Saturday, May 31, 2008

To ski or not to ski?

That was precisely yesterday’s question, as I could have hit the slopes, but I wasn’t really motivated to drive almost one hour to Snowbird for two or three hours of spring skiing. In spite of cool and beautiful conditions, I procrastinated, went running at 8 am and after a leisurely breakfast, decided that I was done for the season. Peruvian express was no longer running and I didn’t want to have to ride the tram or stay on Little Cloud. All told, I had my Snowbird “fix” for the year. If May 16 stands as my last day, I will have skied 86 times and racked up more than 1.5 million vertical feet for the season; an absolute record since I’ve lived in Park City… Not to be outdone, at 4 pm this afternoon, I got my mountain bike out of the shed and went for my first ride of the year up in Round Valley. If the Shakespearian question was about skiing, mountain biking was the answer!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Addicted to running?

I started running around the end of July of 1977. At the time, I lived in Westchester County, New York. Quite stressed with a new job, I needed a physical outlet that would take me a minimum amount of time and that I could practice daily. I was then working at Beconta, a sporting goods distributor heavily involved in the ski industry, which among many, had a consultant by the name of Tom Leroy who was in the 1968 movie “Ski the outer limits.” Tom was a congenial fellow as well as a runner and he strongly encouraged me to make running a lifelong habit. I’ll always be very grateful to him, whatever he does and wherever he lives today. At any rate, I never would have thought that road running would become my favorite sport and would even take precedence over skiing. When I ruptured my Achilles’ tendon last year, I did suffer a lot more from not running for three and a half month than not being able to ski. One reason is that running is a highly addictive activity as it causes the body to release endorphins, a natural analgesic that produces a sense of elation that is very hard to do without; for instance, we run in the morning, but late afternoon we always feel a strong urge to go out for a long walk and we end up doing it. Another benefit of running is that it provides a personal time capsule giving an opportunity to think freely, be exposed to a stream of creative ideas and more receptive to a whole variety of sensations. There’s also the feeling of being very light and almost invincible, just like a bird. Finally, there’s the “health factor” which manifests itself in many ways, starting with good metabolism, a complete physical workout, and what I feel is protection against a lot of little pain, aches, ailments and even depression. Of course, hip, knees and ankles need to hold up under the physical stress, and they do if we make sure to keep the duration and the intensity of the exercise under strict control, extending that delightful dependence for another day...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

George is visiting Park City!

President Bush’s jet, Air Force One, touched down at Salt Lake City International Airport just before 3:00 p.m. Wednesday. Since he has nothing better to do, he came to Utah to “shake” the state's rich republicans to get some money for John McCain’s campaign. The first fund raiser was at a mansion in downtown Salt Lake where Obama signs were prominently displayed in yards and in car windows; the cost to attend was only $500. The evening fund raiser took place right here in Park City, and the $3,500 price tag reflected the higher altitude and attitudes. Now, if you factor the cost of the 747 flight, that of the C-5 cargo plane carrying all the armored limos, the presidential chopper to get him to Park City and back, not counting all the secret service folks and the fleet of army helicopters watching for Osama bin Laden and his herd of Afghan goats, the cost of moving George Bush around must have been in the $250,000 - $350,000 range (most of it paid by us, taxpayers), so let's hope the money collected did offset this “investment,” but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, and I’m not even mentioning any “carbon footprint!” At any rate, after spending what I hope was a quiet night with us, the president is visiting with Thomas Monson, the new president of the Mormon church to compare his “born-again” god to the Utah equivalent (which according to the LDS faith is far superior) and perhaps switch religion; this however is doubtful as over the years our commander-in-chief has proved to be very stubborn. But since Mr. Monson is also prophet, it could be that Mr. Bush just wants to know his horoscope for the week or get an indication as to when the barrel of oil will hit the $200 level. Whatever happens, that would have been a worthwhile trip for our small community. There were no tourists in town to scare off and any publicity is always good publicity!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Drowning in bark chips

