Delirium Dive in your 90s

“I didn’t know growing old was going to be this much fun! I thought I’d just end up in a rocking chair.” Jerry Kernan

This one is from the vaults, but Delirium Dive hasn't changed much and we're pretty sure that no 90 year olds have skied it since, so it's worth looking back on.

Trapper Jerry

Jerry Kernan makes 90 years old look like a lot of fun. Instead of sitting in a rocking chair, Jerry is resting at the bottom of Delirium Dive at Sunshine Village, looking back up at the impressive face he has just skied. It’s far from the first time Jerry has skied this run, but it is the first time he (or anyone else) has skied it as a 90-year old.

Jerry’s birthday romp through the Dive has become a yearly tradition that everyone at Sunshine Village gets excited about, even more so this year as Jerry turns the big 9-0. It’s an impressive feat to be skiing at 90, much less skiing the way Jerry does.

jerry kernan skiing at 93

Jerry Kernan skiing in his 90s at Sunshine Village.

Guests who choose to enter Delirium Dive need to be equipped with an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel, and they need to travel with a similarly equipped partner. The five minute hike from the lift to the top of the run starts with a metal gate that won’t open if you don’t have a beacon that is transmitting. Hazards such as rocks and cliff-bands are not marked at all in Delirium and there are a lot of places where skiers can get themselves into trouble, but all route selections are the responsibility of those entering these areas. Sunshine recommends that skiers entering the Dive have “Knowledge of travel in steep avalanche terrain”.

You are probably thinking to yourself either, “that sounds like fun” or, “no way I’m ever skiing there.” Perhaps the best way to describe skiing in Delirium is “intense”. Because of the requirements to ski here, the Dive gets less traffic and therefore holds more powder than the rest of the mountain. The Dive has become a tourist destination even for those without the ability to ski it. You will often see visitors making the hike up without skis just to watch skiers drop into the face and take it all in.

In honour of Jerry, ski patrollers have shovelled steps into the snow to make the hike up easier. Troy, a ski patrol and old friend of Jerry’s, even carries the birthday boy’s skis. Once at the top, the “fun” starts. The metal stairs that descend from the peak down to the main ridge line are often scarier than the ski down. Jerry has put rubber tracks on the soles of his ski-boots to help give traction. He’s even tied a shoe lace to them and around his ankle so he can’t loose them should they slip off.“I’ve put these on this time so I don’t loose them.” 

We’re all thankful he has because the snow at the bottom of the stairs is icy and steep and, with nowhere to put skis on, Jerry chooses to walk the 20 metres to the top of Main Line instead of fumbling around trying to step into his skis on on the steep, icy side slope. It’s a dicey walk for sure and I’m more than a little nervous watching what I imagine to be a frail old man come dangerously close to falling hard and sliding down the slope. I needn’t be afraid though. A handful of ski patrol and friends help him down and stand below to protect against any fall. But as soon as he clicks into his skis it’s obvious that he doesn’t need any of the help and that he's certainly not a “frail old man.”

jerry kernan skier

Jerry in the Times Colonist in 2007

In fact, once in his skis you think he’s half his age. His tips point down the fall line with confidence and accelerate into his turns with aggression. His stance is surprisingly strong. We stop for a few brakes on the way down the, but not as many as some 20 year old skiers do.

As we take a break at one relatively flat spot someone asks Jerry if he was scared up top? “No. I’m never scared. I’m not supposed to be here you see. And if something was to happen to me… OK, I have to go sometime.” I suppose it’s easier to be cavalier with your life when you’ve outlived all expectancy. “If I do happen to go over a cliff - take your little shovel so you can dig me in and then cross my skis. Then when spring comes the ravens will take care of the rest. And you can put a little wooden monument up there.”

It was 2007 when Jerry turned 90. He skied Delirium Dive three more times on his birthday and continued skiing until he was 97. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 99.