Friday, December 31, 2010

A worry-free life

We've already established that worrying is a major waste of time and energy. Of course, there might be some matters that still could justify some modicum of concern,
but by and large, a worry-free life is possible if we apply ourselves to getting the necessary discipline and the proper training needed to achieve that goal. The first idea is that we should never worry about issues we don't control. Death and natural catastrophes like a meteorite slamming into earth and destroying everything.

If there are things that still worry us and that we somehow control, we just need to do something about them by taking active control of them, right away, and little by little chip at them if they're too overwhelming. We need to turn these worries into remedial actions, that's it. Then, when we act on some of these causes, we free ourselves and become actors instead of passive and powerless victims. You see, the remedy is simple, with nothing complicated at this early stage of treatment. I know the subject is vast and needs to be explored further, but for this last day of 2010 that will suffice!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Embracing maturity

As we grow older, there are several ways of dealing with the work of time. One of them is to deny it by trying anything that could undo or slow-down the ravages of aging; from cosmetic surgery, to Botox, to anti-aging lotions or even to wigs or hair implants. Another approach is to avoid the subject, pure and simple. Many folks chose that response as it's the easiest and by far, the one that's less painful.

It's not that by avoiding confrontation symptoms will go away, but by not bringing the subject front and center, it sure produces a certain peace of mind an keep that reality away. My approach with that issue of maturity is to embracing it head-on and by so doing accentuating the positive of the aging process. For example, I wear my wrinkles as if they were badges of honor and I sometime marvel at the beautiful eroding work time is doing on my face. Beauty remains in the eye of the beholder and without falling into a narcissistic contemplation of my old face, I approve of it, think it's okay and live well with it.

We have in our house a framed black and white photograph of an anonymous French peasant, taken in St. Véran in the southern Alps, by my former school teacher. His face is weathered, rugged and just beautiful. Everyone who sees it is generally taken by its natural beauty. To me, it's a benchmark.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Full body transplant

Since I've approached my sixties and entered into them without even batting an eye, I've wished that there would be a “full-body-transplant” available. Picture this: I keep my old head, but right at the neck, I get a 24 year old male body in excellent physical shape that should pleasantly take me into my nineties and perhaps beyond. Technically speaking the neck area is small enough in section to allow a minimum size transplant and a relatively easy reconnection of all the vital circuits and tubes. Nothing that modern science couldn't do. Up at the top, I'd keep my knowledge, my thinking and – hopefully my wisdom.

Nothing fancy or plain impossible, just a natural evolution in our wonderful world of science. I know that some of you will think: “Wait a minute, another five year and the guy will ask for a head transplant...” No, I know much better. I can live with my baldness and my wrinkles; I prefer to stay in control!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The original and the copy

We couldn't afford to see the Rolling Stones when they came to Salt Lake in 1999 with their “No Security Tour” so the next best thing for us was to go and see some Stones “look-alike” which we just did last night at the Egyptian Theater, in Park City. “Satisfaction” is the international touring tribute show dedicated to the famous British band.

Started in Shreveport, Louisiana, this show has been produced since 2001 with over 1500 performance dates to its credit. It's actually the only full time touring show of its kind in the world. This highly acclaimed production showcases the most authentic cast audiences have ever seen. The likes of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and supporting cast bring a colorful performance to over 45 years of classic hits.

In 2008, the band assisted in the promotion of the new Martin Scorsese documentary film "Shine a Light" about the Stones performance in New York City. Like in the real world, Chris LeGrand, who plays the role of Mick Jagger, is the big star of the evening and did a really great job last night with his perfect mannerisms, his explosive dynamism and genuine representation of the original artist. Even though “we don't always get what we want,” we certainly got plenty of “satisfaction” last evening!

Monday, December 27, 2010

A new fun toy...

Since I have been very good, Santa Claus brought me a wonderful toy. It's actually more than a toy because it also doubles as a very useful watch. But it's a smart one, even much smarter than my old Suunto that I always failed to fully understand. This one is much more intuitive and user-friendly and tells me in seconds how far and how fast I go as well as how much vertical I lose or I gain. It's my new Garmin Forerunner 110, that combines GPS, computer and timekeeping functions in a small and stylish wristwatch.

Since today was the day after Christmas, I went on a walk this morning to test it, but accidentally erased the results. So instead of going skiing this afternoon, I went running to test it again. It worked beautifully and had only one thing wrong with it. It told me the painful truth about how slow I was and how short my runs were.

I can't hide or make up stories about my running, skiing or mountain biking prowess anymore. For instance, instead of believing that we run 4.4 miles most of the days, it's now only 4.17 and instead the 3.6 miles of our “short run” has shrunk to just 3.5 miles ... I had measured these courses in total good faith with my mountain bike and its overinflated tires also overstated the truth, but no one's perfect!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The great skiing shortcut

These days, learning how to ski is easy. The same could be said – even to a much larger extent – about snowboarding. Both sports now offer a much faster learning curve than they used to. However, when the newcomer has enough autonomy to go everywhere, stagnation creeps onto the scene in a big way. The skier (or snowboarder) has to put in even more time and miles in order to keep on improving. Basic skills like edge control (the holy grail of skiing) take years and miles on the slope to fully master and this can be very hard, for the newbie, to fully comprehend and accept.

This said, it's wonderful that new equipment and impeccable slope grooming can give a head start to all these new skiers. The industry needs it badly. But to becoming good and very good, still takes the same amount of time, work and dedication; the problem is that, with an introduction so fast and so easy, getting really good can be seen as much more frustrating and almost unattainable. In skiing, like in any other life endeavors for that matter, even the best shortcuts are never a substitute for running the entire course...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Present-packed Christmas

Last night we had a fun family celebration of Christmas, with grandson Finn, the centerpiece of this annual event. Good food, good company and a present overload. In spite of what we say all year long, it's hard to keep Christmas gift-giving simple and minimalist. We're all guilty of getting a little carried away. Commercialism has for sure taken over the annual festivity. We should establish present-giving rules and follow them faithfully, but the temptation is always lurking and never fails to take over the whole process. Well, there's always next year. In the meantime, Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

At last, the mood-o-meter!

