Saturday, January 31, 2009

Wall Street is the problem!

If we’ve been paying any attention, the current financial crisis provides all of us with a daily dose of education. We learn a little more as time goes by, as the situation keeps on deteriorating, and as we go along we seem to discover how ugly things really are. We know that our crisis was triggered by an out-of-control real estate market in which everything went while both the financial institutions and our politicians looked the other way. For the former, it was a great way to amass huge heaps of money and for the elected officials it was a welcome distraction from a needless as well as costly war in Irak and an economy that kept on shipping jobs abroad. Politicians and financiers were joined at the hip and it’s no surprise that when banks started to cry, Congress obliged with a generous, no-strings-attached, bailout. Today, Wall Street and the banks could care less about a high rate of unemployment or jobs going offshore. When Microsoft or Kodak lay off workers their stock goes up. People’s suffering is merely a tiny blip on Wall Street’s radar screen. Our financial community is absolutely not looking for the long-term good of the nation, but rather for the shorter long-term, the kind of future that just let peek far enough to engineer trades that are profitable for its members. I have written before that our economy will have to change in a dramatic way, but Wall Street doesn’t want to re-invent itself. It’s only capable to stick with the old Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down business theory that only worked to line up the pockets of our finance community and have failed to work for the rest of us for the last three decades. After we’ve learned about the $18 billion bonuses paid last year and that we face another three to four trillion financial black hole that we may have to fill, doesn’t all that make you all depressed? Oh yes, it's not official yet, but we probably have entered a new depression...

Friday, January 30, 2009

Dynastar saga (Part 3)

The aging RG10 was replaced in 68-69 by the S430, and what’s notable is that the model name was the factory’s phone number (430 in Sallanches; automatic dialing had not yet reached Haute-Savoie). Later on, it was paired up with a new giant slalom counterpart replacing the MV2, that kept up with current available technology but retained the omega rib core. The early seventies saw Dynastar’s successful introduction of the Omeglass, a lightweight slalom ski, using a fiberglass “omega” rib that had become the company’s technical DNA and used acrylic foam as partial filler. Light skis would be an area where the brand would somehow create a niche for itself, even though many argued that extreme lightness wasn’t always a desirable attribute in an alpine ski; this feature was probably more appropriate with the “Altiplume,” a lightweight mountaineering ski. This time also ushered a long period during which Dynastar slid from meaningful technical innovation into what could be called “marketing gimmicks.” The highly successful Omesoft model would follow in 78-79 and popularize the concept of “soft, easy skis” with a massive tip protector billed as vibration-reducing device that would pave the way for Dynastar’s introduction in 1984 of its “Contact System,” a protruding red heart-shaped stabilizer placed on the ski tip to counter Rossignol VAS system. This would be compared to the Jarvik 7 artificial heart by those who mocked the contraption; the “Airflow” (an elaborate hole surrounded by a molded insert in the ski tip supposed to “stabilize” the ski at high speeds) would follow and confirm Dynastar’s penchant for questionable features. The “Assymetric” concept, that would give users two pairs of skis for the price of one by simply switching skis from right to left, followed and it became clear that desperate quest for differentiation was clearly fueled by a heightened competition between Rossignol and Dynastar. The later didn’t want to play second fiddle to the first and lose its separate leadership, R&D funding, distribution and ultimately, its independence. Since its foundation, Dynastar managed to move its annual production from less than 10,000 pairs to more than 400,000 pairs in 2003 before falling today to around 200,000 pairs. It remains debatable whether this sibling rivalry and duplication of expenditures between Dynastar and Rossignol had been beneficial for the whole group as opposed to a consolidation that would have shared development, manufacturing, racing programs and distribution costs and also forced early a differentiated positioning of two brands on all world markets, move that would only be initiated to a limited extend just a few years ago after the entire ski market began to collapse. As the cards may soon be re-distributed, it remains to be seen which position, if any, the brand with the moustache will be able to fill; will it remain a “Legend” as its current flagship model or will it be history? If you’ve followed that story and have any opinions or details of interest, please send me your comments!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dynastar story (Part 2)