Weeding has been Evelyne’s job and it has never been easy as she’s been trying to manage too many flower beds and some large dirt areas that had no protection whatsoever. Bark chip mulch is great around trees, shrubs, and perennials; it creates a favorable environment for earthworms and soil microorganisms and will also reduce the need for irrigation because mulching materials that mesh together are more effective at reducing water evaporation from the soil. So this year, we finally took the bull by the horns and decided to add bark chips to these high-maintenance areas. Our option was either to purchase bark chip by the bag or in bulk. Based on a 2 to 3 inch thickness, I quickly figured out that we might need as much as 5 cubic yards and immediately though big and called a company that would deliver the stuff. Since a large share of the cost was delivery, I upped the order to 7 cubic yards. I was a bit surprised when I saw a large dump truck pull into our house and back up near our garden with its awesome load. Well, I certainly saw big but we almost used it all up and everything looks great. This is one rare instance when bigger is indeed better!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Delayed snowmelt

In spite of an unprecedented 65-year record snow accumulation in town, there’s been a god watching upon this year’s run off, and so far, thanks to a disgustingly cold weather, all that snow has been very, very slow to disappear. Each morning our running route takes us alongside the McLeod Creek which at the moment is rather torrential, but can become quite tame and lazy the rest of the year. Several small, unspectacular bridges made with over-sized, cheap, corrugated pipe, channel the water at various road crossings along the way, and provide us with some good benchmark as to how high the water flow really is. Last Wednesday, it hit its peak with one of the three pipes filled to capacity under our street bridge. A visual clue to remember next time we reach what’s considered to be “flood level” in Park City!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Saturday morning skiing

Around ten days ago, I received a text message from Roger Burnoud, an old buddy of mine in France; he wanted to go skiing with him the following Saturday. Since I know that all lifts are now closed in Haute-Savoie, I assumed we’d have to “skin” our way to some mountain top. I went online to book a cheap airline ticket, almost got a heart attack when I saw the price but purchased it anyway. Since I didn’t want to have my friend Roger stuck in traffic around Geneva I also reserved a rental car, and as I don’t have any ski touring gear, I called up my little cousin Annette Braize to get it from the rental shop she works at. I left my home at 8 am on Thursday to get to Salt Lake airport and after transiting through New York, boarded my flight to Switzerland. We were delayed more than four hours and didn’t land till noon on Friday. By the time I fought traffic and arrived at Roger’s place in Montriond, it was close to 4 pm and already “aperitif” time… We drank quite a bit while Roger was fixing a giant fondue, went right to sleep, but I woke up at 2 am and could not get back to my dreams; at 6 am we were stuffing our gear into the car and headed for Avoriaz. Overcast and threatening, the weather was less than ideal; we almost “died” while we skinned to the top of the “Hauts-Forts,” scared the heck out of ourselves skiing down the fabled “Nant d’Ankerne,” had a “momi” on Morzine’s main plaza before we enjoyed a celebratory lunch. That night we just had pizza, a few more biers and went straight to bed. I slept okay but unfortunately had to be ready at 8 am on Sunday to drive back to the airport. In the three flights that took me home, I was like a zombie and struggled driving after midnight from the airport to Park City. Twenty-one hours in an airplane, ten hours of sleep, five climbing, four driving, and a thirteen minute descent, this was another “priceless” ski weekend!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dinner is served!

What usually is a “major headache” for most people started when we partially took down the first cabinets of our old kitchen on March 26 and followed by opening up a partition wall. The big “demo” job took place on April 5 and from that point forward it’s been a smoothly choreographed, non-stop process of drywall work, layers of paint, cabinet installation, multiple plumber and electrician visits as well as counter-top installation. On May 1, the electrician joined the final wires together and voilà! While we still missed a few pieces of wood trim, the kitchen was fully ready for operations. The cabinet detail work was finally completed on May 19. Overall, the job was done on time, within budget, without a costly divorce and most importantly to the chef’s full satisfaction!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Storm over Bill Marolt and the US Ski Team

Around the middle of May, Park City’s US Ski Team skier Bryon Friedman denounced in a blog that a large number of skiers don’t get funded by the team to compete, and contrasted that sad state of affair with the alleged fact that U.S. Ski Team’s CEO Bill Marolt makes one million dollar a year for managing a non-profit organization that can't afford to sufficiently fund its athletes. The posting has generated over one hundred comments, most of them highly supportive of Bryon, quite negative towards the ski team’s management and also underscoring the meager pay of coaches. After reading that material, and assuming that the numbers cited are true, I couldn’t help but wonder why would the board of directors allow such a disparity. When I examined the roaster of its active members, I concluded that a combination of carelessness, callousness and cowardice from that group might have allowed Marolt to get away with a disproportionate compensation for running USSA's and managing its less-than $40 million budget. There is no question that each board member should be confronted and given the chance to reflect upon the ways in which Bill Marolt’s compensation package was approved. That exercise is required to bring the ski team policies into perspective and – if needed - usher the needed reforms.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Oil prices; where's government?

