Sunday, January 31, 2010

No “dark” movies for me...

Before going skiing all afternoon, I saw “Animal Kingdom” at the Sundance Festival with my wife and daughter. Great Australian thriller but a bit too “dark” and violent for my taste. My “women” stayed in the theater while I enjoyed some new powder and were treated to two more movies of the same somber “color.”

Skiing was the right thing for me to do and I was glad I made that decision, even though the weather was still snowy, on the gray side but with some interesting luminosity. You see, like I need light and sunshine most everyday, I need a good dose of positive influence on a daily basis as well. While I have been a disciple of positive thinking for a long while and have since brought some moderation that interest of mine, I don't believe that I need to feed my mind with too much negative stuff. I like to see my glass half-full and need much light around me. But again, that's only the way I like things...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Decision mastery

To make good decisions, you need practice and to make lots of good decisions fast and often, you even need to be immersed into using that tool. Decision-making is akin of risk-taking; you must be in the right mood to leave your comfort zone and, like most anything on this planet, it always takes a first step.
When I worked for a living, I was barraged by decisions, from the moment I woke-up in the morning to the time I fell asleep. These days, this regimen is much slimmer and I regret it. I should get back into the high-paced decision mode. It's good for my spirit, ma attitude and my continued vitality...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Visibility, Confidence and Speed

Making turns on skis can either be easy or daunting depending on one's ability, slope and snow conditions. Visibility is the first and foremost ingredient; skiing is a very visual sport that demand quick translation between what the eyes see and what the legs should do, and if it's available, it becomes a huge confidence booster. Seeing clearly and feeling great about oneself sets the skier up for optimum performance. Trusting enable speed fast enough to produce effortless turns and here you have the skier's magic formula: Visibility, confidence and speed, the skier's three-legged stool!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Engaging the adversary

We watched the State of the Union address by President Obama with a mix of skepticism and anticipation. We were not disappointed, as we were dazzled once more by his oratory skills and his remarkable ability to swim against the tide. As he began “cornering” or “shaming” retrograde Republicans into some action, we felt that he finally was on the right track. He needs to do more of this though and constructively engage these stubborn adversaries – what am I saying – enemies, and ask them to actively contribute to any new piece of legislation. My sense is that the GOP is so “brain-dead” and lost in its 20th century dogma that it can't come with anything relevant to our times anymore, but they need to be put on the spot over and over again, so their brainwashed following finally realizes that the “republican emperor” has no clothes indeed!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rocky Mountains twigs

Early this winter, the snow cover was sparse and twigs showed up like never before. I know, these guys have a right to exist, but this year, they were just unbelievable, aggressive and in your face the all time. The creatures I'm talking about are either of the aspen family of trees (young shoots) or some kind of elderberry bush. Regardless of their origin or last name, these guys, depending on the diameter of their stem, can either be a harmless nuisance or plain vicious. Often they bend under the ski edge, sometimes they snap; many times though they'll slap you in the face if you attempt to plow through them and when they're big enough, they'll stop you on your tracks.

In Europe, where ski instructors are self-employed, it's not unusual to have an entire ski school volunteering one full weekend in the Fall to cut these perpetrators clean (in the Alps it's the much thicker and invading speckled alder, popularly called véroce in France.) We're not there yet in America; resorts would rather leave that job to their paying customers, but who knows? One can only hope! In recent day, I've noticed that their ranks have thinned out a lot and I assume they've begun hibernating when they saw all that new snow coming over. But I'm confident that unless ski areas do something about these “snow snakes” they'll be back in force next season!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The tail that wags the dog

Whenever a European friend asks me how is the US economy doing, I invariably answer by “still not as good as it could...” In truth, our economy continues to be dragged down by a pervasive and continuous real estate crisis. Through mortgage credit, banks are technically into red territory, but won't recognize it because of the negative impact this would have on their stocks. Yet, until someone puts their finger on that reality and take serious action, the more protracted our economic crisis will be. Yes, real estate is the “tail” that keeps on wagging the “economic dog!”