In time for Christmas Eve, and for those procrastinators, I'm suggesting a terrific gift idea. It can be worn like a wrist-watch, placed on your desk-top or your car dash-board and remind you all-day long about your state of mind, let's say mood if your prefer, and this way, we can call the product a mood-o-meter for lack of a better name. It's true that we always have a vague feeling about how things are inside our heads, but sometimes we forget and quickly get in trouble as we're not able to adjust our behaviors in relation to our moods.

In other words, a lousy, current state of mind takes over and ruin the day or bring havoc into a situation that could be pleasant, or into an event that should be merry, and what better time to use that device, during the always highly stressed, Holiday Season. So if you're interested – and I see no reason why you wouldn’t – in this all important mood-monitoring device, place your order today, I'll manage to find investors and get a production line going. The faster you order, the sooner you'll get your tool. For those of you that are iPhone users, yes; there will be an app!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Where are the snows of yesteryear?

François Villon, a XV Century French poet, thief, and vagabond wrote those lines and is not the only one having noticed that winters ago, there seem to have been much more snow than there's today. I've heard, you've heard it, you parents have stated the identical truth and I recall even having uttered the same, nonsensical statement. This week record snowfalls in Park City bring it front and center.

You see, I believe that the biggest problem with that observation is perspective. When I was 8 years old, I was 4 only feet tall and the berms left by the snowplow in the alps could reach between 2 or 3 feet in height. Contrast that with a 6 feet, 35 year old, who's looking at the same berms. They now appear tiny and a far cry from what they were more than one quarter-century before! Got it? Let's not discuss that ever again. Now I need to go out to shoveling and blowing the snow that fell again last night...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Discovering my aspirations

This might seem long overdue, but as we attempted to watch the two consecutive episode of “The Calling” on PBS, about these young folks that enter the religious service to become rabbi,
priest or imam, I was wondering why I never had such a religious calling. By the way, this was a wonderful show, but too much snow shoveling in the past two days only let me see 45 minutes of each two-hour installment; I intend to watch it on line, in full.

The answer to my lack of religious calling came to me clear and simple; I was forced into religion as a kid, never really bought into the convoluted story I was told and did everything I could to extricate myself from it. As for my true callings they were loud and clear: I wanted freedom from my parents and their attempts to dictating the way I should live, I loved skiing, I had a creative bend (first drawing and today writing and video producing), was insatiably curious and wanted to explore the whole wide world. One could discuss my choices, but they have managed to fulfill me and continue to captivate me!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cultivating friendship

It takes time to be a good friend, it takes a lot of attention too. I'm blessed to having many good friends and it's a lesson that I must never forget when I'm up to the task of maintaining my “stable” of good buddies. Just like tending a bountiful garden. It demands attention, precision, love. It also grows well with mistakes, forgetfulness, misguided words and sometime mean behavior.
All these disparate moving parts eventually fall in to place, like the pieces of a beautiful puzzle, helping us learn, understand and get much better at the business of being good friends. Friendship is never a destination, but always a work in progress. This message is dedicated to all my good friends whom I value a lot.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tech divide

This year we decided to forgo the printed holiday postcards and instead produce a video of my wife and I greeting our “public” and commented on the most notable events that happened in the past twelve month. This means that all the hard work was upfront as everything was sent via email to my large friends database, including many – but not all – of my Facebook “friends.”

As I was looking at the recipients' impressive list, it dawned on me that out of 320 names to whom I've sent that video, there are about one dozen left that don't have internet service; one-third of them live in the USA and the rest in France. These folks, most of whom are well into their sixties if not seventies, include one member of my direct family and it's pretty obvious that they're today literally left behind out of that new digital world and will be missing out a lot if they don't get on with the “program.” Will they really? I sincerely doubt it, but so is the cruel nature of change and evolution.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Learning from the young (continued)

Another learning element that comes from observing racers is the deliberate choice, or the happy medium, between smooth gliding and aggression while racing. Younger and female skiers generally seem to do better with the former while their older and male counterparts tend to pick the opposite approach. It's clear however that too much force goes against fine gliding and that a happy medium can be hard to strike.

Of course, snow conditions can influence these strategies in a big way. On very hard snow, some aggressive action is often necessary, at the very least to control speed while the reverse is absolutely true on softer runs.
At any rate the soft versus hard approach remains a continuous subject for debate. I'm clearly in favor of the former, but that's an opinion dictated more by my style and my athletic abilities than by some absolute proof!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Learning from young racers...

Each year, I "relapse" into volunteering for a consecutive four-day December junior race series in Park City. The weather is generally brutal (the first two mornings began at -1 and -4 respectively) and the days end up being too long as the field of racer is close to 250, but I find some compensation in watching these skis racers ranging in age from 13 to 18, and as years go by, I can see the technical progress made by that field of racers. Many of them are really at the top of their game and are able to maximizing an equipment in constant evolution.

I can tell who might be the next Vonn or Ligety and while I was thinking this, I took the short time of a break yesterday, between the two slalom runs, to go skiing, in order to keep warm, I rode one lift up with Bill Ligety, Ted's own dad who told me that during these same races, many years ago, as Ted Ligety did miserably, it finally downed on his son that he should take his training much more seriously. Evidently, that realization has since paid off and it made my day to think that my very small contribution is put to active use in creating new champions...

Friday, December 17, 2010

A (bad) ski dream

Yesterday was another day for me of volunteering at the Eric Hayes junior ski races at the Park City Mountain Resorts, and as logic would have it, I had a dream about skiing that night. Some would call it a nightmare, but I'd prefer to call it just a dream because I still believe that “skiing” and “nightmare” are totally incompatible. So there I was, spring skiing in some unknown locale in the Rocky Mountain West and approaching a transition in the slope at a fairly high rate of speed, when suddenly I found myself at the edge of a cliff and had no other option but going with the flow.

