Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happier in Utah!

Utah and Alaska are the fourth happiest states of the Nation, according to a telephone interview survey conducted for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey during 2011. A random-digit dial was used to sample 353,492 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the entire United States.

The number one state was Hawaii, followed by North Dakota and Minnesota. While I can understand why the Aloha State made it to #1, I don't quite understand why the two following states ranked so high, but I'm happy enough not to dig into the reasons why, and am even happier to live in a state where we are happier than most!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Economic redux?

There is no question that the U.S. Economy is beginning to show signs of improvement. For one thing, we were hit far harder than any other developed nation, so it seem just right that our bounce be more spectacular. Now, how solid and serious is that economic recovery? No one seems really sure.

What is clear to me however is that we won't return to the pre-financial crash “go-go years” any time soon. First, that period was totally under “steroids,” was a sham and today, the rules of the game have drastically changed. We're no longer alone “looting” the world. Sharing the wealth as become the key word. We may return to times that are less stressful, a bit more comfy, but we won't go back to the excesses of the pre-2008 period.

For one thing we'll now need to get out of our financial hole, most likely through a combination of austerity and tax hikes, and this alone will take a long time and all of the above may come to fruition if nothing crazy that is man-made, or nature-induced, suddenly brings down our slow process of reconstruction...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Three things we forget when we ski...

Almost all skiers have found the hard way that their sport is the most counter-intuitive there is. Yet, after a while and miles later, we seem to get used to it. We remember most moves and are able to cope. What remains true however is that when the going gets tough, we all revert to the same errors whether we are seasoned veterans, world class skiers or recreational practitioners who only get on snow five days a year.

We all seem to make the same mistakes. Over the years, I have found that those are always the same and three of them stood out. Of course, none of them are intuitive and can seem to be developed as a reflex-response. I'll list them today and for the one that I haven't really covered in that blog, I plan to discuss them in detail at some later date.

We can greatly facilitate the initiation of a turn by orienting the upper body into the slope. Plays a huge role as the terrain becomes steeper and the conditions are more difficult.

Upright stance:
By keeping an upright stance at all times, we force our knees and ankles to work more actively in balancing us.

Total relaxation:
By “playing it cool” and by not fighting the mountain or “attacking” we become much more efficient and save our energies. Tension is the enemy, cost strain and goes again a smooth glide.

That's it for the moment. Make a mental note of these three enemies and look for practical, step by step solutions to eradicate them from your ski life!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A solution to the Syrian crisis

Mrs Clinton's recent declarations about China and Russia, while totally right, were both harsh, undiplomatic and unlikely to persuade both countries to reconsider their veto.
While we all agree that nothing constructive and speedy can happen without the realignment of these two world powers into the general consensus, both need to be convinced that it's in their best interest to change their tune with regards to the Assad regime. Here's what I would propose via behind-the-scenes diplomatic contacts.

Russia: Suggest that unless the country doesn't join ranks with the rest of the world, the National Olympic Committees of Europe, Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States will boycott the Sochi Olympics.

China: Suggest that consumers are about to begin boycotting Chinese made products. Not in a massive (unrealistic) manner; the action would be progressive and that way could prove particularly devastating for the Chinese economy. At its inception, that move might entail 25% of a household consumption, but would increase to 33% and so on.

In both cases, give the two countries a one month time-frame to re-think their position before these “sanctions” begin to take effect. A simple, concerted diplomatic action that would bite these belligerent nation where it should.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday, Émile Allais !

Today the plan was to ski down the Vallée Blanche, but this couldn't be done as too many years are getting in the way ! The last time the French ski icon was on his boards was two years ago in Megève (photo) but skiing or not, he remains a ski hero that anyone, who genuinely loves the sport, will want to emulate !
Thanks for inspiring us, Émile !

