Friday, February 29, 2008

The lady, her Audi and my glasses

On January 31 as my wife and I were running, we saw this older lady stuck with her Audi A4 convertible on a huge snow bank left earlier by the snowplow into her driveway. She had been mistaken into thinking that her German car was just like a Sherman Tank or simply a Hummer. Her vehicle was unable to move, the two front wheels hanging in the air. We immediately stopped and offered to help. I sat behind the wheel and, assuming that it was an all-drive car - an Audi, right? - I tried to rock the car back and forth, but this didn’t help since that particular model was only front-wheel drive. I then proceeded with a shovel to dig out the car underbelly and in the process stuck my eyeglasses in the breast pocket of my jacket. They fell once; I picked them up and stuffed them back into the pocket, each time failing to pull the zipper closed. I obviously lost them a second time in all that fresh powder snow, tried in vain to look for them and went back to digging out the automobile. After twenty minutes of shoveling the car was finally free to move and the lady barely thanked us and that was it. I immediately ordered a replacement pair of glasses, picked them up this Monday, they looked good on me and the case was closed. I must say however that in the meantime and as I was running daily around the spot where the incident occurred, a little voice inside me kept on ordering my wandering eyes to look for the lost item while my rational, manly side was telling me that I was a big fool in hoping to ever find it. Well, lo and behold, that’s precisely what happened on Wednesday as I was running and caught a glimpse of a dirty, but intact pair of glasses neatly folded and laying in the gutter some twenty feet away from where it all happened. My good Samaritan gesture was no longer penalized and my gut-feeling vindicated!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Change vs. Experience

Democrats are lucky to have two exceptional candidates to choose from for the upcoming presidential election. While their respective programs are very close, and while both are very brilliant and capable individuals, victory of one over the other is likely to hinge on the perceived differences between “change” and “experience.”
For me experience does matter, but it brings with it some baggage, like for example the danger of believing so much in one’s own paradigm that it’s very easy to become stiff and totally unable to change and adapt. Let’s say that it is an idea that is both old and a bit too rigid. Experience also brings up the notion that the elements that have brought someone success up until this time, might not be valid tomorrow as things evolve and targets keep moving. Change to me is refreshing. It incorporates new landscapes, new ideas; sure, some of it will be good, some of it may be bad, but I’m under the impression that change affords me at least an option. I don’t feel trapped. I also equate change with fertile ground for creativity and believe that it’s also a catalyst for high energy levels. Conversely, I see that experience suggests a static path and fosters much more cynicism, like “been there, done that”.
Finally, I look at the world around me and everything is about change. I see an accelerating movement of transformation in culture, technology, communications, knowledge and society. On the other hand, I have enough experience to have seen lots of “experienced people” screw things up over and over. I’m not just talking about political figures like Cheney or Rumsfeld, but other respectable business people who, under the guise of experience, have kept on doing stupid things and sunk with them.
For all these reasons, I’m now ready for change.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why we ski

We don’t ski anymore to hunt reindeer like some Nordic people started to, thousands of years ago. Today, we mostly ski just for fun and, boy, what fun this sport can be. Speaking for myself, I find it the closest activity there is to flying. In many ways, it provides me with a sensation of speedy fluidity that liberates me from the tyranny of gravity. On skis, I constantly challenge myself and still can get scared at times, reach high speeds, turn on a dime, jump obstacles or even fly. It keeps me connected with the child in me and always brings a huge smile on my face. Sure it also gets me out in nature during the long winter months, let me absorb all of the mountains’ beauty and provides me with a healthy daily dose of cool air and bright sun. As importantly, it’s a wonderful way for forget everything - a form of mental therapy. Because it demands constant concentration, there is no way I could multi-task well while skiing like I do when driving; one needs to fully "be there." The only exception to that would be to listen to my portable music when I’m alone, but it’s mostly while I’m on the lifts that I can actually hear it. When family and friends join in, skiing is a wonderful sharing experience with very little pretense, lots of fun and laughter. The only negative about the sport is that it devours time in like an ogre and since time is all we’ve got, my favorite sport must be well worth it!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Are "groomers" good for you?

