Monday, March 31, 2008

Managing and storing memories

It all started with just another day of skiing and led to another enlightening chairlift conversation with a sixty-something acquaintance of mine who kept going over his not-so-distant past amidst a litany of “shoulda, coulda, woulda.” He was in particular reminiscing the “good-old-days” when he owned and ran a large business with several facilities and some 65 employees working for him. He also complained incessantly about all the opportunities that somehow had eluded him along the way. I told him that he would do himself a great favor by storing all of his memories into a virtual “refrigerator” to preserve them well; he could review them at will, but never place them “front-and-center” as if they were staring into his face at all times on the windshield of his life. I also said that in that space, there should only be place for good, positive and uplifting memories. Bad, scary and negative ones should be treated like yogurts that have passed their expiration date; they owed to be discarded and never have a place in that special cool box. This doesn’t mean that we should not acknowledge unhappy memories when they occur; we certainly have a right and a duty to mourn our losses and regret our errors, but we should weave them into the canvass of our wisdom and our experience, and once this is done, we should let go of them. Beside, lets’ face it, the fridge is small and there’s barely enough room inside for all the great memories we’re intent on keeping!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

What I don’t like about Hillary

I believe that we’re lucky to have two excellent Democratic Party candidates; I would be content if either one of them won the election and will throw my full support to whoever is picked at the end of this nerve-wrecking contest. This said, I’ll try to articulate what I don’t like about Senator Clinton because I believe this has been undermining her chances of succeeding in this head-to-head race. All starts with her body language; she comes across to me as someone who has a “chip on her shoulder” and also asserts that she’s “entitled” to be seen as intellectually superior and more apt just because of her senior status. Hillary Clinton also conveys the message to those who are not convinced that she’s a cut above the Senator from Michigan; they must indeed be profoundly stupid. She shows it more when she finds herself confronted with her opponent and can’t prevent herself from smirking or making eye and facial gestures that are discounting him. The way she sticks to her “talking points” is also overly stiff and too contrived. She seems unable to hide her contempt and her anger, making that whole stinky attitude dominates her presence and easy to intercept by folks who are tuned-in to those tricks. I suppose that Hillary’s supporters must be so imbued with her candidacy that they’re truly blinded by her intellectual brightness; however, a colder observation and a more objective analysis bring all these negatives forward. I firmly believe that had she known and addressed these negatives earlier on, she’d probably have clinched the nomination by now. Now, shame on me for not telling her!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Back to “real” work

This winter has been unbelievable: Huge amounts of snow, plenty of knee deep powder and all the great skiing that goes with it. My health has also been good; no tree ran into me and my repaired Achille’s tendon that has kept me up like a proud soldier. But now things are changing; spring is coming upon us and we’re re-doing our kitchen; so a few days ago, I traded my ski outfit for a less sexy uniform and started to removing cabinets and taking down a wall. Now, the damage is done, I’m committed and have to see the project through. In the next few days, I’ll become a carpenter, a plasterer, a tile layer and also a painter (no, not this kind, my name is not “Monnet”!) I was at first a bit apprehensive and wondering how that transition from gliding smoothly on the snow into hitting my fingers with a hammer would work, but to my surprise, I’m now hooked on remodeling. I can hardly wait to make my next move. I must have no loyalty and be too fickle with my loves… The upside to my new activity is that our local ski areas are still open till April 13 and Snowbird won’t close until the end of May, so there still will be many opportunities to steer my skis in the snow instead of driving my hand-saw into some two-by-four!

Friday, March 28, 2008

The quest for difficulty…

There are two approaches to skiing: One is to look at it as a simple pastime, a great pleasure and a way to enjoy nature; another is to see it as a competitive pursuit, an avenue for improvement, a mean for measuring oneself. The latter definition is the most fitting for me, it's also the reason why I never cease to challenge myself while skiing and, by the same token, maintain a juvenile attitude and never gets bored with the sport. Ever since I returned to the mountains, in Park City, I’ve looked at my time skiing as some of my most precious moments and was determined to get the best out of every minute spent on the snow. I always was in search of the most challenging snow, the worst conditions and the most difficult terrain. I never hesitated to place myself in tricky situations, always on the edge, permanently ready to lose control and never really concerned about the way I looked. As I often say, “no need to ski for the gallery, you won’t find many on the slopes…” Without taking unreasonable risks, I’ve always “pushed the envelope”, making as few turns as possible, weaved myself into tight spots, improvising here and there and always risking a steady balance for the sake of reaching a little farther. That approach is totally in synch with my life philosophy. It has not brought me huge rewards, but has made me a much better skier; it’s also always kept me on the go, hungry for more and certainly very young at heart. When I’m on my skis, I’m always reverting to that little kid with a giant grin!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Welcome to my playground!