Friday, February 24, 2012

Avalanche kills

Two nights ago, the windstorm was fierce and whatever little powder snow we had created what is called, “wind slabs” all over the ridges. Wind slabs are extremely dangerous because as the wind bounces the eroded snow across the snow surface, it grinds up the snow into small, dense particles. By the time they finally come to a rest on lee of an obstacle, where the wind slows down, they pack into a heavy, dense layer of snow that can easily overload any buried weak layer.

With such a huge avalanche danger, a young, 24 year old snowboarder ignored the warnings from the Utah Avalanche Center and triggered a rather small slide that nonetheless buried him under three and a half feet of snow and killed him in Dutch Draw, at Canyons, just above our favorite spot on the mountain. This is the second deadly accident in 7 years in that area. Be very careful!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

About ski headgear...

Nature outfitted me with a rather large head. There used to be a time in my skier's life when ski hats were made big enough to cover it well. After the 80s however, ski hat production went to China and hat suppliers not content to amass huge margins on their “Made in Hong-Kong” and later “Made in China” hats, were also cutting corners and skimping on sizes.

In the past decade, my ski hats always wanted a divorce from my head and while I lost only one knit hat to a gust of wind (true story...), I always had my big ears exposed to the cold and the wind. Talking about my ears, those don't get along well with the Apple ear buds either, that literally won't stay in their cavities. The solution to that problem, which also solved the previous issue, was to wear an Inca-style knit hat. It did work, but I didn't like the way that particular style looked on me.

It's only when the portable video cam like GoPro came out that I decided to buy a helmet and use it as a filming platform. In the process, I discovered that the helmet would hold my ear buds securely in place, keep my head warm, serve as a container to store my head liner, goggles and gloves, plus make my head look twice as big! Did I say it was supposed to protect it?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Legitimizing the irrational

From the Republican Primary campaign to a more assertive Islam, the irrational is becoming common place in our lives and is taken for granted by most people. I haven't seen rabbit's foot hanging from all car rear-view mirrors yet, but we should get prepared.

When a man like Rick Santorum states that climate change is a so-called “theology” and doesn't stand up against the Bible's credibility, people should shake their heads and cringe, yet it seems that most American take that kind of statement without batting an eye.

I certainly agree that anyone is entitled to their irrational thoughts, from astrology, to popular superstition all the way to organized religion, but these weird and totally unproven concepts should never seep into political discourses and contaminate sane minds.

When I see that, I can only say that seemingly well-educated would be leaders in developed nations are no different than the Iranian mullahs, Talibans and other extremists...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The end of envy?

If yesterday's skiing was any sign, we seem to returned into a normal winter cycle after a very dry and rather snow-less early season. Up until recently, ski pleasure in Utah was only the shadow of last season's glory, while rocks, stumps and twig avoidance had become the sad reality of our daily ski outings.

At the same time, I was hearing from my Alpine friends and family telling me how deep European snow was and how great skiing conditions had been since the inception of their season. Hard not to feel a bit jealous under these circumstances!

Since a week ago however, things began to turn around for us and decent, if not excellent skiing, regained its footing and its place into our lives, so now there's no more reason for envy as we've returned to become the home of the greatest snow on earth. Let's keep our fingers (not our skis) crossed!

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Republican Dish

Just imagine this. You're a chef and are asked to prepare a special dish called a Republican Primary. No, not a juicy prime rib, a Primary! You are proud of your skills, have practiced your recipe on countless occasions and each time, have had pretty decent success, sometime winning an award, sometime missing it closely, but you know your stuff.

