Thursday, September 30, 2010

Exploring the bayou

Yesterday, we took our trip into the bayou where we were expecting to see alligators jumping all over our flat bottom boat. We got to see around half a dozen of these creatures that didn't move much and couldn't even be tempted by the pieces of marshmallow thrown to them by our guides. We were told that snakes hanging from the trees might take some pleasure in falling into our boats and biting us, but that prediction also failed to materialize. The size of some alligator mentioned by our Cajun guide were impressive: fourteen foot long for the dominant male in control of the area we were roaming into.
The few we saw were between three and ten foot, so we never really felt threatened! Aside from the staple saurian we came to observe, we saw a few aigrettes, a red tail hawk, some forgettable birds and a couple of racoons that were hiding in a tourist boat next to ours. Bug-wise, we saw a few dragonflies, but not a single mosquito and after a couple of hours of navigating in a jungle-like vegetation, we made it back alive and happy to have explored what seems to be a rather hostile but pretty scenic environment...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

First impressions about New Orleans

That's right, after more than 30 years of residence in America, we had never been to the “Big Easy.” Beyond all the nasty comments we had heard over the year about that city, our first impressions have rather been positive and so far we've had a great time. Granted, the locals aren't the most friendly in the world of tourism, but it's hard to beat our Rocky Mountains hospitality everywhere we go. This said, the seedy, touristy and almost grotesque Bourbon Street scene didn't have much impact on us, and most of our enjoyment went for the remarkable architectural heritage of that town.

We got lucky with a relatively dry and cool weather that made our morning run a little bit more bearable, although it was narrowly limited to the Waldenberg Park area and forced almost three round trips on us to make up for the distance we normally cover in Park City. The food is okay, but it seems that the tourist is squeezed between reasonable and mediocre, and very expensive but still spicy and undefined fare...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dreaming about bikes...

Whenever I've even managed to remember them in whole or in parts, I've seldom pulled fantastic ideas from my dreams, until a few nights ago. I somehow received a vivid representation of a simple concept (the best innovative thoughts are always the simplest ones) that has the potential of transforming the way we look at, and use mountain bikes as well as other recreational bicycles.

A deeply religious person might call this a “revelation;” to me, it simply is a surprisingly good inspiration. If correctly developed, applied and marketed, this new design could potentially impact the sport of mountain biking or even leisure biking in huge ways by expending its audience and creating more enthused and committed practionners. So, what's so cool about this invention that could make a sport so hot? Well, I won't tell you yet; I'd rather reserve the right to further develop the idea, in order to verify it's both feasible and worth the effort. So, once more time, let me beg you to please remain patient and to stay tuned!

Monday, September 27, 2010

“Instant” America

In just 20 month, many American were expecting that President Obama would be able to rebuild what was wrecked by 8 year of George Bush irresponsible rule; this of course isn't happening.
We all know that it takes a much longer time to painstakingly build a house, a career or even a reputation, but it can easily be demolished in a fraction of that time. Rebuilding always takes longer unless someone lives in a virtual, video-game, “ipodish” inspired world. Could Obama have done better? Probably, but again he still shines compared to his mediocre Republican counterpart and its about time that our country folks get back to reality and once and for all realize that quality building (or re-building for that matter) always takes “more time...”

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mountain bike “flat...”

Would you go on a medium length trip in your car, knowing that you have no spare wheel in the back? Probably not, right; yet, that's what I've been doing with my mountain bike until... yesterday! I was betting that the odds were low, and they certainly were, because after 6 years of regular mountain biking and over 200 sorties, I finally got the flat I deserved, while I still was almost four miles away from the house. I dismounted the entire tire on the spot to find out that my “repair kit” couldn't help, so I let my spouse go ahead and complete her course while I alternatively walked and carried my bike the rest of the way. This was a powerful and memorable lesson.