In the past couple of days, oil executives have been grilled by congress about soaring oil prices; if this isn’t demagoguery, I wonder what is. Simply put, big oil can’t control supply and demand for fossil fuels and at best, our government should cut all subsidies still granted to these hugely profitable businesses, and that’s about it. The culprits are the administration and congress that should have seen the energy train wreck coming ever since the first oil shock of 1973. Instead of keeping highway speed limits set by Jimmy Carter, of raising CAFE standards instead of ignoring them, and adopting some aggressive conservation policies, nothing has been done and today the political class is suggesting rebates to “ease people's pain at the pump.” What must be done is just the opposite; namely, immediately levy a hefty tax on fuel and use its proceeds to fund a monumental effort of researching alternative energy sources and developing new conservation methods. That undertaking should at least be of a magnitude comparable to the race to put a man on the moon back in the sixties. This would mobilize the nation, tap into our country’s brightest minds and thrust us once again at the forefront of modern technology. It’s not too late to start; our politicians simply need to get off their butts and start thinking normally instead of solely responding to lobbyists and crawling before George Bush and Dick Cheney…

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Finally naturalized!

Yesterday was a cold and wintry day and was also Juliette’s turn to be sworn in to become a citizen of the United States; she was part of a group of 199 individuals from 50 nations who became new Americans in a ceremony held monthly at the U.S. District Court of Utah. It takes at least five year of permanent residence and endless paperwork and interviews before one can become a U.S. citizen. This process is not inexpensive; it’s now $675 and used to be just $60 when we were naturalized in 1990. All naturalization applicants must demonstrate good moral character, attachment, and favorable disposition toward their new country. Asian and European immigrants have the highest naturalization rates, while Mexican immigrants have one of the lowest. I don’t have the figures for last year, but in 2006, Mexicans made up the largest single block of naturalized citizens with 12 percent while immigrants from Asia represented 25 percent. That year, more than 700,000 permanent residents became US citizens. Juliette, just like the rest of her U.S. family has dual citizenship and this alone is a very complicated subject. This status has only been allowed in France since 1973; rules in that country are applied a bit differently from the U.S.; children born there to tourists or short term visitors do not acquire French citizenship by birth, residency must be proven. At any rate, let’s welcome Juju amongst the great American family and just in time for electing a new and – let’s hope – a much better president!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A matter of loyalty

I’m talking today the quality as it relates to friendship and business, not to a country, a belief, an ideology or to love ones. The subject is far too vast to address in its entirety! To some, loyalty is an ironclad condition. One must be loyal no matter what, with no exception, whether the conditions associated with the initial commitment are met or not. This definition scares me by its total lack of flexibility and may explain certain mass-movements like fascism or religion when those hinge around a powerful personality. There seems to be no room for critical thinking and for change whenever a reasonable need arises or when circumstances evolve. My view on the subject is both pragmatic and flexible; this means that as long as the parties act in good faith, some changes can be make to enhance or facilitate the relationship, why not modify the course if the goal remains present and if adding a small change makes sense for everyone… Often, the individual at the receiving end is expecting unconditional devotion and is the first to notice anything short of perfection. Do you agree with that? If not, what’s your view on the topic?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Endless return-trip...

As our weekend with Finn came to a close, we left Salt Lake City Sunday at about 5:45 pm hoping to be home just half-and-hour later. Instead of that, it took us more than three hour to get back to our house. First, our regular route was the scene of a police chase (which with little doubt could have been avoided) that ended up with one man killed and stopped traffic on I-80 for most of Sunday night. With that route closed, we decided to drive down to nearby Provo Canyon and reach Park City through that alternative route. When we got to the canyon’s entrance, it was close too with police cars blocking the access. We learned later that a woman and four children that cut off right in front of a pick-up truck had her car basically sliced in half, killing two of the kids and sending the other two to a nearby hospital. What that terrible accident related to the first one? Perhaps, just on account of all the extra traffic redirected to that area. We then had no other recourse but going back up opposite side of the valley towards Ogden and catch I-84 to return home via that “back way.” When all was said and done, we traveled 170 miles instead of just 27 and it took us 3 hours and 15 minutes instead of only 35 minutes. After all this road carnage, we were exhausted but counted ourselves lucky to have made it home unscathed…