When I finally outgrew my blue “Duret Contreplaqués,” I broke my piggy-bank and purchased my first pair of Dynastar Compound RG5 in 1965 on a pro-form, picked the skis up at the factory and mounted them with a single pivot Salomon toe and a Look turntable, which probably wasn’t a very safe combination, but try to tell any seventeen year old boy about safety! I loved the skis; they held on ice like no others, were slick, fast and their only downside was that the tip was a bit too shallow and would make bump skiing a bit hazardous as it would too easily engage into a sudden change of terrain… That same year, Les Ressorts du Nord, a steel maker, purchased the fledging brand and in addition to Marielle Goitschel signed up top level racers like Guy Périllat, both competing as amateurs, and Olympic Champion François Bonlieu who competed on the early U.S. Pro Tour. This is precisely when another ski company, Aluflex, also based in Sallanches, jumped indirectly into the picture. The company, founded in 1954 by Charles Dieupart, built one of the first metal skis using an aluminum sandwich construction (flat bottom sheet and “omega” shaped top enclosing a wood core. That new ski design was endorsed by that time’s previously famous French champions like Émile Allais and James Couttet. Aluflex was also the official supplier to the “Chasseurs Alpins” (French Army’s mountain division.) Since Périllat was racing in both technical and speed events, Dynastar only had a slalom ski and now needed a ski for downhill and giant slalom. Jeannot Liard, their legendary race chief, received some propitious inspiration from the Aluflex design, his previous employer, borrowed its overall design,capped a top aluminum sheet over the “omega” rib, completed it with phenol sidewalls and the MV2 was born (the name was a take on the physics formula multiplying an object’s mass by the square of its velocity.) At the same time, the fiberglass slalom ski was revamped and renamed Compound RG10 while it received a dark blue cosmetic extending to its sidewall. That summer of 1966, the French ski team’s domination of the World Championships in Portillo sealed the notoriety of the brand and its future was further secured when Rossignol purchased the company one year later from Les Ressorts du Nord.
(to be continued…)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dynastar's History

At a time when Dynastar is fighting for its life, I fondly remember how important that brand has been in my earlier ski years and I wanted to write its history, which by the way is available nowhere and is probably ignored by Dynastar’s current management. Like its famous “moustache” logo introduced in 1966, borrowed from the coat of arms of Sallanches, France, where it’s been located since 1963, and that represents the meeting point of two small local streams, the brand had been a product of confluences between other brands, technical ideas and various ownerships. I noticed the first pair of skis related to Dynastar in 1963 in the window of Alson Sports in Morzine, France. It was then branded “Starflex” and the model name was “Compound RG5,” the top was black phenol with clear resin sidewalls showing the fiberglass weaving. The product was made by a company called “Les Plastiques Synthétiques.” These, aside from the “Fiberglass Jean Vuarnet” by Rossignol, were the first non-traditional wood or metal skis that I had ever seen. At the same time, Dynamic skis, which only made wood skis turned to Les Plastiques Synthétiques to design and develop its first torsion-box fiberglass ski for the 1964 Olympic Winter Games and the product that came out of that collaboration was no other than the now famous Dynamic VR7. For those sticklers with details, the “RG5” moniker meant “resin-glass, five years of development” while “VR7” almost meant the same in French with “verre-résine,” but this time the development time had somehow been bumped to seven years… What’s more astonishing is that the Sallanches manufacturer wanted to create a legacy out of its collaborative work with Dynamic by subsequently changing its name from Starflex to Dynastar, a contraction between Dynamic and Starflex; it even stuck with the same lettering style, which goes a long way to say that Dynamic’s trademark attorney was probably asleep at the switch! Sallanches must have been a hotbed of creativity when it came to naming products (more on that later...) Claude Joseph, the French distributor of Marker bindings, who at some point had his fingers into Starflex, named his line of ski poles Kerma, just by turning the Mar-ker name around!
(to be continued…)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Superior leadership

Being an effective leader is never as easy as it appears. Just like being a manager, it’s all about making people work together towards accomplishing a goal and very few men or women called to carry-out that mission have either the talent, the touch, the intelligence and the drive to make it all gel. I’m writing this piece with Obama’s in mind, but I think that my observations can apply to any domain and any walk of life. Making individuals who can’t agree on anything work on legislation, on compromises and on creating something much bigger than them, demands from a leader an incredible amount of knowledge, patience, hard work and creativity at pulling all the strings that may be available. Is this a bit like the seemingly impossible task of “herding cats?” Quite probably, but this is where the reviled term of “manipulation” can be used for its best purpose. The superior leader is strong enough to stay humble, is able to lay low when it’s the most desirable course of action and is trained to distribute compliments, praise and credit liberally. This is the ultimate band leader; except that he doesn’t necessary stand front and center to assume the role of prima Donna. The superior leader senses the chemistry that emanates from his team and his organization; he always makes sure he can use it synergistically to attain his goals and fulfill his agenda. He never has to “butt head” with others, but see beyond differences of opinion and always look for that bit of common ground from where bridges can be anchored. He always have in his own mind’s eye a constantly unfolding plan that span over a long time frame and leverage every single moment, every talent and all the available energy to fulfill it. Does that view agree with your own concept of leadership?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Figuring out Rossignol’s crisis