Arrived home, I attempted to repair the faulty wheel and discovered that I apparently didn't hit anything sharp that could have punctured the inner tube. Its rubber had simply become a little too old and too brittle (that's right, it was already in its sixth year.)
The morale of that story is from now on, I'll carry my hydrating back pack including a hand-pump and a spare inner tube; I'll still have my repair kits, but patches are not the magic cure they are purported to be. That's right, between the two us and our four wheels we'll now almost have a “spare;” just like a car!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My political views

This of course is as of today and is subject to change as soon as the week is over. I'd like to begin by talking about economics and politics. Both can be mixed, but politics can only affect the former in the long-term (understand 5 years or more) and good economists are needed for that. Unfortunately, good ones are in frightening short supply and, in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the “good economist” we knew were mostly oxymoron.
So, let just hope perhaps that a handful of good common sense economists are still hiding somewhere and could advise our political establishment, is the main subject of that topic. I voted for the Democrats and Obama and like many, I'm disappointed in our new President on several counts: The escalation of the Afghan war, the appointment of Larry Summers and Tim Geithner , and the watered-down version of the health care reform deprived of its “public option” that would have positively curbed the continued escalating costs.

This said, everything would have gone much worse had the country elected McCain and Palin and we'd now be in a Zimbabwe-style “great depression” even though at times, our “great recession” seems more like a “little depression.” I wish we had more politicians that are truly fiscally conservative and socially liberal, but I guess that product too isn't available at the moment... As for the “tea party” bunch, instead of being the libertarians they proclaim to be, they're just a bunch of lunatics, which makes me reluctantly accept the Democrats, as the lesser of three evils.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hand-held camera?

I love to shoot and edit videos and have found that I can do some great pieces with very limited means, especially on skis and on my mountain bike. The problem is that my equipment isn't up to par with the type of shots I'm looking for. Consider this: Last weekend I shot more than four minutes non-stop following my dear wife in a meandering single track, up and down and through trees and sagebrush, holding my camera with my right hand and the handlebar with the left. I quickly ran out of steam and that segment ended with my taking a severe and painful tumble as I couldn't hold it anymore.

My left femur took the brunt of the impact and when I had to run the next morning, the pain was so excruciating that I almost stayed home. Of course my wife was there to remind me that riding a mountain bike with barely grabbing the handlebar was a dumb idea, thing that I knew too well, and all that as finally pushed me to the brink of upgrading my mobile video equipment by getting a helmet-mounted camcorder in the very near future. It's not cheap but it will bring two added benefits: First, I won't have to go the hospital anytime I feel like shooting something from the top of my bike and second, it will pave the way to my wearing a helmet when I ski, which is to prove that adversity always bears the seeds of improved safety!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My views on the current recession

We might first begin with some semantics; is what everyone's calling the “great recession” a depression instead of just a recession? I guess, the government doesn't want to spook us further, adding more despair to our collective mood and has made a conscious decision of naming this economic catastrophe a “great recession” instead of a “small or mid-sized depression,” but again that's just a trick for naming bad things.

This said, my first observation is that we had, ever since the 1974 energy crisis, began to dig a hole for ourselves by spending too much and paying no attention to the economic consequences on splurging on fossil fuels, which habit has since turned into a monster with a cortege of ugly heads. We have to clean up our act and begin to catch up; this will take time and there will be plenty of competition. Then, we began to systematically export our manufacturing expertise to the point that we're today hard-press to find one single item made in the USA wherever we shop.

With the technological transfer that goes along with shipping jobs abroad, we have created much more potent competitors the world over and our trade deficit shows it, with trade policies no longer in synch with that imbalance. Next, we've exported our educational method and creativity only to be matched and sometimes beaten flat out by other countries. Innovation will soon become a function of the population of a given country, regardless of its culture or its economic system. Finally, we've spent like drunken sailors particularly since the mid nineties and our attempt to withdraw from that destructive practice is already extremely painful and weighs significantly on our current recovery.

So what does that all mean? Harder times lay ahead for sure and it will take a long time for our economy to rear its head back again, our days of domination are most certainly behind us and we'll have to begin to share and be a bit more humble. The two later qualities aren't that bad, after all...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What are newspapers good for?

How do you get your daily news? Do you still use the old newspaper of yesteryear? We don't, as we have long ago switched to the electronic version of the object that a dog – if we had one – could have fetched us each morning, from the street to the breakfast table. From time to time, however, once in a blue-moon perhaps, we get a copy of some newsprint; either the local paper or the venerable New York Times, and I must say that we enjoy flipping the pages, discovering things we might have missed online and seeing its content in a refreshing, “analog way.”