We need to go as fast as possible to the rock bottom of the real estate valuation to finally find ourselves in a position to build back from there, but as long as banks won't accept to look at the reality in the face and accept the significant losses that come with it, that silly game might last for another 2 to 3 years, and frankly, the country can't ill afford that kind of denial. Our Treasury Department is the one that should remove the veil hiding that stark reality. Until it does, we'll muddle through a long, deep and indeed “great” recession...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Religious fervor & societal happiness

I'd be curious to see a study linking religious fervor (and penetration) to economic success and societal happiness.
My guess is that the lower the former is, the higher the later becomes. Look at Haiti for example or any middle eastern or east Asian country that is under religious rule. For a happier, less crowded and more responsible world, religion should be totally eradicated, at least the one that's blended with government. You could tell me that Utah is just the opposite, but that's perhaps the exception that confirms the rule; at any rate (no pun intended) those Mormons Leaders are in it for the money, not the dogma!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saleability and competence

This afternoon we attended one of the Sundance Film Festival screenings and saw “Bhutto,” a documentary on the late Benazir Bhutto. This film did a good job in providing historical perspective on Pakistan, but was obviously one-sided in favor of the twice-prime minister of that country. She was in fact extremely popular, a compelling speaker, but totally incompetent when it came to governance. This painfully reminded me of Barack Obama, who is a fantastic orator, a great salesman, but has not yet figured out how to successfully advance the agenda he promised through the horrible political maze. The same hard truth applies to these sweet talkers that are great at landing top jobs, but ill equipped to fulfill their promises.

These “born-salesmen” are now turning to be a curse and a menace to our well-being. Ever since we began to manufacture less and market more, we've become a nation of BS artists and this has got to change! We need to pinch ourselves, go beyond the vernacular and start asking some important questions: What's that guy or girl's experience, common sense and ability to discern what needs to be done and in which order. We need to start learning to think more critically – more cynically is okay with me – and really see what the charmer has “under the hood.” Then, and only then, we might start getting our money's worth!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cuche is it!

Don't be surprised if I'm a fan of Didier Cuche; I like the man, I admire the skier. Today, on the legendary Streif in Kitzbühel, he showed who was the the finest and most powerful skier on the world's most difficult course. If you watched the race - if you didn't, you really should - you could see that my ski hero was in control all the way down. The last time I skied down the Streif was in 1975 just after the downhill race; that day, I was carrying two pairs of skis on my shoulders and I wasn't enjoying it one bit! This ski run is a scary son-of-a-gun that separates the men from the boys. What else can I say? Bravo, Didier!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Low quality ski instruction

I've never been impressed by the way instructors teach skiing in America. They don't seem to care much about their students and just simply place them first. Sure, unlike some of their European counterparts, they're not paid much and don't have as much control on what they can do and how they can run their career. The problem is that the client is the one who suffers. I'm not even talking about the dogmatic teaching style of PSIA. I could cite a few stinging examples, but would like to limit myself to observations made while skiing at two of our three local resorts (Deer Valley is the exception): Ski instructor boarding the lift ahead of his class, skiing hundred yard ahead of his client, barely able to ski as well as the student, etc.

Many instructors are coming from Australia and New-Zealand and seem weak both technically and pedagogically. By contrast, the instructors I know in France go through a rigorous training and as independent contractors can earn a pretty good living, in the order of $40,000 for a season. Pleasing the client and making her a return customer is key! In the USA, try $20,000 at the very best resorts. Of course, the mountain probably charges $60,000 to the consumer for that income to the instructor. Sounds to me like “big government” programs: Inefficient, too expensive and unable to please the end-users!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Put a few moguls into your ski life

As I do every year, I just attended the Freestyle World Cup at Deer Valley to get a boost of skiing inspiration early in the season. This is a first-class event that can only be seen in Deer Valley and impeccably showcases the best freestyle skiing has to over. The venue, the preparation and the execution of the event are seamless, charged with energy and designed to keep you on your feet. While I'm envious of the aerialists, I've never been able to land well enough to emulate them; I just watch them in awe along with the big crowds that come to cheer them. The mogul competition however, is something I can relate to a lot more, as I keep on encountering bumps in my daily skiing life.

Sure, we all love morning corduroy, the “rice krispies” feeling it generates under our feet and we can use groomed runs now and again for resting a bit, concentrating on our technique, looking perfect on skis or just enjoying the sheer joy of the sport. Yet, many skiers can't just live off smooth, seamless snow; there's always a point when it's time to change “textures” and evolve towards some more exciting relief and pick up new skills. That's right, skiing is made up of a variation of textures that begin with Deer Valley's trademark corduroy, a few “waves” on the slope and culminate with World Cup moguls as seen on Big Stick.