In my opinion, “groomers” are to skiing what sugar is to food. A reasonable amount of grooming is okay, but too much could quickly become sickening and addictive. Let me explain; some grooming is necessary and even desirable on gentle slopes and learning terrain, but when grooming becomes the standard, and bumps or crud the rarity, something suddenly is wrong. When steep slopes are groomed with winch and other tactics just to let a few speed demons carve large gashes into the corduroy, we’re suddenly adding too much sugar into the mix and skiers are guaranteed to quickly become fat and lazy. You see, it’s okay to give the visitor the illusion that they ski just like “gods” on beginner to intermediate runs, but I believe that the steep terrain should be left for all skiers, including some “visiting gods” who strive to get better and also desire a spicier fare that the blend “corduroy” diet. Of course, if skiing is no longer play and its main reason is to feel good and look good on two sticks, let’s groom the entire planet, but if it should be what it was originally meant to be – that is FUN, then it’s time to explore the other side of the corduroy. Just look at kids; they love little paths in the trees, with “whoop-dee-doos” galore and blind corners full of surprises. For those who want spice back into their skiing, the groomers haven’t got it; besides, if you don’t want to hit or stay in that proverbial skiing “plateau” flee those runs while you still can learn something different, new and exciting!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Standing up for greater skiing

We’ve already talked about skiing stance and particularly the crucial concept of generating a proper balance with the ankles instead of just the hips and knees. This sounds pretty good, but how is a skier to get to the point where ankle-balancing becomes second nature? The recipe that follows is based on my personal experience, is pretty simple and guaranteed to deliver results:
Standing upright is going to play wonder on which joint actually picks up your balancing job. If you stand up on your skis, like if you wanted to be tall, proud, or erect, you’ll direct the work of balance right to the ankles. Why? Because by neutralizing hips and knees there won’t be any other mean but for your ankles to shift your body weight fore and aft and keep you from falling at every turn or slope change. The added benefit of the exercise is that it will promote a taste for longer radius turns, which in my book is the holy grail of skiing (more on this latter.) Like most, this practice is initially easier on gentle slopes. So you’ve got it; just progressively increase the steepness as your skill picks up. There’s also no question that the boost you’ll get each time you start the exercise will fade quickly, so just keep it in mind and re-start that drill every other run you take. Begin this training soon; you’ll feel mentally taller and your ankles will start running the whole show!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Visualizing the ideal ski style

Don’t we all need examples! Children generally follow their parents' example and somewhere, sometime, we all have met a friend, an actor or a top athlete we wanted to emulate. In skiing, having the visual model of an excellent skier helps a lot in becoming better. Jean-Claude Killy said it very clearly and quite eloquently: “The best and fastest way to learn a sport is to watch and imitate a champion.” So here we go, if we want to breakthrough into the realm of great skiing, we need to find someone whose style on skis inspires us and represents the perfect image we’re striving for. What’s difficult is that we may not always know what the ideal style is and that style, like all things, will change over time. Perhaps we can start with a ski instructor if we’ve one, a local skier we know and admire or a ski champion, but these days don’t these racers all look the same? If that fails, it might be time to re-run our internal movie camera and attempt to remember the skiers that have really made a lasting impression on us. If several examples come up, let’s pick the taller skier as it will amplify the gestures we want to make our own. Now, armed with that visual guide, we need to fix the mental picture of that superb skier, place him or her skiing just before us and copy all the body movements as we try to keep us with that individual. This may sound corny, but this is precisely what I do when I’m looking for a smooth run. I picture Léon Empereur, from Val d’Isère, a former colleague of mine (we both used to teach skiing in Australia) and it works. The man was smooth, featherlike on the snow and nothing could disturb his descents. Sure, the boost we get from this exercise will fade rather fast; it may only last to half-way down a run, so we just have to “refresh” it as we start the next run. On skis (like everywhere) visualizing is a powerful tool, so let’s keep our mind’s eye wide open!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Spring micro-climate

Where our home is located, severe winter weather really last from November through February; while March and April are often the wettest months of the whole year and snow and sleet can linger through a good part of May. Starting in March, substantial snowfalls tend to be concentrated on the highest elevations and at 6,750 feet where we live, the snow that falls around our house doesn’t fall in substantial quantities and doesn’t last nearly as long. That is good news as far as snow removal is concerned. Roads as well as driveway are also no longer icy as they now store the spring heat and new snow has a much harder time sticking to them. What is striking though is that in March and April, clouds mostly stick to the largest mountains formations and even though we are only 2 or 3 miles away from Jupiter Peak, which at 10,000 feet is the highest point in Park City, that summit and the surrounding ranges are always shrouded in clouds while around our home all remains clear. As an example, yesterday was snowy without any accumulation down in Park City, while there was almost one foot of fresh snow up at Jupiter Peak. A close observation also shows that in early spring, clouds only stay in areas forested by pine trees. Conifers don’t grow naturally where our home is located, this is already “high-desert” with grass and sagebrush and that also says a lot about the kind of precipitations we receive the rest of the year...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Is your roof keeping you up at night?