So beside that sporadic “feel-good” use of a paper, what else can we miss about it? I'll give you my personal view and it has to do with past issues. I find them wonderful for cleaning up wild mushrooms or certain vegetables and also irreplaceable for doing certain specific paint jobs. When I do that, I also indulge into some more reading and keep on discovering (old) information that I had never read before. The day they fully vanish from this side of the earth, I'll essentially miss newspapers for these attributes, but will feel relieved for all the trees that will have been saved...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The art of developing opinions

Having one's own brand of opinions on a variety of topics is not in my sense totally innate. During our formative years and early adulthood, we tend to gravitate to references we know well, we trust or we just like, in order to form our own opinions. We certainly are still persuaded into seeing things in a certain way and remain easily influenced by those we follow or have some control on us. It's generally only in our twenties that we begin to form opinions that are our very own and don't have to rely on our various mentors and friends to think.

There's a large number of ways to arrive at that level; independent living may do it, marriage or living with a significant other may help too, business situations, managerial or working group experience will assist as will researching, reading, writing or just thinking. This is pretty much how many of us finally can “think for ourselves,” a feat easily said than done. In spite of all that, there still is a large number of people who desperately need to rely on third party's views to lead their own lives, and won't never make the passage from dependent into truly free individuals...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Trade show fever

I don't believe that dreams mean much, if anything; instead, I think that they're a way for our subconscious mind to execute some “house cleaning,” move everything around, replace thoughts in total disorder, spooking us, shocking us or making us marvel at the whole process. Yet, there's a dream of mine that recur most of the time and takes place at some ski or sporting goods trade show. You see, between Europe and the United States, not counting Japan and Australia and some other countries, I've attended a fairly large number of such shows during my business life and as a whole, they must have made some searing marks in my mind.

My dreams are mixing every image, from ancient to contemporary, all unrelated places and a bunch of uncanny situations that I won't begin to describe, but that make these nocturnal events happenings that are impossible to ignore. There's always stress, issues with product samples, poor choice of clothing and angry customers. While I truly believe that I'll have to deal with these weird dreams for the rest of my life, I'm glad for no longer having to work in the sporting goods industry!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mountain biking best season

Yes, there's a season for mountain biking and it's happening now. September is in fact the best time to fully enjoy mountain biking in the Rocky Mountains. The mornings are much cooler, the summer heat is gone and the weather is still beautiful, with days reasonably long, so light is on the rider's side. In addition, as trees and shrubs are shedding leaves, visibility in blind corners and forested areas increases significantly and make encounters with other users much safer. And of course, as an added bonus, there's also the change in colors which can be downright gorgeous!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Planting a tree

Do you remember the juniper tree that got “axed” last June? Well, it not only left a sentimental void, but an empty visual space and to remedy this, I had long planned to re-landscape that corner of our house, with some rocks, native plants and possibly some trees. That's right, we also have two tiny aspen sprouts that are trying to grow in that location, but my expectations about their viability is as slim as the current diameter of their stems.
So, this week, as we had nothing better to do, my wife and I visited Park City Nursery to check the trees they still had in inventory, and boys, did they had a forest of unsold goods. As conscientious shoppers, we asked lots of questions and finally settled on an “acer grandidentum” commonly called a Big Tooth Maple that was standing high by the entrance and which leaves were already starting to turn, taking on a gold accent. We paid for the tree and returned the next day with our trailer in tow to load it and bring it home. Yesterday was planting day and I had most of it to locate the area, dig out a very large hole (for once I did it by the book) center the maple into it, stuff the rest of the cavity with homegrown much and voilà! We now have a suitable replacement for that defunct juniper that we personally selected and that is spaced enough from the house so it won't grow into the roof!

Friday, September 17, 2010

My (new) deal with Fidel

Fidel Castro was my hero for six weeks when I was thirteen years old and so was his sidekick Che, but it didn't take me long to realize that both were armed and dangerous and that their brand of revolutionary method wasn't my cup of tea. At any rate, the old revolutionary and I stayed good friends, shared a good cigar occasionally, and I recently made a deal with Fidel to trade America's market economy theory for the benefit of the entire Cuban people in exchange for a strong dose of his brand of tyranny to bring the out-of-control dogs of Park City under the rule of law (or leash?) with more obedience, and discipline. That was just after the interview he gave Jeffrey Goldberg from “The Atlantic” magazine in which he recognized that “the Cuban model doesn't work anymore.” He accepted my offer, so expect to see more of the old revolutionary and his trademark fatigue or Adidas track suit around our Park City neighborhoods, herding stray dogs, any time soon...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Park City “Farmer's” market

For a few years now, we have had a weekly farmer market at the Canyons, just 2 miles away from our home, each Wednesday, during late spring, summer and fall.
In my wife's opinion, this market is a far cry from the real thing that exists in Europe, as most vendors little to do with edible goods; they're instead selling nick-knack, clothing, handmade jewelry, plus all sorts of rustic and funky items, usually found at local art shows.

