To celebrate his 100th birthday on July 5, George Alexander Jedenoff is going skiing.
A resident of California’s Bay Area, Jedenoff has not missed a ski season since 1960, when he took his first turns at the age of 43 at Alta Ski Area in Utah. He skied three days this past winter and flys again to Utah on Saturday to acclimate from sea level to 7,000 feet before he turns 100 years old. On Wednesday, Snowbird is firing up the tram for Jedenoff to ski a birthday hot lap with his family and ski buddies he’s had for over 50 years.
Born in 1917 in Petrozavodsk, Russia, Jedenoff’s family fled the Russian Revolution and immigrated to the United States (by way of China) in 1921. He grew up in California, and after World War II, became an industrial engineer at the Columbia steel company at a plant in the Bay Area. In 1960, he was transferred to another steel plant in Provo, Utah, which he says felt like the middle of nowhere. That is, until he found skiing.
“I’ve really enjoyed skiing. But I wouldn’t want to ski everyday. There are too many other important things in life that you got to do. You’re on this earth just a short while, even if it’s a hundred years, that’s nothing in a period of time. What you do with your life is very important.”
The day I called Jedenoff was the day his fourth great-grandchild was born. He had to put his hearing aid on, but he took some time to share a bit of wisdom about skiing and birthday cake—both of which he still enjoys thoroughly at the ripe age of 100.
Have you ever skied on your birthday before?
Yes. Twenty years ago. On my 80th birthday, a group of six of us, plus wives, flew down to New Zealand where its winter in July. On my birthday, the sun was out, and we went to the sheep ranch and caught a helicopter and made five runs in the Arrowsmith Range near Christchurch.
It was the biggest celebration that I ever had. I had more birthday cakes—before I left on the trip, my daughter gave me a birthday cake. On my birthday on the mountain, the helicopter had a birthday cake for me. There was another helicopter with other people that were also sking and when they got down to the bottom they had a birthday cake for me. That night we went out to a fancy dinner at a nice restaurant overlooking the lake and I had a birthday cake. And then, when I got home, my daughter had another birthday cake.
How many cakes do you think you’ll get for your 100th birthday?
I don’t know. I’ll have one over on the mountain, at Snowbird, for sure.
You’ve enjoyed a lot of years of skiing. How did you get started?
I was working with U.S. steel. I was a plant manager and was sent to a bigger plant in Provo, Utah. I arrived in January of 1960. I was 42. I asked, ‘Gosh, what do people do here in the winter time for exercise, entertainment?’ Well, we have the bowling league. I said, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ A lot of people play bridge. That’s nice. Well, a lot of people go skiing. I said, ‘Gosh, that sounds pretty good to me, I might try that.’ The guy says, Oh, I wouldn’t do that if I were you. I asked ‘Why?’ He said, Oh, you’ll get hooked.
I went into the sports store, and I looked at the manager and said, I’m 43, I want to learn how to ski. I want to get the safest equipment you got. And I heard a voice: Safe equipment? I’ll show you the safe equipment. I thought, Who the hell is this guy? He was Earl Miller, the father of maybe a hundred inventions and a great skier himself.
He said, ‘Use my bindings and I’ll even teach you how to ski.’ I said, ‘Well you can’t miss on that deal.’
Sounds like you got in with the right crew. Earl Miller set the standard for safety in ski bindings at the time, and is in the Ski Hall of Fame. Who else did you ski with back then?
I got some lessons from the Great Alf Engen at Alta. He always spoke with an accent. He was a very, very nice person. He loved to ski. He was a little heavy set, but he made it look easy.
Then later, when Junior Bounous came back from California to head up the ski school at Snowbird. I got acquainted with him, and he and I have been friends for 51 years now. He’s 92 and he is in fantastic shape. I mean fantastic. He still climbs up the mountains. When he skis powder it’s like a ballet dancer. It’s just so smooth, and he makes it look so easy. And that’s the thing in skiing—it’s very easy to be working too hard, instead of letting gravity and the skis do the work.
And then you were hooked?
I haven’t missed a year since 1960. I haven’t missed a year in the Wasatch Mountains—at Snowbird and Alta—all these years. That’s the best snow in the world. I’ve skied in Europe. I’ve skied in South America. I’ve skied in a lot of places. But that’s the best if you love powder, and that’s what I love. I love powder. Next week it’s not going to be powder, but that’s alright.
I bet you’re a good skier.
I’m no Jean-Claude Killy, that’s for sure.
For being 100 years old, I think you’re doing pretty good.
I’ve really enjoyed skiing. But I wouldn’t want to ski everyday. There are too many other important things in life that you got to do. You’re on this earth just a short while, even if it’s a hundred years, that’s nothing in a period of time. What you do with your life is very important.
Skiing, to me, is like dessert. I love dessert. But you gotta have the main meal first, and you have to provide for that. You can’t just live on dessert. And that’s the way I feel about skiing. To be able to ski, it’s just great enjoyment. But there are other things in life that you have to do—family, community things once you’re retired, and of course when you’re working, you have your job to do.
What is your advice to younger skiers?
Skiing is just a great sport. The thing I would say is take care of yourself. Watch your diet, and maintain an exercise program. The thing that has kept me going all these years is I have a rigid exercise program that I do every single day. I did it this morning. The secret to that, I find, is you have to work it in to your regular routine schedule. You have to make it part of your life. I wake up in the morning, scrub my teeth, shave, and then I go right down and do my exercise.
The thing about skiing now is that it’s an incentive for me to stay in shape. I know that I want to be able to ski, and you have to be in shape to do it. That motivates me to do my exercise everyday.
Did you pass your love for skiing down to your children?
I have two children, my son still skis. My daughter was a good skier, but she doesn’t ski anymore. That’s another thing, when kids are little, sometimes you’d have trouble communicating with your children. But there’s something about getting on a chairlift and riding up in brisk weather and you get that nice fresh air in your lungs, it opens you up. My kids would open up on that chairlift like I could never get them to talk any other way. It was just a great experience.
What are you looking forward to the most while skiing this weekend?
Hopefully I can ski OK on that slush and not get hurt! Just enjoy the company and three of my grandkids are going to be there. My son will be there. And I’ll have a number of close friends. Just to see them—it’s nice to get all this applause. When your’e this age, you don’t think anybody cares a darn about you anymore. It’s kind of refreshing, a little overwhelming. It makes you a reluctant celebrity. It makes you feel good.