I soon realized that I was flying some 2,000 feet over ground. Since the flight was played in slow motion, I tried to position my skis properly and all along was looking for a steep landing spot that would somehow soften the blow, but the terrain was turning around, going the wrong way on purpose, it seemed, and I couldn't do much about it. When I finally hit the ground, the screen went blank, in total silence, and a few moments later I woke up. I was alive alright, but I had failed to witness the glowing tunnel that people claim they see in near-death experience situations. This is perhaps because I'm a heathen or there isn't such at thing after all...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

When skiing smoothly is a “must do”

As time goes on, energy dwindles. There's no denying this fact of life for us who are over sixty. Recently, I was bragging about the importance of “smooth skiing.” In fact, it was only speaking for myself, because as I'm aging and with reduced physical strength, I better be extra efficient when I'm on my boards. Yesterday was just another example of that searing truth.
I was having lots of fun skiing in Deer Valley under Lady Morgan's lift through 6 new inches of powder when a bush caught my skis and brought me down. No harm done, but this trivial incident did cost me a lot in terms of extricating myself from an awkward spot and getting back on my feet! In short, it gave me a renewed sense of appreciation for gliding smoothly, that is without falling, having to brush off and get back up every other run!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Belief, Faith and Passion (continued)

After I posted yesterday's blog, I thought a little bit longer at what I had written and it dawned on me that we're all different and respond to different stimuli. For those of us who are in situations of anxiety, a bit apprehensive or simply never too sure, faith comes in quite handy and gives that extra support that proves indispensable to carry on. Then, there another large block of people who are busy living their lives, working, raising their families and are happy to subscribe to certain sets of beliefs that work well for them. These may vary over time or could stay with them during their entire lifetime, and if they work for fine, more power to them.

Then the remaining group of individuals are where you'll find those that are intense, compulsive, never self-satisfied and also consumed with their own brand of passion. As they keep on pushing their own envelope, these characters generally create their proper set of beliefs that too evolve and often are never the same at any given moment. It is, I guess, different strokes for different folks. If you dissent with my view, please, speak up!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Belief, Faith and... Passion

Yesterday, I was watching and interview of Great Britain's former prime minister Gordon Brown promoting his new book (what else can he do!) and insisting that leadership was made up of belief and determination. I'm not sure I really like that, because other people beliefs isn't something I always trust. If it's justified and proven, so much the better, but experience has showed me that beliefs vary vastly with individuals and can't always be counted on or taken at face value.

In other words, my set of beliefs may work for me, but not for you, or they may just be flat wrong. By the way, I also find that faith is pretty much interchangeable with belief, from a quality standpoint, but is often even less reliable. So with that in mind, which moral compass should we trust? I'd tend to answer with “passion.” This, to me, is the genuine article and if that live energy inhabits your body and your spirit, you really can trust it. It's your lifeblood and the by-product of your deep-running instinct. Folks who followed their bliss have always given way to their passion. That's right, more than anything else in my life, I believe in and trust my passions.

Smitten with the Lady

For many years, I've held the opinion that Deer Valley's most challenging skiing was found around Bald Mountain, and accessible through the Wasatch, Sultan and Mayflower lifts. I liked that terrain and have spent hours exploring and discovering this entire side of the mountain. My paradigm only began to shift when Empire arrived on the scene and the Daly Chutes - which I covered extensively last season in this blog – opened up some new horizons and seriously cranked up the “inclinometer.” More recently however, I have spent a greater amount of “quality time” skiing around the Lady Morgan Express Chair and I am beginning to renege on my previous loves while furthering my appreciation for the very high performance skiing Deer Valley has to offer. That's right, there's so much to love about Lady Morgan.

To begin with, that chair is rocket-fast. In about three and a half minute it whisks you to the top of the hill and if you are willing and able to ski as hard as is humanly possible, you might get a full ten laps within the hour. But raw power is only one small part of the story. Variety of options is actually what makes that section of the mountain quite unique. If your friends or significant other aren't nearly as good as you on skis, they have the choice, from the top of that same lift, to go their merry way on a green run and meet you again at the bottom without any angst and might even have to wait for you at the bottom! All they need to do is comfortably follow “Pearl” and “Webster” and may even elect to make an unscheduled stopover at the Empire Lodge, that stands right on their path, and indulge on a snack, an early lunch or a warm cocoa while you wrestle with the mountain. This one is the easiest way.

The next choice is “Magnet” and while impressive at the top, this one-diamond run is quite manageable as it's often groomed, and since it's still a good distance away from the lift, it's not quite as steep as “Argus,” the next main run, also a one-diamond, which depending on conditions, is often my favorite way down the mountain. This run is steep and relentless. On it, it's hard to fake anything as it demands your undivided attention and good legs if you don't want to stop every six turns. On a new powder day, I'll stay on this run for the duration; when snow is a few days old, I generally cut over to “Hillside,” on skier's left that brings me right under the chair and keeps me out of the short section of Webster and its slower skiers. It's clear that for the best among us, staying close to the lift is where the most fun resides at Lady Morgan's.

Then further to the skier's left from the top of the chair, there is the double-diamond “Centennial” and its wonderful tree skiing, surprising relief and changing terrain. From the day Lady Morgan opened up in December of 2007, that run was already packed with excitement. This season, more glading has made this section of the mountain a tree-skier's paradise. Just enough evergreens to make the experience intense, but the extra spacing brings much more wiggle room and adds loads of fun to the package. This pretty much sums up the marked runs.

Then there are all the possible combinations between all these runs and this is precisely where Lady Morgan unleashes her irresistible attraction. Cliffs, steeps, trees, all can be mixed to create a smorgasbord of fantastic skiing in a very compact setting. I personally love to stay under the lift and negotiate the steep chutes that are half-way down the hill from the skier's left and continue all the way down under the towers. Most skiers can spend a full day venturing into a brand new line as long as they remain in shape for the challenge. That's right, at the end, what always counts is your legs ability to withstand the punishment, but always keep in mind that Empire Lodge and its soothing rewards stands vigil just a few turns away!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Evian's naïveté

Yesterday, as we were downloading the gondola at the Canyons, we rode with three young snowboarders, one one them sporting a t-shirt that said “naive” with the Evian water logo.
Even though I was born just miles away from the plant where the famous and expensive water is bottled, it had never downed on me that “Evian” spelled backwards could read “Naive.” Quite a slip of tongue, or a sly inference into the lack of critical thinking from snobbish consumers, that fall for the marketing promises that a well-branded bottle of water will make them feel healthier and much cooler!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Vive la différence!

