Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Too little, too late...

One of my blog readers responded to my March 24 posting about religion, economy and overpopulation and says that “before accusing religions, it would be appropriate to question the level of education and training of individuals and in particular that of women. Experience shows that when knowledge increases, birthrate falls. It is indeed a matter of economy and wealth distribution, since in poverty, even more so in extreme poverty in which billions of human live, education remain very difficult to access.

While I agree to a point with the comments, I believe that it remains a chicken-and-the-egg dilemma in the sense that many organized religions are run by men who don't encourage women participation, unless pressure from the faithfuls becomes untenable. These same male-led religions (Islam, Catholicism, Mormonism) in an effort to increase their ranks are overtly encouraging overpopulation by refusing or discouraging any form of contraceptive, thus denying their followers any significant economic improvements.

Extreme dogma used by these religions remains highly influential, encourage well above-normal fertility as a way to expand their influence and the persons in the front lines who pay for that are still the women who are held back by the flock of kids they must care for. Widespread education in the developed world is what has forced religion to become more women-friendly, but this was not a unilateral, gratuitous gesture from organized religions. In fact, when they're reluctantly have to adapt to changing times, it's because they're forced to and whatever reform they've been bringing never fail to be “too little, too late.”

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Grip and support

Life is like mountain climbing with its (mostly) ups and sometime downs. Action, persistence, as well as constant re-invention are what prevents it from going stale and boring.
There are times when life flows so smoothly that it can become boring, we may then lose concentration and our focus isn't as sharp as it used to be. Then there's that tricky passage that warns us and re-engage us into peak performance and is another occasion to carefully following the precepts of rock climbing, which among others are to have three points of grip and support at all times, pay crystal clear attention, keep fear well under control, hear our own heartbeat pounding and then proceeding to make slow but steady progress...

Monday, March 29, 2010

The cardiovascular side of Utah Interconnect

Yesterday, I participated into a special, high-octane version of the Utah Interconnect; you see, this is the sole equivalent of the European, village-to-village ski adventure that can be replicated in North America. We were a group of six guys all in their prime, except for me, a dinosaur well into his sixties; needless to say that I stuck like a sore thumb and I'd venture to think that some of my mates who knew the drill, thought they'd have to drag me back home inside a body-bag. Once more, ignorance is bliss, and while I was envisioning endless descents into fresh snow, I had conveniently dismissed the horrid climbs that were in store for us. When Nathan Rafferty, the group leader and president of Ski Utah asked if we were up to climbing “Fantasy Ridge,” I for one, said “yes, of course,” not knowing that I would experience my first encounter with personal cardiac revolt; this was just one of three tough climbs that would highlight the day; the last would see me crawl up Jupiter Peak minutes after the group had already summited.
For each climb I almost could see the proverbial tunnel and the light at the end. Skiing, I can manage okay, but climbing is a skill I seriously need to work on or get a new set of lungs and heart. I'm the first to complain that lifts aren't fast enough; now, I finally understand what a hard work it is to haul skiers and their equipment up any hill! While I was enchanted by the experience, the vistas and the great characters that made up our group, my last thought upon falling asleep was “this is it, I'm not going to ever do that again.” Today, during my morning run I recanted and muttered, “why not after all?”

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hard, difficult snow...

As I like to say, there's never a bad day skiing, except on certain spring days when the snow is hard like rock and when we still want to ski on bumps and rough terrain. Skiing then becomes a real challenge that turns paradise into hell and make the best of us look bad. There is no technique that I can recommend, but still I advocate skiing that “hard stuff” because it makes us all much better on a pair of boards. We get shaken up, banged around, and humbled, but these are after are the same exact feelings that we discovered as we learned the sport...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Two-speed decision making

Some of us know what we want and where we need to go. Because of that, we're used to move decisively and, in turn, expect quick moves and swift decisions from others, but whenever it takes “two to tango” as it does most of the time, if the partner is indecisive, doesn't know, is afraid or is just slow, bringing a deal to fruition can take a long time. We approach tax season and tons of folks absolutely must wait until the last minute – or better yet ask for an extension to fill out their tax return, because they've trained themselves to procrastinate. This brings us to a concept of a two-speed world, in which a small group always knows, remembers and acts accordingly, and the rest is slow, paralyzed or just never knows “when” it's time to act. I bet you that if you drew a parallel between these two groups and their rate of success in life or their rate of self-realization, the two are pretty much in synch!

Friday, March 26, 2010

The opium of skiers?

A good friend of mine who has instructed skiing for more than 40 year in France was telling me the other day that on smooth runs, today's skiers can carve stunningly as if they were perfect robots, but when they land on rough terrain, they're often back to square one, are “all over the places” and carving doesn't do much for them. You know what I think about skiing and terrain. Easy terrain means easier skiing than bumps, crud and other obstacles and the latter is often “what separates the men from the boys...”
Last weekend, the newly minted Swiss olympic downhill gold medalist Didier Défago took on the Bec des Rosses in Verbier for the first time ever and demonstrated how impressive and technically difficult this extreme skiing course is even for a top alpine skier and how out of his element he was (in all fairness, it should be said that he was using a pair of GS skis)... The same could be observed with Julia Mancuso who competed in Verbier and took third, a great achievement, but please don't look too closely at her style! Out of their element, even top racers don't look nearly as good as they do on super-prepared race courses and this is something that has definitely degraded from the seventies or even eighties when even a GS course was not a paragon of smoothness! The snowcat and it modern grooming equipment may have become the opium of the skiers...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What we get to hear...