It took me years to fully appreciate Jupiter's ski potential; this is where Park City’s highest ski lift is located. "Jupiter" is actually a big cirque anchored at Jupiter Peak (9,998 feet high) and is served with an old, rickety, two-seat Yan chair. The vertical is only 1,025 feet, but it gives access to an incredible array of possibilities and offers a gorgeous mountain setting with steep bowls, couloirs and treed runs everywhere where nothing is ever groomed. There are between 15 and 25 different areas that could be called “runs” and multiple hiking options. Except for weekend or holidays following a major powder “dump,” there’s almost nobody skiing Jupiter. It’s quiet, pristine and a perfect setting to empty one’s mind and focus on just skiing. I generally ski each run non-stop; each time I try to improvise, fine-tune my lines and the most I’ve ever done there in a day were twenty-four runs (it takes a little more than 10 minutes to do one lap.) I love sushi and to me, Jupiter is like a beautiful and delectable sushi platter where all the runs are like a row of tantalizing pieces. I can’t ever seem to choose one in particular and to make matter worst, I always try to keep the best one for last.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Lecture time with Patty Limerick

On Monday night we attended a lecture with Patty Limerick, the Faculty Director and Chair of the Board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado, where she’s also a Professor of History. Limerick has dedicated her career to bridging the gap between academics and the general public and to demonstrating the benefits of applying historical perspective to contemporary dilemmas and conflicts. Her presentation was a bit disjointed (she's a typical, bright academic, not a great public speaker,) her diction hard to follow and the bottom line was that the session was more work than fun. Because I had to stay intensely focused on what she said, the lecture wasn't a total waste of my time as I went away with a couple of good ideas, regarding the West in particular and history in general. She had an interesting approach to break history in “drafts” like the 19th century as Draft Nr. 1, the 20th century as Draft Nr. 2 and this century as Draft Nr. 3, making it look as if history was really a work in progress (which I guess it must be.) She also projected a ray of hope over the West, saying that the region was constantly “re-inventing” itself, from an “extracting economy” to “lifestyle communities” as it appears to have become these days under the “New West” moniker. She also reminded us that the human spirit, mostly through our little-sung engineers, was extremely resourceful and able to turn awful things (like pollution and overpopulation) into better outcome through ingenious solutions, provided we had some patience left in us to wait for these better results. At the end, I got my time investment back; I had once more learned something new…

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A critique of the movie “Steep”

Sunday night Evelyne and I went to watch the movie "Steep.” Regardless of the comments that follow, this is one of the best ski movies I’ve ever seen (that must speak volume about their usual “quality”.) It’s perhaps because it’s a documentary and besides being inspiring, it contains some great footage of (now) historic nature. It was good to see pioneers like Bill Briggs and Anselme Baud, but for the sake of that movie, why in the world did director Mark Obenhaus “forgot” to include Sylvain Saudan, the father of extreme skiing who got it all started in 1967? In terms of contemporary skiing and sheer exhilaration, Ingrid Backstrom and Seth Morrison definitely stole the show and to me, the late Doug Coombs section was both sad and a bit awkward in the way it was presented. I also found the “base-jumping” section to be almost a distraction from the spirit of the piece. Finally, I questioned the architecture of the film; the Chugach range footage should have concluded the film in all its glory, not the fellows and their brush-up with a spring avalanche somewhere in Iceland…

Monday, March 24, 2008

Is snow removal worth it?

When he lived at home, our son always felt that making the bed daily was a total waste of his time. Was he right? Fundamentally, I think so, since what he had to “do” every morning would end up “undone” at night. Could you say the same about brushing your teeth for instance? I don’t quite think so, since this activity could be classified as “cleaning or maintenance” and is quite justifiable. To me, snow removal in driveways is similar to bed-making. I know a couple of homeowners in our subdivision that didn’t remove all the snow in their driveway even though we’ve received so far some 197 inches of cumulative snowfall. Today, as spring has arrived and we’re nearing – hopefully! – the end of winter, these driveways are almost clear of snow, save for a few big bumps here and there. So the bottom line is that my addictive-compulsive snow removal habit has cost me 41 snow removal sessions at an average of 45 minutes each, not to count the cost of gasoline when I had to use the snowblower. All together, that’s almost 31 hour of work that I could have saved had I let my car roll over the snow and packed it thin and icy over the driveway. With "taxes, aggravation plus wear and tear," that’s at least $600 worth of work I won’t have anything to show for comes the 1st of May, so please tell me, what’s the point of clearing all that snow?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

