Buckle up when you talk to Karl Lepping. He'll talk your ear clean off, particularly when the subject revolves around his life's seminal passion — downhill skiing.
Indeed, the 83-year-old ski instructor from Big Lake is no lion in winter or shrinking violet. He's as active and ebullient about life as he's ever been.
"I get up early and go to bed late," said Lepping, a Korean War veteran. "I enjoy life to its fullest. I'll slow down when I'm dead."
Later this year, right after Christmas, Lepping and his wife will travel to Sunrise Park Resort, located in the picturesque White Mountains near Greer, Arizona, where for roughly three months he'll teach young and old the fine art of alpine skiing. Lepping, who has been an instructor at the popular ski resort for the last 17 years, can't wait, either. He says Minnesota's crisp, early-fall weather has "cut my ski vein," although, he admits, his beloved pastime is constantly on his mind.
"I keep moving when it's not ski season — I walk, bike, golf sometimes and just stay active in general," he said. "But I pretty much think about skiing and instructing year-round. I've been teaching for about 65 years, and there's nothing better to me than turning someone into a damn good skier, whether they're new at it or a little older and have some experience. Skiing, and teaching people to ski, keeps me young. It keeps my body in motion."
Wikipedia defines downhill skiing as a "sport of sliding down snow-covered hills on skis with fixed-heel bindings." Lepping, however, has a much more grandiose vision of the sport and his life in it.
"Let me paint you a picture: You're riding up on a chairlift. There's a beautiful mountain with fresh snow. The white powder is light and fluffy and doesn't have a track on it. Then you get off the lift and go. There's nothing better in the world than carving through that fresh powder. It's 10 times better than sex. In fact, at my age, it's 100 times better."
Lepping's wife, Kay, 77, who stopped skiing a few years ago because of rheumatoid arthritis, isn't surprised by her husband's vivid description.
"Skiing is his first and greatest love and it always will be," she said. "I knew that when I first met him. I knew that when I married him. Skiing is who he is. It's in his blood."
Lepping started skiing when he was 8 years old, living in north Minneapolis. In the years ahead, he would ski across the U.S. and beyond: in Wisconsin, Michigan, Montana, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, California and Vermont, as well as Ontario and Austria. He's also been an instructor at some the most iconic ski resorts in Colorado, Utah and Michigan. In 2011 Lepping, who was captain of his ski team at the University of Minnesota in 1952 and 1953, was honored for 50 years of membership in the Professional Ski Instructors of America /American Association of Snowboard Instructors.
"When I was young I skied at Theodore Wirth Park," he said. "I remember skiing down some of the hills there and then climbing right back so I could do it again. I don't know where I got my love of skiing; I guess it's part of my German heritage. I guess it's in my genes."
Lepping's passion for skiing cannot be understated. Consider: In 1973, for the express purpose of nurturing his addiction, he started his own business. "I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted the freedom to go ski wherever and whenever I wanted to," he said.
Lepping's voice trails off before his finishes his thought: "Skiing comes first, you know. Skiing comes first. It always has."
Over the years, Lepping has instructed thousands of would-be skiers (he said the sport has never been easier to teach, in large part because of advances in ski technology that make turning far easier) and logged more miles himself than he can possibly remember. The risks can be high, he said, especially when you're traveling down a mountain in excess of 70 mph. Still, Lepping has led something of a charmed life on the slopes.
"I've really only gotten hurt once, and that was in Austria in 1959," he said. "I tore a tendon in my ankle and I had to have surgery. They put a cast on it and I was out for a while. Beyond that, I had a partial knee replacement because of all the wear and tear. All things considered, I've been very lucky."
Lepping says he used to ski every day during the "ski" season, although, he said, he's cut back in recent years. "I go pretty much every other day now, even when I'm teaching," he said. "I'm not in my sixties anymore — I can't go every day. My muscles and joints take more time to bounce back than they once did."
Sore muscles and joints aside, Lepping says he has no plans to retire as a ski instructor. "Why would I retire when I'm having so much fun?" he said. "I plan to die with my ski boots on."
Tori J. McCormick is a freelance writer living in Prior Lake. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.