But why should a satisfied skier even contemplate leaving the civilized, groomed universe for venturing into a world of “ups and downs?” It must have to do with our craving for change; like variety is spice of life, moguls are skiing's salt and pepper. They build excitement, unpredictability and, over time, turn everyone of us into much better skiers. That's right, the lowly little bump can teach us important things having to do with triggering our turns, enhancing our balance, sharpening our reactions and giving us the kind of unwavering style we all aspire to.

Without taking the “ski class room” inside, and boring you with theory, let me just remind you that skis love to pivot when they're sitting on some convex spot, and what's more convex than the top of a mogul? There, they can turn freely, without having their tips or tails hitting anything or requiring significant torque. That for sure is the “lazy way to making turns!”

Then the skis take the plunge into the steep portion of the mogul. This only requires a sudden act of faith and a positive acceptance on your part to espouse their motion, enjoy the slight acceleration that follows, stay in control, and very soon you're at the bottom of the pitch where speed becomes controllable again. That's right, a bump is the microcosm of the larger hill, made of successions of flat and steep portions that alternatively speed you up and slow you down. You just need some professional guidance to experience the feeling and become an adept.

From that point, we simply need to increase the difficulty level. Skiing bumps enhances your work out, activates all of your joints and on a cold winter day, will keep you so warm that cold feet and frozen fingers never are part of the price to pay to enjoy a day on the slopes. That's right, moguls are a perfect warming up exercise that puts every element of your “suspension system” to work and bring a nice rhythm to the experience.

If perfect grooming is the great equalizer, what will soon separate the budding skier from the better one is practicing the bumps. It's a place where there's no room for cheating, yet nothing is that complicated because you can pretty much adjust the speed, the grade of the slope and the size of the moguls to your current ability level. Of course, the beauty of great mogul skiing is fluidity; the thousands of spectators attending the Freestyle World Cup at Deer Valley could see that raw quality in action amongst the top contestants.

“Fluidity” is an aspect of skiing bumps we can all focus on, and then match with the level of difficulty we choose; the main objective being to always appear perfectly smooth. Beyond that, if we really want to keep on improving, we just need to dial-up any one or all of the components we just reviewed! Remember that viewed from a distance, everything is only a matter of texture; from corduroy to camel-backs, there's always a mogul sized right for you. Simply decide today about making room for a few more moguls in your skiing life and you'll suddenly get a spicier and more exciting experience!

The world of vertical skiing record

After that Dirk Beal and I were lucky to clinch what we believe is the current Utah record for vertical skiing in one day, it's fair to say that we've done something that is (almost) within the reach of everyone. What's needed is a fast lift on a steep slope, a good groomed run, the ability to dodge regular skiers and a cooperating weather. All this enabled us to rack up 112,750 feet in 8 ½ hour.

The same kind of performance could be achieved in a race format, like the now defunct 24 Hours of Aspen, in which competitors tallied up the most vertical possible in one day of skiing, under controlled conditions (ski run only open to competitors and allowing for downhill race speed), well groomed course lighted at night and the support of a cheering crowd plus an army of volunteers. Under these conditions, Chris “Superman” Kent, a Calgary native, set in 1991 the individual world record for most vertical feet skied in one day, 271,161 feet (83 laps on Ajax,) that still stands today.

Then there's this ultimate ski lift called helicopter. This one was used more recently to set the absolute vertical record on 29 April 1998, by claiming 353,599 feet in 14 ½ hour (representing 73 helicopter rides.) The place was Blue River, B.C. at Mike Wiegele's operations. The Canadian skiers where the same Chris Kent, Edi Podivinsky, Luke Sauder accompanied by Switzerland's Dominique Perret. The female record holder, in that same airlifted category, is the American Jennifer Hughes who, on April 20, 1998, racked up 305,524 vertical feet. Now you know the whole story...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My school days “backpack”

Long before the hard attache-case became popular in the seventies, I already was ahead of my times in the fifties when I started elementary school. Since my parents were not particularly wealthy, I didn't get a typical school bag like the other kids, but instead, my dad slapped a few pieces of pine together and build me a wooden case that would be the forerunner of the legendary Samsonite attache-case.