Following Dynastar’s announcement that it would implement some massive lay-offs, Rossignol stated on January 20 that it would extend its work stoppage to 1,600 employees of its entire group, including the Look binding factory in Nevers, the Artès ski production in Spain, the ski boots facilities of Montebelluna in Italy as well as two logistical sites in France. The company-wide layoffs are planned to last from February 3 to March 31, 2009. The group that was acquired by Macquarie on November 12, 2008, has lost 50 millions Euros on sales of 270 millions during its latest 2007-2008 fiscal year under Quiksilver’s watch. During that year, Rossignol and Dynastar produced 800,000 pairs and are left today with 290,000 unsold pairs. For this new fiscal year, the group is said to have scaled down its ski production forecast to just 650,000 pair, a far cry from the million pair level claimed only a decade ago. With these sobering numbers and a growing challenge to breakeven and survive, it seems pretty clear that the new Rossignol Group’s owner will have no other option but consolidate and move production to places where costs are significantly lower than Europe where everything is currently produced; finally, it also appears that Bruno Cercley and his Chartreuse & Mont-Blanc group – even at the “reduced price” of 40 million Euros – may still have overpaid for their acquisition…
Editor's note: Information assembled in part with press article provided by Jean Barbier in Voiron, France, and corrections to one of my previous blog by pistehors.com.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why are bad movies still produced?

Last night we went to see our first movie from the Sundance Film Festival. Like always, we had read the synopsis before, were warned it was experimental, but at the end didn’t like at all what we saw. Okay, we wasted one hour of our time, so where is the big deal? It seems to me that that cinematography is a form of story telling that has every resource (image, sound and script) needed to make it incredibly compelling and superior to any other communication medium. Now, there are still directors that haven’t understood that simpler works always better, that there is no substitute for good writing and that at the end of the line, the end result has to touch someone in an enriching manner. These same individuals are so obsessed with the creativity of their work that they too easily forget it should also translate into an workable piece of communication, perhaps full of artistry, twists and nuances, but still understandable by the largest possible public. We still see too much waste like this production and I’m disappointed that the Sundance selection team even took that movie seriously. Do you even remember the worst film you’ve recently watched?

Hard snow makes skiing harder

Nothing varies more than snow quality and its impact on the way we feel about skiing. When the snow turns from powder to hard-packed and then becomes hard snow, it contributes to helping define the notion of bad conditions in the Rockies Mountains, where most of us are used to gliding on a silky surface and having to work very little in order to feel great. Last week, our mountain conditions transitioned to that quality after more than two weeks without any precipitations. At that point, skiing on steep, natural terrain, out of impeccably groomed runs, becomes both trickier and far less fun, as the surface is much harder, goes faster, is filled with imperfections of all kinds and leaves absolutely no room for operator errors like the tiniest moment without concentration that will make you catch an edge and send you to a very punishing fall with nasty consequences. That’s precisely the moment when good skiing becomes a perfect dosage between nimbleness, attention and relaxation. This mixture is not only difficult to reach, but hard to keep up for any long period of time. It’s also a guaranteed feeling of elation as long as it can be maintained without a crash or a host of mistakes and near misses. Because of that, it can also be a source of enormous satisfaction. What are your preferred snow conditions?

Friday, January 23, 2009

A quote I can live with

Yesterday, as I was surfing the net, I stumbled upon that quote that grabbed my attention as I felt it was perfectly aligned with my thinking; even though its seems fairly well known, I had never heard it before:

Yesterday was history
Tomorrow is a mystery
And today is a GIFT.
This is why it’s called PRESENT“
Cherish it.