Monday, May 19, 2008

We’ll get back to you…

…or not! Last July, I wrote a letter to my hometown’s city hall, in Montriond, France regarding a plot of land that I wanted to sell to the municipality. Having received no response over a ten-month period of time, I picked up the phone a few days ago and asked what had happened to my correspondence. The administrative assistant who took my call said that my letter had indeed been received, was submitted to the City Council, but that no decision had been made and no action had been taken since everyone was waiting for the opinion of some higher-up in the French administration. Wouldn’t it have great to have been informed of that delay and had known that the request had not fallen into some medieval dungeon? You bet, but too many times no one follows up and things fall through the cracks. Roger Lanvers, the former mayor probably forgot to get back to me, but I’m now hopeful that Georges Lagrange, his successor, will do a much better job in following up. Nothing beats hope, right?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

France’s May 68

France seems to have a real fixation on the student riots of May 1968. In a year that marks the 40th anniversary of these events, these mass protests are still seen as a defining moment in modern history by most French and particularly by their baby-boomers generation. Even though I happen to be one of these, I don’t share that nostalgia. You see, I was performing my mandatory 16-month military service in the midst of these massive demonstrations and we were grounded on the air force base for the entire time the unrest lasted, so we had very little sympathy towards the punks that were throwing rocks, cocktails Molotov and erecting barricades. For some reasons, the French are very fond of “anything-revolution” and to this date, still love to get in the street to shout, demonstrate or destroy property. Since the French Revolution and through modern times, it’s as if there’s always a nucleus of agitators that stand on the sidelines waiting to jump in and act at the least sign of public dissatisfaction to create havoc. In my view, this spring of unrest was just the culmination – not the catalyst – of social changes that had started to appear at the beginning of the decade. No, May 1968 hasn't done for me; if there were events that influenced my life, they were the French ski team world’s domination during the second half of the sixties, my professional experience in the ski industry, the advent of the personal computer and that of the internet. So when all is said and done, this 1968 milestone sounds pretty hollow to me and I don’t find much in it to reminisce or celebrate.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Long weekend with Finn

These four days have given us a chance to get much closer and personal with our grandson Finn. In so doing, we realized how full-time an occupation taking care of a little baby like him can be; this is a non-stop, 24/7 enterprise that leaves absolutely no time to the dedicated care-giver. The last time we went through this was a full quarter of a century ago and it’s amazing how fast we can forget the intensity of the commitment involved. The other side of that coin is the joy that pours out of the experience and that is much more than commensurate with all the work involved!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Do I look THAT old?

From Thursday through Sunday, we're watching Finn at Thomas and Juliette’s home near Salt Lake City. Since today was another superb day, I escaped to go skiing in Snowbird, 15 miles up into the mountains. When I got to the ticket booth, I asked for a “senior citizen” pass; the attendant replied: “Do you want the one over 65 or over 70?” When I heard that, I was shocked and embarrassed. In fact, I was so annoyed to he mistaken for such and old “geezer” that I answered: “the one over 65 will do for today” and in so doing passed the extra $19 saving that came with the older age category; something in me didn’t want to jinx my longevity by taking an unfair advantage of my appearance. I guess that looking sixty-five is good enough for the moment; let’s save seventy for some other day…

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My take on “Storm over Everest”

On Tuesday night, PBS Frontline showed “Storm over Everest” the account of the May 1996 killer storm on Everest by David Beashears. What makes that film exceptional is that it’s presented from the view point of its key surviving actors. I had previously read Jon Krakauer’s book relating that tragedy and still think that the money and ego involved with these commercial expeditions fueled their regrettable outcome. There is no question that disorganization, lack of contingency plans, let alone lack of a general game plan including some form of “code of conduct” led to the chaos apparent in both the book and the documentary. My take is that extreme altitude climbing can be very dangerous and that with little or no margin of safety, especially when the weather turns for the worst, this is no place for commercial expeditions. The companies and the guides leading them should know better and avoid putting ego-driven - but often poorly prepared - individuals at risk. Oh yes, I almost forgot; Beck Weathers stands out as the story’s real hero!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rich therefore smart?

