Sunday, May 31, 2015

Michel Arpin, 1935-2015

Born on December 29, 1935 in Ste Foy, near Val d'Isère, France, to a family of innkeepers, Michel Arpin was named to the French Ski Team from 1956 to 1966. His most notable achievement was a 4th place in Slalom at the 1964 Olympics, just behind Jimmy Heuga and Billy Kidd (Pepi Stiegler won the Gold). Arpin passed away in Thonon, France, on Saturday, May 30.
In 1961 and through somewhat special circumstances, Arpin became closely associated with Jean-Claude Killy as his personal equipment coach. Michel Arpin became legendary for his superlative abilities of selecting the best skis for specific snow conditions.

Working first with Dynamic as a "technical advisor", Arpin became Killy's personal ski technician at the Portillo World Championships and after Grenoble, he followed Killy's endorsements, first to Head in 1969, Rossignol in 1972 and K2, one year later.

In the mid-seventies, he settled in Thonon, on the French shore of Lake Geneva, where he ran a sport shop. I've skied with Michel while being a ski instructor in Avoriaz, France. He was a kind of a honorary ski school member. I remember him as a tough, typical “montagnard”character.

Rest in Peace Michel...

Saturday, May 30, 2015

What motivates people

What motivates people lies deep inside their personality and unless you don't know someone perfectly well, there's no way to find what exactly makes that person tick.

This invites good observation, plenty of time to do it, an analytical mind and an opportunistic approach.
Folks won't generally be able to reveal what motivates them at a conscious level and the key will only be accessed through attentive observation. Then, once the secret is revealed, anything is possible!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Zion's Angels Landing

We concluded our trip to Zion National Park with a hike to Angels Landing, a classic hike that isn't for the faint of heart. We climbed a 1,488-foot tall rock formation that provides a spectacular view of Zion Canyon.

The trail to Angels Landing is 2.4 miles long. The upper portion of the trail also known as Walter's Wiggles is where it get serious and a bit spooky, with a series of 21 steep switchbacks equipped with support chains anchored intermittently the whole half-mile leading to the top.

We choose not to base-jump from the top at 5,790 feet, and completed the round trip in one healthy piece. Apparently, over the years, five people didn't.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Soccer, money and corruption...

Glad the Fed finally put its finger on the Swiss soccer mafia. Money, especially big money has an incredible ability to rot every organization that soaks too deep into it. Today, it's soccer; tomorrow it should be the IOC. Unlike Wall Street, FIFA had not full-time lobbyists in Washington.
I pray that they never will and I'm delighted that it took the United States of America who cares little about the big soccer leagues to muster the courage to see that this emperor had no clothes either!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Zion National Park, 25 year later

We were glad to have made it back to Zion after a quarter of a century hiatus. We didn't remember much about the Park except that we were shocked at the huge number of visitors for late May.

The place is uniquely spectacular and is one of the “must-see” on the National Park circuit. Huge cliffs, deep canyons, another “American-sized” place with hikes that are either too tame or too grueling.

Zion isn't for happy medium.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

When I ran into my Mormon neighbor

The other day, I dreamed I had made it to Heaven. There the first guy I ran across was one of my few Mormon neighbors that always meant well to me, that tried to convert me once, but gave up when he saw that my case was rather hopeless...

Needless to say he appeared shocked to see me in Heaven when I somehow landed there. He said he was truly amazed and just couldn't believe that a heathen like me had managed to wiggle his way near the Almighty.

The things he said that bothered him the most were that, while he was wasting all his Sundays, I was having fun skiing, mountain biking or mowing my lawn! I begged him to regain his composure and feeling a tad guilty - as always, I even apologized for ruining his stay in Heaven by my mere presence.

I probably over-did it when I went over my way to promise that if I didn't enjoy the place to its fullest, I'd ask for a transfer to Hell, if downstairs – as I had been told – proved to be more fun.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The (thin) money in skiing

Today, Ski Racing magazine was lamenting the small amount of prize money earned by the best skiers in the world. Well, this topic isn't new and two observations that can be made about this sad state of affairs.

First, alpine skiing is a marginal sport practiced mostly by white people who live in the mountains. It requires mountains, cold weather, snow, lifts and heaps of money. Because it's inherently expensive, not many, across the globe can dream of doing it.

The second and perhaps main reason a top skier earns less than a rodeo bull-rider, is because the FIS remains hopeless at sports marketing. Someone has to sell the rights to television and to market this kind of stuff, it must be fun, entertaining and adapted to the media.

This stern reality could be a hint; in fact it's the elephant in the room: What if FIS got down its high horse and began to wonder what it would take to tweak the sport and make it salable to TV audiences? What a concept!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The burden of planning

It always seems a lot easier to perform a last-minute scramble to get things done than to plan the same actions thoughtfully and systematically. Yet, long-term planning always pay off as long as we have a pretty clear picture of the end goal.

Knowing what we want – in the end – is in fact the crux of the problem and it's not uncommon that, whatever we're after, will change or evolve as we're progressing towards our objective.

This means that the demands placed on our patience, our creativity and adaptability are relentless and they're in fact what makes planning that more difficult and more painful.

There has to be acceptance of that seemingly unavoidable and annoying change that percolates through the entire process. That's also probably why rushing at the last minute feels much more fun and give us the illusion of “full control...”

Saturday, May 23, 2015

What Memorial Day weekend could have been...

Up until last year, this Holiday week-end meant the last few days skiers will be able to enjoy skiing. Clearly, it marked the end of the ski season. It was a long held ski tradition; a true rite of passage from skiing to summer activities. This years things have changed.