One year ago today…

I didn’t hear any snapping sound like so many victims of Achilles’ tendon rupture say they do; I just felt that I had hurt my right leg. Since that fateful occurrence, I have made some fast progress into full recovery in spite of being… in my sixties! My skiing is the same – if not better – and I can walk, run and mountain bike without problem. The only things that are not quite the same is my repaired tendon that still looks quite a bit thicker than it used to, and my right calf muscle that remains significantly smaller than its left counterpart. Any thoughts or suggestions on how I could “blow” that muscle back to its original shape, or how long will I have to wait for it to catch up?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Picking up... dog poop

During winter months, our aspen trees are totally bare and we can easily see through the neighbors' properties; two days ago, my glance was stopped when I saw two men armed with buckets gathering up something in an older lady’s property that’s just across from our kitchen. No, they weren’t picking up mushrooms; there still was too much snow on the ground. Then I saw one of her dogs running around by these two guys and was reminded that she has three of them and one is a mean looking pit-bull. That’s when I made the connection with the bucket carriers and realized that these courageous souls were doing what most of us don’t like to do, picking after fido. What’s remarkable is not the removal process, but that some enterprising soul has created a business out of… dog crap! The company, aptly named “Dr Scoopy Poo,” offers an attractive pricing based on the number of dogs that are roaming free in a yard and the needed frequency. Weekly service for two pooches will set you back $17 which to me sounds pretty good. If you own a herd of say four canines that poop more frequently, you may opt for the twice-a-week service that is advantageously priced at $22 per session. Only in America!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Keeping amounts of money in perspective

These days, it’s amazing how we can get lost when we hear “billions” and “trillions” of dollars. How can we relate to the enormity of these numbers? It’s actually very difficult to visually appreciate the order of magnitude of our own country GDP, versus its budget deficit (did I hear surplus?) or certain very high revenues? Two days ago as I was attending a very good seminar put together and presented by Myles Rademan - our city public affair specialist - I heard about an excellent approach to illustrating that concept in a way we can all better relate to. It basically compares any amount of money with time. That one is easy because from zero to one-hundred year we roughly have a human life span. Now the comparison goes something like this:
$1 = 1 second
$3,600 = 1 hour
$86,400 = 1 day
$31,536,000 = 1 year
$ 1 Billion = 31 year
$ 1 Trillion = 31,000 years

The following table illustrates the system (all figures shown are from our very own CIA and are fairly current – they were collected between 2007 and 2008.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Jean-Luc Descombes 1946-2008

Yesterday, my friend Mychel Blanc emailed me that Jean-Luc, a former school mate had just passed away. I called him up and he sounded very upset. Jean-Luc had suffered from lung cancer and Mychel had seen him regularly and just when he was about to visit him at the hospital he was told that his friend was “gone.” In talking with Mychel, I learned that at about 30, Jean-Luc took painting lessons and became an artist. His most recent work was in part inspired by Jackson Pollock. His struggles are now over and he’s rejoining the stardust we all came from. I had fond memories of him and remembered that he looked just like Mick Jagger. Every time I heard or saw the Rolling Stones, I couldn’t help but think of him. What’s a more fitting tribute than the the song “She’s a Rainbow” by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to accompany Jean-Luc into his bright and colorful odyssey through the deep universe:

She comes in colors ev'rywhere;
She combs her hair
She's like a rainbow
Coming, colors in the air
Oh, everywhere
She comes in colors...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My two-cent on the financial crisis

As no one really seems to understand the ramifications of financial crisis we’ve been pushed into, our government is trying anything it can lay its hands on to prevent a total meltdown and also push a dreadful scenario on the Republican Party come this November elections. I still remain convinced that our foolish Iraq war has constituted the “tipping point” for that crisis, which is nothing else than a “consumption overload” to keep American fat, happy and looking the other way. So, today, faced with a continued deluge of bad financial news, everything goes; our bailing out of investment banks is the finger in the dike holding back the tide of full-blown financial collapse.

