Sunday, February 28, 2010

Olympic thoughts – Conclusion

The two-week event made one thing clear. Indoor contests were perfect in Vancouver while most of the Whistler outdoor competitions were severely “under the weather” and a little nightmare. Anyone who had just been a few times to the BC resort in winter could have anticipated that, except of course these “experts” that are the IOC members!

My next thought goes to the most inspiring athlete of all, Joannie Rochette, who skated brilliantly, against all odds, and in my opinion won the shiniest medal of the entire Games. My other thought is that beside setting back the province of British Columbia by one billion dollars, the Winter Olympics are both two long and saturated with activity. They should be made to hold into one single week, by cutting the unnecessary or marginal events. This is what I'd cut:

  • Curling
  • Luge and skeleton, leave one bobsled event
  • Ice dancing
  • Super G
  • Boarder & Skier Cross
  • Parallel snowboarding
  • Freestyle aerials.
  • All biathlon events
  • Cut into the number of ice speed events
  • Cut into the number of cross-country events
  • Limit jumping to one category instead of small and large hill
There might be more, but that would be a start, it would save tons of money, allow the venue to be back into a winter sport resort, not a big city, and would help pick mountain venues that are better suited than Whistler was. Now, who will have the courage to implement that?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Olympic overload

That's it, I'm done with the Winter Games. I can't hear the music, see the logo, soak in the wet British Columbia scenery and can no longer stand these NBC commercials anymore! I probably watch to much of it, and while the American TV network NBC did its regular lousy job in covering the events, I was lucky to get quite a few races live via a pirated Eurosport stream on the internet. Today, I went skiing instead of watching the men slalom and returned to hear the results of both runs that were not what I had mentally pictured; namely, Ligety, Lizeroux and Miller together on the podium. Well, that's too bad, now let's return to “normal!”

Friday, February 26, 2010

Is Toyota the biggest road danger?

You would think so as the Japanese car maker has been on the road to crucifixion for an extraordinary amount of time and it seems, with a mean desire to extract a “pound of flesh” and some out of it. Right, there have been 34 deaths attributable to a poorly designed accelerator pedal on million of vehicles sold and Toyota had been less than forthcoming in admitting to the problem.
So when Mr. Toyoda finally showed up on Capital Hill, he got pounded once more by lawmakers wanted to look good to their constituents just a few month away from their reelection. Contrast this situation with the epidemic use of cell phone by drivers for blabbering or texting while they're moving. Estimates vary, but there appears to be between 3,000 to 6,000 deaths each year in the USA because of that.

Are the main mobile phone service providers being asked to acquiesce to that frightening reality and being grilled by congress do agree to fix the problem? Some have just tried to debate the issue, but it's not happening! This shows, once more, that there are various sets of measures in place, within our political institutions, that depends largely on who is “greased” and to which financial extent. While I've never own a Lexus or a Toyota, would I ever buy one? Quite probably, because I feel that by in large the brand is sound and a leader in its industry. Now, would I object if my use of a cell phone becomes severely regulated and restricted when I drive? Absolutely not!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Vancouver and the women GS fiasco

It's now obvious that yesterday's race should have been postponed in the first place in view of the terrible visibility and that a bunch of bad decisions robbed Mancuso of her chances to fairly defend her title. A gutsy and fair jury would have scrapped and re-ran the entire event instead of allowing just the second run to be held today, but it was pretty much the USA against the rest of the world and I don't think USSA fought as much as they should have on behalf of Julia Mancuso.
This, after all is an Olympic event and Park City Race Department does a much better job in running a J3 race! The whole race jury, including Peter Krogoll technical delegate, Atle Skaardal referee, Bruce Holliday chief of course, Herbert Klammer start referee and Jan Palovicova finish referee are all obviously incompetent and should be stripped of their functions. Just a note to the CIO bigwigs, next time you award a Winter Olympic, do a much better homework. It's now become obvious to the entire world that Vancouver and Whistler where not up to the task!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cheney, Satan and God

Dick Cheney has survived his fifth heart-attack and this is either a testimony to exceptional luck, great health care afforded to career politicians or evil intervention. I'd think it's the latter. I do believe that, a long time ago, The former VP made a deal with the Devil that would allow him to engage into war crimes without having to worry about their consequences and last long enough to support one-sided and unjust causes like these championed by the Republican Party.

Faced with that, God has been trying hard to “cut him off” by administering the man a full range of potent and well-spaced heart attacks, but so far, the devil has prevailed. If Dick's survival proves something, it is that he must have a huge amount of supporters in the current American health care system, which doesn't come as surprise to me. Now, I'm left with wondering what will happen with heart attack #6; this is an ominous if not devilish number, but again our Wyoming neighbor might prove that, like most ordinary stray cats, he's got seven full lives...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Our ability to take in adversity

One of the least appreciated, but most often experienced situation at the Olympics is defeat. Let's face it, there's only one Olympic champion, the one who gets the gold, right? After all is said and done and especially over a long period of time, silver and bronze don't account for much.