Now you go to market to pick your ingredients. Disappointment. There's nothing you really like and almost because of it, you double up on the quantity thinking that perhaps, one will be less lackluster than the others and stand out to save the day, the dish and your reputation. You then get to work on each and every ingredient. The more you work on them the more you see they're really bad, in fact they're dreadful. So one day you see one as the best of the bunch (read “least worse”) another day it's another one, and so on, but unfortunately nothing sticks.
You pour more money into your efforts, but it make the meal look even more terrible, revealing sides you'd rather hide. In fact as you cook these disparate ingredients they seem to fight each others, making horrible noises and creating a terrible stench. You would like to throw them all away and start anew, but it's too late now, dinner is about to be served, you desperately know that your reputation will be tainted and you won't win any award. As a chef, you should have known; delectable cuisine always starts with the finest ingredients!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fairness and luck

Yesterday, I came across an obituary that sounded quite familiar and yet took me sometime to remember. It was about a ski industry veteran and since I've left the hard-goods side of that business for more than 17 years and am now advancing in age, my memory sometimes gets blurred. After a few moments it finally sunk in. Bill Nicoll, only 53 years had just passed away from a heart attack.

I now remembered clearly when he began to work for the Recreational Buying Specialists buying group; he was very young then and the picture of a good, pleasant man flashed back into my mind. I then began to think, why was it that a young man like him was dealt such bad luck and thought to myself how life is not always fair to everyone.

Those of us who can dodge the bullets, are blessed with fairness and luck in our lives often conclude that we've must been working hard and that we must be also smart, but very, very few ever acknowledge the huge role played by fairness and luck in our personal successes. Bill, in your passing you've again taught us a very important lesson that we should never forget and ought to always be very grateful and humbled by the simple fact that we're fortunate enough to participate in life. Rest in peace.

Bill Nicoll, In It for the Right Reasons from SnowSports Industries America on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Who thought of battery life?

Life is always an elusive value. For humans, animals and vegetation alike. Objects wear out too and no later than yesterday, it was the turn of my car battery. The funny part about it is that the incident took place as I was waiting for a great parking spot to be freed at Canyons resort.

I turned off the ignition, waited for the skiers to take off their gear and clear the place. When they did, my car refused to start, standing still like an albatross, right in the middle of the parking alley.

We were lucky to run into two great guys; one with a big truck and another one with a set of jumper cables. Soon the car was running again and we rushed to the nearby garage to get a new battery. Less than forty five minute and $180 later, we were back, finding another free spot and ready to go skiing. Have you checked you battery lately?

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Ghirardelli project

Before all, it's about a lot of (delicious) chocolate, it's yards of strand and it's a bunch of large, glittering balls. It's a project that came out of nowhere, one evening, that we were munching on what's known as a Ghirardelli Square. This is not your mom's Tobler, Cailler, Godiva or even Leonidas. It's an all-American confection established since 1852 in the San Francisco area.

These square delicacies, while delivering the perfect balance of intense, slow-melting chocolate, are wrapped in colorful Mylar that I always hated to simply toss away. That special wrapper is a polyester film known for its high tensile strength and reflectivity among other reasons. So one day (at least a couple of years ago) I decided to make a ribbon out of one single wrapper, by tearing it longitudinally in small 1/4 inch wide stripes that would be knotted to each other.

Of course, this was much easier thought than done. I had first to open up the chocolate without messing up the paper, then be careful in tearing up the stripes and finally, use all of my dexterity (through some big, fat fingers) to attach them together.

I eventually did it, built up a 10 foot long garland that would later be rolled up, would soon grow into 8 inch in diameter and today, heaps of chocolate later, we have several such balls. Shortly, I'll be shooting a film documenting the whole adventure, but for the moment, I'll leave the details to your imagination.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How good are your knees?

Last week, I spotted this Ford Flex on the Deer Valley Resort parking lot, sporting a “Badneez” license plate and started to wonder about the condition of its owner's mid-leg joints. Perhaps he or she had a full-blown artificial knee, or already had two ACL operations or just portion of the meniscus cut.

Perhaps there was no injury at all, but the knee stubbornly refused to bend beyond 120 degree or made a loud, objectionable noise when flexed too fast. It might also have been that the individual in question had perfectly good functioning knees, but felt that those were unsightly when wearing a mini-skirt, a kilt or a pair of shorts. So that leaves me with the existential question of the day: Who will ever know how bad these anonymous knees were?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Warmed-up Salt Lake Olympics?