Over the past fifteen years I have discovered that for many folks, there’s often a clear correlation between personal wealth and a sense of self-importance. What I’m trying to say is that I have found that financially successful people tend to think that their success is directly attributable to their own perceived level of intelligence. This is a prevailing belief in high-stress circles like real estate sales and development, where big amounts can be easily earned by just being at the right place, at the right time. The same applies to the financial industry and to speculation in general. The easier money is made, the more likely people are to think that they have some unique, magic powers. I happen to think that timing and good luck are the unsung heroes of many of these instant successes, and another key observation is that what has worked for someone yesterday might not necessarily repeat itself in the future. These facts beg a few logical and useful alternative strategies: We’re often better off staying low-key, being modest and cultivating a sense of self-derision; this generally is a good approach to managing expectations. The main benefit is that there are no needs to pretend and get all worked up by playing games; what’s required instead, is to quietly stay under the “radar screen,” scoop-up success when it’s there for the taking and scoff at failure when it occasionally makes its round!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Recognizing limitations

It’s a wonderful feeling to acknowledge how good we are, but it’s another story to recognize our own limitations; yet, few of us can do it all and it’s always hard to accept, especially if you’re male. That situation happened to me a week or so ago when I was trying to play “electrician” and put a finishing touch to our new kitchen by installing under-counter Xenon lamps and attempting to re-route the phone line for that room. I was getting a bit frustrated because the electrician was just… one day late! I went to get some tools and supplies and proceeded with the installation. Attaching the lamp housings was relatively easy, but when I starting to hard-wire each fixture using pigtails, I kept on cutting my hands and fingers as I couldn’t help but hit the dangerously sharp steel edges of the housing (without bend borders, it's much cheaper to produce, and of course this is made in China!) As I was lying on my back, laboring and cursing, the electrician showed up and without hesitating one second I gave him my spot and gladly let him finish the job. As for re-routing the phone line, this expert said that it was too much work and talked me into leaving it as it was. The man didn’t do anything extraordinary in finishing what I had started, but I sure was relieved that he finally showed up!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Rocky Mountain “panty-tree”

With one inch of new snow this morning in Park City, it might be timely to revisit the subject of arboriculture in our snowy mountains. After recently discussing the “boot-tree,” today will be devoted to the study of the “panty-tree” which scientific name is “subligaculum arboreus” and is sometimes known as “pantybratree.” Except for certain sightings down under, in New Zealand, that tree seems to be native from, and only found in North America. The first tree of this kind appeared in the 1950’s, in Aspen, Colorado, somewhere under the Bell chair. At the moment, biologists found that it would develop when a tourist lady was conquered by some local male and her panties were grafted as trophy onto that tree. These trees that can either be deciduous or evergreen, have since that time multiplied at most American and even Canadian ski resorts, with bras as well as Mardi-Gras beads joining panties as "fruits." The most famous can be seen on chair 5 in Vail; of course, Park City has its own, half way up Pioneer chair on the right. Over the years and at various resorts, some trees have been chopped down in an effort to protect “family values” but have never failed to re-grow a few yards farther. Like the infamous Park City boot-tree, a typical panty-tree bears its fruits year-round but is not stressed by excessive weight; as a result, it seems to have been blessed and fully accepted by the ecologist community.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother’s Day!

In the majority of countries (including Canada, the United States and Switzerland) Mother’s Day is celebrated the second Sunday of May. Some claim that this day originates from an ancient Greek custom, which held a festival to Cybele, a great mother of Greek gods. This event was held around the Vernal Equinox and eventually in Rome itself around the Ides of March (from the 15th to the 18th of that month.) The Romans also held Matronalia, a celebration dedicated to Juno, and all mothers were usually given gifts on that day. So regardless of the true origin or the date, let’s take the time to pay tribute to the most important person in everyone’s life and recognize her for all the love, time, labor and attention she’s been devoting to make us the way we are today. Nothing commercial, but a heartfelt “thank you!"

