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Ski Junkie: Pilot Hits the Slopes on Healthy Aging Journey

Liz Merritt
February 17, 2017
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John Fritz, in two words, is a ski junkie. At 63, he has more than four decades of snow-filled adventures under his belt, and there is no end in sight. For Fritz, seizing the moment, taking risks and enjoying every bump and run is all part of his healthy aging journey.

Although Fritz is an accomplished athlete and former ski instructor, his approach to every snow-laden, back-country adventure is aimed at getting even better.

“When we go out skiing, we’re still actively becoming better skiers,” Fritz says of the time he spends with two of his closest skiing buddies. “That fills our days. We’re constantly videotaping and critiquing each other on what we could be doing better. We never go out one day that we’re not trying to become better at it. “

That pretty much sums up Fritz’s approach to life and, especially to aging with his health and fitness intact. When he’s not up to his waist in the cold stuff, this powder hound mans the throttle of big jets as a pilot for American Airlines. It’s a career he will retire from in two years, when he hits the mandatory retirement age of 65.

School of Sticktoitiveness

What drives a man to a mindset of continuous improvement for an entire lifetime? Fritz says, “At our age, a lot of people are completely satisfied with where they are.” That’s OK, he says, but when people retire, slow down and stop pushing for improvement, they simply check out on life and themselves.

“I feel like I can always be better. I may not build muscle like I used to when I was younger, but I’m still out there doing it,” he says. “It’s about sticktoitiveness,” he says with a grin.

“One of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time was a meme someone posted on Facebook,” says Fritz. He describes an image of a mountain biker slogging up a steep hill with the words, ‘I may be the slowest, but I still lapped everyone sitting on the couch.’ “That says it all to me,” he says emphatically.

A native of Detroit, Fritz and his wife Karena split their time between Arizona and Breckenridge, Colorado, where they plan to eventually retire. “There’s only about four months out of the year that you can really ski. And frankly, if I skied year-round, I’d probably get tired of it.”

Desert Skiers Unite

It seems strangely ironic that a man with a burning passion for snow skiing finds himself smack dab in the middle of the desert Southwest. But apparently, Fritz isn’t the only one.

Over the years, he has become well known within the growing community of Arizona ski and snowboard enthusiasts, and in he 2012 founded an online hub devoted to the sport. His website, Desert Snow Junkies, caters to desert rats who want to feed their appetite for snow sports.

Through Desert Snow Junkies, Fritz provides a comprehensive media network dedicated to keeping snow riders and outdoor enthusiasts in the desert Southwest connected with pertinent news, events, trips, and activities.

Today, the website includes trip reports, expert guides, conditioning tips, commentary and photo galleries. The Desert Snow Junkie network also has a following on Facebook  and Twitter, as well as a Meetup Group of more than 1,000 members in conjunction with the Phoenix Snowboarding-Ski Club and Snow Peeps.

All About Balance

Despite his busy schedule, carving out time for the sports and activities he loves is a priority for Fritz. It not only fuels his body, but also his quality of life in and out of the cockpit.

You see, he has undergone hip-replacement surgery in both hips twice, as well as a partial shoulder replacement. “I have a genetic defect that whenever I injure a joint, my body responds with an arthritic response.” With that, Fritz is keenly aware that remaining active is vital to long-term healthy aging and mobility.

Despite multiple joint replacements, he’s not overly concerned about the risk of potential injury when he’s carving a path through fresh snow. “When I’m skiing, I don’t think about it,” he says.

When he’s flying, Fritz works on his fitness in hotel gyms and health clubs. “Even 30 to 60 minutes of exercise, and it sure feels a lot better when you’re back in the pilot seat.”

But exercise isn’t the only component of healthy aging. Keeping nutrition on track the majority of the time and simply maintaining an awareness of calorie input versus output is Fritz’s best advice.

“I always remember one saying. It goes, ‘The most important exercise you can do is pushing yourself away from the table.’ There’s a lot of wisdom in that. “If I’ve exercised a lot that day or lately, then I can be more indulgent. If not, then I have to be more careful about what I eat.

At the end of the day, Fritz’s healthy aging journey is all about balance and enjoying life. “It doesn’t matter how fast you are. Just get out there and do it!”

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