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Meet a Neighbor: Dick Brooks

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Dick Brooks

LIVE LARGE Dick Brooks, who is 80, hits the slopes regularly to compete in the NASTAR giant slalom national championship.

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When Dick Brooks retired from sales 20 years ago, he became a reverse snowbird. Instead of heading south for the winter, he went north to Colorado. Now 80 years old, Dick spends each winter skiing in Durango, adding to his collection of giant slalom ski-racing medals.

Since 2006, Dick has competed in the annual NASTAR national championship, winning two silver medals and one bronze medal. This month, he will compete at the championship in Squaw Valley, Calif., as one of about 125 skiers in the 80-84 age group.

About 10 years ago, Dick was introduced to NASTAR by his daughter-in-law’s father, who was a competitor himself. After seeing the course, which starts out at the steepness of an expert-level black diamond run, Dick gave it a try and then continued to race each day the course was open. “Eventually, I got a letter in the mail that I qualified for the national championship. I thought it was a scam; they wanted $200 to register. But I did it, and have done it every year since.”

Standing 5 feet, 7 inches tall, Dick is an aggressive skier. He says he is also aggressive off the slopes and doesn’t hold back from loudly expressing his opinions, but saves his softer side for his eight grandchildren. “I’m always hugging on them, and some of them don’t like that, but it’s my prerogative.”

While Dick spends the season in Colorado, his wife, Claire, stays in Houston, volunteering. She does not share his enthusiasm for freezing temperatures, but braves the cold each winter to bring the grandchildren to join their grandfather on the slopes.

Your first “job” led to your love of skiing. How did hanging around a golf course turn into snow skiing?

When I was about 8 or 9, I hung out at the golf course in Montclair, New Jersey. I’d find golf balls and sell them to the golfers. The golfers were gone during the winter, and my dad bought me a pair of long wooden skis from the local sporting goods shop. I skied from the third green all winter long.

After that, I didn’t ski much until I was around 40 years old and started skiing with our kids. I was not talented. Skis, at that time, were more difficult to turn, and you have to do that in order to slow down or stop. Then, when I was about 60, I retired and got into skiing more seriously. The equipment was much more modern by then and allowed for easy turning, so I finally felt comfortable.

NASTAR ski racing is a big part of your life. What’s it like to compete?

I really enjoy it. Giant slalom is where you weave in and out of flags, which are called gates. When you start at the booth at the top, it kicks off the timer and you finish at the bottom through a sensor that stops the clock. The fastest five times in each age group, from different ski resorts, qualify for nationals.

At 80 years old, how do you find peers who ski?

A while ago I joined a Houston ski club, but found that the majority of people were my kids’ ages. I had little in common with them. Then, I found a 70-plus ski club based in Rhode Island []. I do a one-week trip with them each year, in different places. This year we went to Breckenridge. I also meet people from all around the country at competitions.

What about injuries?

Oh yeah. If you ski, you will get hurt eventually. I had a meniscus tear and had to have surgery, but they couldn’t really repair it. So the next best thing is I have a fancy type of brace that gives my knee some support and allows me to still ski. It’s not painful, but sometimes I wake up a little stiff.

How do you stay busy, outside of ski season?

I build kaleidoscopes. We used to own storage locations in Austin, and people would move their stuff out and leave things behind. One time, someone left a kaleidoscope-making book. So, I took a glass-cutting class at an art studio and started building scopes. I make them for the grandkids, and give them away as quick as I make them.

Do you consider yourself a daredevil?

No. Skiing is good, because I’m a lazy guy. I don’t like to exercise. When I’m home in Houston, I walk about a mile or so every morning, trying to maintain weight. But when I ski I don’t have to walk, and I can eat like a horse. It’s wonderful.

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