What’s more amazing however is that not one so-called expert has seen that wave of financial disasters coming (subprime mess, securitizing of derivatives, collapse of investment houses). Where were the press and especially the Wall Street Journal which is both the financial standard and the pillar of conservatism in this country? Well, I guess, no one knows anything and the blind is guiding the blind as if today Bernanke were just a mere passenger of a jetliner and was asked to take over the piloting of the airplane in the absence of capable pilots; his main goal would be to avoid a disaster and to that end he’d be trying a bunch of switches and operations procedures hoping that one of them will keep the plane from crashing.

Like an airplane cockpit, our financial system has become so complex and so interrelated that it is impossible to find a sound emergency procedure; instead, it’s tempting to try “voodoo salvage operations”. Without question, Bernanke is faced with an impossible task but with only two levers that seem to respond; lower interest rates and making the dollar will even lower and be ready to print heaps of money. Of course, should he do nothing Wall Street will cry bloody murder... At the end of all this – assuming the economy makes it through it okay – we will all pay for that mess under the form of higher taxes, higher cost of living and economic slowdown. And it’s not just only us Americans, but the Europeans, Japanese and Chinese as well, if all of them want to keep on trading with us. At the all of the world (developed and developing) will pick up the tab for the policies Bush and Cheney triggered in the first place. Way to lead America!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

H2O and me

Water and I have always had a conflicting affiliation. At age 5, I almost drawn in a swollen small creek and was lucky to be saved by a clever little boy named Gérard Leiserson. Because of that, I never was a swimmer and have kept until today an innate fear of water. Likewise, I don’t like any sort of leak inside the house, water in the basement or dripping inside my living quarters from somewhere in the roof or anywhere for that matter. I find a true pleasure in drinking fresh water though; nothing beats it to quench my thirst and I'm also fond of seeing grass, plants and trees grow with the help of this magic liquid. I love rain in the summer and the fall too because then, nature and us are all dying to get the smallest droplet. Of course my greatest appreciation for water is when it turns into snow crystals, piles up deep and lets me plow through it with my skis. Snow is part of me and I can’t imagine my life without it. So you see, water and I have a true “love-hate” relationship, but I like it so.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The art of time

Time is a fascinating element. Rich or poor we’re all equal before it (we all get the same amount, right?) and the big difference lies in the way we work with it. Look at it from an artistic standpoint and visualize time as a block of marble into which we’ll sculpt our masterpiece. If we value what we’ve got, we need to get the best out of that lifeless piece of mineral as Michelangelo did when he created David. In many ways, time is a living material. Let it rest a bit and it will act as a fertilizer, letting great work, great ideas and endless creativity germinate. Place it in “compression” mode and it can become very resourceful and just allows you to see and do what’s crucial and key to your survival. Project it into the future and it becomes an invaluable planning tool or conversely, use it as a refrigerator, a filing cabinet or a museum and it will fill your memories at will. Therefore time is not a science, it’s not something we should “manage”, it’s not just a blend resource either, but its full potential is an art form. It should be nothing less than that. The keys to success with time is to work a lot with it, give it all the respect it deserves and let it progressively become the close friend and the ally you’d never be able to do anything without...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Two “locals” on a same podium

My skiing loyalty is split between America, where I now live and get my unfair share of great skiing, and France where I worked hard to learn the sport and try to master it. I love both countries from a ski standpoint and feel totally incapable of taking sides. I don’t follow alpine ski racing as fervently as I used to when I was a teenager, but still keeps tabs on who wins what. This past Friday, I was elated when Ted Ligety from Park City and Cyprien Richard from Morzine-Avoriaz shared the same podium at the Bormio World Cup Finals in Italy. For me, these two guys are “locals” even though one’s American and the other French, but both lives in places that used to be are now “home” for me. In addition to knowing their respective parents, these two athletes impress me equally for many different reasons. Ted Ligety’s competitive career got jump-started when he became the Combined Olympic Champion in Sestriere in 2006 and following that glowing season suffered a “low visibility” period until this past week when he not only won the last GS race of the season but also clinched the Giant Slalom World Cup Title for the year. Cyprien Richard has been at it for a longer time with his share of injuries and setbacks (multiple knee and arm surgery.) After finishing third of the Europa Cup GS last year, he earned a permanent spot on the French ski team competing on the World Cup and built up his skills both progressively and strategically, race after race, before taking third in that last world cup GS race of the season.
Way to go guys!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The case for a Greater Park City interconnect