Last week as we were walking around our neighborhood, I saw that woman coming towards us and running behind something that looks like a jogger stroller, except that, as she approached, it didn't appear to have the larger wheels found on the genuine article. What she was pushing looked more like a modified grocery cart than the tool committed runners push around town with their offspring as passenger.

Just like certain strollers, there appeared to be space for several passengers, and I assumed these were twins. As she ran by us we saw two cats inside. Would it help to add that the lady was dressed like a scarecrow and was running in hiking shoes? Perhaps not; it was just another example of how different we all are and these particularities show up more dramatically in a small community like ours than in New York City...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The political sides of skiing

Even though I learned the rudiments of snowboarding, I don't enjoy it that much and while I can ride my monoski - some call it monoboard - pretty well, I haven't used it for quite sometime. Why is it? I have absolutely nothing against people on single boards, I marvel at the cool, elongated tracks certain leave in powder, but I don't envy them. For one thing, I am of the opinion that only having one set of edges in contact with the snow is clearly limiting and isn't as nearly fun as having two dueling skis wanting to do things on their own. To me that's what is keeping life on snow interesting.

That's right, I feel that riding the snow on one single board is far too predictable and lacks the adrenaline rush I get on two. It's far too boring for me; I have to stay awake! I would add that the spirit of contradiction that prevails between my boards is never the same; in fact, it evolves over the years. For instance, when I began skiing, my skis were converging most of the time, “making the piece of pie” as instructors would say. It didn't mean they agreed, they simply wanted to be close and appeared to enjoy starring at each other.

Today they still do it at times, but more rarely. Most of the time, they tend to diverge; like some old married couples, they want their own “space” and must be getting tired of so many years of togetherness. Worse, there are times when they can't seem to get along, aren't able to hold a straight line and one only carves because the other does. Harmonious team work might not be part of their value system. To sum it all up, they appear to be constantly crossed at each other. I wonder why? Rarely do they align their thoughts and pull forward into the same direction. Going straight is anathema to them even thought they often go schuss, but they do it because I like to ski fast and when they do, they can ignore each other.

This is why I am sometime tempted to call my left ski a democrat and my right one a republican, but I know better than that; I respectively call them liberal and conservative. Since, I'm naturally a “south paw” or a lefty, you might draw some premature conclusions. In case you'd still wonder however, the guy on top has to play the role of an arbiter and can't be anything but a true independent for the whole enterprise to work. This is why one single board, like a snowboard or a monoski reminds me of some totalitarian, single-party system in which dissent has no place. Yet, with all this pushing and pulling between my pair of skis, I can make bipartisanship work. I have been skiing for more than five decades and so far, my two skis have always managed to compromise and see fir and aspen trees from the same side. I just hope they'll continue...

Friday, December 10, 2010

The US Postal Service (redux)

I thought we had solved our mail distribution problems but was – once more – too optimistic, too soon! Our new, smaller box failed to produce the expected result of mail collection and yesterday, after three mail-less days, my wife went to the Post-Office front desk, cornered the same employee to whom I had given the change-of-address-form who, said he didn't remember anything having remotely anything to do with such a request.

He must have thrown the form away. At any rate, after a rather sterile exchange, the man disappeared into the back room and returned long minutes later with our mail that had piled up inside the old, large box. He then said that he'd make a note of that change in the old box and that things should be “alright...” We'll see.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Montage open for business.

Deer Valley Resort can now boast a new hotel, and what a place that is! It's called Montage. How do you say that? Just try “mɒn'tɑ:ʒ”, that's right, “Montage... Now, what does that mean? If you are French you ought to know as it means a lot of thing. But in the most general sense it define the operations that consist assembling various elements of an object so it can be used. The English sense is more refined in that it's sometimes defined as an art form consisting of putting together or assembling various smaller pictures to create a larger work.

There are two other Montage in operations; one is in Beverley Hills and the other in Laguna Beach where my wife and I had the good fortune to stay for a few days in 2005. Wow, what an experience! That's right, Montage is devoted to delivering a superior guest experience and reflects a commitment to refined living. Guests can expect impeccable hospitality, exceptional epicurean experiences, world class spas and an elegant, yet welcoming ambiance with the goal of creating lasting and cherished memories, which, trust me, stay with you.
The hotel offers 220 rooms and suites and includes a 35,000-square foot spa plus over 50,000 of meeting events and facilities. What must be placed next to these numbers are the 500 employees that will make the entire plan work. Just do the math: two and a half person catering to each guest room! In addition to the St. Regis Hotel, also in Deer Valley, and the Waldorf-Astoria at the Canyons, Montage is by far the most luxurious residence in Park City and will definitely help our tourist economy. With literally thousands of locals that were invited to the massive open house, we spent almost one and a half hours marveling at the new facilities and were all treated to some hot beverages and snack. A true class act. Thanks for inviting us, Montage!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Terrorism, Republican style

The Republicans held the congress and the president hostage and the latter was the first to blink. Right, there was hostage-taking as the president himself said, but nonetheless Barack Obama has failed me by giving in to the idea that his country is pain-adverse, and can't take what's really good for us in the long-term - the unavoidable immediate suffering. He became an accomplice to delaying the proper cure; by so doing, he's assuring the horrible reckoning (akin of an amputation) that sure will follow. This maybe a reflection of what the American people dream they want (something for nothing) but it still fails to validate Obama's action.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The US Post Office (end)

I'm no fan of the US Postal Services and this is another example why. About 10 days ago we decided to “downsize” our post office box. We had a cavernous one that we couldn't fill in spite of our best efforts. In the past we received plenty of junk-mail, catalogs and subscribed to a few more periodical. These days few folks take the time to write us letters and most of our transactions are made on line without any need for postal delivery. This is how it became time to forgo the super-sized box in favor of a more modest one. The process took me six personal visits to the post office and just came to a successful conclusion yesterday. Here's the sequence of events (true story) that I condensed a great deal so you don't have to go through the whole ordeal.

