The boomer generation is redefining the “Golden Years”
As millions of baby boomers begin the transition into their golden years, “retirement” is a word that is falling out of favor.
Today’s sixty-year-olds, the active generation that brought us the mountain bike, jogging and the snowboard, are redefining retirement (think of it now as Retirement 2.0). As they downshift from corporate careers and downsize their homes, they are also redefining where people of this new retirement generation spend this next phase in their lives.
The thought of moving to Florida and playing shuffleboard or lounging around a swimming pool doesn’t appeal to this crowd. Active retirees are looking for places that can satisfy their addiction to fun – and that are family friendly too.
Waterville Valley Resort in New Hampshire, for example, is one such location.
Preston and Brenda Conklin exemplify the Retirement 2.0 generation. Pointing to a map of New England’s 4000-foot peaks, Preston explains, “Over the years, we’ve hiked all of them.”
These days, the Conklin’s favorite hiking happens right outside of their townhouse home in Waterville Valley, a resort town surrounded by 700,000 acres of White Mountain National Forest. The Conklins bought the townhouse in 1983 and rented it to skiers for 20 years, only using it themselves for hiking expeditions in the fall. Following Preston’s retirement as a mutual fund manager, they moved to the resort full-time, where they’ve continued their passion for hiking while discovering a host of new volunteer and recreational activities.
As the Mad River gurgles in the backyard, the national forest rising behind it, Preston apologizes for the absence of his wife, who is out doing trail maintenance with a local volunteer organization. “Her goal seems to be not to be here,” he jokes. “There are just too many interesting things to do.”
Soon after arriving, the Conklins took up snowshoeing. “The winter woods are just lovely,” says Preston. “You can see so much farther, and it’s very quiet.” In the summer they are fans of the resort’s 9-hole golf course and concerts by the NH Music Festival in nearby Plymouth.
Waterville Valley has been called an "inland island"—500 acres of private land surrounded by 700,000 acres of National Forest. The year-round population of this resort town—charmingly posted on the welcome sign to the town—is 258. That number swells in winter (and increasingly, in summer).
It's easy to see why. An off-the-beaten-path resort community since the 1800s, Waterville Valley became a ski mecca in the 1960s when U.S. Olympic skier Tom Corcoran envisioned a planned community free from the urban sprawl of fast-food restaurants and big box stores, a place where families could come to enjoy the outdoors in a safe, healthy environment. Today, Waterville Valley Resort is a year-round escape from the hectic pace of modern life, where families come to hike, play golf, swim and catch up with old friends.
Then, for the Conklins, there are the hikes, including group hikes, sponsored by the Margret and H.A Rey Center, named after the creators of the beloved Curious George books. The Reys were nature lovers who owned a home in Waterville Valley. They inspired generations of residents and visitors to the resort and originated the group hikes, which are often led by experts in such areas as wildflowers, mushrooms, lichen, and black bears. “The opportunity to go different places with a leader are just phenomenal,” says Preston. He recalls one hike that was led by fellow Waterville Valley resident Edward Lorenz, the father of chaos theory and the butterfly effect, who passed away recently. “A couple of years ago, Ed took us up Welch Mountain to a cave and gave a lecture on chaos theory,” he says in admiration. “He was in his late 80s at the time!”
Staying active seems to be par for the course at Waterville Valley Resort. Take Bill and Sandy Larsen, avid skiers who once traveled from their Philadelphia home for ski weekends in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. “We skied all over,” says Bill, a retired executive with Johnson & Johnson. But when it came time for school vacations and they asked the kids where they wanted to spend the week, the answer was always the same: “Waterville Valley Resort!”
Not surprisingly, the Larsens thought of it primarily as a ski area since they had never visited at any other time of year. Then one summer, Bill was in Boston attending a graduate course and decided to rent a car, drive up to the resort and see what was happening. He called home and told Sandy excitedly, “There are tennis courts. There’s hiking. There’s biking.”
That discovery inspired the Larsens to buy a condominium, which they used for vacations for several years until they moved to Waterville Valley full-time in 1988. Though Bill was still working and traveling a great deal, he didn’t find the move to be a problem. “It was much easier to fly out of Manchester than it was out of Newark,” he says.
The Larsens recently built a new home in the resort and Bill is now retired, though their lifestyle is anything but retiring. In the winter, you’ll find them skiing with the Silver Streaks--Waterville Valley Resort’s over-55 ski club--or traversing the town’s 120 kilometers of groom cross-country trails. In the summer, they enjoy the resort’s golf course, the 18 nationally-ranked tennis courts, and the concerts and other activities offered at Town Square or the surrounding region.