That container, made to receive notebooks, books and writing instruments, only had one single compartment, a convenient shoulder strap and proved to be quite sturdy. It was also extremely versatile; because of its beveled front, I could also use it as a lightweight sled in winter (and God, did I do a lot of sliding on it!) I used it from 1953 to 1958 and I might have been one of the few kids who owned one (everyone else already had regular leather school bags,) but never felt ashamed of it. That's what happens when you're an “early adopter!”

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How to measure skiing?

I've said that skiing owed to be measured in terms of vertical drop and that was by far the best yardstick to use. This afternoon, I returned to the “crime scene,” on Sultan chairlift in Deer Valley, to be precise, to enjoy a foot of new snow that had put an end to a very long and unusual early season drought. I proceeded to ski down by the lift, on skier's left, in the lightly tracked new snow which represented two-third of the way and ended up on a wavy, skiers' packed new snow for the rest of the run.

After 13 non-stop laps, the lifts closed and it was time for me to call it a day. I had logged just over 26,000 feet, but felt totally exhausted compared to the day we broke our 112,750 feet record and skied Sultan Express 60 times non-stop. Of course, that day we had skied a perfectly groomed run. The point to my story is that “vertical” is only telling part of it and snow conditions can make a five-fold difference. This means that, for setting a record and for consistency's sake, the run need to be impeccably groomed. For real merit, however, the measurement is so subjective that I shouldn't lose sleep over the need to reworking the entire formula!

Monday, January 18, 2010

A word from Buckingham Palace

You may know that Queen Elizabeth II is a very busy, alert and curious lady, so no wonder why - one day - she stumbled upon my blog and has since remained a very avid reader. A few days ago, she happened to read the account of our record vertical in Deer Valley and was so impressed that a few days later I received the following email from her Majesty:

Dear Dirk Beal and Go11,
You're hereby summoned to come to Buckingham Palace and receive the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for your remarkable achievement in Deer Valley Resort on January the 4th, 2010. Had you reached the 125,000 foot threshold you would have been knighted, but the OBE is already a good reward and one first step into the whole process. I hope to see you both very soon!
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Obviously, she still thinks we're part of the Commonwealth and she couldn't detect my French accent off my blog. I've not mentioned it to Dirk yet, but I think we'll go as long as the Queen put us up at Buckingham, pays for the airfare and schedule the ceremony well after the ski season...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The freestyle quandary

This weekend, Deer Valley was welcoming once more the best freestyle skiers in the world by putting up a seamless, impeccably organized and perfect series of competitions. While I'm more a moguls than aerials fans, I was of course amazed at all the preparation, training and workmanship that goes into this sport. Yet, when compared to alpine skiing, freestyle remain low on the International Ski Federation (FIS) totem pole. Why is that? The events are very telegenic, they're perfectly suited for spectators viewing and you can still discern a visual difference between one athlete and the other.

Sure, the competition is judged by a jury, not solely by a clock and the amount of subjectivity that goes into that is undeniable. My sense is that the FIS is deliberately pushing down that branch of the sport to keep alpine into focus at all cost. It further shows that this organization is well passed its prime and must reform itself now or face an unavoidable unraveling in the near future. Here is the perfect example of a series of sporting events that could be run so much better by the private sector instead!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What's wrong with French movies?

If you're sometime confused when you watch French movies, you're not alone. Often times, situations and characters are so weird that you wonder if these films were not made in some distant planet where actors bore very little resemblance with humans. The recent death of Éric Rohmer, the famous director who was part of the so-called “New Wave” gave me the opportunity to watch one of his trademark movies “Ma nuit chez Maud” from 1969, and finally made me realize what was wrong with most French movies.

In fact it wasn't just viewing that movie that brought me to this stage, but the culmination of disappointments with French films spanning decades, without really grasping what the flaw was. It 's only at this very moment that I put all the pieces of the puzzle together and discovered that the way people talked in these movie had nothing to do with the way normal folks would converse in real life. In other words the script was so unreal that it make the movie look alien. This brings me back to the realization that successful movies must have good stories and realistic scripts that truly mirror society at a certain point in time. Attentive observation of the the surroundings and true realism definitely go a long way into making a great movie!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Young at heart...

