Thursday, December 31, 2009

Skiing by the numbers

Unlike yoga, many sports are fond of numbers; skiing is one of them. Obviously the sport starts with one pair of boards if you ski, just one if you ride. Their length, measured in centimeters, has vastly changed over the years; if today a men's giant slalom ski has shrunk to 191 cm, it used to be 215 cm forty years ago. The same holds true for snowboards and the only element that hasn't been going down is the cost of the daily lift ticket. Today it's around $90 at some the best US ski resorts, vs. less than $40 in Europe and $5 in... Iran! The total number of lifts a resort may offer varies a lot too. Great areas offer between 15 and 40 lifts, not counting Alpine interconnected resorts that boast a network of over 200 lifts.

In America, we tend to measure resorts by their skiable acreage while in Europe it's more linear and expressed in kilometers of ski runs! Altitude can be a big deal too, especially in the Alps, where at about 6,000 feet, good snow is almost always guaranteed. In the Americas, where resorts base elevation range from 2,000 to 9,000 feet, elevation doesn't seem to be such a big deal. If all these numbers are making you dizzy, remember that in the Rocky Mountains, lots of ski town residents see the number of ski-days in a season as a badge of honor. There's even a general contractor in Park City that has vanity license plates that proudly displays his “100DAYS” annual skiing goal!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Snowy morning, magic run

I've already told you about the pleasures of running on snow. Remembering the experience conjures mental pictures of Aspen, St. Anton, Vail and of course Park City. This morning, as I was hastily clearing the 2 inches of snow that had begun to fall, I didn't know yet what the subject of today's blog would be. Then, we left for our daily run and started to stomp on this magic white carpet while the snow kept on falling, providing a perfect setting for the end of the year. The feeling really was magic and if the slippery roadways were adding to the perspiration, the beauty of the moment was more than making up for an even greater amount of inspiration!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rocks, razor-thin snow and “rocker skis”

As I was riding the lift yesterday afternoon, skiing on skimpy snow, peppered with rocks, stumps and twigs, I couldn't help, but glance at my neighbor's “rocker skis.” These counter-nature implements were evidently offending the snow gods and keeping the fresh snow spigot shut. Why in the world would you go out, on a day like yesterday, riding a pair of big, reverse camber, sans-sidecut skis? Only if this one the only pair of ski you owned, I guess.

You see, I'm less fancy; instead of "rocker skis," I'm using my “rock skis” for the moment and saving my decent boards for new snow and of course, powder. This said, I don't need these bend-over-backwards skis because I still know how to make my skis “rock” whenever the conditions are decent enough, and my simple goal is to ski fluidly, effortlessly (at least in appearance) and fast enough, no matter what the conditions are, but without surrender to the gods of snobbery that twist my arm to make me own a pair of “rocker skis...” So for the moment, I'll stick to my already too wide, traditional skis and won't run the risk of looking like a fool with stupid sticks like this on a day like that!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy Birthday

A few days late, I was able to connect with Jesus on Skype to wish him a happy birthday. This time the video was working, making the interaction all the more rewarding...

Go11: I know I'm a few days late, but I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday.
Jesus: No problem, thanks anyway!
Go11: Is it true that you're still 33?
Jesus: Yeah, that's how things work up here, but I'm not going to get into how these birthday rules work...
Go11: Was Santa good to you? What did you get?
Jesus: A mountain bike; I'll use it to get around on short errands.
Go11: Which brand?
Jesus: Sorry, I've no idea. You should know I'm not into that.
Go11: Why not get a regular bike, you don't need suspensions where you live?
Jesus: Mountain bikes are perhaps a bit heavier, but in the long run, they're more durable...
Go11: What did you get last year?
Jesus: An iPhone, but since we have no cell service up here - just Skype and the prayers - I use it to listen to music, play a few games and take pictures.
Go11: What are you doing the rest of this holiday?
Jesus: I plan to go and see Avatar, you know the movie with the special glasses? That should be fun! By the way, when are you going to come and see me?
Go11: To be perfectly honest, I'm in no special hurry. I'd like to wait a bit longer down here.
Jesus: Be careful, the place's getting crowded; you might want to make a reservation, that is, if you qualify...
Go11: ?
Jesus: Right, you might find out you don't.
Go11: Thanks for the heads-up Jesus, I'll do my best to catch up!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

How to you get reliable movie reviews?

Last night, we went to see “Sita sings the blue,” an animated film showing - in parallel - two broken relationships: A woman's failed romance with her husband and the goddess Sita's estrangement from the god Rama. While it had all the components needed to make it a terrific, one-of-a-kind production, the story was very weak and was poorly told. It's not that we don't like animated films; Persepolis, for instance, had a (big) leg up on that one. Even though this happens rarely, it's not the first time that we are disappointed by a movie.
This obviously brings me to the core element of the discussion, which is where do we find viewers' reviews, not professional critic opinions, before we go out and invest two hour of our precious time watching a piece and taking a big chance on being elated or bitterly disappointed. Media critics are generally a bunch of snobs whose job it is to say something about what they're viewing. Are they honest and straightforward? I don't think so; they need to feed their column with something, and if there isn't much they can say, they'll make it up. I have done extensive research on the web for an audience review site, but have come out empty handed. Can anyone help me? Suggestions, please!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Setting up New Year's Resolutions

In the blog I write for Deer Valley Resort, I recently fictionalized the process of setting New Year's resolutions. Last night, at dinner, I asked who had already picked those important, personal markers for 2010; no one had. This process is serious enough to warrant the utmost preparation in order to see our goals attain successful fruition. This goal-setting process is the result of varied sources of motivation. First there's the urgency; if the house is on fire, we need to address that, if we have no money, we must earn some in a hurry, etc.