In spite of a snow-record year, the Park City Chamber/Bureau is projecting lodging numbers to be down about 14 percent during the first two weeks of March compared to the previous year. While in the recent past, March used to be the biggest month of the winter season, it has now dropped to second place. This suggests that there might be lodging oversupply through the Mountain West, including the flurry of new Western Canadian resorts added in recent years. In a universe where all resorts look pretty much the same and quickly suffer from skiers and riders “fatigue,” this makes the entire market much more competitive and ends up spreading a quasi-stagnant volume on a fast growing number of resorts and beds, which explains that outside of the December Holiday Season, President’s Week and Spring Break, business becomes a bit thinner in and around Park City. Faced with that, what should our community do in order to maximize its capacity and increase revenue? Do what’s the easiest, and re-engineer its product by interconnecting our three mountains and instilling a new sense of adventure instead of just going up and down the same hills the old-fashioned way. With a reasonable investment (a few connecting lifts and a common ski-pass processing system) our town could easily be vaulted into the number one destination resort in North America, leaving Vail and Whistler-Blackcomb far behind, at a very safe distance, and this not just because we’d offer the largest skiable acreage, but also through a vastly superior ease of access, great terrain variety and significant options for future expansion (by adding Brighton, Solitude, Snowbird and Alta later on to the network). Our visitation would more than double and Utah could take a big chunk of market share away from its competition, guaranteeing a longer, busier and more profitable winter season for all, along with keeping real estate values up. Furthermore, there is no risk to the operation; it started almost half a century ago in Europe, has been thoroughly tested, and everywhere it’s been done, has been a screaming success!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Weak support

Over the past ten years two large residential subdivisions aimed at the five to fifteen million dollar home market have been built around Park City, generally on a steep terrain, using a low-cost technology for its network of private access roads, bridges and retaining walls. The system consists of a retaining wall system using steel wire mesh that – from a distance - is a reminder of chicken wire fence. From the very beginning, I have been skeptical about the longevity of such a construction and over the years have observed cave-ins and other deterioration of these walls through pressure from the rocks and breakage, bending or corrosion of the rusted wire mesh. A newspaper article I had recently read stated that these systems were guaranteed for some 75 years, which to me is not that long, but I doubt that they can even last that long. This is a typical illustration that “you get what you pay for” and after developing the site and selling the lots, the developer has lined up his pockets and doesn’t care anymore. However, if I were one of these rich homeowners, I’d be extremely worried that pretty soon I’d have to come up with a huge amount of money to cover the assessment needed the day – in a not so distant future – when the massive infrastructure will have to be entirely demolished and redone, using this time conventional and expensive construction methods!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What makes people lie?

Yesterday we went skiing with a fellow I’ve known over the years we’ve lived in Park City. As we rode the lifts he couldn’t stop telling us his life story. Among other happenings, he said he made a trip by boat from America to Europe in 1947 when he was a young boy. Later on that afternoon we casually exchanged our ages and after telling mine, he said that he was 58. I thought I misunderstood and asked him to repeat; he immediately confirmed it. A few ski runs later, as he was still explaining his saga on the chairlift, the sailing adventure to Europe resurfaced. Once more, I made sure that I had the date right, namely 1947; after he validated it, I told him that even tough I wasn’t a math major, the numbers didn’t quite add up. He couldn’t be 58, but more like 65 years of age; an awkward pause followed and he somehow managed to elegantly evade the topic. At that point, I had absolutely no reason to trust one bit of his entire afternoon narrative, including his college degrees and other exploits. I would have understood if that behavior had come from a kid or a lady, but not from a man like him, I just couldn’t believe it. Why are some grown men still acting like Pinocchio?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The new deadly sins

The Vatican recently updated its list of deadly sins. In the old days, those included lust, gluttony and greed. Now, the Catholic Church has added pollution, mind-damaging drugs and genetic experiments as well as excessive wealth to its “do-not-do” list. I applaud the move and hope it will bring much needed variety and creativity to the typical confession. However, the Pope and his team still omitted a big sin that should be the deadliest of all and I’m talking about corruption. Seriously, this evil is spread all over the world, feeds upon all the other deadly sins and is cause for countless ills. The illicit wealth behind that curse can be counted in trillion of dollars and its burden disproportionately falls on the bottom billion people living in extreme poverty. Governments are as guilty as individuals by closing their eyes on payments to officials to obtain the performance of acts they're legally required to do but may delay in the absence of handouts; that doesn't even count party or election financing that go on in most of the earth's nations. In numerous countries that we'll call "kleptocracies," bribery is the norm just because developing nations don't have the tax structure to pay civil servants adequate salaries. Most economists see it as evil because it creates non-productive, parasitic costs that add no value to the community. This subject is so far-reaching that it deserves a deeper discussion and for today, suffices to say that if the Vatican made corruption its top “deadly sin,” and governments enacted law with real teeth to deter it, we’d all live in a much better and more peaceful world.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A moment of bliss