A place to play, a place to work
Waterville Valley has always been a resort town, but never was planned or promoted as a retirement community – but the two have a lot in common these days. The hassle free lifestyle of the resort’s condominiums, where snow removal, grass mowing, and home maintenance are taken care of for you, and planned activities and incredible access to nature are part of the charm.
But it’s not just about recreation for the Larsens. The spirit of volunteerism runs high in Waterville Valley--which unlike other resort areas is a real, albeit small, town--and the Larsens are very involved. Sandy is chair of the conservation commission and a library volunteer, while Bill is on the planning board, the Waterville Valley Resort Association, and the board of the local hospital in Plymouth. “The town runs on volunteers,” says Bill, who also sings in their church choir in Plymouth and will be starting EMT training in the fall.
“A vast majority of the town residents wear two hats,” says town moderator Bruce Saenger. Saenger and his wife Cheryl, also avid skiers, came to Waterville Valley from Vermont where they had owned a vacation condominium for years. They knew every bump and every chair on the lift at their old ski area, but they needed a bigger place. “And there was nothing to do there in the summer,” says Cheryl. So they started looking around.
“We looked everywhere,” says Bruce. Their search eventually brought them to Waterville Valley Resort. While riding the free bus that shuttles visitors and residents around the resort, the Saengers asked the driver if he could tell them about summertime activities. “I’ll do better than that,” he said. “I’ll take you around.”
The Saengers were impressed by the golf course, tennis, hiking, biking and many other outdoor activities. But what really impressed them was the price of the condo they toured, a 4-bedroom unit with a garage, nice kitchen, and many more amenities—at the same price they would have paid for a lesser unit at their old ski area. “We bought it that day,” says Bruce.
At the time, the Saengers were living in Massachusetts, where they owned a publishing company. Later, after their children were grown, they sold the company to the Washington Post—retaining one part of it to run themselves—and moved to Waterville Valley full-time.
The Saengers did have some concerns about whether the area could provide all they needed to run their business, including employees. “We ran an ad locally and found the labor pool was phenomenal,” says Bruce, who now has ten employees operating out of a 5,000-square foot office in Town Square – Waterville Valley’s hub for shopping, dining & services.
Another concern was that a small resort town like Waterville Valley wouldn’t have the computer support services they’d need for their business. “But we found that our hardware and software support surpasses anything we had in Massachusetts,” says Cheryl. “In Mass, we’d have to call, leave a voice mail, and maybe they’d get back to us. Here, we don’t even have to call.” Their computer support technician, who also maintains the hardware for the ski area, stops in regularly to check on them. And the resort’s high-speed Internet access keeps them connected to clients across the country.
After years of owning their own business, the Saengers consider themselves semi-semi-retired these days. “We only work 40 hours a week,” jokes Bruce.
Like other locals, the Saengers are very involved with the town, Bruce as the moderator and Cheryl with the zoning board of adjustment and the Waterville Valley Foundation, raising money for local projects such as Shakespeare in the resort. In addition to the outdoor productions of the Bard’s work—done in the original rollicking audience-participatory style—the Saengers enjoy bike riding, dining at the local establishments. “We eat out at each of the restaurants at least once a week,” says Cheryl, and golf. The Saengers have memberships at nearby 18-hole courses, but they also enjoy Waterville Valley Resort’s 9-hole course, which recently underwent a half-million dollar renovation. “The new holes are wonderful,” says Bruce, who appreciates the attitude of the local players. “When we play the larger courses, we sometime get paired up with people who aren’t very friendly or understanding,” he says. “With the course here, I’ve never been paired with someone who wasn’t easy-going and fun to play with.”
“It’s a great course for families,” adds Cheryl.
Family-friendly fun in the mountains
Family is important in Waterville Valley, a place where people return year after year and often end up settling down. Unlike retirement communities that frown on children and offer little for them to do, Waterville Valley Resort is very kid-friendly.
“It’s a wonderful place for families because there are all these wholesome activities,” says Al Larsson, a retired electrical engineer and president of the board of the Rey Center. Larsson and his wife Dotti first became involved with the Curious George Cottage (forerunner of the Rey Center) in 2004, when they began doing amateur astronomy talks. They’re both members of the NH Astronomical Society, and Waterville Valley’s isolated location makes it perfect for viewing the heavens.
