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84-year-old Montana skier still going strong after lower leg amputation

'He's an inspiration to everyone up here'
Howard Marquardt
Posted at 4:50 PM, Feb 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-27 18:53:47-05

RED LODGE - Red Lodge Mountain regulars know Howard Marquardt. He's hard to miss as he goes flying by.

"It’s like looking at the back of someone getting farther away from you," friend Bob Nemer said when asked what it's like skiing with Marquardt.

For almost 20 years, Marquardt has been showing a close-knit group of Red Lodge die-hard skiers a thing or two.

"He's fast. A beautiful skier," said Deborah Fergus. "He's always the first one down the mountain."

"In racing, I've never beat him," said friend Lee Scherer. "He's 16 years older than me and I have never beat him yet."

Howard Marquardt
84-year-old skier Howard Marquardt smiles while on a lift at his home ski hill at Red Lodge Mountain.

Marquardt has a little edge: he’s been skiing longer than most have been alive.

"73 years. That's all," he said with a wry smile.

Marquardt's been an expert for almost all of them, first skiing in college at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and then racing for most of his adult life.

He’s usually near the front of the pack in the Red Lodge Town Series on Fridays, but he hasn't been recently because he’s working his way back from a small setback.

"There was a benign tumor in the talus bone on my right ankle, and it turned malignant," Marquardt said. "The only option was to amputate."

Marquardt had his lower right leg just below the knee amputated on April 22, 2022.

His first question afterward won't surprise anybody.

"I immediately asked if I could still ski," he said.

Howard Marquardt amputation
Howard Marquardt shows where he had his lower right leg amputated in April 2022, after doctors found a malignant tumor in his ankle.

The answer was yes. Marquardt got his first prosthetic on July 8 and was riding a bike four days later. But that was just a warm-up.

Ski season usually starts the day after Thanksgiving, so when did Howard first give it a go?

"The day after Thanksgiving," he said.

"From day one, even with the tumor, he's always said he would always ski," Fergus said. "So there was no question."

"When I heard what he was dealing with, I thought he’s going to come out of this and still be racing," said friend Brad Funston. "I had no doubt in my mind. He's an inspiration to everyone up here."

Howard Marquardt skiing
84-year-old Howard Marquardt still beats most people down the mountain in Red Lodge, even after having his lower right leg amputated in April 2022.

Marquardt went to an adaptive skiing clinic in Colorado on that first weekend.

He's been skiing at Red Lodge about three days a week ever since, with the help of his wife Barbara and a host of others.

"It's very comforting to have that many people looking after you. I'm very thankful," Marquardt said. "It's been an eye-opener. Everyone has been helpful, but there's a certain few that really take care of me. It's really nice."

He's still figuring out how to navigate this new feeling — or, lack of feeling — on his skis.

"I have a tough time initiating a left-hand turn because I don’t have as much [feeling] in my right leg," Marquardt said. "My next challenge is to get back on a race ski."

But even now, anybody would have a tough time keeping up.

"The first day he came up, I was skiing behind him to see how he was going to do," Scherer said, "and I had to push it to stay right behind him. He was flying!"

"He looks like he always did skiing down the hill," Nemer added.

"He’s so good," echoed Fergus. "I was so impressed when I was skiing with him. I was just going, ‘Oh my god, he’s got it.’”

Howard Marquardt skis
Most regulars at Red Lodge Mountain know 84-year-old Howard Marquardt, who relocated to Carbon County from his home state of Minnesota 15 years ago.

For most skiers, an amputation at 84 years old would be a big enough sign to give it up, but Marquardt isn’t most skiers.

"How long am I going to keep skiing? Until I can’t," he laughed.

And that day clearly hasn’t come.

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