While the two last verses are respectively a bit tacky and unnecessary, I will adopt that motto and remember it forever because I feel its captures the essence of life and is a further encouragement to seize the moment. Until now, my favorite sayings were Tao aphorisms like “the one who speaks doesn’t know and the one who knows doesn’t speak” as well as Nike’s “just do it” that I use through most of my professional career. That new one is certainly more reflective of my current stage in life.
Now tell me, what’s your favorite quote?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

One state solution or nothing

On January 21, Muammar Qaddafi published a compelling argument in the New York Times for a one-state solution to end up the non-stop slaughter between Israel and the Palestinians. His arguments are sound and his proposed solution sustainable. Sure, it would be less comfortable for Israel, but would certainly beat self-destruction for both communities in the longer term. This is the kind of sensible solution that President Obama must take seriously into consideration. All the rest is pure hogwash and will continue – if not accelerate – the cycle of violence. Since we all end up footing the bill for the schizophrenic “demolition derby” that has been the hallmark of the Middle East, it’s about time we imposed a viable solution and send a message to the religious fanatics on both sides of the conflict to either make up or get lost.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The end of fear

Upon Obama’s historical inauguration, most everything has already been said, so what else could I add that would further seal the new era we entered into yesterday? I’d simply say that along with Bush and Cheney, the nefarious influence of fear is now gone. This poison that has systematically and relentlessly been served to the American public since September 11 has now stopped dripping in. It seems that it only came along to give some sense to an otherwise directionless presidency. Yes, I am convinced that fear is bad; at least ninety percent of the time; fear is the set of shackles that we put on ourselves as soon as we leave childhood and go play in the “big folks’ sandbox.” The departing Administration, all dictators and most religious preachers are all fear merchants and we need to learn how to steer clear from them. As we free ourselves from all this negativity, a life devoid of fear can restart with more love, more giving, more creative thoughts and more vitality than ever!

Monday, January 19, 2009

A truly “cool” job!

Another year, another Sundance Film Festival and once more the opportunity to volunteering on behalf of our beloved Park City Film Series… We sign up for a nine consecutive day assignment that keeps us from 7 to 10 am inside… a tent. With 5 degree Fahrenheit temperature in the morning, needless to say that the tent is quite a “cool” place when we get there at 6:45 am to carry-out our assignment. Fortunately, we’re tough and have already started our day at 5 am with our daily morning jog with our headlamps on; we must be preloaded with anti-freeze and we’ve managed to survive mostly thanks to caffeine overload! With the economic crisis, the crowds are thinner this year or perhaps visitors have so much fun at night that they can’t get up in the morning to catch the early show, this is also why we haven’t seen any big Hollywood name yet, but these folks are no early risers either. At any rate, we manage to keep our spirit highs and display a terrific attitude. This festival sure is one of the great perks of living in Park City!

Saving more, consuming less…

We know that on average, Americans have – until the end of 2008 – been spending more than they were earning, running a personal budget deficit, thus effectively producing a negative rate of savings. Since that time, auto sales have ground down to being sixty percent of what they used to be and other retail activity has started to feel the pinch as well. Is the American public now on the mend and ready to seriously start saving? Perhaps, and frankly, that would be nice. The problem with that however is that our country GDP is likely to plunge as its inhabitants slow down their carefree consumption. Sure, economic activity is supposed to be boosted by general interest spending, mostly in infrastructure maintenance and creation, but how will that investment money flow from savings into our gross domestic product? Will Americans in effect, invest their saving into financing that huge debt our country is taking on? Is there any good economist out there capable of confirming that it will indeed be the case and that we might be looking at a zero-sum game as far as our GDP is concerned?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Is there a future for Skis Dynastar?

A few days ago, 187 workers were laid-off for two months at the Dynastar ski factory in Sallanches, France. The facility that employs 272 people is part of the Rossignol Group recently purchased for 40 million Euros from QuikSilver (originally acquired for 470 millions Euros!) by Australia’s Macquarie Group Limited, under the “Chartreuse & Mont-Blanc” moniker. Jean Cavallo, the new facility manager explained that Rossignol and Dynastar are currently sitting on 290,000 pairs of unsold skis and something had to give... Even though Jarden, the owner of K2, Marker, Marmot, and Völkl, has a non-voting minority interest in Macquarie, this might help “connects the dots,” as its skis are, for the most part, already produced in China. This might further open the door to moving Rossignol’s French and Spanish production into the Far East and precipitate Dynastar demise. For years, and particularly under the leadership of its most tenured manager, Jean-Yves Pachoud, Dynastar has fiercely fought to remain independent of Rossignol, but these days might soon come to an end….

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Feeling the pain now or later?

