Sun Valley snow view

I have just returned from Sun Valley, Idaho, where some friends urged us to visit them for a week and enjoy the outdoors. Though New York City dwellers most of the year, these urbanites thrive on physical activity out west, spending 5-6 weeks in the winter and a couple of months each summer. And they have found a community of compatriots who are also the most passionate athletes. Some of these SV friends are working people from cities on both coasts who come out on weekends and holidays. Others are retirees who live for sports and outdoor motion.

Four to six days a winter week, they are skiing in the morning for a couple of hours. Followed by a hot tub soak, stretches and weights in the gym, and then a hike, snowshoe or cross country ski in the afternoon. One dinner guest I met goes downhill skiing, then skate skiing, then biking—all in the same day! And he is not unusual. The summers and falls are filled with days of hiking, fishing, golfing, biking, motorcycling, hunting and of course time in the gym…NOT to build muscles, but “because I love it. It feels so good.”

Ira having fun in snow storm

How I admire their enthusiasm for so much activity. I can almost understand it, cannot relate to it, and certainly can’t keep up with it…although I did push myself to ski four times in five days, and also hit squash balls with friends two days, once after skiing. But I am not a life-long athlete. Only these last few years do more moderate daily doses of sports activity seem desirable.

The last time I was in Sun Valley in 2006, my school-age kids were with me and glued to beds the first day. I went skiing in a snow storm, struggling as a Florida-raised boy should. Exhausted by the effort, the snow, the limited visibility, the lack of being fit, I trudged back proud that I hadn’t injured myself. Refreshed by 12+ hours of sleep, my kids urged me to play squash with them (instead of collapsing and not moving forever), and I complied for family harmony and bonding. Unfortunately I tore my shoulder in three places, and that interrupted my physical life for about eight months.

This time I was more cautious, but also in much, much better shape. I could pace myself wisely and recognize signs of fatigue and strain. After two days of skiing painlessly with friends, I rested the third day and only played squash. The trails had been groomed with artificial snow up till then. I did feel wimpy that my friends were indifferent to the below zero to 5 degree temperatures. In spite of decades up north (I grew up in Miami Beach), that’s still pretty cold to me.

ski instructor Hans

The fourth day was the first big snow in two months. Two feet of monster flakes began dropping nonstop, and it was beautiful but challenging. Going out alone was too dangerous, I was told—I’d get lost, take the wrong trail, die alone in the cold. Ridiculous…but to placate the worriers, I hired a ski instructor and heard that I was doing it all wrong—the problem with not learning the sport until my 20’s. Two and a half hours later, I could turn a lot better, and my coach took me on a black diamond run with moguls. Finally I was finished, exhausted, and somehow made it back to the house with jelly-legs that would barely support me. No squash that night.

The fifth day I went out alone in spite of the falling snow. My quads were aching on the first run, and I took it real slow. Thank goodness no one was with me I had to keep up with. Two-plus hours later I was wiped and went home.

As usual, I was relieved to have survived without injury. Maybe if I’d grown up in the snow, I’d be more comfortable with the speed. I’d be eager to enjoy the cold, the slopes, a few jumps. But skiing is always a bit confronting for me, like running a gauntlet that I force myself through to prove I can do it. The truth is I will never be like the others who enjoy it so much that they buy second homes in Sun Valley and go six days a week in freezing temperatures and wind. Now when it comes to tennis…