This is quite possible if it’s made of rusting, corrugated steel. Well these old-rusty-mine-shacks-looking-roofs found in Colorado or Utah “ghost towns” are now the rage among Rocky Mountain West’s architects, and you don’t see them just on old shacks anymore, but on multi-million dollar homes and condos. The main material used for it seems to be “CorTen”, the US Steel brand name for that corrugated weathering steel; the generic product name is “rusty corrugated metal” (RCM.) This material, which is not galvanized, achieves the deep, dark rust much quicker. Proponents assert that the rust patina that forms will protect the steel from further corrosion; this probably is true in very dry climates like the Central Rockies, but won't work so well in a humid, coastal environment. This trend in roofing has not come without strong debate about its functionality and durability. Many argue that "Rusty Roofs” won't have the lifespan of other roofing products. To address this concern, RCM products are designed with a much heavier gauge than normal steel roofing. One problem is that the patina maybe washed off by rain and thus might not offer the intended protection. Also, rust stains in the areas where the water runs off the roof should be anticipated. Finally, it is imperative to keep such roofs free of debris and falling objects in order to keep the gauge of rust from being disturbed. Now, you can sleep tight.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fidel Castro’s jogging suit

I’m not an unconditional friend of Fidel, but what I like the most in the man is his Adidas jogging suit. I secretly wish he would hand it to me when his retirement becomes effective so I can show off with it, like he seems to be doing all the time in the media and elsewhere.
I too have a Nike jogging suit that I bought in Denver six or seven years ago. I don’t particularly like its maroon color but the garment is still in near-perfect shape so I may have to keep on wearing it for many years to come. Even if Fidel handed me his suit, I'd probably save my Nike jogging outfit for cold season running, but when we host friends at home, have a family dinner or if the national press and TV were ever interested in interviewing me, I would definitely wear Fidel's suit for the occasion. I would just update the embroided name on top to reflect its new owner and dispel any thought that I’ve ever been a little dictator.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Let emulation push the envelope

Are you feeling like you’re stagnating after reaching your skiing plateau and somehow still wanting to break through the “ice ceiling?” There’s a solution and it has to do with emulation or perhaps even competition. The recipe is quite simple; take at least two skiers including yourself (up to four or five maximum,) of similar skills and abilities that are beyond listening to their ski mentor anymore (spouse, significant other, good friend or ski instructor); make sure you and your partners still have a zest of competitiveness left in them and the plan will work. Naturally, you’ll need to find a bona fide “ski mentor” which means ideally an excellent ski instructor or, if it’s not the case, you might be able to make do with a very strong skier loaded with pedagogical skills, empathy, patience and understanding towards your team. That individual should also make sure that too much emulation wouldn't endanger the party. All participants should be excited and eager to show-off what they already know, not just to the mentor, but most importantly to each other. Let the competitive spirit rev up your engines! That way, you’ll all be so much more daring, faster, perfectionists and excited to show you very best form and take some chances you’d never seize if you were skiing on your own or in a leisurely setting. The bottom line is most participants will push the envelope, stretch their abilities and get a bit closer to their ultimate potential. In a few words, everyone is guaranteed to make some genuine progress. Now, that’s a win-win proposition!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Too much of a good thing

Come November we pray for snow, we fear we won’t get enough of it and even are concerned that whatever we receive won’t last the whole winter… This season however, when the sky opened up the floodgates, we simply didn’t get the “perfect” dosage of flakes, but... an avalanche! Since our last snowfall, less than one week ago, we frankly are sick of all these dumps, of all the shoveling, the blowing and the rest. Well, now the snow has the nerves to takes a mind of its own and start working in some malevolent ways, especially on rooftops. Those north-facing eaves have accumulated more than their fair share of snow, and if there's no “cold-roof”, no de-icing system in place or if the insulation leaves to be desired, the ice dams waste no time to build up and at the first thaw, water is guaranteed to build up between them and the slope of the roof, leaving nowhere for the melting water to seep, but through the roofing material and into the interior of the house. In big snow years like this one, the scenario repeats itself on a daily basis. So, what's a homeowner to do? Simply try to clear the snow with a shovel or a snow rake, but the ice dam will be hard to dislodge without risking to damage the shingles. The best cure – as always – is prevention carried out during the dry months. Better insulation, especially over the eaves, and installing an electric de-icing system. All these solutions cost a bit of money but in the long run they’re a cheap fix compared to having leaks inside the house!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Can you teach yourself to ski?