It's sometime amazing what we get to hear. It generally comes from clueless folks who don't think even once before words exit their mouth. They speak as they think; no barrier of any kind, no proofing and no censorship.
It comes out pure, simple and most of the time... pretty stupid! This happened to me again recently and it was so unexpected that it left me in a mixture of amazement and speechlessness. I was then reminded of a quote by Alfred Capus (1858 – 1922), a French journalist and playwright, who once said “the kind man listens smiling about things he knows, told by someone who ignore them..” Definitely one of my favorites!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Religion, economy and overpopulation

Early this week, I attended a public lecture by Dr. Rod Nash, an environmentalist who teaches at UC Santa Barbara, focuses on wilderness history and advocates equal protection of animal and other living things as well as humans. His presentation was promoting his concept of “islands of civilization” versus “islands of wilderness.” Where he hit a nerve however, was when he declared that a 2 billion human population was a desirable threshold for sustainability.

This was the only point that fed the ensuing question and answer session and that seemed to rally everyone in attendance, by covering the influence of religion on overpopulation, the possible “natural reaction” of nature by unleashing a wave of ailments like AIDS or Ebola to counteract human overcrowding. Because of time constraints however, the group discussion failed to address the influence of an economic system that still is based on quantitative versus qualitative growth, something evoked by the lecturer at the beginning of his speech and that I believe is key in turning our environmental situation around. That's right, the elephant in the room is still overpopulation and the two main obstacles to bringing it down remain religion and an economic model that has become unsustainable.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Leading by example?

The following is a true story that was mostly reported in “Ski Racing” from an AP wire. I believe it was conveniently glossed over by the Park Record, Park City's local paper, as another proof of its poor journalistic quality and as a way to shelter our town's own celebrities. In a nutshell, on St. Patrick's Day, Bill Marolt, the President and CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, was arrested in Park City, and charged with DUI and failure to yield to an emergency vehicle. He probably was celebrating his organization's 21 Vancouver medals and no one is to deny the great job he's done at the helm of the US ski team!

Like the Pope, Tiger Woods and Mr. Toyoda, Marolt allegedly apologized but it wasn't said where, when and how. Although he's now at retirement age (66), Bill Marolt has not immediately resigned. Granted, we all make mistakes, but this rather high-payed, high-profile executive probably should have known and behaved better and isn't it true that the higher we stand in life, the more we feel “special,” exonerated and able to write our own rules in total impunity?

Monday, March 22, 2010

From emotion to reason

In order to reason clearly, emotion ought to be taken out of the process. This is not as easy as it would seem and generally takes a pretty long “cooling-off time” and is best achieved by taking steps to ensures that it truly happens. This is a common problem that explains why most business deals, even when they claim to have been reached with a “cool head” are too often the byproduct of heated sentiments or are at least somewhat influenced by lingering emotions.

This probably explains why they are so few rational and unbiased decisions ever made. The biggest challenge is characterized by overcoming the time it takes to regain a clear mind after an emotional surge and the intensity of the latter. That cleansing time period can vary vastly and is not always easily fathomable. So next time, you think you're ready to move on, always make sure that the emotional fire is fully extinguished.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bode Miller's Park City house

Some years ago, our newly minted Olympic champion bought a home in Park City, close to the US Ski Team headquarters and its new lavish training center. Since that time, Bode trained a bit less but nonetheless managed to earn three medals in Vancouver and now feels he needs less closeness to the team and probably also less training. That's it; if you want to own the single-level, 2,451 square-foot home of a great skier and feel a bit closer to the environment of an
Olympic gold medal winner, it will cost you less than $500,000. If you negotiate well, Bode might even throw in the deal his silver and bronze medals he doesn't really need and are pretty useless anyway as only gold really counts...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The good night sleep

In the past, every time I was asked “did you sleep well last night?” I thought about it as a useless question. Of course, I slept well; unless I'd be sick, injured or under abominable stress, all my nights were non-stop sleep. Over the past three or four years, that apparently unimaginative question has begun to gain a fuller meaning and now I understand that – for me at least – a good night sleep is more the exception than the rule. I now long for the uninterrupted nights that I used to enjoy in my youth and I've even come to think that when I'm supposed to be in bed, it's become a time of the day that often means “hard work” (here, I might be exaggerating a bit!) So when this past night I slept so well, I thought I had arrived in heaven.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Our remaining time

The more I think about it, the more I realize that while our remaining time becomes more and more valuable, it behooves us to manage it better than ever and think twice before engaging into activities or behavior that devour that ever diminishing resource. Take skiing for instance, I've always been a quantity guy, perhaps because I look at skiing as a way to push myself and stay fit. Yet, as a way to physically train it's woefully inefficient. Running is a much effective way of rapidly achieving fitness. So what should I do with my skiing? Perhaps do less of it and focus more on making that practice even more perfect and enjoyable, which is already what believe I do, darn it!