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Park City’s own boot tree

Yes, our little city has had a “boot tree” for quite a long time*; it’s located between Deer Valley Drive and Poison Creek, just below the entrance to the Marriott’s Summit Watch. I’m not talking about the traditional shoe-tree used to keep our footwear in shape, or even the Allsop plastic ski boot racks that you may have seen inside rental ski shops, but of a real tree that “grows” shoes, sneakers, tongs après-ski, ski and snowboard boots among other footwear. I believe the botanic name for that particular tree is “calceus arboreus,” but don’t take my word for it as I only learned enough Latin to perform my altar boy duties half-a-century ago. Unlike apple and pear trees, that particular one bears its fruits all year long and, based on scent, some of them appear to be quite ripe and ready to be picked. This year-round commitment to bearing soled fruits represents a lot of stress on the limbs and trunk and I’m surprised that, as of today, environmentalists haven’t cried foul and haven’t initiated a community-wide effort to harvest all these fruits of various sizes and colors. What makes me feel better is that if in the unlikely event a tornado hits Park City, even uprooted, the tree might be able to put its many shoes to good use and comfortably walk back home…

* Shoes appeared on this tree way back in the 1940's when the old High School was still on Marsac Avenue. When kids graduated, they’d tie their old gym shoes together and toss them over a tree limb. It would only be a matter of time until skiers disposed of old ski boots in the same manner...

Friday, May 9, 2008

The French and the internet

I have a large number and friends of relative who live in France and ever since the internet arrived on the scene in a big way, some 12 years ago, I was hoping that it would become an invaluable tool in keeping me closely connected to all the people that I like who live not just in France, but outside of my Park City home. There’s no question that I’ve always been attracted to new technologies and am truly an “early adopter.” We’ve enjoyed broadband internet and wireless home network for almost a decade and the internet is the first home appliance we use in the morning, even before brewing our first cup of coffee. The “net” has become the many newspapers we read, our weather forecast, our encyclopedia, our message center and a treasured source of information that we use and cherish daily. If we had to choose between TV and Internet, Evelyne and I would jump on the latter without hesitation. Now let’s bring France and even Europe into the internet picture and along with it, my friends and relatives; granted, many of these folks aren’t twenty anymore and I can appreciate how hard it can be to adjust to new technologies, but when I ask them “do you have internet access?” they all answer affirmatively but never seem to ever use it. In most cases, I send them a message and receive no answer whatsoever. If I’m lucky I might get a response within ten days or two weeks. Then I wonder; do these guys really have on-line access? Oh yes, I always hear, “our internet isn’t working, it’s being fixed by some techie…” or “that’s my wife’s deal…” Do they even know how to use the system? Are they afraid to use a keyboard and type up a response? Are they still nostalgic of their beloved Minitel? I don’t know; I’m puzzled, frustrated and disappointed, but one thing is certain; the internet loves instant response and treats old stuff like a three-day old dead fish that hasn’t been refrigerated. Wake up to society-changing communication technology, France!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Zurich bartenders & American lemons

During the summer of 1993, while working for Pre skis, I was traveling in Europe with Kip Pitou and we were making a short stop at Zurich airport while waiting for a flight to Sofia, Bulgaria. We had a drink at the bar and the waitress was a Spanish gal by the name of Vega; anyway, that's what her name tag said. If you lived in America in the 70s and 80s, it’s hard not to relate the name “Vega” to a terrible sub-compact car made by GM and sold by Chevrolet. This automobile was a dud and was symptomatic of what was to become the beginning of the end for the American auto industry. A few moments later, our hostess Vega was suddenly joined by what sounded and looked like a male countryman and colleague. When I looked at his name tag, I couldn’t believe the uncanny coincidence when it read Pinto. Okay, “Pinto” was just the equivalent of the “Vega” sold by Ford and was in all points as flawed as its Chevrolet counterpart. Thank god, no other dwarf employee or bartender called “Gremlin” ever showed up at that point; I would have had to order a triple-martini and drink it on the spot. Now you know what a Swiss airport bar and two American “lemons” have in common…

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Speed of snow melt

Do you know how fast old snow can melt? Hard to tell if you don’t have reliable stats on hand or have not measured it; after wondering about it myself, I started keeping tabs on the rate of snow melt around the middle of April and my findings are beginning to come together. I simply planted a stake in the pile of snow that’s lingering in our backyard, and have kept track of its daily melt. While I believe that it may take until May 20 for the last bit of snow to disappear, the preliminary results show that the process is pretty linear in spite of temperature and weather variations, and not as significant as I would have thought. During the time I’ve been measuring it, snow has melted on average 1.8 inch per day. According to scientists, the rate of snow melt is dependent on the energy available, mostly in the form of radiations. Simply put, warming causes the snow pack to melt - something we’d all figured out! Daily snow melt in shaded areas (like a north slope, under a forest, behind a house or a structure) is considerably less than in open areas where the snow is exposed to solar radiations and wind. Dirt particles in the snow will also accelerate the process and so will rain, but intense sunshine during late spring and summer remains the principal melting energy source. Now that you know everything about snow melt, it’s time to enjoy spring!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Value in being sixty-something