With great admiration and attention I was watching a dozen ice dancers last night that, to my untrained and ignorant eyes, all looked perfect, but yet only one couple took the coveted gold medal. How we deal with defeat is not just a daily Olympic occurrence every two years; it happens around us all the time, from our youngest years to the moment maturity and experience should shield us against almost anything. It happens in sports, at school, in business and in our relationships. Those of us who can, over and over, take a bad blow, dust themselves off and keep going, might after all be the real winners and the unsung gold medalists!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tired, but so talented...

I always thought Bode Miller was extremely talented on his boards. A born skier I would say... I saw that again, not so much during the downhill portion of yesterday's super combined, but mostly during the slalom run that settled the final score.
He was smooth, soft and flowing; the attacking mode was not obvious (the extra “juice” needed for that probably was no longer available) but he was keeping up with his equipment and remained in perfect unison with it. He and his short slalom skis were working together beautifully. In my view, this is the way skiing should work. We should be on a cloud, only point the skis where we want them to go, weight them right, remain feather-light and stay with them to get where we need to in the most effective, natural manner. Bravo Bode!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Olympics events and natural terrain

I'm a fan of natural terrain, not so much of groomed runs and totally opposed to artificial features, from half pipes to giant jumps and skier-cross courses. My personal opinion is that over-groomed and “fake” ski terrain is “numbing” the sport and robbing from its original, natural purpose. Would you enjoy skiing on an evenly shaped slope, without nook and crannies, vegetation and a host of natural “surprises” and variations?
I personally wouldn't; we rightly say that variety is spice of life. Modern, overly groomed skiing is a curse! It's not just new events like boarder-cross or half pipe that fall victim of that homogenization, but traditional ones like downhill, giant slalom and even slalom. So called “classic” downhill courses have progressively been emasculated and only the venerable Hahnenkamm race course in Kitzbühel remains close to its roots.

“Designer downhills,” most of them engineered by Switzerland's Bernhard Russi, have sprung up from Beaver Creek to Snowbasin and Val d'Isère. Thirty years ago, race runs were closely reproducing the terrain below with their pesky and irregular little “waves,” pummeling a skier's leg and further increasing the technical difficulty - not necessarily the danger - but equalizing chances between light and heavy weight skiers.

Today, the bigger a ski racer is, the greater chances of standing at the top. Jean-Claude Killy, Gustavo Thoeni or Henry Duvillard wouldn't stand a chance on today's downhill courses. My sense is that flurry of synthetic environment will breed sameness, breakneck speed and eventually lead to spectators' boredom. The problem is that from the International Ski Federation to the International Olympic Committee, officials who should do something about that sad state of affairs are asleep at the switch...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Olympic thoughts – Week One

In no particular order
  • The IOC needs to prune the number of events. Too many of them dilute the impact, confuse viewers and make the experience feel like work. Please, sim-pli-fy!
  • Same thing with the opening ceremony, trim it down, save money!
  • The Games are taking valuable skiing time away from me
  • For the past two evenings, NBC must have gotten the message and has done a much better job in reporting about skiing.
  • After seeing the half-pipe girls fidgeting with their iPod in the starting gate and giggling at their losses, the little respect I had for snowboarding is headed south...
  • Not all medals should be the same size; Aksel Svindal or Evan Lysacek's medals should be much bigger and of purer metal than those of any snowboarders, curling or skeleton champions
  • Shame on Canada, the host country for overtly wanting to garner as much gold as possible. It's as if friends invited you for a barbecue and made a point of grabbing the best pieces of meat for themselves.
  • Involuntarily, Whistler has made clear to the world what I have found out for quite sometime; its weather sucks and the US Rockies are a much better choice for a ski vacation!
  • NBC seems to have a tough time selling its prime time advertising spots
  • I'd love to see a carbon footprint breakdown per Olympic competitor, parents, friends, fan clubs, support teams and officials and see how much “greener” these Vancouver Olympics are...
That's it for the week. Please, stay tuned.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Feeling like one million...

