A small-town community celebrates the life of a local skiing legend
The crowd gathered with champagne in hand near the base of the soon-to-be-renamed ski run “Cheers” at Crystal Mountain Ski Resort. This evening, roughly 100 skiers from the small community of Thompsonville in Northwest Michigan drew close to toast to an inspirational man whose inspiration derived mainly from being his own man.
The evening was a remembrance for Lou Batori, the centenarian who skied regularly at Crystal Mountain up until his passing at age 107 this past February – but it felt more like a celebration. After all, how can you weep for a man who lived a life so full? The members in attendance that day knew the story of Lou Batori, and decided that celebrating that life was a better reflection of the man than mourning it.
“There’s always a little bit of sadness that he’s no longer with us,” said Brian Lawson, PR director for Crystal Mountain Resort, “but the overwhelming feeling was just how lucky we were to have him as a friend, and to brush up against such an exceptional life.”
Lou Batori was first introduced to the world in a 2011 piece done by CBS on the then 100-year-old skier, but the folks at Crystal Mountain have been familiar with Batori for much longer. He has been skiing at Crystal Mountain since the 1980s, becoming a prominent fixture in the community. His name carries weight here, so much so that he has the only reserved parking spot in the resort’s lot.
“Lou is someone who’s had such a profound impact on people around the resort,” said Lawson. “Most people saw Lou as an extended member of their family.”
So, what is Lou Batori’s story?
It’s not all that different than a lot of Americans’ of his generation: He was born in Hungary in 1910 before moving to the United States with his parents as a teenager. After attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Batori went on to become a successful aeronautical engineer and worked on high-profile project’s such as NASA’s Apollo Mission.
Calling it a career in the 1980s, Batori and his wife Judith retired to the quiet town of Glenn Arbor, a short drive from Crystal Mountain. It’s his love for skiing that makes this story worth telling, though.
Batori began skiing at age 10 in his native Austria, doing so as you might expect a future engineer to do: sliding down hills on wood planks with leather straps he nailed to them acting as bindings. While attending a boarding school in Switzerland before immigrating to the United States, it was said that he spent more time skiing than he did at school.
In retirement, Batori became a prolific ski racer, winning National Standard Races (also known as NASTAR) in the 70+ and 80+ age categories before successfully petitioning NASTAR to create a 90+ division too, in which he became the #1-ranked skier in the world. Batori continued ski racing past the century mark of his life, at times competing in races with zero other participants.
The most remarkable part of Batori’s ski story?
His refusal to let age hold him back. Lou’s daughter, Eileen Ward, illustrates this point with a story of some friendly competition between Lou, her son and her.
“We were skiing one day and they had NASTAR races going on, so we all decided to do it. My son went down and he got 31 seconds, and then I went down and did it in about 36 seconds,” Ward said. “And then Lou went down and did it in 29 seconds. I mean, what? My son was 26 and I was in my 50’s. He’s 96 and he’s beating both of us, and we’re no slouches on the slopes.”
While he was unable to ski nearly as frequently in his final years, he proved by making it out for at least one day a season what all skiers instinctively know: that skiing is a lifelong passion. Or, as he was known to say: “One run, on one weekend, justifies existence”.
As the numbers of days he spent on the slopes dwindled, his reputation only grew. Sporting a “100+ Ski Club” patch on his trademark full-body white jumpsuit he skied in, Batori was a beloved presence around the resort. You could often find Batori enjoying a après ski drink at the resort’s Thistle Pub and Grille, flocked by crowds of people he was happy to chat with.
People were particularly enchanted with his adages on life, skiing and everything in between. In perhaps his most famous quote, Batori had theorized that the keys to longevity are “a good wife, only drinking the best-quality liquor and picking your parents carefully”.
“He always had that vitality and charm,” Lawson said. “Right up to the last month of his life that was him.”
Lou was an inspiration to those he knew
When asked in what ways Lou Batori inspired them, the common refrain of those who knew him is that he inspired just by living the way he did. Lawson says that the first time he met Lou, he was in his 20’s and had just moved to Northern Michigan from Indiana when a friend convinced him to take a ski lesson at Crystal Mountain. As he somewhat-apprehensively was getting ready to hit the hill, in strolled Batori fresh off competing in some races. Lou stopped to chat with Lawson.
“He asked me ‘How old do you think I am?’, and I said somewhere in his 60s. He told me he was 87,” Lawson says now. “If an 87-year-old guy is out there still racing, then somebody in their 20’s should be able to go out there and learn how to make turns. I have no question that it impacted my day.”
Ward shares that sentiment, saying her father’s longevity and vigor for life has “given me a great deal of confidence. I don’t feel like I’m 69, whatever that’s supposed to feel like”.
What is incredible about Lou Batori is not that he accomplished a single remarkable feat, or that he overcame an unbelievable struggle. Rather, celebrating him is a testament to his persistence in never letting the world slow him down. Lou Batori is most remembered for doing what he loved to do most, for as long as he could; a statement we’d all love attached to our names one day.
“Waiting to be carted away is a stupid waste of life,” he said in 2015. “You can replace anything – your shoes, your house, your belongings. But you cannot replace time…so make the best of it.”
That crowd at the bottom of the run was there that day to witness the rebirth of “Cheers” into “Cheers to Lou”, a permanent commemoration to the man and the way of life he preached. After the dedication, the crowd retreated to the Vista Lounge to swap stories and share memories of the late, great Lou Batori. The evening, by all accounts, was time well spent.