Physical and mental work, athletic efforts, noise, stress, pain and fear are the backdrop of our daily lives. To counteract them, we try to sleep, relax, exercise, laugh and even meditate, and as we attempt to do that, we realize how hard it is to forget everything and to totally get - even for a short time - out of our chaotic daily lives. It is indeed hard to slow down and empty our mind. While meditation, when done right, is perhaps the best way, we can also practice sports we love as a mean of relaxation, like in my case running and skiing, but that never totally prevents worries, ideas and other thoughts to continuously pop up. Now, I have recently discovered a way to relax I had never experienced before, and this one has a lot to do with contemplation. We’ve all heard of these monks and nuns who seem to find bliss and nirvana through this practice. Well, I’m a step closer to understanding its full benefits after holding Finn - my new grandson - in my arms for close to one hour, thinking it was just ten minutes. All along, I was looking at that little baby and thinking about nothing. Just admiring him and losing myself into his face, his tiny movements, and his peaceful and tranquil demeanor. It was the closest I’ve ever felt from perfect happiness. Almost like being in love but without the pounding excitement; I had cut-off all links to the outside world as my entire self was fully absorbed in staring at this wonderful human being. This was a true moment of bliss.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Air-conditioned ski jacket

Would you run your car air conditioning at full blast on a frigid winter morning? I wouldn't think so! Last week, we went skiing at Park City Mountain Resort with Bob and Barbara Moore, our friends from Charleston, South Carolina. That day, the skies were overcast and the weather was arctic-cold. I was literally freezing and felt like an ice cube the entire day. When we broke for lunch at the mountain top restaurant, never in my life have I so appreciated returning indoors. At some point after we resumed skiing I thought that I would have a seizure and die on the spot. The following day, Evelyne and I were enjoying the Deer Valley slopes; the sun had returned and while the daytime temperatures were still below the freezing point, it almost felt balmy. While stopping at one of the lodges, I suddenly realized that the zippered vents located under my jacket arms had been wide open for the past few days, including that horrible, ice-cold one; unbeknownst to me, these openings were blasting stinging cold air all around my torso. It’s the second time this incident happens to me and when it does, it's just awful because it’s impossible to understand what’s really happening. Perhaps, it’s the onset of old age that makes me forget, but someone should find a device that rings, whistles or somehow gets in your face so you can see the situation and do something about it before taking off.
I’ll tell you, the more complicated things get, the more they create problems; if we leave it unchecked, progress will kill us all!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

My DalBello Krypton

For the past years, I was happily skiing in a pair of Lange boots; that was until I ruptured my Achilles’ tendon almost one year ago. It happened on an unusually warm day when I suddenly landed on a pile of rocks, and all came to a screeching halt. The upper cuff of my right boot collapsed onto the lower shell before the heel binding could release, severing my right tendon. As I started this new ski season, I decided to change boots and picked a pair of DalBello Krypton Pro. Unlike my previous two-piece shell, the Krypton is a three-piece design including a ribbed, pivoting tongue that was a key element in Raichle’s Flexon design. While the boot may not quite have the exacting heel purchase of a Lange, it offers many more advantages. For a high-performance product, it’s quite comfortable and I haven't experience any foot cramps when I first put it on, unlike Lange boots during their “break-in” period; I never have to open the buckles while riding the lift and skied 84,000 feet vertical in one day in total comfort and this says a whole lot. For one thing, it is both superbly supportive and precise, more so than my previous boots. It’s also much easier to get into and get out off, regardless of the outside temperature. Finally, when spring arrives, it’s much better than a Lange or any overlap boot design in keeping water out of the shell. All in all, my new ski boots constitute a real progress both in product design and performance. Way to go DalBello!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Snow sublimation?

