HERMON — Ed Hendrickson will tell you that he has slowed down a bit over the years.
He doesn’t like his slopes quite as steep. He doesn’t like the snow quite so deep.
At least that’s what the friendly Brewer man will tell you.
Then watch him in action, and see if you believe him.
On snow, Hendrickson is a model of efficiency. One turn links to the next. And the next. Slightly flexed knees set up the next graceful curve. He’ll stop for a photographer to catch up, but not for long. The falling snow isn’t a distraction. It just adds to the show.
Stand back. Take it all in. Watch Hendrickson ski, just like everybody else at Hermon Mountain does, once they learn he’s 92 years old.
This is aging, the way it’s supposed to be. A man. A mountain. Skis. Snow.
“I like the snow and I like the outdoors and I just like skiing,” Hendrickson says. “And I do kind of like to feel the wind in my face. That’s why I don’t like to wear goggles.”
Bill Whitcomb, the longtime owner of Hermon Mountain, said Hendrickson is among the most regular of his regulars.
Nearly every day, unless he’s skiing at Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley, or Bigrock in Mars Hill, or Park City, Utah — he’ll spend three weeks out west later this winter — you’ll find Hendrickson in the lodge before the lift starts turning at 3 p.m. After the ski patrol heads up the hill, Hendrickson will likely be the first to hop on a chair and head to the summit.
“Last night, he was here and he skied two hours,” Whitcomb says. “He said, ‘Oh, I had a good time.’ And then he was off to wherever. He has a pretty busy schedule.”
On Wednesday, Hendrickson completed his 24th day of skiing this season. He says he hopes to top the 46 days he skied a year ago. And he admits that he doesn’t spend much time waiting around.
“I come out to be ready,” Hendrickson says. “I like to get out of here before it gets too cussed dark. I’m not that crazy about driving at night.”
That, you quickly learn, is one of the only concessions to age that Hendrickson truly makes. He’s got a smartphone and he isn’t afraid to use it. Like all the cool kids, he’s on Facebook. And no matter what he tells you, he can still carve up the slopes.
“I’ve had a good life,” he says, smiling, nodding, proudly admitting that he may do a few things that your typical 92-year-old might not do. “I hope it can continue.”
When Hendrickson began skiing — really skiing, with a real hill, rather than simply walking with boards attached to his feet — he was 5 or 6 years old.
The hill was at Oak Grove Park, on North Main Street in Brewer.
“The [city] had a big sand pit there. We could ski down there. The first time I ever went, I went down the sand pit. I was just a little pismire,” Hendrickson says. “There was a little hole at the bottom. I hit the the hole and I went right head-first [into the snow]. And I couldn’t get out … I cried. I had a terrible time. I went back again, though.”
And he kept going back.
All through high school, he and his buddies skied. At one hill, they’d climb to the top, then point their boards straight downhill and launch themselves toward the bottom.
Turns? What turns?
“When you were ready to go, you’d holler ‘track!’ and everyone made sure they were out of the way so you could go right down the hill,” he says. “It was fun, and I did that all the way through high school.”
After high school, Hendrickson figured he wasn’t quite mature enough for college and meandered a bit. He spent a year working mines in Arizona and laboring at a ranch. Then he came back east and enrolled at Wentworth Institute in Boston, where he learned pattern-making and machine design.
He was working at a shipyard in Quincy, Mass., when reality struck. The world was at war.
“I went right into the service [in 1942],” he says. “And I knew I wanted to fly.”
More specifically, he wanted to be a Navy pilot, because he’d then be allowed to fly off an aircraft carrier. In July of 1943, he was commissioned — not that everything went smoothly.
“The first carrier landing I ever made, I was up in Lake Michigan. That’s where we learned,” Hendrickson says.
The flight didn’t end well.
“I took three passes [at the flight deck of the aircraft carrier] and finally they gave me what they called a ‘cut,’” he says. “I didn’t get my plane down quite far enough. I just drifted off the side, hit the catwalk, and went right upside down [into Lake MIchigan].”
That plane — a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bomber — was pulled out of the lake in 1990 and is now in a Pensacola, Fla., museum, according to Hendrickson. He’s been down to visit it a couple times and says a plaque near the plane names him as the last pilot to fly it.
“And then I got shot up one time [in the Pacific] and had to crash land on a carrier,” Hendrickson says. “They threw that plane overboard.”
Through it all, Hendrickson was proud to fly the machines he did. He says he piloted most everything available, but loved the Dauntless.
“The dive-bomber was the one that was the main plane I was in combat with. I liked that,” he says. “It had speed. And I like speed.”
Hendrickson says that his love of speed probably developed as he turned into a skier. And he admitted that it’s been very difficult to step off the throttle, even as he has aged.
“A couple years ago I got caught speeding,” he says, shaking his head. “It cost me $157. So I don’t speed as much as I used to.”
A return to the slopes
After returning from the war, Hendrickson married Effie Ellis, and the two settled temporarily in Boston. Several years later, they ended up in East Millinocket, where Ed taught industrial arts.
The ski bug bit him again. And this time, he was able to share his enthusiasm about the sport with others.
“[In 1955 or 1956] I finally got a bunch of the [students] together and I got some help from the Great Northern Paper Company, and we built a ski slope in East Millinocket,” Hendrickson says. “[GNP] were so kind to us. They furnished the motor for a tow and the rope and all the fixings for a rope tow there. It was called Hathaway Hill.”
Ed and Effie had two children and introduced them to the sport. They headed to Squaw Mountain in Greenville many weekends, and headed to Sugarloaf at other times.
“We got them into it when they were about 4 years old, and after that, we went all the time,” he says. “And it got to the point where [I thought], ‘Hey, I don’t want to ever stop doing this.’”
For years, he didn’t. But eventually, he felt like he just shouldn’t continue to spend so much time on the slopes.
“We skied until I was about 65, and my wife as just not physically able to ski anymore,” Hendrickson says. So I didn’t feel it right to keep skiing and her not, so I quit skiing right then.”
The Hendricksons were married for 62 years.Effie died in 2007, at the age of 84.
And after a few months, still grieving, Ed decided he needed to find a hobby.
“I thought, ‘Gee. I guess I’ll try to go back to skiing,” he says.
His first stop: Nearby Hermon Mountain. Ed Hendrickson was back in the game, at the age of 88.
“When I first [came back] I had to have help putting my boots on,” Hendrickson says, not long after buckling those same boots for himself. “[And] I figured I ought to get a lesson, so I got a private lesson.”
The instructor, however, was a bit more rigid than Hendrickson had hoped.
“She wouldn’t let me use poles,” Henrickson says, describing a common ski-school tactic used when teaching beginners to ski. Hendrickson, however, says he needed to help him push himself from the lodge to the lift. That’s the way he’d always done it, after all.
“I’d fall and I’d fall,” he says with a chuckle. “From then on, I figured, ‘No more lessons. I’m gonna get my poles back.’”
Hendrickson has never looked back.
And though there aren’t many other 92-year-olds on the slopes, he keeps looking foward and hoping for the best.
“I’ll hold on as long as I can,” he says. “I don’t know what I’ll do if I have to stop skiing. Go crazy, I guess.”