If you're in your fifties, sixties or even seventies you must take some time to watch the documentary “Young @ Heart.” It's about a singing group of folks in age ranging from 73 to 89 that has been performing since 1982. The documentary produced in the U.K. Back 2006 in was showed at the 2008 Sundance Festival in Park City and has since won many awards.
It shows that old age can still be filled with fun and creative achievements and as its fearless leader and dedicated organizer Bob Cilman has demonstrated they don't have to sing old tunes to get us going; instead, he's made them perform from James Brown's classics all the way to Sonic Youth, and they all deliver beautifully. Now, after seeing that movie, do I still worry about aging? Absolutely not!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ski equipment “experts”

I know many individuals (mostly men) who discuss ski equipment as if they knew their subjet, yet when you happen to see them on a pair of boards you instantly wonder how they could be thinking what they're blabbering about. They don't understand the subtlety of the sport and yet they dare to make deep pronouncements about one type of ski or the other. Why do they do that? Who do they think they are? Are they so engrossed with their self-image that they're capable of even fooling themselves?

When I hear these pronouncements amidst technical discussions, I always remember François Bonlieu, this unsung Olympic Champion who skied like a snow king, (he was in fact nicknamed “le petit prince du ski” which means “skiing's little prince”) could nimbly negotiate steep, untracked snow fields straight down, on just one ski, and yet pretended he was... no one! This goes along way to validate Lao Tse's famous aphorism: “The one who speaks doesn’t know and the one who knows doesn’t speak.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Lady and the Sultan ...

After last week's vertical record, someone suggested that I check out, let's say assess, Lady Morgan. I'm not talking about any lady and don't want lead you to believe that I casually “seize” or “assess” many of them, but that one is a Deer Valley chairlift called Lady Morgan Express. It climbs a rather steep hill very fast and gets you 1,150 higher in a short 3 minute and 30 second time, which actually might hold a slight advantage against Sultan Express, the lift we rode 60 times to garner most of our record vertical. The problem with that shorter lift is that loading and acceleration time occurs more often and the slope next to it has to be groomed or covered with enough fluffy stuff to allow for an incredibly fast descent. These facts, I believe, are not playing to the advantage of the Lady vs. the Sultan!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More with less?

With limited snow this early season, skiers and snowboarders have to do more with less. For instance, this means going to places one never goes because skiing is like low hanging fruit picking; we usually do what are the easiest and the most ingratiating runs. For my part I have explored new paths, found new alternatives to runs in order to avoid rocky areas, discovered secret passages and have generally be content with much less. The bumps are growing to be monstrous and I never thought I would enjoy the challenges they gave me, both in terms of deciphering a path through them and being quicker and nimbler than usual.
Then there are the twigs; if we've got less snow, we sure have many more of these “giant's whiskers” that are always intimidating and seem to get purposefully in the way, making question marks out of normally innocuous turns. Sometime, they even have a way of slapping you in the face. Finally there are the pesky rocks, which like World War II German submarines, are always lurking underneath the thin, immaculate surface and ready to take a bite of P-tex out of your boards! With all this suffering, do we get more fun with less snow? That's possible, but I sure get more tired everyday I go out to ski. This, I don't want to put on the account of old age!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Forward thinking

One of my new year's resolution that I will disclose (besides figuring out my Suunto watch) will be to think more about tomorrow than yesterday. That's right, talking, thinking and acting more about the future than the past...
I figured, this will keep me going and maintain a youthful spirit within me. Among other things, it will place the “good old days” up front instead of dragging them in the back. For those of you that are into automobiles, it's front wheel drive vs. rear. Quick, simple and so attractive!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Is belt tightening needed?

Probably, based on what we saw yesterday afternoon as we were skiing. I'm sure you've noticed over the past two or three winter seasons that many young skiers and snowboarders have a tendency to lose their pants. My take is that the problem likely finds its source in the quality of the belts worn by these youngsters. In the past, most of these critical safety devices were made in America or in Europe and today, as it was announced that China has just taken over Germany as the largest exporter in the world, I would likely blame the problem on poorly designed belts, made in China, that prove incapable of holding one's pants. I really feel sorry for these young men who are going out freezing their butts and they perhaps should consider suspenders to keep their bottoms secured. As the German would say, with both belts and suspenders: “sicher ist sicher!” (translation: Some redundancy is always safer...)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Compelling idea

Yesterday, as I was riding yet another chair, I received another great idea. One of my neighbors was a lady from Mexico; when she found out I was originally from France, she got all excited and started to talk to me in excellent French. I told her I couldn't speak any Spanish and felt bad about that; the nearest language I could get by with was Italian which that erudite lady transitioned right into; we exchanged a few sentences in that language and I rightfully thought that “I could – and had to do - much better” than that! Another building block to my yet-to-come set of 2010 resolutions!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mixing skiing, glamour and fun at the Sundance Film Festival

Some people only like skiing, some only like to watch movies, but there’s a vast universe of individuals who are into both. If given the opportunity, many might attempt to satisfy their combined craving for the silver screen and the white slopes. If you happen to be one these special creatures, Deer Valley Resort and Park City, UT are most definitely the best spot in the world to marry your two favorite hobbies.

