AGE IS JUST A NUMBER.
The “Silver Sliders” are all over 70 and still making their mark in deep, untouched snow every day. What better way to take these ever-young Canadian ski enthusiasts to the most remote spots than in the MINI Countryman with all-wheel drive?
Bud Stoll can’t stop smiling. It might have something to do with how comfortably and quickly he and his friends made it up the mountain in their roomy MINI John Cooper Works Countryman ALL4. But perhaps this seventy-something simply enjoys the combination of his favourite things: complete quiet and lots of fresh whiteness. Because there is nothing better for the former telephone technician than gazing over newly fallen snow on the ski slope in the middle of the week. You could say it’s his happy place.
After strapping on his skis, Bud glides over to the chairlift and asks the lift attendant, “How many days is it today?” The young man answers, “Number 79!” Bud smiles a little wider. A few skiers and snowboarders in line cheer in approval. You can tell Bud’s proud of the tally. As he should be. It’s a freezing cold winter day at the Whitewater Ski Resort, a small four-lift ski hill deep in British Columbia’s south-central interior. The region in Canada´s West is famous for its light, abundant powdered snow and steep, untracked slopes. A cold sun inches up past stunning, snow-covered peaks. When it’s Bud and his ski buddies’ turn at the “Summit Chair” chairlift, they do some quick maths. “Tell me, how many days has the season lasted now?” Bud’s friend Mike Brewster wants to know. “80,” Bud answers without hesitation. “I only skipped Christmas Day.”
Apart from Mike, Bud is also accompanied today by Joan Harvey and Ken McClennan. The four of them form a ski-crazed group of seventy-plus-year-olds who call themselves the “Silver Sliders” and live a lifestyle contrary to what their age may suggest. “We’re called the 'Silver Sliders' because our first skis were those silver Volants,” explains Joan, 73, a mother of two and former nurse. “We all got those at the same time. So, it has absolutely nothing to do with our hair colour because we weren’t grey then!”
Mike, a former carpenter who has long since retired, has been with Joan since 1971. They are united by their love of skiing, which remains unbroken to this day. They’re still on the slopes more than 60 days a year, even though Mike is now 78. “We’ve been skiing deep powder for the better part of our lives,” says Mike. “It’s not so hard on the knees.” Finding and skiing this same powder is what has defined the “Silver Sliders” for about four decades. They found most of it on what they call the backside, a sprawling area of steep, forested, challenging slopes beyond the Whitewater ski area boundaries. “The backside is not too remote, yet you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere,” Mike explains. “We used radios to keep in touch with each other, always had avalanche gear with us and stuck to the buddy principle, so basically skied in pairs. Avalanches didn’t cause us much concern, but the tree wells, areas of loose snow under trees, are a real danger. For years we were the only ones out there – as if we had our secret powder stash.”
To get to the backside, the Sliders had to park their cars and pickups on the road leading up to the ski area. Then they would whizz down their favourite slopes several times a day, with one member of the group being drawn as chauffeur before each descent, meaning they would be tasked with collecting the others at an arranged point and driving them back to the lift. “For a while we only had cars that were particularly good for this,” Joan recounts. “I remember we bought a front-wheel drive minivan because it was good for driving in the snow and we could take the whole troop to the backside in it. We even bought vehicles that we could drive with ski boots on so we wouldn’t waste time changing boots.” Long gone though are the days of Bud’s old yellow pickup truck, still a household name to many Whitewater residents who would find it nestled into the snowbank on the road to the lift every day of every season.
Today, they’ve upped their car game significantly with Mike and Joan’s MINI Countryman in a Sage Green, which provides the group excellent support in terms of grip, dynamics, spaciousness, and comfort. They all know that on snow-covered roads you need a powerful and safe vehicle with all-wheel drive that you can rely on. Or as Joan puts it in a nutshell, “We definitely don't get stuck anywhere anymore!” And if the car is as elegant and purposeful as the MINI Countryman, all the better. No doubt, the “Silver Sliders” have refined their approach over the years. “It’s not like we’re total dirtbags,” jokes Mike. “Performance is a mainstay of the 'Silver Sliders', it’s what’s kept us in the game for so long.”
Meanwhile, at the top station of the chairlift, Joan and Mike discuss with Bud and Ken which route downhill they should take today. You can see their powder-snow radar tingling. In a jargon barely comprehensible to outsiders, they reference secret landmarks and meeting points. They seem to have every nook and cranny of this sprawling and heavily forested area stored away in their minds. The “Silver Sliders” represent a beautiful blend of friendship, ingenuity, a spirit of discovery and agelessness. After a few warm-up laps on the official Whitewater slopes, the veterans are ready for their trip to the backside. At the lift station, Joan uses a counting rhyme to determine who has to pick up the group again at the bottom. This time it’s Ken. “Okay Ken, don’t take too long eh, we’re going to be quick,” quips Bud. “Meet us down by the avalanche sign,” Joan says. Ken, who’s all smiles, lets them all know he’ll see them down at “7.5”, referencing the kilometre number on the road. “Go easy on the MINI,” jokes Mike. “If I see any scratches, I’ll know it’s you!” With such a send-off, Ken glides confidently and smoothly through the mountain forest down to the car park. Bud, meanwhile, points in the direction of a rise he calls “Lone Rock”. With his ski pole he lifts a barrier rope and Joan slips underneath. She knows exactly which route to take. The other members of the group join in and cut tracks in the untouched snow with casual turns. Every now and then their hoots and hollers penetrate the trees. They are completely in their element and savour every minute.
Mike and Joan’s skiing history goes back to days where local ski hills weren’t really ski hills at all. When the world was colder back in the 1960s and 70s, they would ski on small local T-bars that started popping up around the region. When Whitewater opened in 1976, they marvelled at the opportunity along with its size, beauty, and endless powder. “It snowed so much back then, and no one was out here,” Mike recalls with a big grin on his youthful face. “The slopes weren’t groomed, and we couldn’t possibly ski the snow flat, no matter how hard we tried. When we came home from a ski weekend, we could hardly walk because of sore muscles. There was just so much snow.”
Things have slowed a little for the “Silver Sliders” over the years, but not by much. Many of their crew have moved on, or even passed on. But for those who remain, the desire for fresh powder snow has never waned. What ties them together is their sense of humour and a love of adventure that keeps them young. As long as they can put on two skis and glide down the mountain, they’ll keep on surfing powder. And thanks to the ski rack on their MINI Countryman, Joan and Mike are always ready for a spontaneous outing.
Bud, Mike and Joan now cross wide, forest-fringed valleys, pass the summit of Glory Chair and glide down a steep ridgeline into the middle of deep snow terrain they had been exploring when most other skiers were not even born. They yell and yodel, so they don’t lose contact with each other, and reunite at set meeting points. After a good 20 minutes of pure bliss, they hit the road a few kilometres past the lowest valley station of the ski area. They high-five, review their terrific descent and then make fun of Ken, who is still not there. “He’s probably just taking off his ski boots,” Bud jokes. “Oh well, time for a tea, eh boys?” says Joan. It’s not long before Ken joins them, the MINI Countryman covered in snow and purring for more laps. Mike straps the skis to the car and Bud mocks Ken saying he’s forgotten how to drive. Then, they brush the fresh snow off their jackets, climb into the MINI and up they go for the next round.