That's tough; I was recently figuring, that over a ski season, I spend 300 hours on the slopes. Skiing is just one thing though; what about the huge amount of time I spend searching or wandering on the internet (is that study and personal development)? I can't even begin to put a time figure on that... What better alternative use could I make of this block of time? Learn a language, go back to school, volunteer my time for a variety of good causes? How better would I feel (I think this is still important)? Would the world be an even so slightly better place if I did (that would be the selfless part of the equation)? I guess those are the questions that I have to seriously begin asking myself while I have some time left...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fleeting skiing conditions

With the arrival of spring weather, snow is changing really fast, and with it, the need for adapting even faster. What used to be mid-winter conditions, with fluffy powder a week ago has now turned into fast, icy shady areas contrasting with sunny spot that want to stop you right on the spot. This is the time of the year when skiers must adapt, give up, or sometime get hurt!
This says a lot and requires more strategies in skiing certain areas of the mountain at some very specific times. In fact, it's a bit disheartening at first, and suggest the unavoidable question: Is skiing still worth it at this time in the season? The answer is a resounding “yes” if we accept to change a bit, and better yet, remember how we managed it in years past. Even with this season's thin snow layer, I confidently believe that another month of decent skiing awaits us!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Helmet or not while skiing?

Even though I consider myself an “early adopter” I still don't use a helmet for skiing. I use one for biking, but have been resisting social pressures to put one on my head while I'm on the snow. Yet, my wife and I recently observed that, where we ski, 80% of all skiers and riders are wearing a “head bucket.” One on my reasons for resisting is that there's already to much “gear” in my skiing life; more seriously, I fear it will impede with my lateral vision and be too hot in spite of the built-in vents. Like with my bike helmet I'm also concerned about comfort; it's acceptable for me to have ski boots that hurt a little, but I don't want to hurt at both ends of my body.

The only advantage I see in a helmet is that I would have an electrical hook-up for my music when I ski alone. Frank Traczyk, a friend of mine advocates the safety of that device when he skis the trees; well, I broke three ribs hitting an aspen and no helmet could have helped! Recently a common friend of ours also encountered a tree and shattered her femur; so much for protecting the head! If you've read through the lines, you know it; I'm not quite ready for a ski helmet. What I could use it for though, is when I go into my basement, the attic or other low ceiling areas of the house; a big scab on my bald head attests to that...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jesus and Health Care reform

My former neighbor who now live in Arizona recently sent me one of these vitriolic “chain-emails” that only morons would forward, in which president Obama's effort to fix health care mess are unfairly criticized. This prompted my calling Jesus on Skype...
Jesus: What's on your mind Go11?
Go11: I wanted to know what you thought of president Obama's drive to fix health care...
Jesus: He better get going with that and fast! Do you guys realize that you're spending twice your share of GDP compared to the rest of the so-called civilized world?
Go11: But why are all these Republicans refusing to work with him?
Jesus: Because they've been able to tap on their constituency's selfishness and hypocrisy!
Go11: How come?
Jesus: Well if you are insured through your employer, you just don't care. If you have a bit of intelligence, you should know that steep and constant insurance rate increases are unsustainable and something will eventually break, but if you listen to the conservative radio talk shows, you don't even believe the country is on the brink of health care implosion. Then there are those who are on medicare, which precisely is “big government health care”, but works so well for them that they don't want to share this form of “socialized medicine” with those who can't get coverage...
Go11: A bunch of hypocrites, right?
Jesus: Totally, and besides I'm going to keep tab on all them and make sure St. Peter quick them in the ass straight down to hell as soon as they attempt to get a seat in heaven!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Daly sushi chutes

I love skiing as much as I love sushi. When I'm eating sushi, I'm thinking about skiing, and when I'm skiing around Daly Bowl and Chutes, in Empire Canyon, I'm always reminded of the Japanese delicacy. It may be that unique experiences always come in small and precious packages, at any rate this area of Deer Valley evokes a beautiful and delectable sushi platter where all runs are rows of tantalizing pieces. I'm always torn between them, have a very hard time picking one in particular, and to add to the torture, I always try to keep the best one for last; Today, I'll guide you into a wonderful world of chutes every bit as delectable as the best sushi I've ever tasted!

The Daly area is perhaps the most affordable introduction to those who dream of venturing to Valdez and ski the Chugach Mountains. With ten chutes on the menu, there is enough challenge and diversity to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. As we should, we'll begin with Chute #1, easily accessed from a traverse in the trees located midway down Orion. This chute as well as Chute #2 are part of the “Daly Bowl.” As the traverse ends, skiers literally roll into that open area just like “sushi rolls.” Easy to access, the chutes are impressive for newbies, but not that forbidding. I'd say that Chute #1 reminds me of a California roll, not just because it's geographically the closest to California, but also because of its access and popularity.

