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Hitting the slopes at 90

Snow-lover has skied Brighton since the '50s

Published: Monday, Jan. 7 2002 10:47 a.m. MST

Ski-bus riders may wonder why the woman in the purple snowsuit is heading to Brighton Ski Resort.

It's not the fact that she's shorter than the snowdrifts in her yard or that her German accent is still thick. The disbelief occurs when people learn her age.

Last year when she bought new skis at the Expo ski sale, two clerks guessed her age at 70.

"Add 20 years on to it," she said.

One lady screamed.

"Tell me your name."

Erna Huck.

"I'll never forget that name."

Neither has Lorie Nielson, who's issued Huck's season pass at Brighton for three years.

"The first time I did her pass I needed to know her age," Nielson said. "I said, 'Yeah right, I think you're pulling my leg.' " She still can't believe it.

"I believe I'm the oldest skier at Brighton," the 90-year-old Huck said. She just might be. Nielson has personally not issued a season pass for anyone older than Huck.

"For me it's not big deal," Huck added.

Huck is a legend at Brighton. Most think she is only 70 and are impressed, Brighton employee Randy Doyle said, but "I think people look at her and have no clue." That's true when they see her ski smoothly through intermediate courses. And she's never had a lesson in her life.

"I think she's tough," Doyle said.

Huck's been frequenting the resort since the 1950s. The lift operators know her by name, and she brings German sweets to workers. And she loves to tell stories. She also has years of good skiing advice: If you sit by her on the lift, she'll tell you to watch out for snowboarders, because she was taken out by one about 10 years ago.

Huck immigrated from Germany with her husband and childhood sweetheart, Hermann Huck, in 1949. They didn't have much time for recreation the first few years, but once their two sons were old enough, they let them try skiing. The couple followed a few years later.

"We bought used skis and started on little hills," she said. From those humble beginnings evolved a lifelong love of skiing. They skied as much as 40 times a season. It seemed they would ski together forever.

On February 10, 1998, they had just finished watching a television broadcast of the Nagano Olympic Winter Games when a very healthy Hermann Huck, 88, died in their living room.

Erna Huck had been sure they would make it to their 70th anniversary. They were married 64 years. "

It seems almost strange that the Winter Games would visit her in person this year. She'll be watching from her TV. But she'll continue to ski at her favorite "shpot," as she calls it, alone if she must.

Sometimes she skis with a couple who are 15 years her junior, and sometimes she goes with grandchildren. Her grandson in Washington, D.C., told his boss he was going to Salt Lake City to go skiing with his grandmother. His boss didn't believe him.

But before boarding the ski bus to go to her favorite courses, she must do a daily routine that has helped her defy the laws of skiing — if there was an age-limit law, anyway.

Every morning she drinks a cup of warm water and does breathing exercises in her living room while she faces the westward mountains and the Great Salt Lake. Probably the most important advice Huck has stuck by is: "Stay positive and do everything in moderation." (Except skiing, of course.) Huck also sleeps with the window open — even during winter. Skiing may be one of her best secrets to good health. It's not just the sport of it, she said — it's good for your body, mind and soul.

"It's the nature, you feel so close to nature, I feel so free. The valley is dreary with pollution. Up there is blue skies the whole day," she said.

She loves it so much, she tries to encourage other people to ski. A granddaughter tried, giving it up later. "I only did it for you, Grandma," she told Huck.

Huck remembers how anxious she was the first time she went skiing, and she still gets anxious every time. "Every time is special," she said.

That's why she'll keep going for as long as she can. She just got new skis, after all.


E-mail: ckennington@desnews.com

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