Most ski vacations always suggest a good mix between snow activities during the day and après-ski action once the sun set, yet very few can offer the absolutely perfect blend than a stay at Deer Valley the end of January; timed while the Sundance Film Festival is underway, in Park City. That’s right; on-slope traffic is light as film-obsessed visitors use their very short mornings to emerge from endless late night parties. In fact, skiing is at its best; just enough skiers to chat with on the chairs, uncrowded restaurants, the very best instructors available for you at the ski school and plenty of early morning skiing without the need to rush and beat the crowds.

The Film Festival that runs this year between the 21st and 31st of January only requires a few extra skills including sleep and diet management. If you can avoid the post-midnight screening and the parties that follow, and if you have a definite strength of character, then you might be an ideal candidate. The big secret is to stand up early enough in the morning and take advantage of the pristine corduroy that is waiting for you and a select few on the slopes, or the overnight fresh powder “dump” that dropped, almost as a special order, while you were having fun and catching some precious hours of sleep the night before.

If you don’t believe you can overcome mid-day drowsiness, don’t get discouraged. You will soon find out, during the afternoons and evenings that not all movies are created equal; while you’ll find some of them to be just outstanding, a few may fail to pass muster with your discriminating taste or worse, others are downright bad in spite of the appealing synopsis that you thought you had read twice. This is in fact a blessing in disguise; when it happens, do not feel bad, don’t try to resist or even feel guilty; just take a gentle nap through the panel discussion and this will go a long way to keeping you in decent ski shape the following morning or to be fully refreshed when it’s time for your next flick!

Another way to maximize your joint skiing and festival-going experience is to improve on your “food management” skills. You would ideally plan on having a good breakfast, but reality might get in the way and force you to choose between eating something and going skiing while it’s still morning. I recommend the later, because lunches at Deer Valley Resort are so delicious and are – in my view – the only true representation of the “food pyramid.” So, use the lunch break to restore your energy and even take that extra portion to make up for the long evening ahead. It’s hard to get into restaurants on Main Street at night anyway and, beside popcorn, there isn’t a lot you can munch on for the rest of the day. Eat a healthy, hearty lunch and use it as a well-timed break, right on the slopes. Luckily, if your lunch fails to sustain your appetite throughout the night, Deer Valley’s four evening restaurants are slightly off the beaten path for festival goers and are able to offer plenty of availability and parking during Sundance.

A unique pair of extra benefits from screening movies while skiing is that you will have some compelling stories to tell your chairlift companions and chances are that the abundant cinematographic knowledge you’ll display in the process will make them think that you’re a producer, a famous director or an up and coming actor. If this wasn’t already cool, wait until you attend the hundreds of parties you’ll find yourself invited to during the evenings. Just say a few words about your day and everyone listening will soon assume that your name is Lyndsey Vonn, Bode Miller, Heidi Voelker or even Stein Eriksen, and not necessarily in this order!

Finally don’t worry about not being on top of “Everything Festival” while you’re on the hill; there are now Sundance Film Festival smart phone apps to provide you with real-time information about movie trailers, interaction with Twitter and Facebook, plus all of your evening venues while you are enjoying a wonderful ski day in the sun! Of course, you might always add some business sideline to your ski trip by bringing along the script you’ve always thought should be made into a movie, mingle with movie moguls at night to plot investment strategies and perhaps schedule your very own casting.

As always, your Deer Valley vacation could end up being much more than just skiing!