A tad more challenging, Chute #2 reminds me of the traditional, thin tuna roll, also known as hosomaki. Chute #3 is more like what I'd call nigiri sushi, the oblong mound of rice topped with salmon in that case. The narrowness of the chute provides the sting of “wasabi.” The bottom of these three chutes is straightforward and easily transitions into the upper portion of Orion. While it belongs to the western part of the “Challenger” section, I'd call Chute #4 the standard sushi piece with tuna or maguro topping. It's pure, impressive and gets you where you need to go, whether you really like it or not; once the steep portion is passed, the trail gingerly meanders through the trees back to the lower portion of Orion.

The eastern side of “Challenger” includes Chute #5 and Chute #6. Both require a bit of hiking from the flat section towering over the main bowl. They also requires plenty of skills, a generous snow cover (they're not always open,) and lots of guts. Both definitely fall into the “don't try this at home” category and if you have second thoughts, make sure to get an instructor who knows them well and is willing to take you there. No need for wasabi, spice is built into these intimidating drops! Because of that, I liken both of them to the infamous glogfish or fugu that can cause severe poisoning if not prepared properly. The licensed fugu chef in that case is the certified instructor that will take you there and get you down standing on your two skis.

Whether you decide to jump into #5 and #6 or not, your next move will be over to the “Cataract” area; a scenic spot for taking a break before plunging (yes, there's a big cornice for that purpose) into Chute #7. This one is impressive and snakes down the face of the mountain like an eel. It's probably why it reminds me of a piece of unagi. It's challenging, solid and straightforward (in all of my skiing life, I've never met a “chute” that wasn't...) Next in line, Chute #8 is crowned with another impressive cornice, that reminds me of ikura or salmon eggs, because every time I reach its edge, chunks of snow tumble all the way down to its bottom like a cluster of grapes or eggs. The open bottom section however deliciously redeems the steep upper!

If you've made it in one piece down “Cataract,” it's now time to fall into “Niagra” home of Chutes #9 and #10. Because it's so long, narrow and treed, Chute #9 reminds me of tako (octopus) and of ika (squid), both snappy and crisp, yet I couldn't help but reminisce about Yukiguni in Niagara Falls, Ontario, one the best sushi in the southern part of that province. Let's say that it is the all-encompassing, experience-filled ski couloir! Finally, as my legs are crying for mercy, Chute #10 reminds me of temaki, that large cone-shaped piece of nori on the outside and the ingredients spilling out the wide end. That's right, I found this funnel-shaped chute particularly enticing even though it's also the farthest away. But it's within the reach of most skier and frankly, if the Deer Valley chute numbering system was in increasing order of difficulty, this one ought to be #1!

Like sushi and its propensity to vanish from the platter, any skier can get to the bottom of these wonderful Daly Chutes and Bowl thanks to the wonders of gravity. Amazingly, my 183 cm, extra wide “chopsticks,” have help me stay upright during the entire experience, I feel full and totally satisfied, but still can't tell which line is my favorite. The resulting adrenaline surge is wonderful and if you're still hesitating about taking the plunge, remember that these descents are not for everyone; if you have the requisite skills, make sure to ski them in the company of someone who knows you well and is extremely at ease on this challenging terrain. Better yet, hire an instructor to feel comfortably safe and fully enjoy the adventure. I'm now ready for a shot of sake!

“Friends” and family members who don't respond to emails...

Email can be a wonderful way to communicate, share feelings, ideas and a host of things, from photos to videos, audio and other important documents. It seems basic to me that an email calls for a response; a simple acknowledgment, a thank you, a short note or comment. Sure, I'm not talking about these “chain letter” emails which object it is to pass on cheesy jokes, power presentations of all kinds, political harangue or visuals that are often in very dubious taste to a list of folks. I'm talking about a message sent from and to people who know and value each others, that are deliberately targeted, respectful, kind, and personal, and would normally beg for at least a nod or perhaps a response, no matter how short.

When we're greeted in the street we respond as polite individuals, when we're on the phone with someone we know, and end the conversation, we generally say goodbye and thank you. The email is the vehicle that seems to let a vast number of individuals get away with being very rude and to me, that shines a terrible reflection on them. It's so easy to type a few words and just press “send!”

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My favorite French “commie” is gone...

Jean Ferrat (1920-2010) just past away yesterday. He was a French singer that I grew up with, particularly as a teenager. He was also politically engaged. Jew, he was saved as a kid by the French communists and never forgot; he always remained very close to the communist ideal and the extreme left, battling as hard as he could against communism's own contradictions and its eventual demise. He sung love, life, old age and the simple beauty of nature like no other.

Dead-set against capitalism and never “exported” out of France, the meaning of his lyrics was complicated in their simplicity and, while I grasped them superficially as a youngster, I finally had to find myself “stranded” in America to rediscover the richness of his songs and begin to understand them more profoundly as I often listened to them. His apparently simple poetry took a lifetime of experience to fully comprehend and his sometime idealistic beliefs were spot on against the recent perversions of capitalism seen during the recent Wall Street crisis and the Cheney-Bush reign. To me, this artist will always stand a model of integrity as well as a realistic and talented witness of life.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What do racers do after they retire (continued)?