Sure, there are some vegetable, produce, cheese, honey, fish and even meat, but the real good produce only show up late in the season, when farmers in the Salt Lake valley begin to harvest their own that's really “made in Utah...” All in all, we enjoy our weekly outing there, and since the month of September and early October are the last manifestations of this local event, we do our best to be there every week as it's also a good opportunity to watch people, and why not, run into someone we know and strike a conversation...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The best toys we ever bought...

At one point or another, we've all bought toys thinking they'd bring us lots of enjoyment, but in the final analysis, we only use them a few time and end up owning them and ignoring them at the same time. This is what ends up filling our garage and attics to the rim and often make us say “what was I really thinking when I bought that stuff...” Most of these objects are what I would call “toys” or gadgets, and many sport items fall into that category. Take mountain biking for instance; in 1991, we bought two Kästle mountain bikes for about $830 and used them two or three times, at the most, after we got them. The rest of the time and until 2002, they remained hung up high inside our garage waiting for that other outing that never came. We left them, just where they were when we sold our big house that year. Then, in 2005, my good friend Dirk Beal talked me into reconsidering mountain biking; technology had progressed, full-suspension and disk brakes were the rage, plus what he told me about the great riding available on the many Park City's single track trails made my mouth water.

So, as that summer season came to a close, we purchased two little-used, state-of-the-art rental mountain bikes from Deer Valley Resort for less than $1,300 total. My wife, just like me, was a bit dubious that we would ever use these machines, but today, we are into our sixth year of serious mountain biking.
Don't get me wrong, we had to learn the sport, which is not as intuitive as anyone who knows how to ride a bike might believe, but now we've become proficient in most intermediate, single track runs and get a great pleasure out of each single outing. Since we acquired our new mountain bikes we have been out on them between 180 to more than 200 times. They're now fully amortized (no pun on their full-suspension features there!) and with enough TLC and regular maintenance, we hope to ride them a few more seasons. Yeah, they're truly the best “toys” we treated ourselves with!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The whole and its pieces

It's so hard to know everything and have a knowledgeable view on the universe that surround us that most of us accept to go through life with a truncated understanding of the whole and rely instead on our familiarity with elements we know best. It's indeed almost impossible to be on top of everything and be able to claim holding a universal view on all topics. Instead we just hold to bits and pieces of knowledge and this is what colors our opinions, our ideas and our way of seeing and appreciating the world around us. We see it from the ground floor instead of having the 30,000 feet view, or better yet the out-of-space overall perspective. So what does all this mean? We can't know everything well, right?

So, should we just give up and make do with our fragmented knowledge and keep muddling through life, or should we instead systematically step out of our routine to enlarge our horizons? I'll take the later, and if our life is just business and sports for example, why not peek into the worlds of arts or travel? If we are just “touchy-feely,” why not explore the realm of technology? In a word, we need to get out of our comfort-zone and step into what remains unknown to us. We won't gain encyclopedic understanding of everything, but this will go a long way to making us more worldly, more aware of what surrounds us and much richer individuals!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Harnessing potential and resources

We all have different potential and different resources at our own disposal and it seems to me that the ultimate game of life is to make the very best of the two, everyday of our lives, no matter how these two ingredients are and evolve along our lifespan. I should have thought about that one a long time ago, but the fact is that

I didn't not and although it's already a bit late into my life, I still intend, from now on, to focus on that very important thought. It could be that this philosophy embodies the most powerful reason for living and enjoying both a productive and rewarding existence and is guaranteed to work for all of us, from the time we take our first step until the time we gasp our last breath. What should I add to this? Nothing, that idea is powerful enough to last me for the entire life, let alone, the entire day!