“Teach yourself to ski” is actually the title of a book by Georges Joubert, a Frenchman who immersed himself into state-of-the-art ski technique mostly inspired by champions. Today, I’m going to discuss self-teaching as a way to making real progress in skiing. Between the ages of 20 and 27 I actively taught skiing, both in the French and Australian Alps. I took that job so seriously that I probably burnt out by immersing myself too much into the endeavor. By the time I received my full French ski instructor certification; I was pedagogically advanced and could have become a big fish in that small pound if I had stuck it out. The ten years that followed were hard on me, not because I plunged with both feet into the ski industry, but because the sport of skiing moved away from me as I lived far away from my beloved slopes. This hiatus gave me the opportunity to intellectualize the sport even more, and when I seriously caught up with it in 1985, I had a series of epiphanies that made many ski mysteries crystal-clear to me. From that point forward, I started to make some remarkable progress both with my own technique and my understanding of the sport. You might say that the equipment revolution helped me greatly in that regard, but I would respectfully disagree with that assertion. I just worked hard at becoming better, and it worked beyond my wildest dreams. Today at age sixty, I still can keep us with a large number of "twenty-something;" if you don’t quite believe it, come ski with me!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Economy class

At first glance, alpine skiing is not much of a sport if it is practiced very leisurely, mostly on groomed runs and without pushing the envelope. Then, as soon as soon as you get into irregular snow and crud, steep and bumpy runs or deep powder, what used to be next-to-nothing can suddenly becomes hard work and before you know it, you can come home exhausted just after a half-day skiing! This is when it becomes critical to be very economical with your resources when you ski hard. Here are a few tips that I have incorporated into my way of skiing.

1. Think “feather-light”
At the start of a run, make a concerted effort to think that you'll ski “light”, in other words, don't put too much weight on the snow; instead, “caress” its surface with your skis; no harsh edging or brutal movements.
2. Follow your skis
Skis are fantastic tools; just let them design nice round curves on the snow; will they cleanly carve a path? You should not really care, simply don’t force them into a curve; instead, follow them. This may sound like a tiny detail but I’m always “pushed” by my skis and the low binding settings (DIN 7) I’ve been using for as long as I can remember attest to that.
3. Use the terrain to its fullest
The terrain should always determine where you'll turn. If you ski slowly, pick a convex spot, conversely, if you want deceleration or need speed control, let your skis spring flat against a concave surface and use both the centrifugal force and the skis own spring energy to slow you down.
4. Maintain a smooth rhythm
Smooth and regular, that rhythm accompanies me from top to bottom. Never attempt to be to harsh and keep in mind that what matters is a succession of improvised turns that will best wrap the hill and use the terrain to its utmost variations. As importantly and when you can help it, never stop in between; ski non-stop.
5. Do very little else with the body
Try to stay very quiet, just using your extended arms and poles as ways to stay balanced. Just feet and legs are supposed work.

This in a few words is my concept of “economy class” skiing; of course, I’m talking in terms of energy only. When successful, the end result becomes “first class” skiing!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Another ski-related ATR

Yesterday, I just heard that my friend John Evans ruptured his left Achilles’ tendon while cat-skiing in Vail. From what he told me, the heel binding didn’t release, and when I asked him which ski boot he was using, he said a Surefoot Lange model. Interesting isn’t it? Now, that makes two of us sustaining an ATR in one of those shells. My sense is that under severe deceleration the upper cuff-tongue assembly has nothing to hold on to and comes crashing onto the lower shell (full elastic collapse,) allowing an extreme flex angle that will rupture the tendon. Achilles’ tendon rupture (ATR) while skiing is a rather rare occurrence and it would be interesting to see what would happen, under the same circumstances, with another boot design, say a three-piece shell like a Flexon or DalBello Krypton design? Quite intuitively, I’d say that the hinged spring-tongue would absorb the load, nothing would give and that the binding heel-unit could release as long as it hasn’t been set at an unreasonable level.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A matter of anticipation