Then there are the necessities of life, like learning how to swim if we're stranded in Polynesia, learning to speak Swahili if we get a job in Tanzania or learning to fly a 737 if we are offered a first-officer position with Southwest Airlines. Finally there is the “would be nice to” category, that wouldn't affect our lifestyles too much like taking on fly-fishing or learning watercolor painting. For today, I'll forgo the urgency and focus on the utilitarian and the “nice to” categories, and will report to you what these resolutions will be, right here, before the decade is over...

Friday, December 25, 2009

My camera's dead...

My “little” Nikon Coolpix died on Christmas Eve. Perhaps it got ran over by Santa's reindeer, but when I needed it most, at the time we were opening presents, the small silver wonderful instrument refused to work and stand witness to another family event.
I had purchased it in August 2004 and it has served me well, to the point that some of my relatives were starting to poke fun about its “ancient” appearance. In today's culture of consumption such a passing isn't something we might apprehend, but instead an event we look forward to. I had no idea what to get for my upcoming birthday; now, I know...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas wish

Since it's the season to do so, I'm trying to formulate a wish for the future that is lofty and that is finally going to do some good. Here it is: I'm hoping that some creative, innovative girl or guy in their garage or office come up with a great idea that will stop global population growth by 2020 and bring it down gradually from 7 to 2 billion, which is the posted, legal occupancy for that place that no one seems to have read. When that is done, we the earthlings will be in fine shape. Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My New Year’s Resolutions

For the past five years, we regularly get together with Diane and Peter from New York during the Holidays. We traditionally share a European-style raclette for dinner at home, and always have a wonderful time. We had randomly met at the bottom of the Mayflower chairlift in 2003 (this would be a long story in itself) and besides having that late December dinner together, we’ve developed a tradition of sharing our New Year’s resolutions and checking our progress, or lack thereof, the following year.

Usually, we simply focus on lofty objectives and wishes, including of course, potential vacation spots, intellectual pursuits, sporting accomplishments and even building projects. This year though, we decided to forgo Machu Picchu or the backyard compost bin and focus instead on our common love for skiing. Again, our big city friends come to Deer Valley, once a year, for Christmas, while my wife and I are the lucky ones who get to live full-time in Park City and ski probably more than our fair share!

If they could, our friends would also like to ski more often, but need to convince themselves that they must set aside more time for that purpose. This is why we helped them formulate several compelling reasons, ranging from technique improvement to a great tan. Peter would love to improve his “bump” technique, while Diane is looking for a patient instructor that could take her into deep, powder snow, something she’s always dreamed of. Practically, this would mean setting aside a few more days during the winter months, in which they’d take these “Max 4” lessons that some of their friends have told them about, that run half a day and are limited to just four students.

This is how we all came to the conclusion that they should also try “spring skiing.” We have always been telling them how fun March skiing can be, filled with light, and abundant snow and is the very best way to fully enjoy the “beach” at Silver Lake, right after lunch. Besides, March skiers are almost guaranteed to come home with a tan that won’t be unnoticed when they return to the office. That was all that was needed to convert our New-Yorker friends into signing up for a “studious” ski week in Deer Valley, early March.

This was leaving us, the two locals, to display the resolve expected of us. My wife has always been a “fair weather skier.” This means that a blue-bird day is the necessary reason for her to get out and ski. On the other hand, subtle cloudy streaks on the horizon have often derailed many of her ski outings. Whenever it snows and I go skiing, she thinks: “Poor guy, he’ll get all wet and won’t see a thing…” Yet, it’s often during those overcast and snowy days that I have the most fun. For years, I’ve tried to convince her that she should at least try, and experience the unparalleled snow softness and the surreal lighting that often makes the experience almost magical. As my argument appeared convincing and met the expectations of the rest of party, she decided that it would be worth a try and volunteered to ski at least five snowy days this season…

I was the only one left to step out and make a pledge. With around 60 ski days under my belt in a typical season, where could I go? I didn’t feel like breaking the 100 day mark but could certainly stretch it to 80, and I also declared that I loved to log as much skiing as possible within one single day. I measure it by just tallying-up the total accumulated vertical drop. There are even special wristwatches for that (I happen to own one.) A full ski day can range between 15 and 35,000 feet vertical depending on one’s ability and how leisurely and substantial the lunch is. I’ve logged around 80,000 feet before and I wondered aloud: “Might I break the 100,000 mark?” My wife looked at me as if I had suddenly become insane, but I remained composed and serious. “I believe I can make it happen,” I added. “Go for 100,000!” chanted the rest of the table.