Day one: I go to the post office and ask to downsize our box. Fill some paper and ask for a special rate only granted by the local postmaster.
Day two: I return the forms, but the clerk, tells me I need to bring my passport in addition to my driver's license for identification
Day three: A different employee asks me for proof of ownership of the property that entitles me to the special rate
Day four: I bring the missing proof, the employee tells me that the postmaster will examine my request and get back to me by phone.
Day five: I receive a phone call from Rhonda, the postmaster; she asks me more questions and make sure I really want what I'm asking for. I confirm. She tells me she'll call me back with a final decision.
Day six: Rhonda calls me back and confirm that my request has been granted. That same day I go to the post office and am told by the desk clerk that the new keys are not ready yet for the smaller box and that I should return the following week (that was this past Friday.) I am also given forms for changing my address and getting a refund for the unused time portion of the larger box (an unexpected bonus!)
Day seven: I give my forms to the clerk; the keys are ready, but the man battles with his computer terminal to get it to spit out a refund. After a thirty minute struggle with the USPS recalcitrant technology, we finally triumph. I get a new set of keys for our new – smaller box – and a refund. Life is beautiful and simple.

I also don't have to wonder why the US Postal Services lost $8.5 billion this past fiscal year...

Monday, December 6, 2010

The trick with changing snow

Yesterday was a wonderful skiing day. My wife and I went to Deer Valley and enjoyed a March weather with... December snow! This said, we skied on a wide variety of conditions linked to both the exposure and the elevation of the slope. From hardened man-made, spring corn, to powdery blown sections and even to pre-groomed rougher surface on one steeper run which was not intended for “family consumption.”

On difficult snow like the latter, I discovered that there is an incredible feedback phenom that exist between the surface of the snow – call it perhaps the angle the snow make with the ski base at any given moment – and a skier's body. This pair of angles (there are two skis) varies constantly as a skier evolves on an uneven, changing surface and the faster the trickier. So what happens is that feet and ankles must somehow read that fleeting and quickly changing angle variations and telegraph the adjustments that must be made all through the rest of the body. Call it instant feedback that trump our conscious faculties and that only miles of practice and a lifelong spent on boards can allow to working successfully. Trust me, that's quite an amazing possibility!

Nine lives (the sequel)

This morning, in reading my hometown's newspaper I was shocked to read that, mid-afternoon yesterday, a man fell more than 100 feet off a pedestrian suspended bridge that span the Morzine valley, just a couple of miles from the village where I was raised in the French Alps, and managed to survive his fall with only two broken ankles and some degree of hypothermia as he landed on a snow pile before sliding into the nearby creek.
The man, who happened to be Morzine's very own mayor was conscious when the helicopter picked him up before taking him to a hospital in Annecy. He apparently voluntarily straddled the guard-rail and for seemingly no reason took a plunge that ended up being quite miraculous. As we discussed the other day, he evidently had not used up his full reserves of lives, yet!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How I became a skier...

Yesterday, my wife asked me how I learned to ski. This was something I had never, ever asked myself. I actually began skiing when I was 7 on a pair of skis entirely handmade by my Dad. My older brother got a pair too, albeit a bit longer, and we went skiing at a place called “le tremplin” (the ski jump) just 250 yards from our home. We would side-step up the hill and schuss down, go over the jump, land and end up with a hockey stop.

Later, I participated into a school cross-country race which I found to be horrible. After that, I managed a few outing on the nearby “télébenne” that was 2 miles from my parents house and required carrying skis and poles both ways. Quite an undertaking. When I was 10 or 12, my parents bought me my first pair of manufactured skis, a pair of Duret “Contreplaqué” and I would again, occasionally go the the “télébenne” with our middle school. I remember envying my more fortunate comrades whose parents had hotels and small businesses, that were members of the Morzine ski club with their Rossignol “Soupless” or their “Dynamic” skis outfitted with Look Nevada bindings...
When I was a teenager, I finally got a job as a lifty with Le Pleney, a local mountain, worked there every Christmas, February and Easter school holidays and also earned the privilege to ride the lifts free during the week-ends in-between. That's when my skiing began to take off. Up until that point, I had received no lesson whatsoever. I just learned by observing and imitating other skiers and not necessarily the best! It's only when I began teaching skiing at the Avoriaz ski school that I had to attend a ski-instructor clinic in Chamrousse, near Grenoble, France, when I received my first pointers. Later on, in Avoriaz, I received some sporadic coaching, but by in large, I was very much on my own and taught myself how to ski...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Trip to old town

Our home is about 3 miles from old town Park City and yesterday, we walked all the way to our downtown location. On the way, we stopped at the bank and then went on to the post office, right on Main Street.
When our errands were over, we went to the Park City Transit Center, caught the free bus back home and about 25 minutes later we were back to the bus stop that's only 300 yards away from home. Our free bus system is a wonder that we ignored for too long and only discovered when we moved to our smaller home.

Before, we had no bus stops nearby and as a result never used the facility. Today, we used the bus system when our town is congested with big events, like the film festival or during the peak tourist season. When I used to ski Park City Mountain Resort, I would at time ride the bus back and forth when parking was too difficult. The Park City transit system is clean, comfortable, ski & bike friendly, it won't just take you wherever you want to go and whenever you want to get there - but it does it in a surprisingly green way. Park City's buses are all powered by bio-diesel and make it possible for you to reduce greenhouse gases while enjoying the Park City lifestyle.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pre-season angst

It used to be different; I was always excited about my first skiing day. These days, there's a tinge of anxiety preceding my first day on the snow in the season. It's not that I had been off the slopes too long; five month and sixteen days to be exact, but there's a little something floating in the air that seems to holding me back. I think it's simply a measure of the wisdom that comes with age! I finally went yesterday and it was a wonderful day for beginning a new season.