This “anticipation” has nothing to do with Carly Simon’s song. We’re talking today about anticipation as it relate to skiing. At first, this consideration may go against the concept of the all-powerful feet discussed earlier, but we should only look at it as a little nudge, a mere complement to the master work feet are supposed to accomplish. Look at it this way; the feet alone have to turn a pretty significant body mass, and this is not a small job. The idea is to help them a little by anticipating a change in direction by turning the upper body towards it as we get ready to initiate the turn. Our bodies don’t like to be twisted indiscriminately and like the lowly rubber band they’ll respond by springing back to their neutral position. This means that if the skier anticipates the turn by twisting the upper body into it, the legs and the feet will want to follow quite naturally as they become under pressure to stay square with the upper body. As some unweighting takes place and the feet pivot at slow speed or are on a centrifugal path that brings forth the edge change at higher speed, this “spring-effect” goes a long way to facilitating the job. From that point forward, the rule is simple; the angle of anticipation (α) will be greater as the turning radius is shorter and as the slope is steeper. For instance, a long radius on a gentle slope will only require a tiny bit of anticipation. Conversely, a series of very short radius turn executed on a steep slope will require maximum anticipation, meaning then that the upper body will remain facing the slope while the legs and feet do their respective work underneath. The only challenge with anticipation is that it’s totally counterintuitive and requires a generous amount of practice before it can come a bit more naturally, and still, it remains one of these motions that never really want to fully become second-nature. The reason is that we always have a tendency to over-rotate after a turn and we often end up with our torso facing the wrong direction. The word of wisdom therefore is to anticipate continued anticipation in order to pave the way to easier turns…

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Then, the city blows it…

In Park City, when the winter is as severe as this year, snow removal is a two-stage process. First, our municipal crew pushes the snow with a regular snowplow, enough to clear the road and allow cars to move around. This initial phase leaves us with streets that are not as wide as they normally are, but folks seem to make do with it. The number one priority in town is always the historic district - the Old Town if you prefer - where streets are much narrower, activity is intense and traffic significantly higher. There, the city resorts to loaders and dump trucks to get all the snow out of the way after snowplows and locals have pushed and cleared everything they could. When that job is done, the city starts taking care of its residential neighborhoods and come with a heavy-duty snow-blower to restore the streets close to their original width and give more elbow room to the many of us that still can’t live with their humongous, gas-thirsty SUV. Yesterday, a city crew came to our street with their four-wheel contraption and appeared to have the time of their lives, cutting sleek and square vertical banks on either sides of the street. In my next life, I really want to run of these neat machines!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Don’t eat brown snow!

You already knew about the uncertainties surrounding a yellow snow diet, but please, stay away from that special brown one; it tastes awful and is really salty. If in spite of my admonitions you’re still tempted, just go the Park City Mountain Resort parking lots. There, you won’t just find tons of it, but you’ll have a chance to discover a full mountain of that material that, from a distance has the appearance of brown sugar. It's actually a little mountain range around 30 feet tall; this impressive accumulation is a testimony of all the snow we’ve received early this year in Park City. So again, don’t even think of eating it, we might need it next winter!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Smart feet

"The intelligence of the feet" is an expression attributed to Jean-Claude Killy when he spoke about the importance of the foot as the foundation of skiing. As we’ve discussed earlier, everything in the sport begins and ends with the foot; on that basis, when we ski, the entire feedback loop starts and finishes around our feet. The foot is the sensor as well as the transmission of anything we do on the slopes. It must also become a skier’s virtual “dashboard.” To become really good, we must think about our skis as the natural extension of our feet. I was told that view at a ski clinic hosted by Edmond Denis, then the Avoriaz ski school director, in 1969 when I began teaching skiing. Edmond Denis knew what he was talking about; he had lost both sets of toes from severe frostbites in climbing the south face of Aconcagua in 1954. It was the first time that someone made me understand that the inside edge of my foot – not my ski – was “carving” the snow and that to stay in a neutral point when any acceleration took place, I had to pressure my inside big toe – not push my knee forward or “press the tongue” of my boots. This made a huge and fundamental difference in the way I approached skiing by understanding that the action took place at the very surface of the snow. A lot is said about anatomical foot-beds and proper canting, conditions to which – if they’re less than perfects – skiers eventually adapt, but not enough is said about skiing from the very sole of the foot. With that in mind, I’m not surprised that Killy would have spoken of “foot intelligence” as he was the first to break-away from upper-body dogma, specifically exaggerated movements from torso, arms and hips. Instead, by focusing on his “foot-work”, Killy became an iconoclast, developed a style of his own where the rest of the body followed his foot motion and only assisted with “jet” accelerating bursts that would usher the “avalement” technique. As a way to illustrate the somewhat nebulous point I’m trying to make, just think in terms of a skier feet as the “cause” of everything, while the rest of a skier body motions are merely a collection of “symptoms”. Now, start thinking on your feet every time you ski!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Miracles anyone?