With everyone now committed to improving their skiing lives, we felt a need for a common pledge that would further cement our individual resolutions. Diane didn’t need much time to come up with a great idea: “My favorite run happens to be inside the Snow Park Lodge, and it’s called the Seafood Buffet; let’s all go there when we’re back in March!” My wife who loves sushi didn’t have time to second the idea as a loud and unanimous “Yeah!” shook up the whole house. We all recognized that it was a fitting instrument to keep track of some impressive New Year’s resolutions.

Multitasking anyone?

I touched on that subject last July regarding the use of cell phones while driving. Yesterday, I as was performing my last day as a volunteer at the first Park City ski races of the season, one of the start judges (in training) was attempting to conduct his business over the phone while trying to do his job. Obviously he couldn't do everything well and was probably lousy at both tasks. The newer generations tend to find us inept at performing several different tasks at once as they have been raised doing their homework listening to loud music or even watching TV.

I have a tough time simultaneously performing two activities well. If it's menial enough, like working in the garden, painting, or even skiing, I can “hear” music, but in the heat of the action or when the job requires more concentration, I can't “listen” to it. I wouldn't want to have open-heart surgery performed on me by someone talking on her cell phone or listening to his iPod, and I seriously doubt that Antonio Stradivari was manufacturing his famous violins while listening to the Rolling Stones...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Forty years ago...

I was beginning a great new job at the Avoriaz Ski School in France. This was a very big deal to me, and besides being overjoyed that I had been accepted to work in that exceptional place (the existing instructors were actually voting the newbies in,) I was excited to start a job I had been dreaming about for the past half-dozen years. Even tough I was barely certified, I was able to get sufficiently by in English which gave me a significant advantage in terms of building up my clientele. This would be one of the highlights of my life and the launching pad to a long and rewarding ski industry career...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dedicated volunteer

This must be my fifth year volunteering at the Park City's race department. At the beginning of the season, the first series of races are held every year in honor of Eric Hays, a former Park City Ski Team member who died in a car accident in 1981 at the age of 18. This is an open event for about 250 young athletes ranging in age from 13 to 20 and consisting of two slalom and two giant slalom spread over a period of four days.
Over the years, I have assumed a wide variety of functions, in an even greater range of weather conditions. This year, I was a “stager” in the starting area, making sure to herd the racers like one would herd cats; in addition, the weather has been for the most part just delightful. The only downside this time was that my back hurt a bit from standing such long hours. Is it a sign that this might be my last year?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

So many decades

A few days ago, I was just thinking that, pretty soon, I will have seen 8 different decades and yet only still be in my early 60's... Let's check that out. I was born after World War II in the forties, grew up in the fifties, went through the crazy sixties, stabilized in the seventies, raised a family in the eighties and the nineties, discovered retirement in the first decade of the 21st century and am now ready to step into the second one. Recount if you will, that makes 8 of them. Perhaps a mathematician will explain that trick and tell me why I'm still so young. For the moment, as my wife told me the other day, I doubt very much that there will as many decades in store for me...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

How do some of us become snob?

Among my many friends and relatives, many are able to stay pretty much true to themselves, but a few fall through the cracks and become snob, generally as their material condition improves substantially. My sense is that they fell prey to the Madison Avenue sirens that keep on telling them that have to conform to the various
models portrayed by our advertising and consumer culture if they really want to become “someone.” Too often, good fortune, well-being and comfort are amalgamated with true personal values. The antithesis of that concept would be the ability to think for ourselves and this can be very difficult when we become “contaminated” by these pre-digested views of the world. Independent thinking is challenging, but priceless!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Holiday Card project

For the past 5 years, I've been absorbed in creating an elaborate Holiday Card that we send to friends and family. I also tried to make it available to more people as I sent it electronically as an email attachment. This year, the electronic or HTML version of the project has improved significantly in terms of appearance, content, flexibility with languages and such, over the traditional paper product. As a result, next year will see a reduction in the number of cards printed (and trees fallen.) Only those good folks who still don't come close to, or hardly ever touch a computer will be treated to the physical card, while everyone else will enjoy the better, digital product. This, like most things, illustrates the power of computing and shows that we can reach more effectively many more people through that medium. Is this good or bad? I'd like you to tell me!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My view on Copenhagen

Once again, I see things pretty simply. On one hand North America, Europe and Japan don't want to give up their comfort, their planes rides and their SUV, on the other, developing nations would like to get pay for stopping deforestation and any other form of pollution associated with growth. China and Indian don't want to curtail their development, keep on riding bikes, rickshaws and having to deal with verifications, and the end result is gridlock. The element I see missing in this whole show is that no one talks about the root cause of the mess: Overpopulation. I still believe this remains the root of the problem and this “elephant in the room” has to be considered first and foremost, then we might begin discussing getting rid of our SUV, trivial plane rides, overheated or over cooled apartments, etc.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

First time out!