Today, we'll take a look at how notable names in ski racing have fared once they retired and try to find underlying trends and understand them. The “older guard,” or the competitors that were in the heat of the battle before the 70's earned their money after their ski career was over. Killy comes to mind as the one able to parlay his medals into an impressive international career, spanning from car promotions, a myriad of endorsements, to creating his own ski clothing line and landing a seat at the IOC. Toni Sailer would come next, touching at everything from endorsements to movies, singing, and coaching but having mostly an impact in Austria and Germany. Knighted by the King of Norway Stein Ericksen had an impressive run, but this time by strictly staying within the confines of his sport. Vuarnet not just imagined a new ski resort but also created a brand well positioned to survive him, not a small feat!

In the seventies, Switzerland's Russi became “the” downhill designer, while Annie Famose married well and turned into the ski rental queen of France. In spite of their phenomenal wins, Thoeni and Stenmark couldn't smile nearly enough to cash in; the former became a coach and the latter had to make do with ski product endorsements. Only Franz Klammer, famous in Austria, endorsed the nascent extension at Telluride in the USA. It is to be noted that Austrian, Italian, German and Swiss skiers seldom succeeded well beyond their own borders in post-career endeavors.

After being expelled from the French ski team, Henri Duvillard managed to dominate the Pro Tour before starting his clothing line, while on the same circuit, Kashiwa got recognition that he turned into an opportunity to begin Volant skis. Just like Thoeni and Stenmark, a lack of congeniality kept the Mahre brothers on the sidelines of fame in spite of their incredible talent.

More recently, Tomba and Hermann Maier made their money before they retired so whatever they could do later might always pale in comparison; the same is likely apply to a small number of top skiers at the moment. Only Kjuss has made it so far to the reconversion game by starting a successful clothing line; Ligety hasn't been waiting till the end to start his “Shred” brand, and it remain to be seen how Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn especially, will deal with the notoriety that has been handed to them. Sadly, male athletes still appear to be the one better able to capitalize on their skiing careers. Only Vonn has the potential to turn the tables of sexism and usher a more level playing field...

Friday, March 12, 2010

What happens with ski racers after they retire?

These days, most racers who make it to a national team end up staying in their position for a decade or more, depending on how well they perform, heal from injuries and can stand the constant regimen of extensive traveling, training and racing. One of the questions many ask, is what can they do after they hang up their skis and decide to lead a “normal life?” Very, very few of them who are good looking, charismatic, and able to interact well with others can get those “dream” jobs. TV commentator might be one of them. The pay isn't at the pinnacle of earnings, but it can be a good entry for branching into other areas of sports journalism.

Others can endorse products, create their own line of clothing, accessories or even equipment, but this has become increasingly harder in times of shrinking markets and economic recession. Then what's left? Becoming a coach, working as a federation official, director of skiing at a resort, setting up a training camp or school, or perhaps just instructing? There are also those who reconvert into new forms of the sport, like ski-cross, take over the family business or just join the ranks of people looking for any job. Sure some athletes may have amassed significant earnings through contact retainers, endorsements and race prizes, but only a handful generally do; out of of 100, perhaps 80 to 85 will have to work as if nothing had ever happened to them.

The experience garnered while racing can represent the equivalent of a college education or even that of graduate work if the racer is both smart and a good study, but the end result will hinge upon the amount of networking the athlete has been able to weave in over an entire career. Having the support and protection of a team, coaches and technicians also might insulate the skier too much from real life and often make the individual more vulnerable and somewhat unprepared to deal with the rough and tumble aspects of self-promotion and career development. As always, there is never a perfect predictor of what a ski racer can and should do upon retiring; his family, friends and team should make sure the top performer understands that long before retirement looms. Soon, we'll explore practical examples of ex-skier reconversion...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The art of writing well

It's been now more than two and a half year since I've been writing this blog everyday. What I find hard about that self-prescribed assignment, is picking a great topic, then developing it as perfectly as possible, keeping it very smooth and then staying as concise as possible. All these fleeting elements are what make writing so hard to wrestle with and so difficult to master. The results can be sporadic and range from the mediocre to the almost sublime. I just need to keep working at that craft and polishing it as much as I can, remembering at all times that it's never quantity, but always quality...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The tired ski instructor

I have decided that being a ski instructor is work; in fact, it can be a lot of work! While I quit instructing in 1974 and continued, sporadically through the early part of 1977, I remember some seasons when I taught 120 days straight and during peak periods, 8 hours a day! Things have changed a lot of course, but in these four past years, I've skied a lot more, most of the time alone, but on many occasions with my better half, serving as her full time private guide, and trying to show my best form in technique, choice of terrain and speed.

She has, in the process, made some amazing progress and has now become an “all-mountain skier.” What I've discovered in the process is that when I apply myself to guiding her through challenging terrain, I need to do things “by the book” and there's not much room for cheating or for getting away with last minutes tricks, sudden changes or salvaging foot work. I need to pace myself, make sure my student is right behind me and plan each move thoughtfully.