Do you believe in “Government Interventions” aimed at propping up the economy? I don’t; I’m neither a hard-core capitalist nor a hard-core free-marketer, but it seems to me that institutions that don’t have enough cash reserves to survive a downturn, or are not healthy enough to survive Chapter 11 reorganization should fail. We shouldn’t have bailed out AIG, investment or regular banks and continue to do so while these entities could only blame their own incompetence for their troubles. That’s the way it would be for me if I failed in my business endeavors and I don’t see why it should be different for big corporations. Neither Kodak nor the musical disc industry asked for bailout money when their business model was blown-up by the digital world. We’ve clearly become a country adverse to pain and the just like using invasive drugs, this financial bail-out may bring “temporary relief” from harsh pain but will leave deep and unfathomable suffering for generations to come. By wanting to have it “both ways,” we’ll end up paying much more for the problem in an endless and protracted manner. Of course, governments don’t care as their time horizon is generally no more that a few years, and this goes to show that politicians should focus on regulating business instead of trying to stimulate activity…

Friday, January 16, 2009

Video dream recorder (continued)

Days ago, I made a quick visit to Japan and spent 48 hours in Chiba, near Tokyo, to experiment Dr Yatsuda’s “Dream Helmet” as he likes to call it. Instead of staying at a local hotel, I spent the first night at their laboratory’s building, in a very nice and comfortable bed, inside an air-conditioned, sound-proofed room. After a delicious yakitori and sushi washed down with a bottle of “Asahi Super Dry”, I watched some TV before being outfitted with the helmet, hooked up to the monitoring devices while I was wondering why in the world I was doing this. Once I was all set up, I was totally exhausted by the long journey, the frenetic activity and quickly fell asleep. I woke up a few times, mostly because of jet lag and also due to the rather cumbersome headgear, but slept fairly well, and in the morning woke up pretty well rested and in my usual good mood. After downing a quick glass of water, I went for my morning run, not too far from an Ikea store where the Funabashi “ski dome” used to stand. I went sightseeing in Ginza for the rest of the day and returned to Yatsuda’s office around 4 pm. His team welcomed me inside their small conference room and started to show me what they had “extracted” from the helmet during my sleep. They had pieced together four of my dreams. Each segment ran between 2 and 6 minutes and was visual enough to show what went on through my head while I wasn’t in control of my thoughts; they were quite a few “blanks” and a few imaging errors, the quality was average and the flickering caused by the automated editing a distraction, but the result was nonetheless impressive. Do I need to say that that these videos were senseless? All dreams generally are; only Carl Jung could have perhaps been able to makes head and tails out of them, but I just couldn’t. In viewing the four pieces they were many things I couldn’t believe I had thought. Since the project is still hush-hush, I couldn’t take a copy of the recording with me, which explains why it’s not posted on this blog. At any rate, the test was interesting but perhaps not quite worth the long and tiring journey. Until the process improves significantly, I’ll try to do a better job at remembering my own dreams…

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Video dream recorder

I don’t know if you can recall your dreams, but I can’t. It’s not that what I dream about is all good and worth remembering, but on occasions, I have some pretty pleasant dreams that I’d like to revisit the next day and this was basically impossible for me. I was told this would change with Dr. Chiaki Yatsuda, a Japanese scientist who has been involved in a major artificial intelligent project and has close ties with Marcel Just and Tom Mitchell from Canergie Mellon University. Both are both working on a stunning mind reading project by observing the thinking brain under an MRI machine. Yatsuda’s background and previous work has been focused on “imaging” thoughts in the sense that he can turn specific brain waves into real images. For instance, if the brain sees a wristwatch, his software will translate the impulses collected into the generic image of a watch. If it sees a “Movado” watch, it will then display a typical representation of that brand; add the model name and you get the real thing, and so on. The real challenge of course is to build a gigantic data base of images for every object, every situation and every feeling, which is what Dr. Yatsuda has been working for years. Another condition is that it’s utterly impractical to have a person dream inside an MRI machine. Instead, you need a silent and comfortable environment for harvesting dreams and turning them into images. This brings us to the special helmet that Yatsuda and his team have developed. This device -just like a silent MRI machine can observe brain activity, will simultaneously turn the signals collected into video images and integrate them into an animated picture. Pretty amazing, isn’t it? In a next blog, I’ll take you through a “test-drive” of that helmet…

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Running on hard-packed snow

I know, I’ve been complaining about having to run on snowy roads in winter and I’ve been telling you how treacherous it can get. While I haven’t changed my mind about slick roadways, I want to talk about running on hard-packed snow. For a year or so, while there’s snow on the ground, Park City now grooms the portion of our course that follows McLeod Creek. Running on that soft ribbon of white stuff is not just great, it’s enchanting. Some runners like dirt trails and others sand as an alternative to the punishing asphalt or concrete. Snow seems to me as some sort of luxury. Sometimes, we get on that trail after it’s just been groomed and wow, we’re flying on “corduroy!” The packed snow, a great shock absorber, is gentle on our joints and it feels as if for one mile or so, we truly were in the midst of some wild country. This is the exquisite side of running on snow. If like us, you’re addicted to running or walking, what's your favorite surface?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Foreign accent revisited…