Yesterday was a big day for many. First, for the Boeing company that was getting its spanking-new 787 (aka “Dreamliner”) out in the rain and then up in the air, in Everett, Washington. Second, it was my wife's first time out on the skis this season, the day at first was pretty mild, the snow silky and wonderful before it turned much colder as it always does at the end of a December day. In both cases, there was a dose of apprehension floating in the air. Test pilots Mike Carriker and Randy Neville, the only two persons inside the sleek airplane, must have felt a tinge of anxiety as the composite aircraft was gathering speed and getting ready for take-off. Likewise, my spouse wasn't too sure how her first outing on snow this season would turn out; there was quite a bit of anxiety in her mind too. At the end of the day, everyone landed back on their feet and returned home safe, sound and satisfied. The only difference between the two experiments was that the 787 maiden flight was just two year late and not quite on budget!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blame it on Al-Qaeda!

The use of the Al-Qaeda label varies a lot depending on the politician, the party and the needs of the moment. Right, this group is linked to the attack on the USS Cole and 9-11 to cite a few misdeeds. My sense is that it that the original organization has been pretty much crushed and should be seen as one among many fundamentalist, terrorist movements that are the by product of local tyranny, foreign intervention or lack thereof, and foreign occupation. If these groups are not adorned with the Al-Qaeda trade-mark, another one can be placed on them, their chiefs comes and go and there is no way to eradicate this form of resistance or insurgency that is so fluid and so self-regenerating.

The only way to minimize their nefarious influence is to “walk the talk” in places like Palestine, quit supporting tyrannies like the one in Egypt, for example, and get the hell out of Iraq and Afghanistan. As long as we keep that “brand” alive, Osama bin Laden will continue to laugh at us, inside his grave, of course.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Upper body conditioning

As a skier, my legs are always strong and it's my upper body muscles that always tend to lag behind. Sure, there's always the occasional “yard work” the rest of the year that makes me use a pick ax or some earth moving implement, but that's quite limited. Winter instead brings snowfalls and the shoveling that goes with it; this past weekend was no exception, with a whopping 20 inches that had to be moved around the house and at some other location. Just like on Christmas Day 2008, yesterday's was some of these powerful storms we sometime get to unequivocally place the beginning of snow season on the calendar and get our little ski town economy started.

The snow we received was not the fluffy, ethereal white stuff we generally get, and that is the hallmark of Utah. That one was quite dense and constituted a serious work-out. We started early in the morning, I found the time to go skiing in Deer Valley in the afternoon and returned home to remove more snow; no wonder that, shortly after dinner, I almost fell asleep on the sofa while reading a pretty good book. The bonus was an almost perfect night sleep like I no longer get these days. Boy, this kind of exhaustion is decidedly soothing; I can use more of these giant snow dumps!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Val d'Isère Super G and other thoughts

Even though I believe Super G is a useless alpine event, I enjoyed watching Saturday's race in Val d'Isère because it was made so hard by the course natural difficulty and the circumstantial lack of visibility. It was rendered highly selective and for once, you could see a visual difference between skier A and skier B; they had to either take some huge risks or en up with a mediocre time.

I even saw a couple of racers performing a life-saving snowplow, something I thought was part of the 1950's ski racing technique panoply! My point is that in order to keep the sport interesting to watch, the FIS should add difficulties to races that, over the years, have instead become too “sanitized” with breakaway gates and seamless grooming. And please, keep it simple, stupid; get rid of the Super G!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Running by subzero temperatures

For most o the week, we've been running at temperatures ranging from -8 to -13 Fahrenheit and we've survived it very well. Sure, they are folks who say that running under these conditions can do you a lot of harm, starting with slipping and falling or just  “burning” your lungs and going straight to hell, but we've been running in tough conditions all these years and are still standing up without scars to prove these naysayers right. Most seriously, medical professionals will tell you that cold air can trigger chest pain or asthma attacks in some people and that's probably true, but we drink enough wine to stay protected; the only consequence we've experienced are frozen upper and lower eyelashes, but we know our way around so well that we don't even have to see it.

Seriously, cold temperatures like these slow us down considerably and that's before having to run on an uneven snow pack in some sections of our route, forcing us to pay attention in order to avoid twisting an ankle or injuring a knee. What's true is that after 30 minutes, we're warm enough to forget about the cold and begin enjoying our morning outing. Except under the tropics with boiling temperatures and extreme humidity, running is always a wonderful way to start our day.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stretching the art of compromise

In winning the Nobel Peace Prize and sending more troops to Afghanistan, president Obama had to “tap dance” more furiously than ever. He's already lost score of his staunchest supporters, including my wife, and he's puzzling the rest. While I'm still on board and giving the man the benefit of the doubt, I've come to the conclusion that he's much better at delivering speeches than acting courageously. The outcome of the Afghan conflict is the gamble he's chosen to take and will define more his political survival than his presidency.