The end result is that my legs remain tense, my speed is not as high as it could, more energy is required to produce turns and the whole act of paying close attention burns cerebral energy as well. Now I can share the pain of those skiers who are not “flying” down the mountain and who feel exhausted at the end of full day on the slope. I can also understand why the vast majority of my former colleagues in France, now well into their sixties, welcome the mandatory retirement for full-time instructing at age 61!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Planning for my old days...

This past Sunday, Mary Josephine Ray, a sports-loving card-player and the oldest person living in the United States, died at the ripe age of 114.
This made me think a lot, and here is what I came up with: Until the time she reached her mid nineties, she was - I assume - keeping very busy by tracking of all the people she knew dying around her. Shortly after that, she found herself with very little to do, but playing cards, as was reported. If I were to live that long, I would handle things differently. After reaching my 95th birthday, I'd call my agent and review our current contract.

First there would be a book titled “How I got to be 100” that slated for release 48 to 60 months down the road, along with radio, TV and webcast appearances. Then, there would be a hefty, ten-year contract with a bunch of sponsors ranging from reading devices, hip, knee and ankle replacement companies, anti-wrinkle creams, hair implant manufacturers, vitamin supplements and sexual device engineering groups. I've figured that if I do my research well, I should, in today's dollars, net something between $50 and 85 million after my agent's commission. I haven't decided yet what I'll do with all that money, but I first need to locate a brand new, very young agent, one that is still in law school!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Makes you believe in resurrection...

Last Tuesday, I went skiing with Brad Olch, Park City's former mayor. It was fun, Brad skis as fast as Bode Miller and we covered a huge territory during the few hours we cruised together. At some point, we stopped for coffee at the Deer Valley Lodge, in Silver Lake and fund a bunch of Brad Olch's friends, stopped for a coffee break and sharing the latest news and gossip. One of them announced that a 60 or so year old whom most of us present knew well, had sustained a massive heart attack as he was ready to board one the resort's chairlift and after being administered first aid, passed away on the spot lying on the snow.

This of course shocked the Bejesus out of all of us; I told my wife about it, she noticed some unusual activity by the man's house, some 300 yards from where we live, but between the local newspapers and the internet we couldn't see any notice relating the tragic death. We started to wonder. A few days later as I was visiting a friend who just broke her femur while “encountering” an aspen tree, I told my “heart attack” story to make her realize (and her husband as well as me and my wife) that bad breaks weren't created equal. Last night, I received a call from that friend's husband who told me he just heard from a (more) credible source that the man who fell close to the chairlift was convalescing in the Salt Lake hospital, where he had been airlifted last Monday, and was expecting to make it. While I celebrate this fellow's "resurrection," this goes to show that we always should verify facts twice and reminds us about the fragility of our own credibility!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dreams, sound and picture

On numerous occasions I've been asked if I dream in French or in English. Man, this is a tough question! I really have no idea and don't seem to pay attention to the “audio portion” of my dreams.
First, I have a terrible time remembering them. For one thing, they make very little sense to me and while they somehow relate to my daily experiences – past and current – they mix up everything and are, I believe, the result of some kind of technical maintenance that takes place in my brain when I'm asleep and in which various thoughts and files that have nothing in common, are mixed together and usually end up creating weird combination of feelings and situations.

So, unlike Jung, I don't believe dreams hold any significance, but again, that's just my opinion. The reason, I write this story however, is that beyond the language spoken during this unconscious brain activity, I had the good fortune, two nights ago, to dream in HD. That's right, in “High Definition!” The picture was uncommonly sharp and bright and I would like all my dreams – from now on – to be formed with that army of extra pixels. I guess this is new and like our home TV, is one of the technical advances we now all benefit from. Since I couldn't remember any dreams from last night, I assume that they took a day off, but I hope to return to vivid HD when they resume. Perhaps then, this added feature will help me do a better job at remembering the object of that nightly “housekeeping...”

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Practical steps to avoiding crisis

Crises happen all the time and are part of normal life. Recurring crisis are more annoying though, because they obviously show that we didn't learn from a previous, similar one. So today I'll try to place a few building blocks in place and soon will revisit the issue, to hopefully come up with practical steps we can apply in the future. These pesky situations, called crises, assume that we often end up right in the middle of them and that we watch all the nefarious ingredient stepping on to the scene, all the bad energy growing and all danger signs blinking in all places, but we're so passionate and enthralled by the excitement of the moment that we fail to observe that a storm is brewing.

So step number one would be to always be very aware of our surroundings and pay super attention to the way they may change. The next one would only be to pick the battles that are worth it, are winnable or which outcome, whatever it may be, won't cause huge discomfort in the aftermath. Yeah, calculating, paying attention are always good steps to take. Finally, one few more words of wisdom: Be ready to look like a fool. We are who we are and who cares if – once in while – someone we know and appreciate thinks a tiny bit less of us...