Whether or not the United States really needs a bunch of miracles, Mr. Huckabee, republican candidate at the presidential nomination feels he can deliver them. Don’t ask him to balance the budget as he should or stimulate the economy as most of us wish. His background and education will make him the ideal president if America really wants miracles. This past Saturday, while he was enjoying a mild resurgence in popularity and scoring a couple of primary election victories, Mike Huckabee told reporters he was not pulling out of the race; a pastor before he became governor of Arkansas, Huckabee declared: “I didn’t major in math. I majored in miracles, and I still believe in them, too.”
Just what I needed to hear!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Granite sheets galore

On Friday, Evelyne and I went shopping for granite. As we explained earlier, we’re in the process of remodeling our kitchen and are now beginning to shop for cabinets and countertops. We first went to a countertop manufacturer that handles both quartz and granite surfaces and since we’re now set on the latter, they sent us to a huge warehouse that inventories an immense assortment of slabs in an incredible array of types, colors and patterns. Out of the dazzling selection, we just found something we liked and reserved it. The point of that story is that living in a little ski town just 35 minutes drive from a 1.5 million metropolis where one can find anything at anytime is incredibly unique and extremely precious. We’re so glad to live in Utah!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Balancing with the hips

To continue our discussion on balance, I wanted to make sure we covered the issue of “hip balancing” which is a natural as well as an instinctive attitude among beginner skiers, and if not cured can stay with the individual for a life time. Remember that travel distance between brain and joints can be significant; and in the case of a sport as counterintuitive as skiing, the brain tends to order the closest joint to execute an urgent job. Balancing is one of these situations. Just observe young kids or even adults who begin skiing: They balance themselves by flexing the upper body. This has for effect to stiffen both their knees and ankles, making their balancing with the upper body quite slow, imprecise, uncomfortable and inefficient. This is totally typical and shows the need for moving that balancing function down to the ankles. When this becomes second-nature, all other joints are free to accompany the ankles in their work and act as efficient shock absorbers. In an upcoming discussion we’ll discover how we can best train our ankles to take over our skiing lives and bring bliss into what should be our favorite on-snow activity.

Friday, February 8, 2008

A question of balance

A natural sense of balance is another critical talent to be cultivated and developed if you’re really serious about your skiing. Just think about it, you stand on a relatively narrow platform that glides fast on all kinds of terrains. Keeping a solid “balance in motion” is a huge challenge because the entire environment keeps on changing; there are two boards to manage, the slope goes from gentle to steep, the snow quality alters our sensations, speed varies all the time and, to make everything even harder, changing visibility will amplify that roller-coaster ride... The art of developing a bullet-proof balance takes a significant amount of time and practice, which I like to sum up as “mileage” and reaching that level is probably a lot easier for certain individuals than others. If for instance you’re a skater or a cross-country skier, you’ll have a head-start and feel at home on skis much faster.

So, here’s the question; where does a skier’s balance come from and how can it be controlled? The answer is very simple, but the execution is extremely difficult.
First, all skiing sensations come as far as the sole of the foot and the “sweet spot” of balance is around the ball of the foot. This is a skier’s permanent sensor and invisible dashboard.
The next question is how to adjust that balance, and the answer is mostly with the ankles. The other joints are available to accompany the work of the ankle, but don’t show much use.
The main problem with these two areas is that the ball of the foot and the ankle are also the farthest body parts from the brain, and when signals need to hurry, one finds out very fast that communication between these two regions is never as swift as it should be!