As Utah is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the 2002 Olympic Games, an exploratory committee has been created to study the possibility of a second bid. Sounds good to me as a way to place the “white elephant” style infrastructures like the Nordic jumps and bobsleigh tracks back to work.
Good as well if we were to position a second bid as being a “recycled” Olympic with absolute minimum expenditures and a guaranteed profits to benefit the community. The problem with that is that a “reasonable Olympic” might be a hard sale at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, where a 33 billion price tag for Sochi doesn't appear to shock anyone.

This said, a “no-frill” Olympic approach might be worth the effort, at least as a trial balloon, to measure the IOC purity of intentions?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Thoughts about Syria

After the Chinese and Russian veto, it seems to me that our U.S. State Department lacks the necessary touch or willingness to engage these two countries in ways that can be productive. Diplomatic engagement doesn't have to be loud and visible.

It could (and probably should) happen behind the scenes, be somewhat “engineered” to include face-saving options for those rogue countries, but I don't see why we couldn't get to a more holistic approach to serious diplomacy...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Great – Good = 15 inches

This weekend saw our second “major” snow storm of the year, so after clearing my driveway and dressing for the weather, I went out to Deer Valley to assess the results.

The snow kept on pounding the mountain all afternoon and as the hills were shrouded in a mystical cloud cover, I chose to stay in the forested areas of the resort and skied an unprecedented ten “Centennial Trees” runs, non-stop and during each and every one of them, I literally let myself go, bouncing from turn to turn as if I were a ball bouncing down some stairways, in that fluffy, out-of-this-world and so forgiving soft matter…

It felt as if I had received some magic powers and as if gravity as we know it had suddenly lost its sting. There was no stump too high, no drop too steep for me not to embrace in total confidence. I suddenly felt as if I had become invincible and had received a license to “cheat…” Yet, after the first couple of runs, I started to feel hot; that’s right, with all the powder I had to work much harder than usual.

At each turn, the abundant snow on all sides of my skis, my boots and my legs had to be moved around and was pushing back. At the same time, I had too be twice as concentrated as I watched like a hawk for hidden obstacles, sudden drops and of course, huge trees! That day, 15 inches of new snow were measured and I rediscovered that unmistakable and special sensation of feeling deep powder hugging my lower legs.

What were imposing moguls 24 hours prior had been neutralized and didn’t amount to much anymore, the few twigs still emerging were now dwarfed and far less intimidating, the forbidding stumps were now totally covered and turned into fat snowmen and the rare rocks had magically sunk to the bottom.

All around me, there was a brand new ski world, and more than ever before, I took the time to appreciate every second of my descents!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Looking under the hood

Yesterday, the largest non profit health organization in Utah, known under the moniker IHC was offering a free heart screening to the greater Salt Lake City area population. Specifically, the heath care facility was measuring the cholesterol and glucose levels of patients as well as taking an individual EKG.

A wonderful preventive initiative that, as one could imagine, largely sold out. Of course, letting physicians peek “under the hood” always lead to some unpleasant surprises, but there's always a price to be paid with a “free” evaluation!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Contraception and Obama

President Obama wasn't quite paying attention the other day when he made a major error in forcing the catholic church to cover contraception in some of its ancillary organizations. Since then, the administration back-pedaled and re-framed the rules to (almost) Church's satisfaction.

While I think that providing free contraception is a wonderful idea to limit population growth, I'm still wondering if it should be free to more affluent folks who can afford the cost. When you think about about it, this is not a health related expense, but put simply a cost of entertainment, like paying for cable TV subscription or a movie ticket. What do you think?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Shopping for a new car

The last time I bought an automobile for myself, I did it irrationally. I fell for the looks, the brand's prestige and most importantly, I succumbed to the salesman's persuasive charm. This time, I decided, would be drastically different. I know, deep inside, what car I really need and is right for me.