Yesterday, I was sharing some experiences related to foreign accent with Hélène and Maxence Hernu and explained some of my theories on the topic covered last year in this blog. That same day, towards the end of the afternoon, as I was riding one last chair on my way home I sat next to a couple who immediately stroke a conversation by noticing my bright-orange, old Dynastar skis. The man said “you sure won’t lose those!” to which I responded by something like “…in fact, they comes in handy, I do a lot of skiing at night.” Then, as chair-mates often do, they asked me where I was from. I answered by my usual “I just give you three guesses; go ahead…” The man said “Germany? Scandinavia?” I shook my head motioning he was wrong. His female companion then gave it her best shot: “South Africa?” I told them they both failed miserably and revealed that I was of Gallic extraction; both were from a place called West Jordan, near Salt Lake City, but that remains a poor excuse for flunking the test and not paying homage to my French roots. Next time I ski, I swear that I’ll wear my trademark beret and smoke a Gauloise, but tell me; are you all getting much grief about your particular accent?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Okay to be a “nobody?”

Anytime we meet people at parties, in a business setting or simply on the chairlift while skiing, everyone likes to inquire about who we are. What kind of job we have, where we grew up, the education we received and some other special tidbits that could help them situate us within the 6.7 billion other earthlings. When that happens, we’ve several choices; some of us love to “tinker” with, if not amplify the facts, by editorializing and “adding” a little more than reality would allow. Others, hopefully highly organized individuals, simply lie and build a fascinating story of fantasy about themselves and their life’s itinerary. Of course, there’s an alternative that very few individuals pick by simply telling things the way they are; something uncommon, also known as telling the truth even if it doesn’t sell well or might “mark” us as plain, mediocre or just below-average. The point of this article is not to reveal which category I fit into, but to ask you how you react to that sad state of human interaction.
Comments, please!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

More skiing in less time

If you’re a pretty good skier can’t afford a helicopter, most time is spent riding up the lift than skiing down. In terms of numbers, and assuming one skis non-stop, the ratio between time on the lift and time on the snow generally varies between 80 and 60 percent depending on the grade of the slope and the speed of the lift. This means that for half a day worth of skiing - say four entire hours - it’s common to spend three hours sitting on a chair, inside a gondola or standing in a tram. Since skiing is time-hungry, this becomes a consideration if you ski a lot and you still want to do a few things around the house, especially if like me, you are “retired.” As I’ve said before, we switched this season from Park City Mountain Resort to The Canyons where more steep runs are served with fast lifts (Park City’s best runs are still equipped with rickety old chairs) and after skiing twenty days, I can attest that I’ve skied 50 percent more in the same amount of time; just what the doctor ordered! So, if you skiing is almost a daily hobby and if you’d like to spend less time on the hill and more doing things that can’t wait, take the time to examine the lift infrastructure before you commit to purchasing a ski pass in one area over an other…

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Zero-based economic theory?

The more I hear about our economy, the more I think the system is broken and no so-called economist really knows what step to take. Very few of them, included Nobel Prize laureates saw the train wreck coming, simply because they assumed that popularly subscribed theories somehow worked, and we are now seeing their dismal performance in full light. So where do we go from here? We have a few choices; the first being to hope that our many governments try something piece-meal to address the “crisis of the month” but we know that is not going to amount to anything useful for the long term; governments are so focused on their re-election that they can’t do that. The next option - call it a “miracle” - is wait for some genius economist to come up with yet another theory that addresses dwindling planetary resources, exploding population growth and world inequalities, in providing sustainable living for us all. The best alternative, I think, is for all of us to start a collaborative work involving all good pragmatic and visionary thinkers willing to pitch-in and build a system everyone the world over can live with. Something inspired from Wikipedia, in which there are no borders and humanity becomes free of its narrow-minded and short-term oriented governments. Before you tell me if you want to be part of that group, let me know if it makes any sense…

