no going out to the bars after a day of skiing because you were usually totally exhausted." At the end of the four weeks, Arthur travelled to Engelbert, Switzerland, for a week's climbing and skiing with Jensen.
In January of this year , Arthur returned to Engelbert for the first time in 47 years as he traveled with a group of skiers from the 70 Plus Club. "I always enjoy doing things with the club," he said, "but the principal reason I went on this trip was to see Engelbert again."
On a side trip, Arthur also spent time reminiscing with none other than Benno Rybizka, his old skiing mentor. Benno returned many years ago to his native Austria and, now aged 79, resides in St. Anton. "We could only spend a short time together because he is very busy with a shooting club," said Arthur, "but he is in good health, still skis occasionally, and wanted to know all that was going on back here."
Arthur found much had changed in Engelbert since his first visit. Though unable to climb to the areas he formerly explored with Jensen, the spry skier found it wasn't necessary. The entire village was now encircled by lifts and skiing trails, making easily accessible areas that took hours to reach on his last visit.
"The first time I was there, you could just go wild and ski unbroken trails," he recalled. "There were only occasional tracks in the snow and you would never see a mogul. Now there is so much traffic," he added, "that at the end of the day, the slopes were reduced to nothing but moguls, granite, and ice." Despite this and his advanced age, Arthur's still adventurous spirit led him to little-traveled snowfields that brought back fond memories of his earlier conquests.
During the week he spent in Engelbert, Arthur skied with his club, battling against his skiing contemporaries in races where he swept all the gold medals. "I expected to have some Europeans competing against us," said Arthur, "but we only raced against our own group."
Those who still compete in ski races comprise a very exclusive group within the 70 Plus Club. "Out of 1300 members," Arthur said, "we have about 100 who race." The eldest competitor in Engelbert was Ragnar Naess, 83, a former Norwegian ski jumper. And, as Arthur noted, he didn't finish last either.
Arthur became involved in racing relatively recently. "I really didn't try racing until after 1971," he said. Running gates demands precision skiing and Arthur enjoys it for the improvements it brings to his technique as well as for the competition and speed. "The upgrading of equipment has bade it so it is easier to carve a turn," he explained. "In the old days, you might plan to do something, but it usually didn't happen until you were much further down the hill. Today, with the new design in skis, you can even carve a turn on ice."
Not content with just staying even, Arthur is always working to improve, eyeing a lower NASTAR handicap as his current goal. Consistency is Arthur's key to staying in shape. "When you get to be my age," he said, "unless you keep as active as you can, you just lose ground. Well, you're losing ground anyway, so if you don't keep up, you just lose more ground."
In March, Arthur is looking forward to traveling to Hunter Mountain, New York, for the finals of this year's 70 Plus racing schedule. Though a senior citizen with a pacemaker, he still goes for it. "I ski cautiously, but I still race," he said. "I'd say I still ski with abandon, just not with reckless abandon."
His main competition for the fastest times within the 70 Plus group is long-time skiing great Al Sise, who has been racing for most of his career. The two men are alternately on-two on the 70 Plus Olympic team. "He used to always beat me," said Arthur, "but now things are leveling off. for the most part it is between Al and I for first place and I am really going to have to pour it on. No matter what your age, it's still fun to be number one."