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Yesterday, we went to the high Uintas to look for mushrooms. In Utah, these delicacies hide between 9,000 and 10,000 feet, and this year being another dry year, they can be hard to find.
So at first, discouragement runs high as we doubt we'll ever find one single boletus and will have to return home empty-handed. Then, as time goes on, Evelyne finds a huge one, then it's my turn to spot a few tiny ones and so on. The morale of that story is that we should never despair and only remain patient.

Finding mushrooms isn't like a Google search. It takes faith, time and perseverance and it's not unlike the rest of life's endeavors. In this era of instant results and lightning-fast answers, we need to retrain our patience as we search for objects, ideas and inspiration and forget about miracle and other short-cuts. Bad concepts, books and movies are generally the result of rushed inspiration and impatience. Creativity is a bottomless well that just takes time and wise planning to explore and exploit. Every time I'll be hunting for some great inspiration, I remember my mushroom-picking adventures...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Building is hard, destroying easy...

On this 9th anniversary of September 11, I was thinking about all the difficulties and the long time inherent with building and growing anything of value, compared to the ease and speed always associated with its destruction. Constructing takes thoughtful planning, time, sacrifices, determination and patience while demolishing can be done instantly and most often in a spectacular manner. The negative ingredients that go into destroying anything that stands on a mean spirited person's path, isn't only found in acts of terrorism, but also in wars, in most act of revenge, retaliation, jealousy, in daily petty deeds, and are the illustration of what particularly poor and deprived minds only seem capable to achieve.
Quick and easy surges of nefarious pleasure. Perhaps the only path upon which we can get closer to pacifism is by painting all these belligerent folks the way they really should: A bunch of uncool, dumb and backward individuals.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Freedom from religion

The Qur’an burning stunt has shown us, once again, that religion can be a major divider in society. Without going back in time to the Inquisition, the mingling of religion and state politics in modern days resurfaced again some nine years ago on September 11. At that time and when the event occurred, none of the major religious leaders had the courage nor the good sense to quell the fire before it started to rage, by calling the act an isolated one, that had nothing to do with the spirit of religion and had to be relegated to a vile exploitation of faith. The same happened this week with that crazy Gainesville preacher who set to burn holy books. First, the media gave the man too large a pulpit and second, the world religious leaders remained apathetic for too long. It seemed as if each one worshiped a different, “superior” God, which on paper isn't the supposed to be the case among Abrahamic religions, but in reality is, as the competition between the varying denominations or branches is undeniable; “my God's better than yours” type argument.
Faced with that dysfunction, government leaders had to step out, take positions and admonish the instigator to “cease or desist,” but this should not have to be the case. My guess is that Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and the most fundamental members of the Republican Party must have poured gasoline on that firing conflict and supported it as far as they could, but that doesn't really matter. There should be a separation between state and religion and folks like me, that are either agnostic or non-religious, should never be taken into the midst of that unproductive crossfire. We aren't a theocracy yet and have no desire to become one; so, once and for all, let's have religion remain and stay private.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Costco jeans

In May of 2007, I was marveling at the low cost of my Levi's jeans. While I paid $20.50 for them in 1977, they were still priced at $23.39 in 2007! Sure, they were no longer made in America, they were instead produced somewhere in Central America, but still remained an incredible bargain. Earlier this summer, I finally put an end to that fifty-year love affair with Levi Strauss by switching to... Kirkland jeans, a brand owned by Costco. The garment happened to fit me perfectly and that besides was dirt cheap; consider this: Including tax, a new pair of these pants only cost me $13.84, almost two-for-one compared to Levi's!

That is the cheapest jean I've ever worn and at that low price, you'd think these must be made in China! Nope, they're still made in North America, in neighboring Mexico, and since there's only one model and one color to worry about, this makes my life much easier since I've never fully understood the difference between the 501, 505 and 550 styles that I have worn alternatively without fully realizing the real impact they might have had on my personal image. Sure they're blue, in fact very blue, they're "blue jeans" after all, without any artificial distressed or worn-out features and absolutely nothing artsy about them. They're basic, they fit my body perfectly and time will tell if they're at least as durable as my previous favorite brand. For the moment, I like them and that's what ultimately counts!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My dear printer...