Perfect weather, no one on the slopes and ideal snow. It's not that I feared hurting myself, but more perhaps that I was concerned about witnessing some decline in my technical abilities. I must say that these fears were totally unfounded and that I had a great time, skied all day on my favorite Park City runs (Thaynes and Jupiter) and left the scene at the end of the afternoon filled with regrets... The only negative was the harshness of my ski boots, which always is a problem after a summer spend barefoot or just inside clogs, sandals or running shoes. I'll probably get used to it!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Nine lives?

Just like cats, we all might have nine lives – or hopefully, even more! We all know that our lives are weaved with danger, fear, accident and luck (good and bad.) Navigating our existence is a matter of dodging the bullet and making it unscathed as we progress along the way. When I was 4 or 5 I made a frightful descent in a three-wheel wheelbarrow into a deep valley. I should have died, but I didn't.

Shortly thereafter, I almost drawn as I fell in a mountain creek overpowered with spring-run off and was luckily saved by a little boy that played with me that day; I even remember his name, Gerard Leserson. During my military service, car accidents were in the cards. I first had one while hitchhiking with my buddy Guibelin, in the south of France, when the 403 Peugeot we were in rolled over on the middle of busy Route Nationale 7; we all made it out okay. Another one, most spectacular, involved me and three others, inside another Peugeot – a 404 this time – that was driven by my good friend Michel Duret. The car hit a tree head-on after aquaplaning near Montpellier, also in the south of France. We were brought to the hospital and also all survived it well.

Still in France, one night, my brother almost got us into the lake of Montriond, when he hit a retaining wall at a high rate of speed; thanks heaven we stayed on the road. After that, my adult life became busy, filled with job and family responsibilities that shielded me from these elements of danger. Aside from a few close encounters while skiing and in spite of millions of miles flown the world over without a major crash, I have stayed quite safe. The last dangerous exercise I remember doing to drive up la Restonica narrow road in Corsica in 2006, and since then, I have stayed extremely secure, I don't want to spoil my remaining “lives...”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The joy of selling

When I worked for a paycheck I mostly was in sales and marketing and I have sold quite a few things. Big and small, remarkable and unforgettable, hard to close and routine, but I perhaps never have enjoyed it as much as when I sell a trinket on Craigslist these days. I don't use the service that often, but when I do it almost always works to my total surprise! The last item in contention was my Suunto sport watch that I have had for many years and that I never was able to figure out! What I wanted out of that watch was to compute my vertical drop while skiing and I never was able to assimilate the complicated maneuvers leading to tallying up what's such a big deal to me.

I even listed that achievement on my 2010 new year's resolutions, but failed miserably in my attempt! So, almost two months ago I finally threw in the towel and decided to move on with technology and get a new GPS watch that – if Santa is holding on to his promise and if I'm not naughty of course - I should wear it the day after Christmas. So to make room for that new toy, I sold the old one last night and felt as pumped up as I've ever been when I closed my biggest transaction ever!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks, you and me

Unlike Berlusconi, Karzai and Merkel, among others, I didn't make it on Wikileaks. If there had been a comment about my true nature, it would probably have been something everyone already knew. Like Sarkozy that is described as an “Emperor with no clothes...”
Well, wait a minute, this becomes interesting; what would have happened if folks like you and me had been pinned down by the U.S. Diplomatic Corps and summarily called for what we really were. For me, they might have said something like: “This jerk thinks he's got big opinions on issues he has no clues about...” perhaps also “he should be working more and skiing less” or some unpleasant barbs along these lines. Now, let's all do some homework; first do a search to verify you aren't mentioned on Wikileaks and if it's indeed the case, send me what you think the unvarnished truth seen by United States might be about you and we'll compile the results on this blog...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Complicated products

We've never been too lucky with our video recording devices; from VHS tapes to DVD, we haven't used those enough to get a full enjoyment of watching videos through them and more often than not, they've all managed to becoming obsolete and inoperable as we failed to fully use them. So when we decided to get a new, state-of-the-art DVD player, I did some research to find myself amidst technical chaos, confusion and sheer ignorance. Everything had transformed itself; products were now “blue-ray,” internet-ready and appeared to do more things than the best Swiss-army knife was ever engineered to accomplish.
In an attempt to gaining some critical knowledge, I first started on the web and got – at best – a fuzzy impression of what my options were. I had to take a trip to Best Buy and talk to some of their techies, but most importantly see, touch and manipulate the real products – before I finally gathered a better understanding of what I was up against. I also read tons of users reviews (that was on the web) and was expecting the very worst when I began unpacking the device and hooking it up to our TV. To my astonishment, it worked! The system miraculously connected to our wireless network and got installed in minutes; it was a breeze! I felt proud of myself for having regained a temporary foothold into the world of technology!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Out of adjustments

In the last months, we have experienced some major technical breakdowns with our electronic devices. It first began with my spouse's computer that couldn't produce any sound whenever she wanted to watch a video on it. I thought the sound-card was gone and was ready to invest into a new one. I then realized that a thumb-wheel that controls the audio volume had been mysteriously turned all the way off. Then our clock radio went out of service and its only after some painstaking re-setting that I resurrected it. Last Thursday, it was our A/V receiver's turn to go belly up. No more radio, no more iPod music or streaming audio. We assumed it had lived it's useful life after 19 years, and it took me a couple of hours, the next day, to figure out what was wrong and finally fix it.

These three incidents all had a common denominator, and it was our beloved grandson Finn! That's right, the little guy loves to tinker with anything electronics and never fails to leave some frustrating tracks for us, the day following his visit, yet we never seem to relate technical breakdowns with Finn's presence. Three is a charm; we'll remember now!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Failure to communicate

Canyons, one of our local resort is badly in need of a refresher course when it comes to good business practices and modern communications. Late summer, when it announced its ski pass program, the resort was boasting about its two brand new high-speed chairlifts and a more streamlined access to its gondola. It also wanted to be seen as the next local alternative to Deer Valley, the resort voted #1 in North America by the readers of Ski Magazine. It wanted to do so because Talisker, its owner, is into luxury real estate and can't stand being perceived as the #3, low-life resort in Park City. So it raised its pass price, bundled it with numerous services season pass holders had no need for, and tried to use “smoke and mirrors” to hoist itself to a higher standard, and hopefully pass Park City Mountain Resort for #2.

