When people say skiing is a lifetime sport, Ray Redpath and Judy Allen know exactly what they're talking about.
Between the two of them, the Ashland couple have logged 142 winters on skis. Ray, 80, started when he was just 6. Judy, 78, was a late bloomer by comparison. She first strapped on skis at the ripe old age of 12.
Ray's bright-yellow helmet and Judy's purple snowsuit are familiar sights to regulars on Mount Ashland. They typically ski two or three times a week — more if the snow is good.
"It's still fun," Ray says. "We still have a ball.
"All these years, we've had friends who ski, so we just go skiing," Ray says. "I think the fact we've done it all these years has contributed to our good health. It's probably the most healthy thing you can do. It sure beats the hell out of sitting in a gym, although I do that, too."
Ray discovered skiing when his dad bought a cabin in the Sierras back in the 1930s, near what eventually became the Dodge Ridge ski area. In those days, skiing was still a novelty, and people made all kinds of contraptions to haul themselves up snowy slopes. Ray remembers riding a primitive rope tow that pulled skiers up some very uneven terrain. On one steep pitch, the rope was too far off the ground for a little boy to keep his feet on the snow.
"You just hung on the rope 'til you got your feet on the ground again," he says, laughing.
Judy learned about skiing on an outing with the Girl Scouts.
"We went on a little rope tow in the central Sierras," she recalls. "I signed up for every trip I could find, but growing up in San Mateo, I didn't have a lot of chances."
When she moved to Oregon there was much more skiing, at places like Willamette Pass and Hoodoo.
"I got to go skiing every weekend," she says, "and soon had it all figured out. It didn't take long before I was on the ski school."
Both remember the primitive equipment of pioneer skiing — heavy wood skis, square-toed boots and loose-fitting "bear trap" bindings.
"They went straight very nicely," Judy says. "You could do a snowplow, and you could do a christie (turn) with some major unweighting."
"There were no metal edges," Ray recalls. "You weren't skiing well."
Skiers were still a rare sight in the mountains 60 years ago, and a strong camaraderie developed among the adventurous souls who hauled themselves out on the snow. Judy recalls big pot luck dinners at barely heated lodges where people stayed for $2 or $3 a night.
"If you were a skier, that's what you did," she says.
Equipment has changed dramatically over their decades in the snow. Long, heavy, straight wooden skis have given way to shorter, lighter skis with wide tips and tails. Leather boots and floppy bindings have been replaced by rigid plastic boots and bindings that lock the skier's feet securely to the skis. The new equipment helps rookies learn faster and allows veterans to turn their skis with far less effort.
"They make skiing so much easier," Ray says. "I call them 'cheater skis.'
"I wish I had every pair of skis I've ever owned," he says, "just to see how they've progressed."
Ray and Judy met in the 1980s — at a ski area, of course — and married in 1986. They settled in Ashland in 1993 and took a liking to Mount Ashland's steep slopes. Skiing remains a big part of their winters, although they take more breaks during a day in the snow than they did 30 years ago.
"You don't have to give it up because you get old," Judy says.
"You just do what you can do," Ray says, "and that's all you can expect."
That doesn't necessarily mean slowing down. Ray still enjoys racing in masters competition, and he hopes to crack the top 10 in upcoming masters races at Mount Shasta.
"I've been as close as 11th," he says. "I usually have the privilege of being the oldest guy (in the race), and that means I get to go first."
He keeps track of his progress with a smartphone app that records his runs for the day and his top speed, typically somewhere around 55 mph on long steep cruising runs.
"I got up to 61 one day," he says with some pride.
Judy used to race, too, but decided to slow down a bit after she broke her pelvis in a ski accident.
"I don't ever want to do that again," she says. "The only thing I had to give up was racing."
She says having a partner who skis can provide a little extra incentive to get out of the house and head for Mount Ashland.
"If you're only feeling so-so, you could talk yourself out of it," she says.
The longer days of early spring remind them that the clock is winding down on Mount Ashland's season. The ski area typically closes after the second weekend in April — not for lack of snow, but because many skiers turn to other sports when the days get warmer. When Mount Ashland shuts down, Ray and Judy often visit Mount Hood, where high-elevation chairlifts allow year-round skiing.
They have no intention of quitting anytime soon.
"We'll keep skiing," they both say, "as long as we can get our boots on."
Bill Kettler is a freelance writer living in Rogue River. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.