On both February 17 of 2009 and 2010, I passed an important milestone in the ski season by breaking the 1,000,000 vertical feet skied. You see, measuring skiing is hard and I choose vertical drop as a yardstick. This year, I'd love to do better than last, which already was a personal best at 1,743,781 feet, and shatter the 2 million mark. We'll see if I can do it, but I figure that every day that I'm on skis gets me closer to that goal.
This is no reason for me to stick to easy runs and just rack up more vertical the easy way. When I ski alone, I always push myself on the hardest possible terrain, skiing non-stop and trying to stay “smooth and soft” on my skis at all time, something much easier said than done. This is how I've kept on learning and improving through my early 60s... Now is still time to try harder, pack up as much skiing as I can while the body wants to do the work and before I become a septuagenarian!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Olympic downhill courses

I am a bit familiar with the Whistler men's downhill course. I have skied it some time ago and found it then to be a nice cruiser and fairly similar to the Lake Louise downhill. I've also watched helmet-mounted cams previews of the course which confirmed these early impressions. I also realize that in order to let all nationalities on the run, it can't and shouldn't be a course like the Streif in Kitzbuehel. This said, the 2002 Snowbasin and the 1992 Bellevarde's runs were far superior to Whistler's and were of another caliber altogether. On runs like these, the narrow time windows in which the winners were tightly grouped would have stretched significantly and the added technical difficulties might have brought a few unintended consequences like what happened yesterday in the women downhill.
In contrast to the men's, the latter did separate the little girls from the fearless and capable women in a big way, with its ice, its surface “waves” and its relentlessness. This goes to show that all DH courses are not created equal and that weather and conditions can magnify the actual difficulties be a factor of 2 to 3...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Olympic Circus

I made a sincere effort to watch as much as was shown to us of the women boarder-cross and as a result, haven't change my opinion a bit about this event that sticks like another unneeded sore on Vancouver's face. My comments apply to both boarder and skier-cross events. First the concept is all fake; it requires a fake run with fake bumps and demand tons of fake snow.
Then, if the first out at the start is any good, there is no more suspense, the race is in the bag. Finally, it shows (if that demonstration needed to be made) that putting four athletes on one run is both a dumb and dangerous idea. It may work for the X-Games, but not for the Olympics. Like Reagan once summoned Gorbachev: “Tear down that wall!” I now beg Jacques Rogge, “Please rid us from that series of god-awful events.” As I said before, at the Olympics, less is best!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Olympics viewing torture

You need to live in the country that invented the automobile assembly line, put the first man on the moon and made the iPhone a reality to see the worst broadcasting of the Olympics in the civilized world. That's right, here at home, in our beloved United States we must go through the worst delayed, tortured and commercially spoiled televised event during all Olympiads, including this 21st edition from Vancouver. I would have loved to see a live transmission of today's men downhill, but I had to resort to going online and watching it, via text/instant-message, through the Eurosport site.

This way, NBC marketing gurus will be free to distillate the daily events as they please, starting with the lamest, and moving progressively to the juiciest, like that downhill race, towards the end of the evening when my normal bedtime is well passed. This trick will permit the dying network to shove its stupid commercials from Budweiser to GM and Coke down our throats.

I was talking over the phone today to my good friend Michel Duret, who works in Tunisia, a notorious police-state, where Youtube is filtered, but had just seen Didier Défago (that's right, the other “Didier”) win the event live, without censure and all that advertising BS. I bet I could have seen it live too it if I had been spending President's Week in North Korea or even Iran instead of staying home!

Chairlift stories

In my last blog, I attempted to “measure” skiing and made a point that, even with state-of-the-art detachable chairs, we're still spending a significant portion of our ski time sitting on lifts. Long ago, when all chairlifts were slow and time ran more quietly than it does these days, I used to tell my children stories on the way up the hill. My son Thomas was not really into that, but my daughter Charlotte insisted for a new story every ride we took. This, and a hot chocolate, were her main motivators to go out and ski. Under this sort of constant and, I admit it, pleasant pressure, I developed a creative technique for generating “chairlift-time stories” that would be varied in length and content, but would always include a measure of creativity should the lift stop for a while, the wind blow too hard or the temperature suddenly drop to subzero levels.

Over the years, this routine became another habit of mine and I always enjoy striking up a conversation on the chair or joking around with my fellow passengers. Since I was born in France, my accent has always been a dead giveaway that I turned into a conversation ice-breaker and a fodder for endless discussions on all subjects. All kind of questions have sprung up and I have learned – often at my own expenses – how to articulate an answer that is well-rehearsed and why not, peppered with humor.

I have a great deal of admiration for anyone who can think on their feet, particularly “improv comedians,” and have spared no effort in using that skill during a typical chairlift ride. One of the essential information I memorize is the average ride time for each lift; I get it from the “Lift Information” box located at the bottom right hand corner of the Deer Valley Winter Trail Map, on the side showcasing the panoramic ski map. Since the average uphill time is around 6 minutes, I refrain from telling stories that are too long as I must find enough “wiggle room” for a casual opening and partying words to “sandwich” the core story. There is no denying that high-speed lifts are forcing me to be more concise than I used to be!