Sure, he inherited a hell of a mess from his predecessor and had his finger stuck for almost a year in the proverbial crack on the dike, but he's been acting more as a consummate politician than a fearless leader and that precisely where he's about to lose me. I must give him credit for pushing health care reform as far as he did, but his positioning on the political board game will demand more and more from him, given his ambiguous choices; will he be able to keep dancing as the orchestra pushes up the pace?

Shaming politicians into action

As the health care reform debate is getting close to be settled, albeit emasculated, I keep on writing to my politicians. Arguably, Utah is one of the most conservative state in the union and our two senators are a perfect match for that forbidding point of view. Yet, I still send them a note, pushing them to make a vote they won't do. To attempt that miracle, I manipulate them; I “shame” them into action. Here's an excerpt of my last message to Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett:

Merry Christmas Senator!
I am of your constituents, and this holiday season, my wish is for health-care reform.
You see, we can't be trailing other civilized nations in the way we look at health care and you're far too smart not to realize it. You wouldn't want to remain in the Flintstones era, right?
Look at the passage of this bill as your best contribution ever in this Christmas season. Up in Heaven, Jesus will look kindly at your act of pushing this legislation and will say: “This is my kind of Senator!”

I also wanted to say that St. Peter would guarantee them a shaded parking spot in heaven, once there, but I thought I shouldn't push it too much...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Much better than I thought!

Until a few years ago, I was always very eager to get back on my skis at the beginning of a new season. As I get older, I now need to push myself into that first day. It must be that, as we become more mature, apprehension begins to seep in; too many experiences – good and bad – are competing for the tight space inside our cramped memories, and the negative ones are often those with the louder voice. “It’s so cold!” followed by “I don’t think I’m quite in shape yet” or even by “will my ski suit still fit?” and “will I look good on my skis?” These reasons sound perfectly legitimate and while I hear them too, I fight to ignore them as I feel the competing urge to get back on my boards. So it’s just a few days ago that I finally made my mind up to “taste the snow” and make a few turns. I must admit that my wife helped me cross that threshold by constantly reminding me: “Didn’t you say you were going to ski today?” followed later on by “What time this afternoon are you going to Deer Valley?”

These subtle reminders left me very little room for putting off my re-entry on snow and I simply couldn’t postpone it any longer. Before I left home, I had to go through the usual skier’s check list to make sure that my entire gear was accounted for, starting with my gloves, hat, goggles, car keys, wallet and cell-phone. The last thing I wanted was to pull into Snow Park without my ski boots (believe me that has happened to me a few times before!) Once in the theater of operations, the next tough move was to slip a pair of apprehensive feet into some cold, heavy and forbidding plastic ski boots. I could sympathize with my ankles and my tender toes. After a long spring, summer and fall of unrestrained movements in sandals, clogs and running shoes, my own two feet felt like entering a maximum security prison. Inside, the old liners didn’t seem to recognize their former occupants and appeared to apply mean pressure where none used to be felt six months before.
Sterling Express

It took me a few more adjustments to get all the buckles neatly closed and the pressure points gradually disappeared, or perhaps were they only a figment of my own imagination. I then clicked into my skis and was on my way to riding the lift. This was the point of no-return, the instant of total commitment… All went well as I rode up and as I gradually started to feel reacquainted with the wintery environment, everything seemed to fit perfectly; observing others skiers below felt somewhat weird and unreal as if I watched some ski movie and were somehow detached from the action. I reached the top, pointed my tips downhill and miracle, all the pieces of the puzzle suddenly fell into place; everything was there, even after seven long months without snow and skiing. I wanted to turn right, my skis obeyed, I needed to slow down or avoid someone in front of me, they responded too!

Sooner than I would have thought, I released the “parking brake” to taste some speed and cool December air on my face; I soon felt regenerated and all worked even better. I suddenly sensed the fun returning and I began wondering why I had not set aside a few days in November at the nearby Cottonwood Canyons. I was hooked again, and felt as if I had been suddenly reunited with my long-lost family! My legs still could do their job and I sensed all my skiing power returning, even more potent and well rested after the long summer hiatus. I couldn’t quite believe that I was doing so well; I felt all psyched up and wanting more of it. What I had totally forgotten was how skiing totally disconnects us from our daily preoccupations and how regenerating getting on the snow can be. I had left home shortly before one and told my spouse I would just stay a short hour, but soon found myself catching the last chair of the day as if no time had elapsed. Not bad for a first day; in fact, my fears were overrated and my expectations greatly exceeded!

Heavy telephone!

I can now admit it, I've been a telemarketer during my professional life. Between two ski industry gigs, back in early 1990, I worked as a stockbroker in Salt Lake and had to make “cold calls” to would-be investors. This was really hard work and those who have done it for a while have suffered and learned so much that they've generally done very well for themselves later on, but that's not the point. Since a typical telemarketer suffers from “fear of rejection” our trainers would tell us that the telephone felt very “heavy” to pick up when we were about to dial.