Friday, January 9, 2009

The economic package we need

As Democrat senators are starting to take Obama’s stimulus package apart, let’s keep in mind what’s really needed. We must shift gears from an economy based on excessive spending and all-out consumption to one that hinges on savings and on durable lifestyle. To accomplish that, there is no other alternative but to endure a long recession, some severe unemployment and a profound societal malaise while our entire society figures out and adapt to these new rules of engagement. Perhaps, this process hasn’t been made clear enough to the American public or – even worse – hasn’t been fully grasped by those who are in charge of leading us. Public infrastructure investments are certainly part of what needs to be done and they need to include repairing highways, upgrading communications and fixing healthcare, but also re-inventing the entire way we’re living. Perhaps some clearer and more sobering communication is needed to help people understand that the go-go years of consumerism are over for good…

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Georges Gaillard 1945 – 2009

Yesterday, I received a phone call letting me know that my cousin had just passed away from a cardiac arrest in the early hours of that day. He just had a favorable medical check-up and no time to say goodbye. While only 63, Georges had a full life, starting with serving in a peace-corps like program in Africa for two years before taking over the family bar and grocery store in Montriond, France, starting an on-slope crepe-stand for skiers and being actively involved in leading the local marching band and church choir. Our sincere and heartfelt condolences go to his wife Gisèle, his children Fabrice, Frédéric and Corinne, their spouses as well as all his grand kids.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

How to win enemies and antagonize people

This obviously is the perfect opposite of the famous people-skills book titled “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. This is precisely what Israel is doing at the moment with its brutal bombing and invasion of Gaza. While our current government (Bush and Cheney) approves the massacre, it’s shocking to see the other governments pussy-footing around and not having the gumption to tell the Jewish State to stop. What is also sad is to see how the New York Times shuts off any form of readers’ comments when it comes to that issue. One McClatchy’s reader under the name of “Bergamo” said it best: ”It is time to ask oneself if Israel is still a civilized country. It treats its Arab minority (20% of the population) as second rate citizens. It prevents the media reporting from Gaza. It prevents the Red Cross entering Gaza. It denies it has caused a humanitarian catastrophe. It has failed to apply countless UN resolution -- despite owing its existence to the UN. It resorts to force anytime it perceives its interests to be threatened. Finally, many of its political leaders reject the idea of a modern, multicultural and multi-religious society, in favor of a pure, entirely Jewish community, something not even Iran is contemplating. I wonder, perhaps we should begin treating Israel like we treated South Africa. When will Americans wake up?”
As for me, I can only see a form of death-wish in what Israel is doing; this action will plant more desire of vengeance in every young Palestinian, will strengthen terrorism and can only bring to ourselves, the racist and coward Israel supporters, another 9/11…

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

To win, what’s a ski racer to do?

Another day volunteering at the races, another observation… Before technical details and equipment, there are two elements that are paramount if a ski racer really wants to win: Anticipation and speed (letting skis go.) If coaches were spending more time observing their racers they also would come to that conclusion and make these two items their main focus. Just two elements, so simple and yet drowned into a sea of the technical gobbledygook and other BS that are part and parcel of the sport….

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dirk Beal’s Big Five-0

For a long time, Dirk Beal, director of sales at Deer Valley Mountain Resorts wanted to celebrate his big “Five-0” by skiing 50,000 vertical feet on that special day. To make sure this milestone would be conducted in the proper way he turned to me since I had done something similar the year before. Overnight, I had made a deal with the Vatican to guarantee that ski-traffic controllers - up in heaven - would prevent embarrassing collisions between us and valuable Deer Valley guests, in spite of a heavy cloud cover. In exchange, I was asked by Pope Benedict to act as a pacesetter and validate the results. For this occasion, the Holly See had provided me with a special, long coat, just like a Monsignor, and given me the “Massimo Vertidroppi” namesake. At 8:30 am we met at the Snow Park base lodge and began to work. The weather was cold and snowy and I secretly wondered why in the world Dirk had chosen that very day to come to the world, but that was obviously a bit late…By the time we arrived at the Sultan Express lift, our legs were still cottony and the first run wasn't quite up to snuff. At that point, and unbeknownst to me, Dirk called Olympian Heidi Voelker, Ambassador of Skiing for the Deer Valley Resort, to come and give us a pep talk in order to get us going. She eventually showed up, rode the lift four times with us and gave us some invaluable pointers like “the fastest route between top and bottom of ‘Sultan’ is a straight line,” or something like that, and watched us evolve, correcting us as we slid down. After a short “pit stop” behind some frozen evergreen trees, we barely had time to eat our lunches and drink whatever wasn’t frozen inside our thermos bottles. As time went on and as the 50,000, then 60,000 vertical markers passed, Dirk Beal became hooked on the mission and didn’t want to call it a day. Deep inside, I was scared that he would take my suggestion to finish the day night skiing on nearby Payday Lift in Park City... At about 4:25 pm we finally stopped and had shattered my previous record, by reaching 85,590 vertical feet. Upon taking his skis off, our birthday boy nonchalantly declared: “This is what I call a full ski day!”
Happy Big Five-O, Dirk!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Watching good racers

