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Age is just a number to 84-year-old skier

At the Andes Tower Hills ski rental desk, 84-year-old Chuck Pirila works to ready a pair of skis for a school group. (Beth Leipholtz | Echo Press)1 / 2
Chuck Pirila, 84, is an avid skier and works at the rental desk at Andes Tower Hills. (Beth Leipholtz | Echo Press)2 / 2

After skiing most of his life, Chuck Pirila finally perfected his turning technique last year — at age 83.

According to him, it's all in the big toe.

"As I examined it, it became more and more evident that that was the secret to carving your turns rather than plowing," Pirila said.

Pirila, who resides in Alexandria, has been skiing since he was a young boy in Ely, Minnesota.

"I've got a picture at home of me standing in front of our garage and I was probably about 7 or 8," he said. "I'm standing there with my grandfather's homemade cross-country skis. They went about 4 feet over my head."

Though he began with cross-country skiing, Pirila found his passion in downhill skiing.

"I really took to it," he said. "I thought I was skiing the best I could, but I hadn't gotten that big toe lifted."

About 25 years ago, Pirila began working at Andes Tower Hills, a ski hill near Kensington. Though 84 years old now, he still works there regularly and often skis after his shifts.

"I ski every chance I get," he said. "I love skiing. I love it more now that I'm getting older."

At Andes Tower Hills, Pirila has worked in the pro shop selling skis and also as a ski instructor. Now, he works at the ski rental desk and prepares skis for visitors. He enjoys helping out when school groups come through, due to the excitement of the children.

"I get my enjoyment just watching those little kids come out and learn how to ski," he said. "Their eagerness and liveliness is great, and they want to learn how to ski. When they finally learn how to do it in their simple ways, they kind of beam."

After learning about the trick with the big toe, Pirila compiled a list of skiing tips and made a pamphlet that he carries around in his pocket for those who want pointers.

"If someone asks me, 'How do you ski?' I say, 'I'll tell ya,'" he said. "And I pull out my pamphlet."

Because he's been skiing for years, Pirila says he has noticed a change in the number of visitors at ski hills in Minnesota.

"Not too many years ago, we'd be booming right now," Pirila said of going into the last weekend of February. "But with the warming tendencies, we're starting to fall off on the tail end of the winters and I don't like to see that."

In addition to skiing in the winter months, Pirila also bikes during the summer. From 2002 to 2012, he biked 24,874 miles — about the distance it is around the globe. Staying active has kept Pirila healthy for the most part, and he doesn't plan to stop either activity any time soon.

"Biking and skiing, they keep you in pretty good shape," he said. "I hope to live to be 120."

Beth Leipholtz

Beth is a reporter at the Echo Press. She graduated from the College of Saint Benedict in May 2015 with a degree in Communication and Hispanic Studies. Journalism has always been her passion, but she also enjoys blogging and graphic design. In her spare time, she's most likely at Crossfit or at home with her boyfriend and three dogs.

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