Today, I call people often, my receiver never feels heavy and I always enjoy reconnecting with past acquaintances and reminisce the good old days. The problem is that very few ever call me back, so that's when I begin to wonder: Perhaps, they simply don't like me; okay, we can't please everyone and if this is indeed the case, so be it! Another reason that my spouse sometime advances is that they're too cheap to call me on their dime; that could be true but I keep on denying it, my sense being that they're too busy doing exciting things and I don't ever happen to make it to the top of their list. I know that European friends my age exhibit a natural clumsiness with that tool and are not good at coordinating dialing with the sound of the tone.

I'm serious, they'd rather take their car, drive 5 miles to see someone for no good reason in order to chat, a much bigger expense in both terms of carbon footprint and money if we factor in the cost of fuel and the wear and tear on their vehicle. At the very least, I'd like to give the benefit of the doubt to those who never call. Another unlikely reason is that they're broke and the phone company just cut them off. This leave me with just one last good reason: Their phone receiver must be too heavy; that's right, just too heavy to lift...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jesus and Afghanistan

Since the weather has been so cold, I stayed home and watched who was on Skype all day. This is how I was able to catch Jesus yesterday evening...

Jesus: No skiing today?
Go11: Are you kidding, it's 2 pm and still 12 degrees Fahrenheit out!
Jesus: How cold is that in Celsius?
Go11: I knew you'd ask; minus eleven!
Jesus: So what do you want to talk about today?
Go11: Afghanistan. Just was curious about what you thought of President Obama's “surge?”
Jesus: It's not going to work; you see all the Afghans are sick and tired of having foreign armies telling them what to do and the only thing on their mind is “how can we get rid of them all?” Occupation never works. I remember when the Romans were in Palestine we hated those guys, but they eventually got kicked out and lost all of their huge empire in the process...
Go11: The idea though is to go after the Talibans
Jesus: Are the Talibans Swiss? No, they're Afghans. I see them as a form or resistance to the occupier. What you are up against is just semantics; Talibans, al Qeada, Boston Celtics, it doesn't matter, they're just after one single outcome, get the US and Nato out of their country. You're trowing good money after bad, placing your youth into arms way and to me, this is just another proof of how influential your military and industry complexed is.

I couldn't resist but correct:
Go11: “Military-industrial complex”
Jesus: Sheesh...
Go11: But what are we to do?
Jesus: Do what I tell everyone who wants to listen. The roots of that middle east mess are found in my home country. Work on the Palestinian situation. Make it into a single state and have these folks learn how to get along. I have said that for almost 2,000 years, but no one seems to get it.
Go11: Gotcha; I'll tell Hillary.
Jesus: No, not her! Tell Barack; give him my Skype number.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Driving with a hat on...

Countless times, I have attended the huge German ski show called Ispo, in Munich Germany. On most visits, I would arrive at the airport, jump in a taxi and check-in to my hotel where I'd refresh or rest a bit, before going to the trade fair. Since I had just arrived from America, I always was jet-lagged and tired and in a semi-conscious state which amplified whatever I heard in the first few hours following my arrival. It also always fell in February when the weather was bad, the roads slick and the cab driver complained about that guy cutting her off or this fellow driving too slow.

On several occasions, I heard a comment that always startled me: “Beware of folks that drive with their hats on, they're always bad drivers!” Was it part of the Munich cab driver community's conventional wisdom, I don't know, but that remark made me pay attention to anyone at the wheel with anything on from a fedora hat, a Stetson, a baseball cap, a knit hat or even wearing ski helmet and goggles (yeah, I've seen more and more of those!) The point of that blog and my personal findings is that there might be a lot of truth to these German cabbies' statements.

Drivers who keep their hat on are of the unpredictable kind and deserve a lot more attention from those of us that are bare-headed. My take is that headgear must hinder peripheral vision or trap weird thoughts that would normally vaporize into the atmosphere, instead of festering inside the brains and causing erratic behavior. Sure, you'll tell me that F-16 pilots or car racers wrap their head inside a helmet, but some of these people don't have too much in it to begin with. Keep this keen wisdom in mind next time you drive, and report your observations on this blog; together, we might discover some eye-opening truth!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The margin of superiority...

Wonderful weekend for those of us who love to watch ski racing, particularly at the Beaver Creek races in Colorado, where Switzerland's Carlo Janka displayed a stunning package of athletic prowess. It's only days ago that I had written about Didier Cuche's margin of superiority and I wanted to revisit this subject to add a few thoughts. This element, or lack thereof, was evident in watching Bode Miller ski and miraculously recover in the downhill. As often, Bode was on the edge, didn't train much and has no reserve. When an athlete is asked to “pull” incredible recoveries like he did in this race, he strains himself so much that it seeps whatever advantage he still could have.
That margin of superiority takes many faces. It's of course made of natural abilities, training (I'm told Cuche does that 6 hours a day), experience and of course, mental stamina or self-control, not to mention good luck. Seems to me that to make a podium these days, athletes must have that “reserve” filled to the rim, and once more, this apply not just to the tiny sport of skiing, but to all other sporting activities, business endeavor and of course, the running of our personal lives...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The spirit of adventure

Many of us in our sixties are quietly looking forward to retirement, at best a very active one and in most cases – alas - a quiet, progressive shutdown of all the vital systems that have kept us going over the years. Some – if they live inland - will be moving for good to their second homes by the water, many will split their time between home and that vacation residence they've come to love over the years, while the majority will simply stay in their abode and like me, grow their veggie garden.