The next important point is to tailor the story to the audience. If the others passengers are into their 60s or above, talking about body aches, prescription medicine or AARP always goes a long way as it often build bonds that may leave us standing and talking for another 15 minutes at the top of the chair! If the skiers are in their 30s and can't stop fidgeting with their iPhones or Blackberries, tech talk often becomes de rigueur. If they all board the chair with extra wide, double rocker skis, a little expose showing some knowledge about big mountain skis is hard to avoid in order to strike a meaningful conversation.

If kids are sharing the chair, there's always that good tale, but young folks' attention is much harder to earn these days and the story needs to be new, exciting and not a re-hash of something they have already heard from a much better story-teller. In the past, when I told stories to my daughter, I'd pay enormous attention to my surroundings; if I happened to spot some rabbit tracks on the snow, I got her a special bunny story. If I couldn't tell what the tracks really were, it could turn into a jackalope's sighting, another misdeed from Sasquatch or some unsolved snow mystery. It just had to make some sense, contain a beginning, a middle and an end, but if told well and with a flurry of special details, it could turn me into a mountain wizard.

Finally, there's always the big joke. On snow of course, and with some pun intended, this remains a slippery area that should only be tackled when all the previous options are perfectly mastered. If someone asks a really stupid or even a demeaning question, I will return the favor by telling an egregious story so long as I can keep a straight face, interact well with the offender(s), and make sure I have enough material left to make it to the top, including a great punch line. Of course, I always try to do it tongue-and-cheek and I keep my sense of humor while delivering the message. If I ever mess up, I do my very best to exit as fast as I can and vanish quickly into the ski crowd as soon as I unload the chair.

Now you'll ask me: “What am I to do if I grossly underestimate the time to tell the whole story?” It's quite simple; make an appointment with your listeners at the base of the same lift for the second, third and final installments!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mini, love and loathing...

Automobiles are among the objects that often generate feelings very close to the ones we have towards people. Since 2007, my wife drives a mini and loves every moment of her experience with that little car. I can understand it; unlike most car picked on a dealer's lot in America and fraught with compromises, she ordered it like you'd order a custom pizza with all the features she wanted, needed and then some. I love her Mini Cooper too and find it peppy and fun to drive every time she lets me have it. The problem is that I don't love it as unconditionally as she does. My relationship to this British re-incarnation of a classic is a seesaw between love and loathing.

Let me explain; the car computer is quirky, complicated and requires a MIT degree to be able to use it, let alone adjust it. Instruments are dysfunctional, the speedometer is far too “optimistic,” as is shows speeds 10% above reality; I hate that with a passion. The worst is yet to come though. Last week, we brought the Mini to the dealer for a catalytic converter “recall” and for some reasons, the mechanic on duty left some lights on and it drained the battery.

I tried to open the hood, but couldn't figure out how to do it, even though I had to read the manual, but still could not get what they call “bonnet” to open; I was mad and cursing about these devious British designers. BMW's roadside assistance, after telling me that the batteries should be in the trunk (like all other BMW are configured,) finally came to our home garage to show me how to open that damn hood and reload the battery. This made me fell stupid, delayed my skiing outing and in spite of all that, still made me covet this little mischievous auto with driver's envy...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

When love gets mixed up with bike

There's no better time to talk about our understanding of love than on Valentine day; sometimes, we think we can grasp the meaning of love, at others, it eludes the best of us. For the occasion, here's a story that happened near my hometown, at the Avoriaz ski resort in France. Some thirty years ago, a prominent writer and magazine publisher owned a ski-in/ski-out home at the nascent ski area and had decided to name it "Love" as is customary in Europe.

A construction worker was handed the four beautiful brass letters and either forgot or got mixed up with the instructions;
not knowing what to do with them, he re-arranged them in various combinations until the name finally made sense to him. The end result was that “love” turned into “velo” which means bicycle in France. This story ties seamlessly with that charming joke about a young French lad whose bicycle has just been stolen. He comes to his sweetheart to seek comfort. She stares at his eyes and tells him: “When I look into your eyes darling, I can see the entire city of Paris!” Without missing a beat the boy goes: “Could you please search for my 'vélo'?” Happy Valentine Day!

Thanks to Didier Baud for getting me the photo of the house in question!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Olympics faves

Since I hold dual citizenship, my Olympic loyalties are understandably split between France and the USA but I also admire some athletes that are neither French nor American. While my attention will be focused on alpine ski racing, I'll watch some freestyle but don't know the events and athletes well enough to root for anyone and while I'm on the subject I hate Ski Cross. Snowboard isn't big either on my list and while Nordic events aren't my cup of tea, I may watch some along with some ice skating. This is not the place to discuss the plethora of events that are choking the Olympics. For instance, I don't see why curling is still there, why there is Super G in the first place and why Ski Cross was brought into the picture, but that should be fodder for a totally separate debate. So with no further ado, here are my “faves” and the reasons why I like these athletes:

Bode Miller, USA. He's got a chock-full of raw skiing talent. He recovers from near-misses like no other and a few podiums in Vancouver would justly reward this iconoclast.
Cyprien Richard, France. He's from my hometown in France. He's had a tough career plagued with too many injuries and I'd like to see him sharing the GS podium with Cuche and Ligety.
Didier Cuche, Switzerland. I know he's Swiss but the man can ski better than anyone, particularly down the Streif in Kitzbuehel, besides after passing the finish line he twirls his ski like no other.
Julien Lizeroux, France. A young, fast and promising slalom skier that I hope will dazzle us all.
Ted Ligety, USA. He's from my adoptive home in Park City. A great athlete with a superb attitude; I'll be rooting for him.