Remember my Sunday in India, late August? Well, yesterday I had to do it all over again, as my new wireless printer, following an update from HP, went on the freeze and as I was attempting to print a receipt for some online payment I had just made. Of course, I had to call HP, was transported to India, dealt with a totally inapt technician for 80 minutes, had lunch, and resumed the session with another technician in the Philippines for another 90 minutes. That person was a bit more tech savvy and told me that the first installation (my first trip to India) had not be done correctly, so we erased everything and started from scratch.

The technician has the gull to ask me to buy a three-year extended warranty, and when he sensed my resistance settled for just one year, but here again, I told him “no” in no uncertain terms. I then spoke to his supervisor and told him that HP should be more sensitive to its consumers' time, but did not attach too much expectations from that remark. I only hope this latest setup is the last one I had to go through, because now my investment in what was supposed to be an affordable printer is getting close to $1,000 if I factor in my time...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Out in the Cold...

Last evening was our last outdoor concert and it happened to fall on a beautiful but very cold day. Temperature never got above 60 during the afternoon and were already down to 50 degrees at 6 pm, when the concert started with Crooked Still and their bluegrass music. We weren't enthused by that number, but the following one, Sara Watkins, proved to be the best of the evening, between her voice, her repertoire, her stage presence and her brother singing along.
We had heard a lot about Ryan Bingham, the evening main artist, the 2010 Academy Award winner, liked quite a few of his songs and the powerful music of his band, the Dead Horses, but were so cold that it put a damper on the crowd's appreciation, the overall atmosphere and our ability to fully participate. Temperature plays a big role in concerts and an outdoor evening concert, in high elevation, early September can be brutal, even if we had dressed warmly (ski jackets, hats, after ski boots...) This finally was our eleventh outdoor concert of the summer and an excellent way to call it a season!

Miners Day Parade

Miners Day is Park City's version of Labor Day. We used to have silver in our mountains; today we mine them to extract visitors fun! We have a great parade to celebrate all the town's workers and my wife and I only attended that parade once, with our kids, when we first came to town some 25 years ago. We had taken for granted the 24 other celebrations in between, I guess. Returning yesterday was a surprise as the place was packed with thousands of eager spectators.

There were very, very few old faces that we recognized. All these folks were unknown to us. We rode the bus to Main Street and returned with our free city-wide transportation system. I even shot a video to memorialize the whole event. It was a celebration of work and after watching all the floats, trying to get some freebees and a lot of candy, we were both exhausted; we should have known better, Labor Day is all about work, work, work!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Returning to the Great Western Trail

This single track is a wonderful way to trek along the Park City valley and Big Cottonwood Canyon, home to Brighton and Solitude resorts. For the most part, the trail just stay below the 10,000 feet level affording incredible vistas. We used to hike it a lot and once, even went all the way down to Salt Lake City, via Mill Creek Canyon.

Yesterday was a perfect day for this type of excursion even though we only hiked just 8 mile round-trip; let's call this a warm up exercise, but on the end of the one way course, our picnic never tasted so good. The only challenging part is of course accessing the higher elevation via “vomit hill,” but on foot that's always doable; on mountain bike, this can be a totally different experience, hence the nickname and many are the riders who end up walking their bike all the way up. Our next plan is to ride our bikes on that wonderful single track from Gardman's Pass all the way to Salt Lake; we just need to figure out how to organize the car shuttle...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

On a roll...

I recently read an article in Skiing Heritage about the use of hand-held snow rollers that were used in the grooming of ski slopes up until the late fifties in America and well into the mid-sixties in the French Alps. I remember this because my brother Gaston was, in the early sixties, what was called a “pisteur-secouriste” which amounted to doing the combined job of snow groomer and ski patrolman. As I recently called him on his 70th birthday, I asked him about his experience riding these gravity-powered groomers.