Regardless of that difficulty, the ball of the foot and the ankle are “ground zero” as far as skiing balance is concerned; obviously, the goal is to stay balanced without having to think about it. It has to be second nature. One trick is to focus on the feet without looking at them while skiing, record every sensation that goes through them and learn to accept that your skis are just appendages of your feet. Since only your feet and ankle are really in charge, it is essential to remain totally relaxed with the rest of the body and especially with the arms. Don’t hold them “stiff forward” like the racing coach or the ski instructor might have told you; if they’re lose and are needed for a quick balancing act, they’ll instantly act as counterweight. This, in a nutshell is how you will start training yourself to acquiring an instinctual sense of balance. There's much more to talk about, but we'll do it in some future blogs.

When you have a chance in the meantime, try a pair of Salomon Snowblades; these very short skis and their unforgiving “sweet-spot” will quickly teach you to stay in perfectly neutral position. If your balance is already highly developed, you can also try to “ski” on your ski boots, but be very careful; you might experience some bloody “face-plants.” This reminds me of my youth when I taught skiing in Mt. Buller, Australia, and when in the wee-hours of the morning I would literally “ski” an entire beginner run on my slick cowboy boot soles; this perhaps is how I’ve learned so much about balance, but that’s another story...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Does America want ayatollahs?

As I had predicted, McCain had a pretty good Super Tuesday and is the republican candidate likely to face either Clinton or Obama this November. What happened then to Huckabee and Romney, our “wannabe ayatollahs?” It’s interesting to see that under Bush the GOP expended enough religiosity to last this Nation a very long time. Most republicans have finally realized that too much unbridled religious fanaticism would be there undoing in 2008 and they were spot on, this moment has now come. This is why our Evangelical and Mormon candidates never got much traction during this primary in spite of Huckabee’s articulate oratory and Romney’s deep pockets. Well, these two can always try their luck in Iran!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Is it only Bush’s fault?

…if we’re in so deep with the Iraq war, our financial crisis and the falling economy, or is it also Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Rice’s fault? Sure, all these players bear a huge responsibility for the mess we’re in, but their staying at the nation’s helm is chiefly the fault of a majority of Americans who after barely putting them in power in 2000, repeated and amplified the mistake in 2004. Messing up once might be human and could be forgiven, but repeating it while reason was pointing against such a vote is like committing a capital sin. The smart ones who voted to keep Bush in office did so because they were scared, but mostly because they wanted to “save on their taxes”; now, they’ll have to join the rest of us to pay for the disaster. The chicken has come home to roost, and whatever these folks saved on tax-cuts for the rich, they’ll have to confront an inevitable tax hike, a recession and declining properties values among other ills. As I like to say, those who voted for Bush twice thought it was smart to burn the house furniture in order to stay temporarily warm and comfy. Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal with their rosy supply-side theories couldn’t predict today’s outcome, especially when the administration had no motivation to balance the budget. Perhaps all these Bush supporters will learn a little lesson, but they probably won't; stupidity runs deep.

Remembering Tao

In my business life, there are days that are utterly depressing in which problems, conditions and challenges seem to accumulate hopelessly for a while and then suddenly, almost to my surprise, the skies clear up and resolutions come to the rescue and finally take hold. Just like torrential rains are followed by sunny days and severe pain is followed by healing.

In spite of a life-long experience, I find it always hard to take the beating during these cyclical “down” moments, but I also find comforting that they're always followed by a bright side that never fails to counteract the pain. That's when Taoism acts in full force and is such a potent life philosophy that it's always crucial remembering it's there for us, not so much when things are going well for us, but when we feel stuck at the bottom of the barrel.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

On skis, speed is everything

I remember that, when I taught skiing, slow motion demonstrations were the order of the day. I mean that I would show frame-by-frame how a turn mechanically worked and broke it down in its key phases. To achieve that, I had to cheat, steal and perform all sort of tricks to make the turn happen by magic as I was deprived of the momentum I needed to make it really possible. I was in fact showing my students something impossible to replicate. That was 35 years ago. Have things really changed? I don’t think so as I observe American instructors defrauding their clients today in exactly the same manner. All these observations and reminiscences bring me to the crucial corollary that speed is a skier’s best friend. If I ski fast today, it’s not because I’m in a hurry; granted my “turns” are counted, but I’ve become a speed demon simply because I needed all the momentum I could grab from speed instead of relying on my vanishing muscular strength to keep up on the slopes. Sure, shorter skis have helped a great deal in affording lower-speed turns compared to their 204 cm “ancestors”, but still the faster one goes, the easier it gets, and into knee-deep powder, we all can use all the speed and incline we can get. As I say to whoever wants to listen, “in skiing, speed is always your best ally and your closest friend”. Time to ease up on the brakes!