Ingrid Jacquemod, France. She's from Val d'Isere and a medal would be a great way to reward her long career on skis
Julia Mancuso, USA. Hailing from Squaw Valley, she's got Olympic blood in her veins from her environment and it'd be nice to see her make a surprise comeback
Lindsey Vonn, USA. She's got talent, charisma, the right attitude and roots in Park City, what else can I say?
Maria Riesch, Germany. Not only is she Lindsey Vonn's best friend, but she's also one of the best female skier around
Sandrine Aubert, France. The rising slalom star; please, go for broke in Vancouver and make us scream “Vive la France!”

Of course and as always, unbelievable surprises are likely to emerge at the Olympics, but I won't get into that guessing game. Listing the above athlete was already a major cerebral work for me. If your list is different, please, don't hesitate to share it and post it as a comment; now, enjoy the Games!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Responsible long term outlook

I always get mad when I see our politicians shortsightedness who can barely think through their mandate and their reelection. This puts us in a world of short term thinking, of zigzagging policies and of reactive – instead of proactive actions. Some small communities do better than our big governments. In the US, it's not uncommon to have cities and counties try to plan ahead through “visioning” processes and attempt to guess or imagine how their communities will look like 20 years down the road and hopefully try to do something in anticipation of it.

Take our environment for instance. It's common place to say that we love our kids and grand kids so much that we want the best for them. The same idea applies to infrastructure, public debt and education, but its time span generally stops right at the grandchildren. We don't seem to give a hoot at our grand kids grandchildren and so on. It would seem just right to think through generations down the path, right? If our leaders had both the courage and foresight to dwell into this way of thinking they probably would begin by at least formulating a 50 year plan (why this number? Because it corresponds to two modern generations) followed perhaps by a 500 plan to tie everything together. While their ideology was totally flawed, the Soviet had it right with their “five year plans” as we have long given up to monitor our progress these days under the excuse that the world is changing too fast...

Such a mind set and such a planning exercise would finally bring serious issues into perspective like overpopulation, health-care, education, economic survival, environment, natural disasters and peaceful coexistence on this planet. This overview should guide an entire succession of governments with a flexible road map instead of having them try to re-invent the wheel at each unexpected surprise found in a new turn of the road. Who should take that lead? The United Nations for sure and every top elected official, but most importantly we, the people, should develop, promote and push that visioning attitude onto them.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A solution to obesity and unemployment?

I'm (almost) serious and believe it can be found in “pedal power.” A few days ago, I read in a French newspaper about Jean-Jacques Couton, a ski instructor from Vallorcine near Chamonix who built and set up a rope-two that precisely works on pedal power. This lift is intended for young skiers, ages 3 to 5 and could be the answer we all seek to both epidemic obesity and massive unemployment. Think about it that way; depending on your strength, motivation and laziness (I should say, lack thereof) it's reasonable to expect 100 to 300 Watts generated by an individual's pedal power. That's the basic building block; from there, to power a typical four-pack high-speed chairlift that requires about 500 Kilowatts to run, we would need between 2,000 to 3,000 able bodies to do the work.

Of course, we would also be required to house the operation into a structure reminiscent of an ancient galley and add a bunch of foremen to keep that collective engine “motivated.” This would require a significant increase in the upper chairlift station size where the electric engine is usually housed, but you'd keep it simple, spartan and ecological. The number of workers would vary according to the overall chairlift load and that variation could be used for resting and texting time. You'd pay minimum wage and the end result would be a population perfectly fit and fully occupied. But wait, someone just said “what's for lunch?” another screamed “I have to go to the bathroom!” Gee, I forgot that we needed to feed and sanitize that little army!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jimmie Heuga, 1943-2010

The 18 year old who won the 1964 Olympic bronze medal in Slalom left us on Monday to trace endless arcs in the pale blue yonder where conditions are said to be always perfect and fluffy. I met Jimmie in 1977 when I arrived to work in the United States, at Beconta's in Elmford, New York. While he had been diagnosed with MS seven years before, he was still incredibly active, biking and giving himself to all kinds of outdoors endeavors out of his Rowayton home in nearby Connecticut.

