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FAIR GAME / PETE THOMAS

Keizo Miura: Born 1904. Still skiing 2004.

March 09, 2004|PETE THOMAS

Keizo MIURA WAS living a dream as he glided down the snowy slope. The clouds had lifted and the powder was deep and light. With him were loved ones and close friends. Had he not known better, he might have been in heaven.

But this was earthly reality and it brought a smile to his weathered face. Miura, who may have skied more than anyone on Earth, had not only lived to be 100, he was celebrating that milestone by making tracks down one of his favorite mountains, negotiating the fall line with the prowess of a youthful veteran.

His great-granddaughter calls him "ultra-grandpa." He felt powerful, alive.

Angling his skis to form a wedge, he slowed his descent so the younger skiers, his great-granddaughter in particular, could keep up. When they reached the bottom, they raised their ski poles and reveled in the moment.

Miura was supported by four generations of family and nearly 150 friends, many of whom had accompanied him in late February from Japan to Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah. The site was selected for the reunion because it is Miura's favorite place to ski. On this particular day, he said it was the best powder he had ever experienced. "The magic of skiing is that the snow is different each time I go," he said.

But his actions said more: Age is not the barrier some believe it to be. This kind of exercise, in settings so pristine, is beneficial to both body and soul. "Skiing isn't really the reason for my long life," Miura said, speaking through a translator. "The reason for my long life is my passion for skiing."

A crowd applauded the venerable skier when he reached the bottom of the run, spanning 3,000 vertical feet. Among those in attendance was former President Jimmy Carter, who called the family "a true inspiration to not only the people of the United States, but to the entire world."

Miura was born in Aomori, Japan, on Feb. 15, 1904. After graduating from what is now the University of Hokkaido, he joined the forestry bureau and became manager of its ski club. His first skis were wooden planks and he wore army boots smeared with petroleum jelly as waterproofing. At 51, he retired and spent even more time skiing. Though he keeps no records, he says he has averaged 110 days annually on the slopes since he took up the sport 79 years ago -- that's 8,690 days, or nearly 24 years of total time on the slopes.

With him for the commemorative run on Feb. 28 was his 71-year-old son, Yuichiro, who starred in the 1975 documentary, "The Man Who Skied Down Everest." Yuichiro last year became the oldest person to summit the world's tallest mountain. His sons Yuta and Gota joined in the conquest. Gota competed as a freestyle moguls specialist in the 1994 and '98 Olympic Games.

The whole family was on hand to honor their hero, their patriarch, and to reinforce that one man amounts to very little without family and friends. "I believe that my 100-year-old father is able to continue skiing because of the grand support he gets from friends gathering for him like this," Yuichiro said after the descent through eight inches of new snow.

Miura is a close friend of Dick Bass, the resort's owner and the first person credited with climbing the highest peaks on all seven continents. In 1983, Miura and Bass climbed Antarctica's Vinson Massif.

Miura's climbing days are over, but he vows to keep skiing until his legs or his heart give out. His granddaughter Emili said that while his eyesight and hearing are failing, he is otherwise in good health. His diet includes lots of fish and chicken prepared in a pressure cooker to soften the bones, which he eats for the calcium they provide.

On Feb. 15, the day he turned 100, he said, simply, that he felt "just another day older" and spent the morning skiing at Teine Highland Resort in Sapporo. When it was time for the celebratory run at Snowbird he was admittedly nervous, not so much because of the large gathering, but because he was beginning to feel rusty.

"He was relieved after it was over and he didn't fall because he hadn't been skiing in 11 days since he left Japan, so he was not really confident," Emili Miura said. "That's a long time for him."

It must have seemed like an eternity.

*

To e-mail Pete Thomas or read his previous Fair Game columns, go to latimes.com /petethomas.

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