As I was riding the chairlift the other day, I had a brief, but revealing conversation with another skier when I started to say that snow sublimation played a big role in its disappearance. Like most folks, she had no clue what snow sublimation was all about and after researching the subject, I realized that I was almost as ignorant about it. So what is there to know about snow sublimation? My understanding was that when conditions were met, namely when outside temperatures, exposition to sun (orientation), wind speed, relative humidity, latitude and altitude were taken into account, each component had an effect on the rate of snow sublimation. But first, what’s sublimation? It is a naturally occurring process in which solid ice and snow turn into vapor without passing through the usual liquid stage. My contention was that, when all conditions were favorable, more snow could disappear through sublimation than through ordinary melting. So far, however, I haven’t been able to find much substantiation to my claim and my point is mostly based on personal observation. I have read that when high altitude (10,000 feet) and low humidity are combined, up to 50% of snow ablation is attributed to sublimation, while under that altitude, traditional snowmelt generally dominates.
In the Alps, there’s a dry and warm wind called “foehn” that will speed up sublimation. I’ve seen that wind at work, and its influence on the snowpack can be devastating. So my question is this; is there someone who can give me some reliable numbers that could support my theories?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Art of the arc

I’m not a skier who loves to make short, skimpy turns. Instead, I love the long, sweeping kind that remind me of giant slalom; the types of directional changes that keep you on edge and capture your attention for a lasting moment. I’m talking about long radius turns that feel like they are endless, fast, generate some G-force, link seamlessly to each others and smoothly blend in the terrain and all its natural obstacles as they unfold; they’re not just bi-dimensional, they fully define a true volume. I find these complex arcs to be the apex of the entire skiing experience. In my opinion, all slalom-type, “wedeln” or any kind of short radius turns are an abortive form of skiing that don’t do justice to the full potential of a pair of skis and the individual that stands on them. Sure, they can be useful many times, but they’re just a mean to an end, and should never come to define how we ski. The long arc maximizes the slope expanse, invites suspense, uncertainty, velocity and lasting sensations to the party. From the get go, nothing is ever gained and in its best form it always is a cliff-hanger. The purely carved arc on groomed hard-packed snow barely qualifies; the main reason is that there's little edge adjustment required inside the curve. I prefer the long-radius turn executed on crud, cross-tracked and bumpy runs where not only the skis need to be permanently steered, but also where finding the right path adds to the art; in that instance, adjustment is constantly needed and requires the skier’s undivided concentration, both in terms of edge dosage, speed management and visual acuity to anticipate a path for the arc as it unfolds and links to the next one. The bottom line is that, if you ski with me, don’t except to see an excessive number of turns. After all - as I’ve said before - mine (and yours) are all numbered!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Moose on the loose

This past Wednesday, during our morning ran we were alerted by some neighbors that a couple of moose were roaming around in the neighborhood. Moose sighting are quite frequent in and around Park City, but it’s a bit rarer to see these huge animals right in the middle of a residential subdivision. The name “Moose” (Alces alces) is the North American name for that largest species in the deer family. They’re called Elk in Scandinavia and Russia, where their European habitat is located. On average, an adult moose stands 6 to 7 ft high at the shoulder. Males weigh up to over 1,100 pounds and females up to 800 pounds. Since I’ve been raised in Les Lindarets, an alpine village where goats were roaming free in the streets, I feel entitled to claiming some familiarity with these huge animals, but I should remain careful, especially when I’m facing a mother and her young, which was precisely the case. Evelyne usually tempers my enthusiasm and hold me back to a safe distance; If she hadn’t done that with some regularity ever since we’ve lived in Utah, I would have been trampled a few times already and crushed into "moose au chocolat"…

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The art of grandparenting

Before our grandson Finn was born we were feeling a certain anxiety, wondering how we would react when that little guy would appear in front of us. We were somehow looking for a version of “Grandparenting for dummies,” but after searching a bit, we found that out of a plethora of books in that series, this title wasn’t available; so much for that crutch! At any rate, when we first met Finn, we immediately fell under the spell of that tiny human being and he started to grow on us as soon as we laid our eyes on him and held him into our arms. We had simply forgotten that when we were built, we also were “bundled” with special grandparent software that lay dormant in a back corner of our brains or a strand of our DNA, just like the “parent” version that we used a quarter of a century ago and have since almost forgotten about. A few keystrokes and that was it, we opened up and installed the application in a matter of seconds. Finn’s face is now burned into our mind’s eye; we can recall it in an instant and could easily find him out of a thousand other babies. We’re just amazed how fast we’re catching up and won’t need “Grandparenting for dummies” after all, even tough I since discovered that there’s such a book as the “Complete Idiot's Guide to Grandparenting.” So there’s still hope, just in case we’re patented idiots and can’t figure how to carry out our new job!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Staying the course