Before he started his MS foundation, I had even met his dad, originally from the Basque Country, who was the Squaw Valley's tram conductor. It must be incredibly hard for a top athlete to see his physical faculties inexorably eroded and eventually extinguished by a ravaging ailment like multiple sclerosis. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Jimmy was able to transmute his pain into a personal advocacy for advancing cures, treatment and attitudes against and about the disease. With all his accomplishments and the immense suffering he had to endure, Heuga's star now shines even brighter than any of his peers, even those who received more medals and skiing accolades than he ever did.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hanging by a thread?

For those of you who are familiar with skiing, there are two types of chairlifts. The older design, called “fixed grip” and the modern, much faster system known as “detachable.” We're going to talk about the former and in particular a singular, very odd model that still operates at The Canyons resort. First, let me explain what a “fixed grip” attachment is. It's a clam design that literally grips the cable by means of a strong bolt, enabling it to hold a chair with its passengers and carry them up the hill. It's simple, safe and it works.

At The Canyons, where I ski most of the time, there is rickety chairlift from yesteryear called Golden Eagle. It serves a beautiful bowl, but is painfully slow and I take it once a day, if at all. The interesting aspect of that lift is while the chair is attached to the cable, like other fixed grip lift, its attachment is quite different. There's no clam and instead, a tongue that extend from the top of frame of each chair is directly inserted into the strands of the cable in a streamlined manner. From a mechanical standpoint, this doesn't seem as elegant as it appears since around most attachments frayed cable or even a cable bulge is visible. Since I'm naturally fearless, I don't care much about the safety of the system, but I don't think this is the best way to hold a chair to a cable. Could some expert voice his opinion on the matter.

Alain Lazard's Answer
The chair in question is a Riblet; the company closed down in 2003. There are still quite a few around; from the three that originally were at The Canyons, only the Golden Eagle chair survives today. Riblet built some 500 lifts. The particularities of the Riblet chair are their grips, which are called insert clips. It is a very ingenious device and it is very safe too. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, You'll see a sketch below showing the detail of the clip.

The only accident I ever heard about happened at Wildcat, NH, a long time ago. I have no details about it and it might not have been caused by the insert clip.

One big benefit of the clip is that it provides a very smooth ride over the sheave trains, particularly under the compression sheaves, something that traditional clam/jaw grips cannot match. The drawback is that the clip cannot be visually inspected at it is the case with other grips. Also, the code required to move the grip every 2 years or 2,000 hours, whichever comes first. This is the same with traditional grips.

This is a labor-intensive job and a special tool has been developed: The Riblet "Grip Detensioner" . It's showed on a second picture representing the tool in action. You can see the cable in the middle with the strands separated, which allows the insertion of the clip. Also, the fiber or plastic core of the wire rope has to be cut where the clip is inserted. When the clip is moved to another location of the cable, a plastic part has to be placed into the cable to replace the missing piece of the core. Finally, the Riblet clip cannot be placed on the spliced section of the rope.

You've correctly noted on your blog that a few wires are broken next to the clip. This is not a problem because chairlift wire ropes have a safety factor of five. This means that 80% of the wire would have to be broken within a few feet for the cable to fail. The broken wires are likely the result of the increased stress and bending of the cable near the clip. It shows how important the regular displacement of the chair is on the cable. Proper maintenance is the key to keep a Riblet and all other chairlifts running smoothly and safely.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Superbowl, team sports and me

Yesterday was my 33rd opportunity to watch the 44th Superbowl, and once again I choose to miss it. Okay, not quite entirely; I watched about 20 minutes of it, including the half-time performance by The Who, whom I used to like a lot, but again that was 40 years ago. Their gig was okay, the two group survivors are old, lasting forever is always a bad idea and there's a time for everything! Remarkable (to me) was the impressive row of five TV anchors at times, who were supposed to comment the action and looked really silly having to take turns in order to profer their 2 cent.
I can watch skiing, biking, marathon, iron man racing and even ice-skating, but have a tough time sitting through any team sport game. I've attended a few of these too, and the only ones I have enjoyed were the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City, while Micheal Jordan was still playing. I have liked seeing the French soccer team when they were on top of the world and I almost died of boredom the few time I had to attend a National Baseball game. That's about it; I enjoy participating in sport, not watching them. Star athletes won't get rich with me, but that's the way it is. Please, tell me; am I an oddity or what?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A unique, sporty snowman

Our good friends Paulette and Jean Barbier from Voiron, France, have a creative gift in being able to see the snowman from the trees and making him as realistic as green as it can be. It apparently didn't take them too much time for extending a cap on its head, hand him some poles and click it on a pair of cross-country skis, to take the character from pure vegetative state to bringing him to life...
That's what "tree-huggers" might call sustainable creativity!

