At an age when a lot of people contemplate retirement, Lynn Hagen hit the slopes and launched an entirely new career. That was five years ago and the now 65-year-old said it was one of the best decisions she ever made.
When Lynn sold her restaurant, the Grizzly Grill in Graeagle, after 20 years of operation, she looked forward to some down time. That lasted just a couple months, before she admitted feeling bored. “You can only take so many hikes,” she confided in her friends.
One of those friends, a ski instructor at Squaw Valley, suggested that she teach kids how to ski and become part of the Squaw Kids program.
She took the initial teaching course, and then subsequently trained to become first a Level 1 and then a Level 2 ski instructor. She is currently training to become a Level 3. Though she isn’t entirely confident that she will attain that level, because her “age is working against her,” it doesn’t matter.
“I’m a lifelong learner. I’m happiest when I’m challenged and learning something new,” she said.
This year she transitioned to teaching adults, though busy holiday weekends will often take her back to her roots at Squaw Kids.
The benefits: physical, mental and social
One would expect physical benefits from being a ski instructor, but Lynn said that the mental and social aspects of her work are just as important.
“Having a job that’s outside in the wintertime is awesome,” she said. “During winter people tend to hibernate and isolate themselves, but being able to get out and enjoy the winter is huge.”
Ski instructors are supposed to show up for work on day one of the ski season in shape, which means dry land training to strengthen the core and build up large muscles.
Keeping her core strong is important to Lynn who has experienced back issues in the past.
On non-holiday weeks, she typically teaches two days, takes clinics a couple of days and free skis at least once. Though it keeps her in tip-top shape, it doesn’t mean she hasn’t had her injuries. Most recently another skier slammed into her on the mountain and she suffered a fractured wrist.
“My doctor said I had the chart of a teenage boy,” Lynn said proudly.
The chart noted that she also had suffered a torn rotator cuff (when two kids decided to pull her in opposite directions while getting off the ski lift), as well as fractured ribs and a collarbone (after she hit a tree). But she heeded her doctor’s advice and was back to teaching as quickly as she could. With the broken wrist, she didn’t even miss a day.
“The upside greatly outweighs any downside,” Lynn said of her time spent skiing.
She describes the physical activity outdoors as a natural opiate. “It’s exhilarating and gives me a reason to get out of bed every day,” she said.
Part of the allure is the interaction with her coworkers and students.
“The social aspect is very important because I’m single and I don’t have family here,” she said of living in Graeagle. “When I left the Grizzly Grill, I missed my tribe.”
She describes “tribe” as a group of people that you interact with regularly. “Even if you’re not good friends, they become part of your group,” she said.
It was one of the reasons that she switched to adult school. Not only was it a natural career move, but it presented an opportunity to work with and teach people closer to her own age.
Lynn can be found at Squaw Valley from Thanksgiving through April. Then she takes a break, usually venturing to Washington State to visit her brother and sister-in-law, before she begins her summer job as chef at the Gray Eagle Lodge.
That job satisfies her love of cooking and utilizes the skills she learned in culinary school and cultivated during her life’s work as a chef.
She said that lodge owner Brett Smith forbids her to ski after April because he doesn’t want his valued chef injured.
For someone who could be retired, Lynn is happy with two jobs that keep her fit and healthy.
“It’s really gratifying to find a new career this late in life,” she said.