Through Facebook, I recently reconnected with Patrick Wahle, a former Avoriaz ski instructor colleague of mine. Like me, he's re-invented himself a few times, moved from France to North America, and today, in his mid-sixties will make a huge leap and journey all the way to the Philippines for his retirement. He recently purchased a piece of land by the ocean, will build a new home on this corner of paradise and is committed to move there for good sometime next year.

Short of sailing across the Pacific in his 38' sailboat, that will be dismounted and neatly fitted inside a 40' container, this man and his spouse have the incredible stamina and outward looking attitude to settle in a totally strange place where they'll have to adopt the local culture, learn the language and in one word, start all over. This bold move should be an example to all of us who have become home buddies and can't stand the smallest disruption in our daily routine. Way to go, Patrick and Vicky; there's a part of me that want to go you!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Michael Moore's Capitalism

Last night we braved the freezing cold and went out to see “Capitalism: A love story,” Michael Moore's latest movie. I was just expecting the rather populist and even extremist form of entertainment characterized by his previous films (Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko) with lots of bias and overblown, if not manipulated arguments. Initially, the whole theater laughed a lot at his trademark jokes but soon the audience turned dead serious at the depiction of our current political jungle, its corruption and the unbelievable free rein big corporations are given to make money on the back of people like you and me.
As importantly, it demonstrated that the American people are incessantly sold a bill of goods and made to believe that they too, can access to that bottomless wealth that has been the hallmark of the Wall Street thieves. If you have not, you must go and see that movie; you'll find it well worth your time, the price of the theater ticket, and most importantly you may receive in it a personal call to action...

The power of “No”

If you're like me and are a rather social animal, you may prefer to acquiesce when asked something out of the blue, even if sometime, you feel set up and would prefer in fact to just say no, or think a bit further about the question. It's not rare that we feel terrible after giving away that “yes” that was pried away from us. Yet, answering by the negative often feels as if we were shutting down doors instead of opening bridges. As parents, we are under enormous and constant pressure to address our children demand and most often than not, denying many requests tears us apart and could be a reason for fights or conflicts between parents.

Then times goes on and we keep on being confronted daily with close ended requests and we learn along the way on the basis of the response uttered under those circumstances. I'm currently in the middle of some business negotiations that are important to me and am bombarded with lots requests, some of them outlandish and sometimes almost legitimate. Yet, I have a goal in mind that sets the direction I want to go to. I frame-freeze the whole process, set my thinking in slow motion, examine the request on all sides and then just refuse it; often without explanations when I don't have to offer one. It works and I feel good!

Friday, December 4, 2009

What's going on with the stock market?

I can't believe the stock market has been recovering so well for the past eight months. Companies have cut expenses but yet, there is no visible rebound in their sales. So like many other observers, I wonder what it is that the market is rewarding? Many pundits have said “be wary, there will be another big drop” in spite of all these dire predictions markets have kept on rising. Bad economic news, signs of unrest anywhere, haven't made a dent in markets that usually behave like yo-yo; instead, they've stayed their uphill course. This apparent recovery could have been good for investors who still see themselves as traders, but most of us who have been so scared by the recent free fall may not have the stomach to take the plunge into trading yet.

Ma belief is that market behavior might be the result of a relentless propaganda from the Fed and the rest of the financial industry. With most “retail investors” out of the game and only institutions playing the market to their advantage, there's now a call to the rest of us, to get back in and participate. We still need a bit more euphoria and then, when we finally get in, this new high floor will collapse to another low point, perhaps not as drastic as March 2008, but will nonetheless take another plunge. This I believe and is why I'm treading so carefully!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

How to Prepare for the Ski Season

While most serious skiers are going to the gym or practice with their indoor ski trainer, I focus on the low-energy, intellectual side of the sport in order to get in shape for the ski season. Essentially, two tasks help me reach optimum ski fitness: editing videos shot the season before and working on my equipment. These activities are enough to get my brain back into skiing mode and psych me up for winter.

Let me talk about video editing first. I’m no Spielberg and most of my movies are grainy, taken with a hand-held, small digital camera. The clips are short but they generally tell a lot. Actually, I don’t keep them to myself but share them with the rest of the family. This year, I even edited them “professionally,” taking full advantage of “Windows Movie Maker” a nice little software that was hiding inside my computer. After adding a soundtrack my children find “cheesy” and some extemporaneous voice-over, I showed the finished product to my family and comments started to fuse from all parts. “Is that you coming down Perseverance? Reminds me of a scarecrow…” or “There sure is a God, for letting you down Niagra chute in one piece!” These irritating remarks aside, I learn a lot when I watch myself, friend and love ones negotiating various ski runs and snow conditions. I discover how I could improve my ski life if I were just a tiny bit more sober with my gestures, or if I didn’t force myself into paths that were definitely not designed from me to fit into. I learn a lot about personal energy conservation and snow sustainability in the process. I generally tend to slow down the movie when I believe I catch a perfect personal moment on Stein’s Way and erase the nasty spill between two trees off some unnamed run, plus some other less-than-flattering moments. These are the perks of being in charge of the final cut.