Altitude living vs. longevity

It would seem obvious that high-altitude living puts more demand on the body than living in lowland areas. With less oxygen to work with, the heart would have to work harder, other problems could come up, like for example mountain dwellers that suffer from hardening arteries. Yet, my research on the issue has not showed much in terms of interesting studies or scientific papers that have focused on that hypothesis.
I've even read reports to the contrary, alleging that high-altitude living could even be desirable for the body. Has anyone come across a serious study or even some basic discussions on this issue or are there any opinions worth listening to? If the subject interests you or if you have something interesting to share about it, please leave a comment and some contact information.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Transitioning from physical to less demanding pursuits

When I grew up, many of my heroes were skiers; Jean-Claude Killy was one of them, but at a local level, Jean Berthet, a great skier living in Les Gets, France, got my attention. While he never won any Olympic event and no one heard much of him outside of France, he ended up having a great career revolving almost exclusively around his ski accomplishments. He passed away a few years ago in his mid-eighties and my understanding was that his later part of his life was not that enjoyable.

You see, Berthet relied solely on his good looks and his physical prowess on skis to draw his dose of gratification, and these attributes, unfortunately are the privilege of youth, they don't last forever and when they vanish there's nothing left to hold onto. I love to run, ski, bike and be active, but I do realize that aging is lurking in the dark and it's now time for me to transition into something less physical and more suited to my age. This is why I feel it's now time to revisit my artistic inclinations that inhabited me when I was a kid and redevelop them as a springboard to feed my second wind in life...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

When concentration allays fear

Two days ago, as we were tumbling down “Stein Way” in order to break our vertical record on skis, I was intensely focused on what I was doing, but never took the time to be scared. Sure, I was aware that an inadvertent binding release or any kind of fall might happen, but didn't let these negative thoughts in the way. At times, the visibility was just terrible as we dove into the steeper pitch of the run, we couldn't see the texture of the snow and received that “delayed feedback” under our feet which gave us reasons to be concerned, removing the skis from their secured edge and making them wobble, not just chatter.

As the day progressed, the top of the run had also become so burnished by the repeated passage of skiers that there was no way to sink an edge into the surface and all became a form of “skid management” that miraculously kept us floating on the surface. Then, there were the trees; I carefully stayed away from all of them, as much as possible; I've long learned (three broken ribs later) that one can't win against them and it's much better to keep good distances.

Finally, there were the skiers and these were much tougher to negotiate. When we ski fast and are passing skiers left and right, we need to “guess” where their likely next turn may take them and this is far from being an exact science. Intuition and serendipity both play a huge role, at least I believe they do. Very fast skiers are a big problem if you happen to ski even faster, because they believe that no one will pass them and do all sort of weird moves. The bottom line is that this kind of exercise takes a huge and constant amount of concentration, to the point that the mental strain almost trumps the physical one. Can that be true? My brain didn't feel as stiff as my limbs the next morning...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Vertical excess?

Last year my good friend Dirk Beal tempted me into celebrating his birthday by breaking a vertical record on skis. We then exceeded our goal which was 50,000 vertical feet by tallying some 85,590. We then went home, licked our wounds and almost forgot about the freak achievement. A few weeks ago, Dirk subtly reminded me that we “could do better than that” around his 51st birthday; I foolishly nodded and yesterday I almost had a coronary in keeping up with the man – at least trying to showing off that I wasn't dead yet on skis.

Our goal was to break through the 100,000 barrier and we managed to do it. Most of it (20 miles worth of vertical) was achieved on one single lift, the mighty “Sultan Express” that whisked us 1,760 feet higher on the hill, every seven or eight minutes before we'd launch into a hair-raising downhill ride. We started early in the morning and ended up eight and a half hour later having clocked an amazing 112,750 vertical feet. We had just beaten Ski Utah's Nathan Rafferty and his buddies who set the previous record at 108,066 feet at Snowbird in 2007. I won't get into the technical details to describe how Dirk and his Deer Valley Resort associates set us up for success, but can only certify that no human being (or wildlife for that matter) died, or any blood was shed, as a result of the experiment. I felt a bit stiff after dinner, but I put that on the account of old age...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Skiers in the nude

Back in the 70's, I was working with Look binding, the product was unmistakeably recognized by the singular shape of its protruding heel unit. As a company, we were fighting hard against Salomon which was promoting a more traditional heel shape that would become the mainstay for years to come. Right at that time and out of the blue came a poster - I believe from Holland - showing a huge skiing cartoonish scene where all the participants were... naked! What was more special about the graphics was that each skier had ski bindings that happened to just look like a Look product.