On a snow day, the crew would catch the 7 am tram at Le Pleney, in Morzine, France, prepare the heavy equipment and begin work in team of two; one in the front, the other in the back. On intermediate slopes the job was fairly easy depending on the amount of fresh snow received; if there was too much of it, the first run, called the “B,” a long, meandering beginner run would take a good three hour to complete as the first team of rollers could come to a screeching halt in some of the flatter sections of the run. The second team by slightly overlapping their predecessors' tracks might carry a little bit more speed and wouldn't have to pull on the rollers as much in order to keep them moving. Steeper slopes were a different story altogether as speed control was a huge problem, especially for the man placed in front who relied on his rear buddy to "stay the course" and had to deal with the extra challenge of being blinded by all the snow plastered by the roller right into his face. The rollers were equipped with some internal brakes that were actuated by lowering the the two pairs of holding shafts, requiring at times very high force, but the weight and the momentum of the whole speeding device could become so significant that high-speed crashes were not uncommon. In fact, the best ways to keep speed under check remained an "athletic" snowplow as well as some powerful side-slipping...

The packing job was also far from perfect, as it depended a lot on snow depth, overall humidity and temperature; the five to seven hundred pounds of the rollers were still relatively light, and were just making the run passable for the first skiers of the day. Once packed, the snow couldn't be changed or tilled by these primitive rollers as this is the case today with the much heavier and powerful machinery. In the nascent Avoriaz ski resort, steel grids were passed on the run to breakup the crust, but never came close to true "grooming" as we know it today. Upon arrival at the base, the shaft assembly was taken apart and loaded back into the tram and sometime on a double-chair, along with the roller for another grooming session or would be left at the top ready for a future snow storm. Smaller rollers with only one set of holding shafts were also available for grooming smaller areas, including the uphill surface lift track.

The end of the sixties saw the end of grooming with hand-held rollers at Le Pleney, as the Ratrac snow groomer, an adaptation of the Thiokol snow cat, made its debut in the Alps and raised the art of grooming to a totally different level...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The next provinces Canada should annex...

For a very long time, the joke was that Canada really was the 51st state of the United States. In today's economy, the tables are turned and our northern neighbor is now giving us some formidable lessons in good stewardship. Its currency keeps on getting stronger, its economy is sound and the quality of life of its citizens has become the envy of the developing world. So with all this, why not see us being annexed by Canada and becoming one or a bunch of extra provinces. We'd give up our weak Dollar for a new currency called the “Puck” - like in hockey – and an enlarged Canada would get rid of the aging British monarch on its bank notes.

While we're on the subject, hockey would become our national sport, we'd be the largest country in the world, in term of total area, we'd have a wonderful healthcare system and we'd send all the tea-party folks and staunch republicans way south to a country like say, Paraguay, to spread their gospel of trickle-down economics, war and moral order. The good news for me in a larger Canada is that my two languages would now be official and we'd finally become a metric country!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Smarter timing

The years preceding our economic crash have given some people some very bad business habits. Consider this: A couple of weeks ago, I went to see a local architect to work estimate of how much an extension of an existing building would cost. Call this a feasibility study. The man said that this would be fine, told me how his consulting would cost – which amount was fine with me – but told me to get him a survey of the place before he could do anything. He gave me the name of three surveyors and I proceeded to call them yesterday to find out about their respective fees.
The fee required by these professionals was astounding and represented three times what the architect was asking, almost defeating the purpose of what all along was a getting a peek into the overall cost of the project. I then called back the architect and asked him if there was no way to conduct his estimate without a formal, updated land survey, understanding of course that it would somehow affect the precision of the numbers he'd come up with. He reluctantly accepted without any good reasons against the order of thing. Some folks, and particularly these self-proclaimed “professionals” don't have much logic in their understanding of sound business practices, proper sense of which comes when and still put their own interests and convenience first, well before that of their clients...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Early morning inspiration

You hear all the time that many people get their best ideas in the shower or in some very specific places and circumstances. For me, it's always the same; if something preoccupies me a great deal, I'll wake up in the wee hours of the morning, often with a solution or most of the time, on the verge of solving that current problem of mine. That's my best thinking moment and it certainly is my most creative environment. I guess that I go to sleep with a puzzle to solve, my subconscious mind gets to work and when it's about ready, it wakes me up with some answers or at least a few useful threads to follow... What about you?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The President's speech

I, for one, was disappointed by President Obama's speech last night; it was downbeat and it lacked the courage to call the Iraq invasion and subsequent occupation was: A useless and ruinous war. I don't think trying to call for bi-partisanship is still something he should attempt at this point; instead, he should aggressively go after the Republican obstructionism that has – successfully – brought him down in the polls. This would be called political courage, but Mr. Obama is going to choke its presidency by trying to compromise and attempting to appease its detractors.