It didn't happen that way as it never does because Canyons failed on a few basic business principles. First, it didn't manage customers expectations by announcing a date without being sure it would meet it, then it failed to communicate by letting its pass-holders know first about the delay and then it allowed for two many debate before it came with a remedy to its problem. After all that snafu, Canyons remains well settled in its long-time #3 position in the Park City market and will first to learn about running the resort decently before ascending into the kind of glory it aspires to. Canyons has the best ski mountain, its service remain largely below par, but if you love skiing this is a wonderful place to recreate. Some marketing folks will never understand how to position their product!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Postal Service going down...

Last week, the U.S. Postal Service said it lost $8.5 billion dollars this fiscal year, blaming it on a continuing decline in mail volume. It actually dropped some 3.5 percent, as most of us are paying their bills on-line and only use the phone, email and instant messages to communicate.
The Postal Service is the second employer after Wal-Mart with more than a half million employees and is so labor intensive that its salaries and benefit account of 85% of its total budget. In spite of all that, the USPS keeps on delivering mail and staying open for business on Saturday! If there's a governmental service that should be privatized, this is it, and to help our government made that decision, we won't sent any Holiday Cards this year. Instead, we'll have a video on Youtube and those of our friends who still aren't on line will get a personal phone call from us...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A dubious closed club

Today is Thanksgiving and a very frigid day in Park City. Minus fifteen degree Fahrenheit, early this morning! What is it in degree Celsius? Good question; I just “Googled” it: An impressive minus twenty six! This brings me to today's subject. The metric system is the official system of measurement for all nations in the world except for Burma, Liberia, and the United States. As you can see, our good old USA is in very good company! The metric system was adopted by France in 1791, but was first proposed by John Wilkins, first secretary of the Royal Society of London in 1668. At the time, the Brits didn't think the idea was cool.
I believe that we, Americans, are still resisting the metric wave because it wasn't invented here. Yet, it costs us billions of dollars both in inventory duplication, ineffectiveness of all kinds and lost export sales. I know, we can't afford switching to metric now; instead, we pour billions of dollars monthly that we don't have, prosecuting a “just” war in Afghanistan...

In search of smooth skiing

Want to ski more, improve your form and strain less? Bring smoothness into your skiing. Do as little as you have to, but whatever you do on your skis, do it right, effortlessly and invisibly. Trying hard is exhausting and there's always a better way to execute, but we live in a world of instant-everything. We want to pick up skills quickly, become an all-around skier overnight and can't stand suffering a long and endless learning curve while state-of-the-art equipment, well-groomed slopes and some fast instruction can get us there in a matter of days. Yet, speedy learning always comes at a price; we get the rudiments, we garner the large building blocks, we're ready to fly solo, but we're still missing this magic quiver of “insider-knowledge” that may unlock the doors to stress-free skiing.

The technique from thirty years ago was developed around an equipment that often was crude, generally difficult to harness and not nearly as forgiving as it is now. Before reaching today's levels of excellence, snow grooming often was hit-and-miss and it took countless drills and practice before skiers could become autonomous and able to truly enjoy themselves. The flip side to that drudgery however was that these same skiers, after spending hours learning some grueling basics, became much more aware of what happened under their feet and around their ankles. They were alert to the messages they were receiving from the terrain, knew how to set an edge accordingly and could read the snow and the slope so well that they'd telegraph instantly to their edges what would become cat-like moves over the snow. Anyone who knows skiing well will agree that edge-control still remains the sport's holly grail.

If elevating your skiing to the upper echelon is important to you and if you still have the nagging feeling that you're missing this elusive tiny bit that robs you of a limitless supply of fun, there's probably some room left for fine-tuning your technique and becoming one of these smooth skiers you see floating on the snow and that seem impervious to anything. The beginning of a new season is the perfect moment for deciding to hone those important skills, fine-tune them, finally master that ankle and edge sensitivity that will spring your technique forward in a matter of weeks and let you enjoy it for a whole season. While they're fairly easy to understand, these subtle elements of skiing are extremely difficult to just pick up on your own. They require repeated drills, a perfect model to follow, an attentive outside observer and some highly skilled coaching. Why not then commit to spending your first hours of the winter with a trusted instructor that can share all these precious tips with you and guide you into a entire season of effortless skiing?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Boycott China?

How to bring pressure on China is a big issue and a dumb question at the same time. Our countries are so intertwined that I don't see how our government can exert much influence on the new economic giant. Between currency issues and tacit support for Iran and North Korea, there would be numerous areas where the Asian nation could do much better than it does, but just won't. We should also be vigilant in attempting to reclaim our manufacturing base and – if it's already not too late - prevent our technological leadership to flee there as well.

The only effective solution that I see, is for us, the consumers, to begin initiating a boycott. It will be hard at first, because everything from iPhone to socks are manufactured there, but if we begin thinking about it, if we become aware of where the goods we consume come from, we might be able to wrestling or at the very least, slow the voracious tiger down. Of course, we can't go cold turkey on our gluttonous China diet; It will take a very long time, but we owe to initiate that move sooner than later. I can't help but think that China is the drug dealer and we, Americans, are the junkies...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grateful to be alive...

The most important thing that can happen to us is to be alive and able to somehow participate in a world populated with another 6.8 billion people. Call it the ultimate social network, the real Facebook friends! We all take that for granted and I do to, but when I make the effort to focus on it, this is by far the element I treasure the most.
This morning, as I woke up, I first made sure I was well alive before I began to process my daily thoughts. Every element in my body was working fine, I was grateful no new pain had emerged and I said to myself, let's make darn sure I make the best out of this brand new day. I have lots to do; clean up my office, begin drawing a holiday postcard, shovel some snow, finish writing a piece that I've been working on for a while and pack a Christmas present I recently completed.