Friday, March 5, 2010

2018 Winter Olympics?

As a sign of our troubled economic times, a record low three candidates are vying for the 2018 Winter Games, and it will be interesting to follow their bid through July 6, 2011 when a winner is announced in Durban, South Africa. It would seem that the Korean city of Pyeong Chang after losing twice its Olympic bid to Vancouver and Sochi is the most likely to win the contest. Munich, in Germany, would split the Games between the large Bavarian city and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which logistically makes a lot sense, while Annecy, France, would be largely scattered into a variety of well established venues, but awfully close in time and location to Albertville, the 1992 host city.

Since the Olympics have essentially become a huge commercial event, the right question to ask is who benefits the most from hosting this big world party? Most of the time, it is a handful of political personalities and self-promoters who see in that event a wonderful opportunity to become highly visible, perhaps famous for a moment (a turbo-charged version of Andy Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame,) get amazing access to money and influence for a few years and use it as a stepping stone for furthering other business or political ambitions.

Its grass-root support is fairly easy to garner by mobilizing the worst in people, like the populist, chauvinistic and nationalistic feelings eagerly supplied by the masses along with some vague promises of benefits that far outweigh the grim economic reality associated with this type of undertaking. From a fiduciary standpoint, the Games are generally guaranteed to lose huge sums of money that will eventually be extracted from the organizing country's tax payers. In this day and age, the Games aren't the type of unproductive endeavor a country wants, especially if the venues involved don't desperately need the promotion some would hope for.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fun and carbon footprint

As a revisionist battle rages on about the reality of human-caused global warming, I can't help but think that overpopulation and intense human activity in the northern hemisphere are contributing to the massive arctic ice meltdown. This said, I believe that those of us who are the most aware about carbon footprint issues are also the more likely to frequently catch a commercial flight or to ride helicopters for fun and pleasure. As a result, we are talking from both sides of our mouths and ought to reconsider our behaviors before pontificating about some cure against global warming.

I was reminded of that reality when Pierre Verot, a former middle school mate of mine, who's lived in Canada for more than 40 years was sharing his ambivalence on the subject, during a CMH helicopter skiing trip in British Columbia. He was taking some of his clients skiing with Thierry Cardon, a mountain ski guide, chopper pilot himself, who also used to work for a short while with me at the Avoriaz ski school in France. Are we a bunch of hypocrites when we embrace “anything carbon-footprint,” change our light-bulbs, drive Priuses and install solar panels everywhere around our homes, and yet don't think twice before jetting to some far-away vacation spot, taking a not-so-necessary business trip, or racking up some quick vertical in the Canadian Rockies to make tracks on some anonymous mountain range?

The answer is probably yes. Let's face it; most of us love to fly. Some of us even make it a point to collect as many frequent flier miles as humanly possible when business purpose could be as easily and most cost-effectively accomplished by teleconferencing. The airline business is in terrible shape, but the right thing to do in order to address our double-standard might be to levy, upfront, a carbon footprint fee. This would be my tax idea on fossil fuels, with some extra weight placed on jet-fuel; this would fund alternative energies and high speed rail. Yes I know, yet another surcharge, to be fully honest and at least be able to “walk the talk...”

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The French Ski Team

I'm not talking about the crazy Russians, but the Austrian and the French are mad and most of it is directed at their respective alpine team's poor showing during the Vancouver Olympic. Since I'm no expert in Austrian matters, I'll focus today on a constructive prescription for a more successful French Ski Team. Let's begin with a bit of history; all started 42 years ago when the curtain fell on the 1968 Olympics and the French medal harvest.

The man in charge of the team, Honoré Bonnet (1919-2005), was a leader during his tenure that lasted from 1959 through Grenoble. He built a strong team, earned everyone respect and didn't put up with athletes' fuss. After Grenoble he left a huge void that never was filled as it should have. The Joubert-Vuarnet duo was asked to head the Team in 1973 and faced with a group of racers that proved too tough to manage, it ended up firing everyone, throwing the baby and the bath water.

Unlike what has been said or is still believed by many, the Team never fully recovered. Sure, France garnered Alpine victories and Olympic Medals here and there, thanks to gifted athletes and sheer good luck, but the spirit that made “L'équipe” so successful during the sixties was no longer there. Without getting into too deep into details, it seems clear to me that a post-Vancouver debriefing is in order, that the French Ski Federation should reflect on the outcome, go beyond it's close circle and invite a diverse and rich group of talented people to constructively move forward.

The participants should be willing to roll up their sleeves, openly share their great ideas, place goals on the table, reach a consensus on what to do for the foreseeable future, including the next Winter Games and the following ones, then search for another strong leader that will put the plan into action. This exceptional driver might already be there inside the Federation's operations or standing on the sidelines, I don't know and won't even speculate, but that person should become the new “big boss,” fully capable, willing and able to take total responsibility for both the program and the results; a new “Monsieur Bonnet” for the 21st century!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The deal I made with speed

To cut corners and advance faster, some individuals make pacts with the devil or other dark powers and don't think much about the consequences. Today, I want to talk about the pact I made with speed demons a long, long time ago, and still enjoy its benefits as of this day. It all started when I was just seven year old; I was a little boy of modest means, raised in an alpine village and my dad whose primary job was to make cheese, was also able to almost do everything. Among other skills, he was an excellent woodworker and one day, made for my older brother and I two pairs of skis out of some pieces of beech he had on hand. I remember that he dipped the tips into hot water and subsequently placed the skis on a form that was always there in the back of his workshop.