Few people want to act their age; the young want to look older, and the old refuse to be seen as ancient as they really are. Contrarian, I'm willing to go against that trend by emphasizing my seniority. For instance, I’m proud to be a sexagenarian and embracing that threshold; Last month as I was purchasing a day ticket to ski in Snowbasin, I noticed – after I had signed the credit card receipt – that the resort offered a better deal for so-called “seniors,” namely folks over sixty-five. Wheels started to turn into my mind and when I last skied in Snowbird I made sure to take off my cap to show my balding head and its few remaining white hair before I ordered their “senior” day ticket; I got it and save myself ten dollars in the process. A few hours later, I was riding the chair with a fellow who must have been close to eighty and who boasted that he had paid another nineteen dollars less than me for his “over 70” lift ticket. Now, that’s another step to look forward to…

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mike Beltracchi’s latest film

My friend Mike Betracchi from Vail sent us one of his latest movies and admonished every person he sent it to that, if we didn’t want “to quit our job and move to Aspen after watching it, we were not [real] skiers!” That statement sounded provocative enough for me to drop everything and wait patiently for the flick to download onto my computer. I must say that the film was technically very well done and that Mike has made some undeniable progress in his production technique. The sound track however could be improved and made a bit more contemporary, but both dialogs and editing were good. The next step for all of us is to get Mike a compelling script so he can jump into producing a full-length feature, perhaps one about the disappearing ski-bum, or something along these lines. Now, after seeing this video will I quit my daily job? No, because I don’t have one. Will I move to Aspen? Not at all, because I couldn’t afford it and I happen to live in Park City, a pretty good place that hasn’t much to envy to Colorado when it comes to snow and terrain!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Skiing is "mind over matter"

This past Friday was yet another ski day for me in nearby Snowbird. I had not skied that place since 2006, as my Achilles’ tendon rupture didn’t let me sample my favorite Utah’s ski resort last season. It was quite cold in the morning and to top it off, the “Bird” had received 17 inch of snow the day before. I started to ski at 10 am and I just did one tram and one Mineral Basin’s side just to experience the new access tunnel. I ended up running laps on the new Peruvian Express Chair which offer 2,572 vertical feet of varied terrain. The snow stayed pretty good for most of the day and this led another uninterrupted series of runs, with lunch time on the chair and only one "pit-stop" behind a large fir tree. I only used a relatively small portion of groomed runs but all of the steep skiing took place on crud which at first was powdery and turned heavy around noon. I discovered was that if I stayed as “tall” as I could and perfectly centered on my skis, my turns were steady and secure, and this in spite of thighs that started to become painful and burn around the 40,000 vertical mark. I remained steady and kept going, realizing that it truly was a case of “mind over matter.” At 4:16 pm I was back at my car and hardly could believe that I had skied over 60,000 vertical feet on the second day of May!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Breakfast at the White House (continued…)

One hour after Steve had left, Ursula was asked to go in for her interview; smart as always, I figured the exercise would take me one hour or so and when I’d be done, it would be time for lunch. I tried to read a book I had picked up at the Salt Lake airport, but couldn’t really get into it. That Justin was still watching me and thinking all kinds of stuff I didn’t like. After waiting for 45 minutes, I heard a commotion in the hall and a conversation buzz coming from Justin’s earpiece. When I looked at him, he simply said that “the German gal didn’t feel well…” That’s when an older lady came in and asked me to follow her. She did take me through a bunch of corridors and we ended up in some kind of a “prep” kitchen, not into the oval office, as I thought I was supposed to have my meeting. In that small room stood President Bush, Alberto Gonzales, Condi Rice and what seemed like a bunch of technicians; all of them wearing white garb. When he saw me entering the room, Bush exclaimed: “Welcome to our last test-case for the morning!” A female technician named Abby explained briefly that our former Attorney General upon returning to civilian life had started a new company aimed - as she put it - at: “Redirecting paradigms and improving the way people think.” Without wasting much time and letting me a chance to say anything, they sat me on a recycled dentist chair, strapped me in, put me some sort of “Abu Ghraib” hat, plugged me in, and turned on the switch. I experienced a formidable jolt, was blinding by a sudden flash of light and for a very short moment saw Dick Cheney dancing with the devil. I must have passed out, because when I came back, George Bush was staring at me and asking me how I felt. Without hesitating, I exclaimed: “I guess I’d say like you Mr. President; mission accomplished!” and went on to explain that “I had now completely forgotten how bad the war in Iraq was” and I started to see that: “any smoking gun left unattended could turn into a mushroom cloud.” This latter comment brought an enormous smile on Mr. Bushes’ face and he told Condi, “I guess we’ve cured that one!” I felt a bit tired, but relieved that I had made it through and thought it was time to bid farewell to my hosts. As a parting comment, I simply said to George W.: “Just don’t go nukular on us!”