Our so precious future

This is an old favorite of mine; the more we age, the less time we're left with and whatever remains becomes invaluable. At least it should, and I'm not saying this just to be cynical, but as we're absorbed by our day-to-day living, we often don't realize it and don't treasure it enough. At the same time, the list of unrealized projects and wishes keeps on piling up and we end up realizing that we neither have the time, the envy or the energy to tackle them all anymore. They become a mentally tiring proposition that we'd rather avoid facing than attempting to tackle.

Moving forward then becomes a matter of weeding out the undertakings that seem worth of what has become our incredibly finite time. While this concept could be seen as overwhelming, discouraging and even depressing by many, it's in fact another wonderful reason to appreciate life, the time we've left to live it and its increasingly priceless value!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Making the next turn...

In the past few days, I have come to realize that free skiing makes it hard on us, as we're left with the decision of always making a new turn and that the more options we have to initiate it, the more likely we're to hesitate, drag our feet and “break” our rhythm. The slalom and GS specialist has to turn; there's no option, but for us recreational skiers, unless we ski on a narrow run, want to avoid obstacles or moving skiers and snowboarders, we can turn whenever we please and we somehow need to keep an inner “big brother” telling our minds that it's indeed time to turn. In pretty open terrain, I love to scribe long, endless curves on snow, but sometime I get so drugged by the never-ending turn that I'm not always as good as I should be with the timing of the next one. Call it laziness, finickiness or plain apprehension, but it does happen. This probably is the downside of never ending arcs.

On the opposite end of that spectrum, just yesterday, I was instructing Juliette, my daughter-in-law, who is a gifted beginner skier; I was telling her to “modulate” her turns, that is go long radius on gentle slope and tighten up her turns on steeper sections. To help her, I skied just above her and was calling her turns on these more challenging slopes, and it worked wonderfully. She no longer had to decide when to turn, she simply got the cue. So if you aren't fortunate enough to afford your own coach, install a “little voice” inside your head that will order you to turn exactly at the moment you should. That's this simple!

Friday, February 5, 2010

How should we measure skiing?

It seems obvious to me that skiing should be satisfying before we think about measuring it. To me, a good skiing experience means feeling in control, comfortable with the elements and having fun. So, how should we put numbers on that great sport? Many years ago, skiing acumen was often measured by ski length. If you were a male and skied on a pair of 223 cm downhill skis, you'd make a memorable impression. If the length was 215, you were looked up to, and if you wanted to “blend-in” with other “serious skiers” you couldn't ski much shorter than 207. Of course, now ski length doesn't carry the clout it used to and had nothing to do with the “amount” of skiing one could aspire to...

In the old days, skiing 15 days in a season was substantial; later, with a full, two-day weekend, doubling up that number wasn't unusual during the course of a winter. Today, if you speak to some mature Deer Valley season-pass holders, they may confess that they're doing their best to ski “their age” (that is, ski as many days in a season as their number of birthdays) or even aim for the century mark; in fact, I knew of a local contractor who had vanity license plates proudly stating “100 days” for the number of days he skied in a season. Granted, those are just days, like they could be years, but it doesn't say how intense skiing can be, namely how many hours a skier is strapped to the skis, from just a couple of to a long, seven-hour day...

This is where the matter becomes tricky, because without some kind of ski-meter attached to the skis, how can we measure the daily dose of skiing? Europeans might be “measuring” their ski areas the right way; they don't use skiable acreage, but “miles of ski runs” instead. It's not uncommon to see some of their largest ski areas boast “50 miles of runs” or something like that. While this is a precise measurement, it doesn't say much about slope and snow conditions and there could be some enormous difference between one mile of “green,” beginner run, and just one-tenth of a mile of “black diamond” chute! With the limitations of this linear measurement, there ought to be a better yardstick that relates to the total energy expended by the skier and this might be vertical drop.

“Vertical drop” is simply the measure of how tall a ski hill is; if the elevation at the top of the gondola is 7,950 feet and its base is 6,570 feet, the vertical rise is 1,380 feet. This measurement implies more than just a fixed distance but a variety of options to descend that hill. It could be a gentle slope or a more intimidating expert run blending mileage and difficulty in opposite proportions. The next logical thought would be “how much 'vertical' can be skied in one day?”

Another loaded question, because it depends on the skier's ability, the type of lift used, the steepness of the slope and both snow and terrain conditions. For some, 15,000 feet means a full day while for others it might be 30,000 or even more. If you're worried about keeping track of all these numbers, there are even tools available, like high-tech wrist watches that will do the computing for you!
Modern infrastructure make a big difference too; do you remember the old days when ridding up a lift took forever? It wasn't unusual that ninety-percent of ski time would be consumed riding up the mountain.