Today, as I was volunteering at the Park City Racing Department, I was assigned a gate judge duty, something I had not yet done for that organization. For those who might not know, being a gate judge is making sure that a racer’s pair of feet passes between each gate. This requires attentive observation and while doing just that, I drew great pleasure from watching some outstanding junior male skiers competing in today’s high level giant slalom. I must also add that giant slalom is my favorite alpine event as it encapsulates the essence of good skiing; pure, long-radius turns combined with high speed on generally steep terrain. My best skiing inspiration has always come from watching good skiers and today was a real visual pleasure. Some of these young men were so good that I wished I were their age and could emulate their athletic perfection on snow; the superiority of some came in fact after the first 30 best skiers had already gone… This definitely beats slipping the course or working with start and timing, my usual assignments. Today, was pure enjoyment…

Saturday, January 3, 2009

How the triple chair was invented

In 1971, while I still was a ski instructor in Avoriaz, France, my co-workers and I were already fascinated by increased productivity and never a day passed without us thinking how to make this planet a better place. At that time, besides its tram similar to those of Squaw Valley or Snowbird, the nascent ski resort of Avoriaz was equipped with a network or surface lifts and double-chairs. These two-person lifts had been in operation since 1958. One day, Jean-Claude Page, François Chauplannaz and I decided to squeeze a bit more than usual and ride the double-chair together. Everything went fine, the seat held up and neither the cable broke nor the towers buckled. When we returned to the ski school however, we learned that Michel Muffat, the lift company operations director, spotted us from the ground and we were told that we’d be banned from using the resort’s chairlifts for one full week. At that time we were lucky to have almost every chair doubled up with a surface pomalift, so we had to be a bit more creative as we were giving lessons, eying our clients on the chair up above while we were sliding up a track, on a side below. Our only hope was that the lift we were on wouldn’t stop leaving our students standing in the cold and waiting for us at the top. As you can see, innovation doesn’t come without pain and thanks to our hard pioneering work and selflessness, the double-chair paradigm was broken; two years later Pomagalski was installing its first European triple chair, in Val Cenis, France and we'd soon see four, six, and today eight folks riding up the same chair...

Friday, January 2, 2009

The economic puzzle

Just like finance, economy is a domain populated by a plethora of so-called “experts” and by countless areas where tidbits of information can be found. I have yet to find a place offering a holistic an interactive view of how things really work. Even the self-proclaimed Economist magazine offers all but a fraction of the view needed to begin understanding the ins and outs of the subject. As a result, everything “economy” is broken into a myriad of small disjointed compartments that people study with incredible minutia, but the “beast” is so huge, that it makes impossible to assemble it for observation - as astronauts are able to seize the entirety of the earth from space - and make that image useful to us, mere mortals. There is no place where one can get a bird eye’s view of the world economy recomposed it from is disparate chunks into a big picture you and I can easily observe and comprehend. While we’re inundated with daily economic data, it’s much harder to see – as a whole – where the economy is headed and what causes it to do so; this is precisely where we seem to always be one day late and one dollar short as the current crisis has shown. We are all deluged with information that is not meant to be pieced together and can’t reconstitute a useful rendition. Does anyone knows of a concise, yet precise “dashboard” that would offer this form of compiled information?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year, good voodoo and bad medicine

A New Year resolution is about solving something, right? Well, not quite, but remember when I made that big fuss about my chest pain, blaming it on some voodoo operator trying to nail me down? Well, after a sleepless night and some super deep thinking, I could be on my way to unlock that mystery. In fact, everything can be solved when the right questions are asked. This isn’t the place to bore you with technicalities, so I won’t, but I found that instead of some weirdo poking a voodoo doll somewhere on the planet while I'm asleep, it might be me who's responsible for what ends up being a self-induced chest pain. Starting last night, I assumed a different sleeping position and my voodoo doll poker was a bit less aggressive. As a result, I felt less pain this morning. I also feel a bit smarter than a lung and heart specialist that charges $350 per hour and is so blinded by the organs he’s treating, that he loses sight of the whole body and forgets to ask the right questions…