Friday, May 2, 2008

Breakfast at the White House

A few weeks ago, I was summoned to fly to Washington for a breakfast with… President Bush! To say that I was shocked would have been an understatement; I wouldn’t have expected it considering my total lack of affection and esteem for our country’s leader; at any rate, the way the notice was worded left me little choice, but get ready and travel to our capital on the day I had to. After spending the night at a boutique hotel in the outskirts of Washington, D.C., I was picked up at 7:30 am and driven to the White House. I had never been to the place and definitely felt underdressed, with just a blazer, a pair of khaki slacks and an open-collar blue shirt on. After first going through security, I was ushered into a small dining room where a breakfast table was set and George W. Bush looked at me and smiled nervously, sitting at the end of the table, along with two fellows that looked like secret service agents along with a young man and a young woman, both much better dressed than I was, with brand new suits, tie, and matching accessories. Sure, I had read the protocol briefing paperwork that came with the original notice and the extra one that was handed to me during the ride from the hotel, but I must confess that I was both impressed and confused and didn’t remember much what to do or say. I believe I muttered something like “good morning, Mr. President” and the man immediately tried to put me at ease by a “Welcome to Washington, Mr. Go Eleven!” and immediately proceeded to introduce the folks around the table. The two stern-looking men, were actually NSA agents; one was named Randy and the other Justin. The other two individuals were simply “guests” like me; one was Steve K. of Korean-American descent and the other was Ursula M. whose parents had emigrated from Germany just before she was born. Without waiting a minute Mr. Bush told us to look up the menu so we could get ready with our breakfast order and after some lame small talk, told the three of us, that through NSA’s active overseas phone surveillance, they had found that we were a bit too vocal in criticizing the current Administration, had to simply to let us know that we were grossly misinformed on the issues we talked about, and wanted us to somehow “change” our opinions and become more “open” in the ways we judged his government. He also went into the details of our – as he put it – “offensive positions” like the environment for Steve (painting him as an ‘eco-terrorist,') activist right-to-choose for Ursula and “Iraq peacenik” for Go 11. Notwithstanding that announcement, he suggested that we enjoyed our meal and asked us questions about our families, pets and favorite sports teams. When the breakfast was over, I was told that both Steve and Ursula would precede me in their one-on-one interviewed with the President. While it was Steve’s turn to go into the Oval Office, I chatted with Ursula as Justin, the NSA man who had stayed with us was silently but intensely listening in…
(To be continued…)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Super-sized barbecue

Have you noticed how barbecues are putting on some serious weight these days? We bought our current grill five years ago and it looked average then; it's always worked well for us and except on very rare occasions, we’ve only used half of its cooking capacity. Today, it's become tiny, dwarfed by all the giants, stainless steel cooking centers displayed at most home improvement stores. I guess, they simply make them bigger after realizing that just like the volume of the house, the height and length of the SUV, the amount of credit card debt and the size of the owner’s pants, a huge barbecue is what gives a fair measure of an individual’s status in life. So the bigger, the more powerful, the most features, the better! Soon, they’ll have to increase the size of hot dogs and hamburger patties so people still manage to see them on the expansive cooking surface, and what have now become tiny pieces of meat won’t risk falling through the giant grates. Better than the stimulus package checks we’ve all paid for and are supposed to receive in the mail any day now, fabricating bigger burgers, larger chicken and enlarged pigs to fit our giant barbecues could certainly boost the economy and along with it, the already bulging waistline of the nation. Well, I should know better; things always happen for a reason…