He screwed on steel edges alongside the base and installed a pair of “bear-trap” bindings to complete the whole package. The unvarnished skis looked a bit pale and we had to wax them with a black and smelly concoction that would allow for what we believed was the best available glide in those days. My first time out on the equipment was for a flat, cross-country type race with my elementary school mates on a warm Sunday of March. I can remember that my glide was just terrible as I felt glued on the track while my better equipped buddies, already on factory-made Rossignol or Dynamic skis equipped with plastic bases, appeared having no problem passing me and pushing ahead.

This “static” feeling didn't seat well with me and I'll never forget it. From that point forward, I developed a reverence for speed on snow and focused my subsequent outings on going down and going straight. Unbeknown to me, I had sold my skiing soul to the snow speed demons.
While this deal helped me most of the time, it also got me plenty of trouble, especially when I started jumping with my skis. A few hundred yards from the family house, there was a place called the “ski jump” where contests used to be held in years past and before the first tram was built in the area. We had rebuilt what resembled a respectable jump by piling up a big mound of snow and we were flying some 30 to 40 feet with our makeshift equipment. This is in a way how I became acquainted with aeronautics and understood early that in order to fly far, a very good rate of speed was a necessary condition. It's also at the time that I experienced some of my worst falls and fully felt the pain of the “agony of defeat.”

Over the years, I continued to indulge in speedy trials, learning through twisted ankles and sprained knees my reasonable speed limits. They were also numerous cuts occasioned by sharp edges and low-cut gloves, so it's fair to say that I paid my dues by discovering the beneficial and nefarious sides of speed. Later, as I became a more proficient skier, I discovered the “skiing paradox,” a profound truth that means that while skiing is often a frightful endeavor that puts us on the defensive and slows us down, a good rate of speed is the antidote, the magical ingredient that makes the work of skiing so much more pleasurable. This of course is easier said than done, but remains a fundamental foundation for becoming a better skier. Do I apply it? You can count on it!

When I can do it safely, I go fast, not just to make it easier on me, but because I honestly enjoy it and since I'm much older now and my days on skis are beginning to become numbered, I can't afford to waste time anymore. Remembering myself stuck on the ground at age seven remains a powerful motivator and so far my deal with the “skiing dark forces” has been a pretty rewarding one. Now, if you're ready to follow into my ski tracks and make a deal with some skiing speed demon, do it on a friendly basis, don't be too overzealous, don't become overconfident and always watch out for other skiers!

How much is that gold medal worth?

I just heard on the radio that Lindsey Vonn's medals are likely to double her yearly earnings from $2.9 to $6 millions, while Bode Miller might see his income jump accordingly, from a more modest $1.3 million made last year, a bit less than Ligety's $2 million. Shaun White, the snowboarder broke all snow records in 2009 by racking up $7.5 million; today, with his gold medal, this potentially means even more money, but who really knows how much? Just as a reference, this still pale in comparison to Tiger Woods' more than $100 million or Lance Armstrong and Beckham over the 30 mark, Agassi at 26 or even Serena Williams' $12 millions! These figures, of course, are the sum of winnings and endorsements. Such amounts are “lagging” the market as we are amidst an unprecedented recession and it's not unlikely that they eventually fall somewhat.

The answer to that question maybe found in a combination of the athlete personal charisma, notoriety, personal agent's savvy and the country in which the endorsements are likely to operate. If an athlete stands out in a given country he or she stands to gain more (i.e. Maria Riesch in Germany at $1 million a year). America seems to remain the best spot to extract the most money out of sporting celebrity and European winter athletes may find it very, very hard to come even close to their American comrades. In France, a cross-country Olympic champion is not likely to make that much and I personally doubt that Switzerland's Didier Défago, the ski downhill winner, can really maximize his gold medal. It might be fair to speculate that if the other Didier (Cuche) had won, he would have cashed in a lot more, but again who really can tell?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Standing our ground

It often hard to stand our ground, even when we believe that we are entitled to do it, in terms of our beliefs, values or simply good logic. Often, these rights of ours are violated in ways that are so audacious and unexpected that we're under such a shock and so unprepared that we quickly give in. It's only in the aftermath of the attack and after acquiescing to something we can't really live with, that we become angry, spiteful or even depressed. This comes down to certain folks not playing by the rules and taking us by total surprise. The difficulty in successfully dealing with such intruders is precisely found in handling perfectly well the effect of surprise.

We need to literally think on our feet and rebuff the aggressor effectively, with both control and grace. These latter two elements are often hard to muster if it's the first time we fend off the attacker. With experience, it can become deceivingly easy. My best advice on dealing well with that kind of situation, is gaining some time by first asking a clarifying question, as a response to the unreasonable request. Something like “what exactly do you have in mind?” This help make certain that the demand is as egregious as we thought we heard it, and then calmly develop an appropriate answer. Like anything else, dealing with nasty people requires both time and practice!