This isn't the case anymore, particularly in Deer Valley, where the vast majority of lifts are now high speed chairs and gondola. Some actually stand out so much that “vertical skiing” records were broken just this year, with over 115,000 vertical feet tallied in just one day, most of it on “Sultan Express,” breaking a previous 108,000 feet record set back in 2007, in nearby Snowbird!

There are in fact very few ski-lifts, the world over, that come close to Deer Valley “mighty” chairlifts. Of course, you can always find a steep slope and hire a helicopter, but this can be outrageously expensive, not counting the “carbon footprint” consequences... All this means that with lifts like Sultan, Lady Morgan, Sterling or Wasatch, among many, Deer Valley Resort makes it possible to get a full ski day within a few hours, as long as you are in shape, can time your outing while other skiers have lunch and pick well-groomed runs.

With all the extra time left from your “compressed skiing-time,” you'll be able to catch up with your work, go shopping, enjoy more après-ski time and indulge on a leisurely dinner. But again, that's all about quantity and never forget that quality of skiing is job-one, long before considering metering everything in your skiing life!

Government and the economy...

As a postscript to yesterday's blog, I just would like to add that government can always react, but this never work as well as people dream.
Government can only be proactive and set the stage for a sound economic framework. The problem is that it must think long term, something governments are unable to do, as they are at the mercy of their election cycles. Folks who think that governments can intervene on matters like jobs are simply unrealistic.

Short term fixes like this simply don't work; it's almost impossible to turn on a dime like this; this is akin at stuffing the toothpaste back into the tube in a hurry. My sense is that the way we look at government should be reformed and we should expect it to set up a framework for a society that work for all and keeps on evolving over time. This idea further begs a fundamental reform of politics or public service as we know it today.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Can government help the economy?

This is a daunting question as well as a daunting task. Aside from the depression-era massive infrastructure projects, it seems to me that governmental intervention into the economy is gimmicky at best, especially if it is, as is always the case, intended to be a short-term shot in the arm.

Now that the entire planet is on the same wavelength, has instant access to the same information and that there are fewer places to “exploit,” or take advantage of, successful governments with regards to their economy and overall prosperity will be those who have the best educational system, the least corrupt political environment (for obvious monetary efficiencies and best long-term policies) the best regulations when it comes to financial, business and international trade as well as environmental.

They'll also be those that have vision, take leadership on new technologies, encourage R&D investment, scientific research, exclude religion from their sphere of influence and make a point of elevating their lowest economic strata, both systematically and intelligently. Now, take a look around you and let me know which nation, in your view, has policies that are the closest to this approach?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Evolving winter decoration

One of my neighbors doesn't bother with plastic gnomes, giant mushrooms or even Snow White for decorating his front yard. Instead, he's embarked into a dynamic project that is growing on a weekly basis,
depicting what amounts now to five snow-made characters whose names I don't know, but must represent life in Park City, complete with scarves, hats, umbrella and... crutches; all of that framed by a beautiful lighted garland and punctuated with a small American flag! I wanted to capture this “slice of Park City life” before the winter is over and snow melts, but I'm sure it will keep on growing and beautifying between now and April!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Real estate investment?

Yesterday, two “investment experts” were talking on the radio about personal money management strategies in these troubled times. Among other ideas, they were asserting that real estate – owning a home, as an example – shouldn't be considered as an investment, but rather a lifestyle choice. I don't know what this duo had been smoking, but I couldn't disagree more with them. Just because real estate had been the subject of unrealistic speculations, had seen its bubble inflate before it would burst, isn't a reason to dismiss it as a legitimate and smart investment.

First, we're 6.7 billion folks on this planet and population keeps on rising while land supply is likely to shrink (yeah, global warming!) Second, if our dollar is hardly worth the paper it's printed on, and short of owning gold or silver, the best tangible asset to hold remains some piece of dirt. Of course this comes with a caveat that I learned from someone who's succeeded in the business, and it's that the first capital gain achieved is right at the time the purchase of a home, a condo or a piece of land is made. In other words, the art of real estate investing begins with buying low enough; that's all there is to it!

Monday, February 1, 2010

My renewed interest for videos

All it took, it seems, was the availability of a decent editing program on my computer to get my interest perked up again into home-video productions. That hobby of mine started into the mid 80s and lasted through the rest of the decade, when the children were small and I wanted to capture them on video. At the time, home movie technology was cumbersome, of poor quality and computer editing wasn't available.

Over the years, I somewhat caught up with technology, even bought a compact video camera that I never really used, and it's only four or five years ago, when I purchased a smaller snapshot digital camera that I returned to shooting videos; mostly while skiing or mountain biking. Today, a new grandson, a much better camera and easy to use software are pushing me back into home-movie business. My next purchase will be a head attachment for filming my adventures on skis and mountain bike, so please, stay tuned!