Monday, February 4, 2008

A new prophet’s coming

If you follow Mormonism, you probably heard that Gordon B. Hinckley, president and prophet of the Mormon Church passed away last week at the age of 97. He was buried with great ceremony this past Saturday and last night, we saw a re-run of his 1996 interview with Mike Wallace for “60 Minutes.” In it, Hinckley answered some questions, dodged a bunch of them, always with the “smart alec” attitude that characterize so many of his faithful and reminded us of our handyman Lynn T. who used to sneer at us when we asked something and always had the knack of making us feel like an inferior specie. Well that is probably what happens when you believe so much that you’re the “chosen ones” and are clearly soaring above the “rest”. I understand that the oldest of the quorum of the twelve very old apostles is going to succeed Hinckley as a new prophet. I’m a bit disappointed because I thought they’d ask me to step into the job, as I’ve always been very good at forecasting when I worked in sales and that would have been a great experience for my resume as I would have had numerous “revelations” which also are a requirement of the job description. Well, I’ll have to do without that position but still plan to ask the new prophet if the Dow Jones will end up 2008 over the 14,000 point level…

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Race, gender, religion and elections

Funny, but the 2008 presidential election could be decided by race, gender or religion, but not – as it should - by issues (war in Iraq/financial crisis, health care, immigration, entitlements.) My sense is that Obama might lose the democratic nomination just simply because he’s black and that too many American are still plenty racist. Still, Obama has a strong following with women, but many may feel a strong sense of sisterhood and may vote for Clinton instead. As for the republicans, every candidate is fueled by religion as well as social values and because of that, of the two main contenders, the choice is likely to go in favor McCain simply because Romney and its Mormon affiliation is still scaring the be Jesus out of evangelical Christians and the rest of the republican electorate. So my prognostic is a Clinton vs. McCain election, with Clinton easily defeating the old soldier comes next November. Where’s my vote going to go to? Sorry, I won’t tell you.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

My take on skicross

This morning, I watched the first skicross world cup ever run in North America at nearby Deer Valley Resort. The competition, won by the Canadian David Barr in men and the French racer Ophélie David in women was interesting, but definitely not captivating and didn't look either serious or promising. For one thing, the start appeared to determine the outcome and once a racer took the lead, there seemed to be no way for the other three to dislodge the leader. The course should be wider or encompass certain terrain variations to make passing or shortcutting possible - with added risk of course - in order to spice-up the whole event. In fact, the present product looks more like a “show” and is a poor rendition of what a real competition ought to be. In my view, skicross is a significant notch below the old dual pro race format. This event that blends-in well at roller-derby-inspired events like the X-Games is made for television as it shows visual superiority between participants quite clearly, but is likely to remain another “orphan” of ski competition unless the field of competitors gets bigger names, the sport gains wider participation, the media gets serious about it and its course is fundamentally redesigned or re-engineered. In addition, resorts must start building good courses to validate the whole concept and develop interest for it. In summary, a brave attempt, but we’re not there yet!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Skicross anyone?

This weekend Deer Valley Resort is premiering the first skicross world cup event in Utah; this will be part of its annual freestyle world cup competitions. For years, I’ve always felt that ski racing badly needed some spicing up and alpine events in particular had grown just too boring to garner spectators in decent numbers. Well, skicross might precisely be just what Doctor Fun ordered…
A cocktail of the old pro racing format, terrain park activities and indoor motocross, skicross (also known as skiercross or skier-X) is a timed event, that’s considered part of freestyle’s new school because it incorporates terrain features. In a time trial or qualification round, every competitor skis down the course, built to encompass both natural terrain and manmade features like jumps, rollers and banks. After the time trial, the fastest 16 (in women's events) or 32 skiers (in men's events) compete in a knockout-style series in rounds of four. A group of four skiers start simultaneously and attempt to make it to the bottom. The first two to cross the finish line will advance to the next round. At the end, the final and small final rounds determine 1st to 4th and 5th to 8th places, respectively. Competitors are not allowed to pull or push each other during the knockout (KO) finals. Any intentional contact to the other competitors is penalized by disqualification or exclusion from the next race. It’s a bit messy, quite exciting and totally fresh, so there’s nothing left to complain about!