These days, the Larssons trade off with experts from the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord, giving talks under skies that remain untainted by light pollution, thanks to a Dark Skies ordinance that Al helped write. Under the ordinance, the town’s streetlights and all new lighting must aim downward to reduce sky glare.
The Rey Center provides a full slate of activities for children year-round, though it’s not just for kids. “I think of it as a recreation center for the mind,” says Al, noting a number of programs such as the Center’s nature walks, cooperative garden, literary groups, writers workshops, discussion clubs, monthly lecture series, and art shows.
The town’s recreation department also offers activities for children and adults year-round, everything from art to yoga, as well as summer day camp. Then there’s the indoor ice arena, skateboard park, biking, boating, concerts, sports and music camps. “Someone was complaining recently that there’s too much to do,” says Dotti Larsson.
And it’s not just about parking the kids, says Bill Cantlin, a grandparent and president of the Waterville Company. “It’s about having quality time with your family, doing things they enjoy doing.”
Bill and Sandy Larsen like the fact that Waterville Valley Resort is kid-friendly. There are three families with young children living near them, and their own children come to visit with their families three or four times a year. (In addition, says Sandy, “There’s a command performance. You must come for Thanksgiving.”)
Thanks to a forward-thinking master plan, the town is also very pedestrian friendly, with walking paths leading to most of the locations in town. “You can basically park your car and forget it,” says Cantlin. “The free shuttle bus will take you just about anywhere you need to go.”
Next to nature, close to culture
Of course, there are times when you need a bit of city life. Despite their love for Waterville Valley’s pristine natural surroundings, Preston and Brenda Conklin do enjoy occasional trips to Boston and find that it’s quite accessible. “We’ll go a few times a year for museums, North End restaurants, and the symphony,” says Preston. When they don’t feel like driving, they take the bus from Concord, which has good service to Boston.
Closer to home, the Conklins are fans of the NH Music Festival, a summer music series hosted by Plymouth State University’s Silver Center for the Arts, with visiting musicians from around the country. “The musicians are amazing,” says Preston. “They come because they love the surroundings.”
Al Larsson agrees. “It’s top-notch,” he says, noting that the performers are all first or second chair musicians. He recalls a performance of Beethoven he and Dotti heard at the NH Music Festival, only to hear the same piece a few days later at Tanglewood. “It was just as good,” Al says.
Plymouth State provides locals with all the benefits of a university town—last year the Conklins took a course on opera through the school’s adult ed department—but some benefits are even closer: the Waterville Valley Resort’s skating arena is home ice for the Plymouth State University Panthers hockey team, which means residents can walk to the games.
While Bruce and Cheryl Saenger appreciate the resort’s close access to culture, they were a little concerned about access to healthcare when they first arrived. “I had a heart attack in 1997, so we were concerned about the availability of medical help,” says Bruce.
Then, on the first day of the ski season in 2004, Bruce took a fall and suffered a spiral fracture of his tibia and fibula, along with a cracked knee joint. “That was at 9 a.m.,” he says. “By 9:30, I was in surgery with one of the finest orthopedic surgeons I’ve ever met. That answered the question about availability of medical services.”
The locals also depend on each other in times of need. “People take turns driving others to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (in nearby West Lebanon, NH) for treatments,” says Sandy Larsen.
“This is a real community,” says Preston Conklin. “I’ve never thought of it as a retirement community, despite the fact that I’m retired and live here.”
Activity, involvement, and time for family and friends. Call it Retirement 2.0, the next phase in an already active life. A slower pace? Hardly.
Sandy Larsen’s license plate says it all: CAMPWV. “Some friends and I were talking about what life at Waterville Valley is like,” she explains. “I know what it’s like,” one friend said. “Adult camp.”
Even for those who are still working, Waterville Valley seems like an escape from an increasingly hectic world. “Our only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner,” says Cheryl Saenger.
Waterville Valley was designed and planned specifically as a self-contained, four seasons resort. Today in addition to its world-class ski area, Waterville Valley Resort has award-winning tennis courts, golf, hiking, biking, lodging, cultural activities and summer theater, an indoor ice rink, boating, a skate park, and a host of outdoor activities. Dining options include traditional favorites and elegant dining. To get more information on the Waterville Valley real estate market, log on to www.wvnh.com, or call toll-free 1-888-987-8333, ext. 200.