The poster soon became the rallying, underground promotional tool of the company. I had put my hands on one of them, framed it and hung it up somewhere in our house before I probably trashed it as better pictures (these were easy to come by) displaced this unique artwork off the family walls. More recently, Peter Juen, my friend and a former colleague at Look in the USA sent me a picture of the infamous scene that he – unlike me – had carefully preserved. He assumed those were French skiers due to their propensity for lewd behavior; I responded that French were much smarter than skiing bare-ass and that these folks were probably Dutch. I have since done some (fruitless) search on the internet to find some fresh prints of the picture and wonder if anyone knows where they could still be found. Comments and hints are of course welcome!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dinner chez Cheney

It's now become a tradition; every year during the Holidays, we get invited by Dick Cheney and his wife at their Jackson Hole residence. From the beginning, I guess, they liked my conservative looks and must enjoy my company. Since flying is too expensive and so weather dependent, we resign ourselves to the five hour drive and get there by 6 pm. They have a big house - what am I saying, a compound - large enough to accommodate all the secret service staff that at first, we mistook for the other guests.

The food is always moose (they get so much roadkill up there that this has become the only responsible way to go) and they even get us a special rate to stay after dinner at the Four Season, but it's still four times cheaper for us to drive 35 miles south and sleep in nearby Alpine. Dick likes that I am bald like him, and in truth, he and his wife Lynne host us because we're in fact immigrants, the kind they like. We actually don't talk much; I crack my traditional Mormon jokes and I have another one about homosexual lesbians (Lynne always cringes and corrects me saying that one of the two words isn't necessary,) we then have dessert, coffee and are on our way home. As we drive to the motel, my wife always asks me why in the world we have to do this every year and I answer that if one day, I need that greeter's job at Walmart, the Cheneys will come in as a handy introduction...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sticks and stones

We have three ski mountains serving Park City. They're called Deer Valley, Park City and The Canyons. We've skied the three, but today I have my season pass at The Canyons and in Deer Valley and occasionally ski Park City. It was not always the same; we used to get our season passes at Park City, but like anything, this changed too. In the meantime, The Canyons would undergo several transformations that snobs call “re-invention.” When that mountain started in the early seventies it was called “Park West” and after that it became “Wolf Mountain.” It's only when the easterner Les Otten bought it in 1998 that it was rechristened “The Canyons.”

All along, that place was famous for rocks. I'm not specifically talking about rock concerts in the summer, and we saw quite a few of them, including Bob Dylan, Chicago, the Beach Boys and even John Denver sitting on the rocky grass, but I'm talking about the later, the mineral thing! The rocks at The Canyons are the little pesky things that pepper the mountain and find their way through the snow into the bases of your skis or snowboard. While it was called Park West, the place was often better known under the moniker “Rock West.” By starting to purchase our season pass there, we were in total denial about global warming (George Bush must have convinced us) and we could only imagine the place covered under the customary three to four feet of snow from November through April. We were warned by naysayers that “if there would be no snow, it'd be quite rocky...” but we choose to ignore that.

This season, we are finally seeing – not the writing on the wall – but the deep gouges streaking our bases from tip to tails. I'm not talking about the stump and the twigs that take the relay when ordinary rocks are not available; sometimes, I feel like a bush whacker and would love to have a machete in lieu of poles. Aside from lifting the foot when we see a rock, a stump or a growing tree what can we do? Perhaps stay on man-made snow, but then we need ice-skating or hockey skills and require more blind faith than technical skills to make it to the bottom. Sure, our boards have graduated to “rock skis” status, but the only alternative left is pray for snow. I think I'll light up a candle...

Friday, January 1, 2010

Resolving New Year's resolutions

Some folks get their best thinking done as they shower, I get mine either in my bed or on the chairlift. That's what happened yesterday when I finally broke my mental block about generating some personal goals for 2010. I've said that before, but with a new year under my belt, time is running out and whatever is left becomes incredibly valuable; I can't squander it. This is why I've decided on three categories.

Priority One, as I call it, represents something I absolutely must implement in the coming year as it will significantly enhance my quality of life. If I ignore it, I'm a fool and I'm just hurting myself.

Priority Two, is what is important and stands for highly desirable improvements – again with that sense of time running out at breakneck pace – and I would be well advised to achieve it.

Priority Three is something that “would be nice to do” and can include the superfluous, the luxurious or the trivial; for instance, figuring how to use my Suunto watch that I have owned since 2002 and have never been able to figuring out with it my all-important vertical consumption of skiing.

Now that I've set these categories, I'm going to fill in the blanks in the next week or so, but don't set your hopes too high; I won't go public with them.

Happy New Year!