When we set our eyes on a new, exciting course, we never seem to fully apprehend the consequences that the nasty bite of adversity may have on our best-laid-out plans. If in the process of working towards a goal we take enough slaps in the face and have to swim counter-current everyday, chances are that our best resolve will quickly weaken, show cracks in its armor and sometimes purely evaporate. Sure, taking some time off a key goal might give us a chance to restore our energies before we can get going again. But as much as we want to resume our efforts, the fear of getting constantly beat-up still resonates strongly and may make us steer away from re-entry. Then things clear up, we slowly start to raise our head, we don’t seem to fear much future pain anymore, it’s now time to get back to our endeavor…

Monday, March 3, 2008

Modern dynasties

It’s almost ironical how government controlled by families or close buddies is coming back into fashion these days. Years ago we had the kings and queens of England or France, the Emperors of Austria, China or Russia. Our ancestors experienced how bad and corrupt these were and eventually kicked them out of power. Today, we seem to have forgotten all of that and we’re replacing these despotic forms of government with family dynasties, starting with Bush, including our current president, his dad and perhaps down the line his brother Jebb. Soon, if we don’t watch, we might get Clinton II if we follow Argentina’s example of Nestor and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Eva and Juan Perón . I’m not even talking about the Castro brothers, Hosni grooming Gamal Mubarak or including Putin and his new surrogate Medvedev in that discussion. I don’t know about you, but I hate these seemingly hereditary or marital forms of governments. I think it’s a both a lousy and idiotic idea and I fault voters for not even seeing that and putting these nepotistic folks in power.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Bundle of joy…

Litterally! Yesterday was a great day for the entire family. At 10:35 am mountain time, Juliette was giving birth to Finn (this name of Irish, Gaelic and Old German origin, is said to mean "fair; from Finland"; in mythology, Finn MacCumhail was a third-century legendary Irish hero like Robin Hood.) Both the mother and her baby are doing well, and our little man weighs an impressive 7 pound 14 once and is 19 inches tall. His father Thomas finds him particularly cute and we wholeheartedly agree with him. Evelyne and I took turns holding this precious baby and didn’t want to give him back to his parents. Michèle, Philippe, Evelyne and I are really lucky to be Finn’s grandparents.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A full day

For my 60th birthday, I had promised myself a very special present, one that was both simple and affordable; ski 60,000 vertical feet in the course of one day. In the past, I’ve tried hard to outdo myself in that department; five years ago, I piled up 46,787 feet near Banff and two years later, I logged 50,625 at Park City Mountain Resort.
This was pretty close to my 60,000 goal and this time, with the support of my good friend Dirk Beal who is Director of Sales at Deer Valley Resort, I picked his place of work for breaking my personal record; I couldn’t have done it at the other Park City resorts during the course of a normal day. At Deer Valley, “Sultan Express” a new high-speed quad chair whisks you up 1,760 vertical feet in a mere 6 minutes and 45 seconds; besides, the slope is consistently steep and ideal for this kind of record. I had to wait until February 28 for all conditions to be perfect and, that morning, I loaded the first chair at 8:48 am; some 7 hours and 11 minutes later, I was done and had exceeded my goal!
There are plenty of things that can happen when you try to pack so much skiing into one single day; first, you hope that there won’t be any significant lift line, little skier traffic, few unexpected lift stoppages and no strong wind to slow the chairs down. You also need to save your energy, eat and drink while riding the chair and curtail bathroom stops. Finally, you absolutely must ski non-stop and as fast as you can without hitting other skiers or trees; this surely would spoil the day. That morning, all these great conditions were met, except perhaps for the skiers who, lured by the great weather, came out in sizable numbers. I stayed on “Perseverance” the one run that is the closest to the lift line and also happens to be the least crowded because it’s the steepest; the first third of that run consisted of bumpy crud while its remaining and largest section was perfectly groomed and allowed for maximum speed. Just before 2 pm, I had passed my 60,000 goal and decided to push on. I actually skied until the last main lifts stopped and by the time I stepped out of my boards, just before 4 pm, I had logged 84,490* vertical feet! That ought to be enough to take care of my vertical skiing record until I reach my 84th birthday, if I ever do it. After that, we’ll reconsider!

* For our European friends, compared to the Grands-Montets near Chamonix, France, that represents riding more than 12 times the two trams…