Let me put it this way; if I weren't alive I would really terribly miss all these things that occupy my daily existence. I'd miss being in touch with the rest of the world, I'd miss doing my contribution, whatever it's supposed to be. Right, I think I'd feel terrible, but then I wouldn't, because I would not longer hold a membership in our “planetary club.” This bring me to another thought that we never take really seriously and seldom do something with. If every one of us – I mean the same 6.8 billion folks that share this little ball shared some common-sense vision and pulled in the same direction, we could finally get rid of our corrupt politicians that are only skilled at poisoning our lives. Another good reason to be alive and initiate a wonderful revolution while it's still time!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Owing my livelihood to tourism

That's it; this weekend saw our first, big snowfall of the early winter and everything is now white and ready for another new ski season. As I always say without thinking too much about it, “snow is our bread and butter” and as I thought a little bit deeper than usual about that comment, I came to realize that basically all my life, I have had jobs and made my living more or less directly, through tourism. I've not participated into building a better world, inventing new technologies or contributing significantly to the betterment of the human condition.

I've simply earned a living though channeling fun and entertainment to visiting tourists and sportsmen. Was it a hollow contribution, a waste of my talent, or was it somehow useful? I'm not ready to answer that, but suffice to say that I owe everything I have - and continue to get - to the leisure and tourism industry. The immediate takeaway is that I should be very, very nice to visiting tourists and probably should look for
a way to give back even more to that industry. As for re-inventing myself into something more serious and more useful to society, even when I tried it very hard, I wasn't able to make it click. This must be fate...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Technical mix-up...

Early this week, our cordless phone died on us and we had to purchase a new one. I did some research and focused on the system and the brand that were receiving the highest consumer reviews. I purchased it, brought it home and set it up. All went well and aside from a few differences with our preview system, I was quite satisfied. Later on, I wanted to show my wife how to use the voice mail feature, and more particularly how to retrieve messages and erase them. She told me that she was doing that from her computer.

I said that's impossible; I can't do it, therefore you can't either. I was absolutely certain of what I was saying, was suspecting that my spouse was beginning to “lose it” and by looking at her, I can guarantee that she also felt absolutely the same towards me! We've had voice over IP service for a more than four years now and I had set it up so we'd receive an email notification each time we got a voice message, but had never paid attention that we could listen to them right on the computer. I felt really stupid and for a moment, wondered if I had even missed seeing a possible audio message attached to the email notifying me someone called in our absence. To prevent further escalation, I looked a my wife's computer and realized that she was indeed getting an audio file with her notification.

I then check my machine and couldn't see any audible attachment. It felt like a comedy of errors as neither one of us could figure out who still was “sane” among us. I tried to figure my broadband provider setup but couldn't and had to call its customer service; a technician was nice enough to walk through a not so complicated procedure and that I had messed up when I originally installed my system. Now, if I want, I can also listen to our voice messages right from my computer. We learn something new everyday, don't we?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The “Man in black” is back!

Since we're now the “dead of the season,” we can't expect to see any big artist in Park City, and last night we felt really fortunate to have a Johnny Cash impersonator performing most of the famous songs of the artist that left us seven years ago, just minutes from our home at the Park City Egyptian Theater. Jackson Cash who is 56 looks the part and has begun his impersonation act in Branson, Missouri, the rock-a-billy heartland. The first portion of the show only involved our guy singing along a soundtrack, which disappointed us a bit, but a three man band appeared during the other half and made up for it. We had a fun time, got our money worth, felt deep sympathy for the singer and decided we were glad we'd never started a career in the showbiz...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Excellent book about the “Stones”

I just finished reading “Life,” by Keith Richards and James Fox . This is an interesting account of the Rolling Stones' life and tribulations seen by one of its original founding members. If you like rock and roll and remember life in the late 60s and early 70s, the 550 pages of this book are another account about these crazy times well worth reading. The book sheds an interesting light on Richards who attempts to prove his key influence on the band's success, tries to hoist himself to Mick Jagger's level, his even more flamboyant and highly visible sidekick, without convincing me entirely, on the accounts of a musical career deeply marked with excessive drug use and countless erratic moves. What's remarkable is that Keith Richards manage to survive the very harsh treatment he imposed upon his body. Quite a statement about the quality of his own genes! A well written book and a page-turner if you appreciate the Rolling Stones and their seemingly endless saga...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Continuing ed

Is expensive education better than cheap or perhaps free one? Maybe, at least when it involves what we learn beyond secondary school. American colleges are the most expensive in the world, and seem to stay at the very top. Recently, the Brits were up in arms about a meteoric raise in university tuition fees. It very well might be that something that costs us might receive more attention and more respect than the freebies we've learned to love.

If we expand that theory into our daily lives, the best lessons are often the one that cost us in some way; whether it's under the form of time, effort, suffering, creative work, emotional pain or opening our pocket book. These experiences tend to leave both a long-lasting and deeper imprint as they've come from us and often represent a real sacrifice. Which leads me to the next thought that is pretty much a confirmation of the precept “no pain, no gain,” and a life lead in a sea of tranquility probably
won't get us to reaching our full potential. Some hurdles and hardships, here and there, might be the foundation to our continuing education program, whether we are aware of it, or we learn from it - or not.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Pope approves of skiing

Two days ago, our Pope Benedict XVI welcomed a delegation of Italian ski instructors (see video) and told them that they were on the right track with their sport as long as they did not take steroids and made enough turns to control their speed. He also warned all these “turn merchants” not to be too narcissistic, refrain from considering their bodies as material objects and begin “worshiping” them. I think it was a wise advice, because it always is a good idea to pay attention to where you're going while skiing and a little bit of selflessness goes a long way if you don't want to end up wrapped against a tree.
This said, the ski instructors led by Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, himself a certified instructor, gave the pope a nice ski jacket and a pair of skis that looked like they were models from two years ago (he declined to get a pair of “rocker skis” as the papal Thule box couldn't accommodate them and as he himself confessed, “these funny looking boards might cramp my style.”) I'm finally happy that the Holy See finally approves of my favorite sport (I know Jean-Paul II was a bit of ski bum, but he never revealed his passion as overtly as Benedict did this past Monday.) This way, when I ski too much this season, I won't have to feel guilty at all, will find salvation in all of my turns and may see a heavenly path at the end of each one of my schusses.