The other side of my ski fitness regiment deals with ski preparation. That’s right, I’m still resisting the urge of taking my gear to a ski shop for a preseason tune-up and insist on doing it myself. It’s not that I’m a control-freak, I simply want to see the entire process through; from filling the nicks and scratches that pepper the bases to filing the edges and hot-waxing the final product. Interestingly enough, repairing ski bottoms is almost like a belated military debriefing in which all of my follies from the previous winter are suddenly revealed into full view. The granite outcropping that I could manifestly not avoid on that ridge just below Mayflower Bowl, that deep groove that I must have cut when a nasty snow snake threw me out against a sharp rock on one of the edges of some Daly Chutes, the edges I case-hardened last November when I ventured into Big Cottonwood Canyon or the bent prong of my left ski brake that must have been the result of a close brush I had with an oversized evergreen around Lady Morgan. Each mistake is leaving its distinct mark and this is how I will eventually learn to become a gentler, smoother skier.

Preparing my skis engenders much more physical pain than editing the video, but both leave profound, emotional stigma, and after I submit myself to both exercises, I can only hope that there will be less sneers when we screen next year’s movie and far less damage when it’s time to fix my ski bases. Now, all of this talk makes me legs antsy, I need to go out for a run!

Fear and skiing

When I ski, fear generally never enters the picture. You see, it's not that I'm fearless, but there's very little room for fear in that sport. Skiing requires good physical shape, no unbearable pain and total concentration. The latter quality would be a whole subject in itself and because it's so important and has to fill the entire mental space available, it pushes apprehension away. This activity works best with speed and fear can be a dangerous brake. This is not to say that I've always been brave during my entire skiing life but the only noticeable feature of my apprehensions was that they didn't occur in motion, but always in “static” situations.

Let me explain; a few times I've been caught in moving snow that could be likened to slides or avalanches; I was stuck and fearing to get crushed, unable to breath and eventually suffocate. This form of entrapment stimulates claustrophobia and we can get really scared in these moments. Almost a decade ago, I was skiing Les Grands Montets, near Chamonix with my nephew Yves and Thomas Chauplannaz, both thirty years younger than me; they took me on a steep traverse above some forbidding and potentially lethal cliffs. My skis were too long for the trail undulations and I felt really uneasy.

I have encountered similar situations earlier in my life and the other fearful moments I can vaguely remember, occurred while I still was a kid and found myself on challenging terrain with much better skiers than me. Every time I had a ski accident (and I had a few) was just like surviving a car crash; all went into slow-motion, I remained incredibly aware of what was going on and probably did what I knew to lessen the blow. On the eve of this new season, I still feel perfectly confident and see no reason for fright to seep into my skiing any time soon. When that happens, my downhill days will be over.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

No rabbit inside Obama's hat

Last night, President Obama's speech failed to charm and motivate me. I heard it, trying to find a sound rationale into it, but therein was very little believable substance. I realize that Barack Obama is now between the rock and the hard place and I find that he's gambling his second term on the hope that by July 2011, the situation will have vastly improved in Afghanistan.

I doubt very much that we'll prevail, unless our arm forces either have a secret plan, or become extremely productive. As our former (and terrible) Secretary of Defense Ronald Rumsfeld once said, “we fight with the army we've got” and sometime I wonder if goals are clear enough and the force smart and motivated enough to steer us towards what we want (yeah, what is it exactly that we want?)

The other missing piece to the puzzle is how we're going to pay for that huge additional expense and, once more, it seems that this extra effort will be absorbed by some magical slush fund that we never knew existed. I'm disappointed but not surprised. I was in favor of pulling out once and for all of this god forsaken land, and here we are stuck there for at least another two years. Mr Obama and his general better turn on the heat and deliver a timely withdrawal!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The September issue

We had seen “The Devil wears Prada” before, but last weekend we went to see the documentary about Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue and her infamous management style that inspired the big movie featuring Merryl Streep. This documentary that premiered at last year's Sundance Film Festival in Park City is a must-see not just because its director was given unprecedented access to Vogue's creative team as the 2007 issue of the magazine was being prepared, but also is a piece of modern anthropology that paints a perfect picture, if not caricature, of what high-pressure corporate life in America is all about. We discover the huge ego that propels the protagonists, the power of pulling the strings of a $600 billion industry, the power of being successful and the absolute addiction to these feelings.

The film also paints a searing portrait of some other corporate slaves, like her number two person Grace Coddington who is held hostage to her golden job. It shows why so many older folks never take retirement, not because they love their works – Wintour and all of her staff seem profoundly unhappy – but because they couldn't imagine their life without the pressure, the action and above all the sheer power their position procures; so that's why they have no other place to go but keep on running upon that dreary corporate treadmill. If you've witnessed that aspect of corporate life or want to catch a glimpse of it, go and see that superb documentary...