As a result, I have looked at that very model under many angles, have test-driven it and have also looked at alternatives that quite don't measure up against that vehicle. Since we're still more than a month away from the fateful acquisition will my head remain clear and my thought-process objective? We'll see, but so far it looks that it will be a marriage of reason instead of passion as so often is the case with wheels...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What's that?

During the last Freestyle World Cup at Deer Valley Resorts, some of the major sponsors had tents or booths extolling their product and services and giving out the expected “schwag.” The Delta Air Lines booth was giving away an object that looked like a sleeve made of stretch fabric and since it didn't come with instructions, I scratched my head for a while trying to figure out what it was for.
Fortunately, I found the wrapper that said “The Original Yowie, multifunction head-wear.” After doing some research, I discovered that the product originated from Spain, Original Buff SA. Of course, in the process I also figured out how to use it in a great “face-saving” fashion!

Freestyle World Cup including “behind the scenes…”

Since the beginning of the millennium, Deer Valley Resort has embraced freestyle skiing by hosting Freestyle World Cups, Olympics and World Championship events. This year was no exception and while the Utah resort bested itself once again, the top international freestyle athletes met at what is, without much debate, their favorite venue in the word.

With its mogul and aerial events, freestyle is one of the very few ski competitions that can be seen and enjoyed by the public from top to bottom, without solely relying upon a giant TV screen. Deer Valley’s venue is quite unique in the way it is shaped and configured and is designed to accommodate close to 7,000 cheering spectators. A number in that vicinity could have been counted on both the Friday and Saturday evenings that, by far, attracted the largest crowds.

I’m a bit partial to the mogul competition which is a true test in edge-to-edge quickness, rolling bumps that come at the competitors like a monster conveyor belt eager to swallow them, where there’s a need for electric knee-action interspersed with a couple of high powered jumps where athleticism, balance, sporting creativity and a lot of good luck combine to offering a breathtaking show. As a single event, moguls is plenty entertaining but in its dual format, the whole spectacle truly comes to life, builds up additional pressure, intensifies the excitement and let the athletes’ raw talent explode in full view of a cheering public.

The aerial competition on the other hand is like a high-speed elevator lift that boosts a skier high into the air, which materializes into seemingly unending airtime that can be used to execute all kinds of twisting and rotating maneuvers while the flight lasts and until it becomes time to land the skis securely and stylishly on a steep and short reception area. Each jump is another opportunity for the athlete to deeply concentrate; balance apprehension versus desire to excel and almost go for broke, hoping to better the last best jump!

Oh yes, while the world’s elite was delivering their perfect show, and the adults were riveted on their awesome performance, another “unofficial world cup” was being held just below the tent and the television house, right on the edge of the immense spectators platform, where the slope is steep. The 5 to 10 years old who are between 3 and 5 feet tall and might have been a bit too small to see everything World Cup, decided to hold their own snow-ball throwing contest and testing the low friction of their ski suits on Deer Valley’s famous great snow, and thinking they were champions in their own right!

Each evening has been marked with big crowds, loud cheers, and pressurized atmosphere with spectators and athletes in communion for pushing the envelope and chasing excellence. A wonderful way for our entire community of visitors, residents and visiting athletes from the world over to bond over a sport we all love!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lift lines and Greek crisis

Why are some countries more economically successful that others? The answers can be many and depend on natural resources, traditions, social customs, political system rule of law, religion or lack thereof and much, much more.

There's however a sign that tells a lot about a country's prospect for future social and economical success; it can be seen in the lift lines. When I compare the organization and discipline at North American ski lifts to that of European mountains, I feel somehow reassured...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Politicians, the people's enemy!

The world would be a much, much better place without our politicians. From Iran to Israel and all the way to the United States, their mission in life seems to be steering trouble, making people mad at each other and engaging in continuing deception, obstruction and war mongering.

