As the sun rises over the crest of the Snow Valley slopes I meet Muriel Watterworth–my ski partner for the morning–in the Lodge.
“Why don’t we go for a couple of laps of the hill?” I ask. “We can have a chat about skiing and what it is like skiing at 98.”
“Well it’s about the same as skiing at 97”, Muriel says with a chuckle.
I laugh too, and I know already that this is going to be a great time.
Muriel Watterworth was born in 1924 in “Frigid Manitoba”, as she puts it, and has been skiing for 70 years now. She skis Snow Valley twice a week with the Rocky Mountain Seniors Ski Club, and she just celebrated her 98th birthday.
We agree to a couple of laps, do up our boots (“this part sure doesn’t get any easier”, she comments), grab our skis, and head out to the Triple Chair.
On the way over, I comment that she must really love skiing to be doing it for so long. “Oh yes”, she replies, “It’s a way of life for me. Some people ask ‘you’re not still skiing, are you?’ and I said ‘why not?’”
As we shuffle across the hill and head up our first chair, I ask her when she started skiing.
“The first time I was at a ski hill, it was almost exactly 70 years ago, on my honeymoon… Well, I didn’t put on skis at that point – but Jack LOVED to ski! We were at Lake Louise, which was very lovely! He skied, but I stayed in the lodge with our daughter. The first time I actually skied on my own skis was shortly after that.”
“So after your time at Lake Louise, how did you fully pick up skiing?” I ask.
“Well we belonged to the Devon ski club”, she begins explaining, “We did everything out there: we built the little shack and we painted it, we groomed the hills… everything. It was just in the riverbank, but it was good! Our kids all belonged to Nancy Greene [ski racing program] so they all trained out there. It was fun.”
“So Devon is where you learned to ski?”
“Yeah, I was in a class – a man and his wife taught us how to ski. One day, the wife said she needed to see me after class. ‘Uh oh!’ I thought, but she talks to me and tells me my skis were WAY too long. My skis were 195’s. We didn’t have much money so we used what we had; those long skis would get off the lift way before I did!”
I laugh, and before we know it, we are at the top of the triple chair. “Should we go left or right?” I ask her. “Better go left – I haven’t gone right this year!” She replies. Left it is!
We scoot off the chair, and I follow her down for the first run. She flies down the hill, executing flawless turn after flawless turn. I guess 70 years of practice pays off!
Back to the triple chair and up we go again.
“So, with you being in Edmonton for so long, have you been skiing at Snow Valley for a long time too?”
“Oh yes”, Muriel replies, “I used to teach down here, about 30 years ago. It was school kids – and keep in mind this was 30 years ago – and this one kid asks me ‘aren’t you too old to be skiing?’”
“Well here you still are, 30 years later!”
We both laugh and she continues, “I think the kid must have been in grade 5 or so. I bet I looked about 200 or 210 years old to him!”
“Well a lot of the people who will read this interview will be younger people. Do you have any advice to give them on how to keep skiing into your senior years?”
“Oh yes. Don’t quit. And always finish your turns!”
We get back up to the top of the triple chair and I follow her down the slopes again, still impressed with Muriel’s speed, elegance, and excellent technique. I know I am not the only one who is impressed – many of the other seniors in the RMSSC have made comments such as “Can you believe she’s 98! You’re not supposed to be skiing at that age.” or “She is so impressive – I hope I’m still skiing when I’m 98!”
But hey, with 70 years of finishing your turns and not stopping skiing, it could be you too!
On the next ride up the chairlift, I am curious about what big changes she has noticed with skiing over the past years.
“The equipment.” She answers without hesitation. “I started out on those straight 195’s and for the feet it was just a beartrap harness – the metal bracket that clamps down on the leather boot. It was a pain! By the time you got them on you were already cold. But then when the ski brakes came in, that was really tremendous. You just stepped on and away you go!
“The teaching and technique hasn’t changed much. They use different terms now, but it’s basically the same.”
We ski a few more laps and chat about some of her memorable ski trips (“there were five of us seniors; 4 ladies and a guy. Everyone was very respectful and nobody hogged the bathroom”) and what it was like instructing kids in the 80’s (“we set them up as human slalom posts so they could practice turning around each other”).
Near the end of our laps, on our way up the chairlift she decides “why don’t we try going right this time to try something new”. Sure!
We do, and she tackles the steepest slopes of Snow Valley just as effortlessly as the rest. Apparently we are all our own worst critics though, because when we get to the bottom, she remarks that “well, that wasn’t a very good lap – better do another one off the right side so I can do it better”, so we head up the chairlift for a final, final run.
“I have one final question for you” I ask, on the way up the chair. “What is your very favourite thing about skiing?”
“The freedom. You know, you can take the control and do what you want and it’s a very free feeling, I think.”
We ride the rest of the way up the chair in silence, watching the skiers and snowboarders all experiencing that same freedom on their way down.
After about 10 laps or so, we head back to the lodge, enjoy some hot chocolate mixed with coffee to warm up, and grab a seat at the lodge with the rest of the RMSSC Seniors. They have a card for Muriel to celebrate her birthday and the admiration they all have for her is evident.
After a very lovely 45 minutes on the hill with her, I can absolutely see why. She is a fantastic skier, a friendly, pleasant person, and an inspiration! I think we can all learn something from Muriel: find something you love and that gives you freedom, don’t stop doing it, and make sure you finish your turns!
Thank you for reading. If you want more information about the RMSSC (55+), you can learn more at seniorsski.com
Written by Alex Mickelson, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Snow Valley Ski Club
*Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity