BRIDGTON — Bob Fitzsimmons carefully sidestepped his way down the snowy steps at Shawnee Peak with his skis slung precariously over his shoulder.

With his 90th birthday three months away, he is a marvel to his friends.

“Last year he took 15 minutes to put his ski boots on,” said Barry DeNofrio while watching Fitzsimmons slowly move away from the chairlift. “This winter he did it in no time. Bobby said, ‘I practiced over the summer.’ ”

Fitzsimmons is one of the older members of an ad-hoc club of senior skiers who ski together during the week at Shawnee Peak. And not unlike retirees at other Maine ski areas, this group of season-pass holders came together organically, becoming friends. They tease each other mercilessly.

When DeNofrio, 66, and Alan Schechter, 81, both bought the same type of skis one year, Fitzsimmons mixed them up to confuse them.

“I come for the people. And the zingers,” Fitzsimmons said. “Nobody is safe from them.”

Fitzsimmons, who lives in Bridgton, has skied at Shawnee Peak since 1953.

As he rides the lifts, Fitzsimmons looks out on the trails and points out the better skiers, commenting and praising the more graceful turns.

“He keeps track of everyone. He knows how everyone skis. And he skis very well,” DeNofrio said.

At 70, George Bishop is one of the younger members of the group. He came to Shawnee Peak to learn to ski at age 60. The older guys ended up teaching him.

“I wasn’t good at using my poles,” said Bishop, who lives in Fryeburg. “They told me I had to. They were yelling at me.

“Bobby would clip out articles to give me, where he was the skier in the picture. And those articles were from 30 years ago.”

Alan Schechter, 81, of Wellesley, Massachusetts, learned to ski at age 12 on skis once used by the 10th Mountain Division.

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Schechter learned to ski in the Catskills, but when he began teaching at Wellesley College in 1970, he started skiing in the White Mountains.

A professor of 47 years, Schechter still teaches an adult education course in the spring. But every winter, he’s at Shawnee Peak most weekdays.

“My whole life, I didn’t ski much more than weekends. Now my desires are fulfilled,” he said with a broad grin.

Like the others, Schechter enjoys the friendships, but he also savors skiing fast on the steeper terrain.

He loves to tell the story of how his wife saw this animated group suited up in helmets and goggles burst into the Shawnee Peak lodge.

“She saw this gang and thought they were youngsters but when we took our helmets off she said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re all old men,’ ” Schechter said.

Jack Sweetland of Naples learned to ski in Reading, Massachusetts, in 1957. Before long he and his wife were traveling with the ski clubs of Boston to the White Mountains. The Ski Bees Ski Club would charter buses every weekend. Sweetland left the sport for 20 years but took it up again in 1995 when he started skiing at Shawnee Peak, his new home mountain.

“I used to try to ski my age, and got up around 70 days a year,” Sweetland said. “But now, at 84, it’s kind of hard.”

Sweetland and Fitzsimmons love to reminisce about the ski turns of their youth.

They talk of the hundreds of hikes up to Tuckerman Ravine, how they skied over the lip of the ravine at one time, now a half-century ago, and how they loved the snowfields on Mt. Washington.

But The Mayor, as Fitzsimmons is known among his friends here, is more careful these days.

“I probably took my last turn up in Tuckerman Ravine in my 60s,” he said.

As Fitzsimmons made his way down one last run last week, he stopped midway down the trail to assess his speed.

“I messed up back there. My legs are getting tired,” he said, frustrated. “I’ve lost some strength.”

But to the younger members of the Shawnee Peak seniors club, Fitzsimmons, with his positive attitude, determination and two artificial knees, is still an iron man.

“He skis well,” DeNofrio said with a nod. “Look at those wide turns. He’s in control.”

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: FlemingPph

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