Sure, they seem to need to be the polarizing forces and can't seem to survive in a world of tranquility. They need pain, chaos and turmoil to thrive, so if it's not there, they'll create it and invent it. I don't need to name names, it's all around us. A politician is a curse; at least, ours are.

Monday, February 6, 2012

“Floating” on the political spectrum...

If you have an extremist political orientation, left or right, chances are you won't be convinced of anything other than what you're convinced of. You fall into – what I would term is - a steady supporter of the extreme wing of political thinking.

The rest of us “float” or “bounce” back and forth in this indescribable zone that is influenced by the slogans of the day or the most compelling case that catches our values, our social position or our aspirations at the time. That large group of people is the one in fact that politicians should address well, but generally fail to understand and of course, speak to in terms that touch us.

The end result is that we are drifting away from that political connection and are feeling increasingly cynical when the “extreme” speak to us. It feels more like harassment than conversation and that's what we're tired of that...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Staying current with my skiing

Last Friday was one of my best day in a rather dismal season. It wasn't good because of the snow, but because I pushed myself and my legs stood the punishment. After sixty, it certainly becomes necessary to push the physical envelope in order to remain relevant on skis as well as in any other sport.

Yeah, relevance, just like in professional or intellectual matters; that elusive quality must be maintained in all matters, including physical ones. Sometimes, getting there feels close to impossible but with the extra bit of will power can be reached – at least for the moment!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Home prices still going down...

If you are hopeful for a turn around in real estate, think again! A McClatchy analysis of four years of foreclosure data and thousands of property records has found record-high levels of shadow inventory in several housing markets across the nation.

Even though real estate industry analysts routinely leave this “shadow inventory” out of their reports, their influence on home values is growing. Consider this: In the supply-and-demand-reliant real estate market, the national supply of homes is officially listed at about 3.5 million, or about nine months' worth; sales are on track to reach about 5 million this year.

But once shadow inventory is added, that supply more than doubles, to at least 7.5 million. A healthy housing market has about a six-month supply of properties, which would be about 2.4 million. This would suggest that the market is oversupplied by a factor of three. Watch these prices continue to go down!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Poetry and me

I've never written any poetry, but that could change pretty soon. A few days ago, I heard about a contest that would give me the opportunity to try my hand at writing something a bit more artsy than what I'm used to.

I intend to give it an shot. It's not that I have a particular subject in mind or something I want to say in that manner, but why not after all?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Freestyle skiing and me...

My new job as a videographer is taking me into all types of activities that are the part and parcel of a mountain resort's life. These days, I'm covering the world cup freestyle events that involve aerials and mogul competitions. It is fun and informative to see these world class athlete compete in a sport that has been for years overshadowed by its alpine counterpart, at least in Europe, but as far as the fame, press coverage and money are concerned all over the world.

Yet, freestyle skiing is quite a spectator sport, can be seen by the public without relying on a large TV screen as is the case for downhill and giant slalom races and can be showcase on a relatively small venue. So why isn't it more successful? This is of course a key question that has to do with the plethora of events offered by the sports of skiing and snowboarding. Too atomized and having to fight on their own for recognition seem to be the answer.

Also, events, like “slopeside” keep on being added, further diluting the impact of the existing ones. The FIS, the international federation of skiing and snowboarding hasn't been as of yet able to wrap it all together and propose a formula that would be able to better promote these sports more in line with what the X-Games have been doing...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wide skis and hard snow...

So far, this has not been a great winter for extra-wide powder skis in Utah. That time may come, but each day that goes without a dump is a lost one for “face-shots” and a tough reminder that on hard-pack, wide skis don't hold much, are slow to react and can be a drag.

Time to get some narrow waist back, right? The wide ski craze that has exploded and that we've witnessed over the past three winter season maybe a sign that the fad pendulum has swung a bit too much towards the soft and fluffy side of snow and that it's now time to return to more manageable sidecut. What would you think? No more than 90 mm for an all-around ski?