Under new ownership, Snowbird closed early May, justifying its decision by a low snow cover through the whole winter season. Reality is that the resort could have stayed opened until this long weekend. The weather has remained unseasonably cold and there's still plenty of snow.

I don't know what long time, loyal Snowbird season pass-holders are thinking. I've heard rumblings about the new owner, Ian Cumming, being a super tight-wad. They're probably spot-on!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Look and its commitment to ski racing

With its Nevada-Grand Prix ski binding, Look had a lock on racing until the early 70s. In fact, Look had stolen that leadership position from Marker and its Simplex-Rotamat combo during the entire 60s.

Look's product was far superior, had good patent protection and no competition. Problem was, it was only an expensive, top-of-the-line offering and Look's mass-market bindings were dismal.

First, the Look 55 – Nevatic was expensive to produce, not really good or convenient, and never sold well at retail. It's successor, the Look GT was a mixture of bad engineering and poor convenience.

When Salomon entered the product category with its 505/404 series and later with its 444 binding, it grabbed that vast and lucrative mass-market away from Look.

The French firm was left with eroding sales and a costly racing program that set it $500,000 back every year, plus the investment burden of a brand new factory that would first see stagnating then declining sales. Its financial bleeding that would last until bankruptcy in 1983.

Look R&D was hampered by a lack of good talent, tyrannical control by the company founder-inventor and had nothing new and consumer-friendly on its drawing boards. On the other hand, racing sponsorship was quite inefficient and costly for a company that just sold ski bindings and had to have an army of tech reps traveling the world, just to service the racers.

That's when, forty years ago, Look backed in a corner, made the fateful decision to cut most of its racing sponsorship programs except for the Italian ski team, just to stay alive. Could this save the company? No, it was a case of “too little, too late” that would merely extend the firm's agony...

Look had bet all of its resources on the losing horse, racing, instead of zeroing in on marketing and consumer preference, which was Salomon's choice...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ski numbers

The season is over, my skis are put away and I hear that the past winter season wasn't that great after all. In Utah, skier days were down 4.9% from the previous season at 3,946,762 million skier days. The record was in 2007–2008, an amazing snow year, at 4,249,190.

Nationally, skier days were down too, from 56.5 million to 53.6 million, a 5 percent decrease from the previous season because of severe drought on the Pacific Coast and part of the Rockies.

The national record is 60.6 million in 2010-2011. In Utah the annual snowfall was 41% of average, a record low only matched in 1976-1977!

In spite of these grim figures, I managed to ski a record number of 114 days (my personal best) and 2,014,976 vertical feet, my second biggest season (2,047,381 feet in 2009/2010) proving that snow cover has little to do with how much one skis!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How to “buy” a US green card

While I had heard that permanent residency was possible in Canada to someone investing in real estate, I was, until now, totally ignorant that a foreigner could do the same in the United States. Starting with a $500,000 investment it's been possible since 1990 to apply for a fast-track green card, provided the real estate, or mixed used project can create at least 10 jobs.
Instead of waiting many years to get a green card doing it the hard way, one can be had in just two years. If this is not called “corruption” and don't know what is. Apparently, there's a 10,000 slot allotment per year for these special EB-5 visas that lead to that particular green card and there are rumors that the $500,000 threshold might go higher given the understandable high demand, mostly from Chinese.

While this “special sale” may sound repulsive to many, some just say that 10,000 green cards are just a “drop in the bucket” compared to 1 million such cards issued each year. So if a US “green card” is in the cards for you, don't delay, open up your wallet and you'll be on your way!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Another weekend project...

Ever since we moved to our new home some 14 month ago, I wanted to have a shed to hide all of our garden tools and supplies. It's now done. After much research, I zeroed-in on Lifetime, a local manufacturer of steel reinforced blow molded outdoor storage sheds, right here in Utah.

That's right, not a Chinese but just a good, new American one; what a concept! I muddle through the arduous assembly process as some of the instructions were a bit sketchy. I even had to enlist my wife's help, but I eventually we got it up and thought it was good looking even though it took the best out what was left of me.

Now, I need a vacation!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Payback time!

So far, May weather has been downright awful, I mean unseasonably rainy, of course, with consistent snowfalls over the 8,000 feet level. We certainly are paying for the mild and dry winter we just had.
Too bad skiing is closed for the season. Deer Valley's Bald Mountain still looks perfect though, a great testimony to the resort's quality snow making... I still could take a few perfect runs if only they ran their lifts for a few hours...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The curse of a bruised femur

Just two weeks ago today, I took a bad fall from my mountain-bike and bruise my left femur. Bone bruises when they occur are breaking open capillaries, allowing blood to leave the circulatory system and showing up all over in colorful marks.

They can cause excruciating pain for quite a long time and these can be felt the more intensely at rest, especially in bed. The worst intensity of pain for me was day number 10 and it appears that finally the pain is slowly subsiding.

I know from experience how bad femur bruises can be and have found out that they take a very long time to heal. Excellent experiences for building up both tolerance to pain and patience!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Can great champions influence a team?

I just looked at the athletes named in the alpine US ski team for next season and could spot four remarkable skiers: Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin, Ted Ligety and Bode Miller.
I then wondered if the US Ski Team had any strategy to somehow tap into these unique individuals' talent in order to build a formidable team. I'm afraid this is not the case and I'm probably right.

It seems to me that individuality trumps any team building and plan. Too bad!

Friday, May 15, 2015

The perversion of skiing...

I fell on this New York Times article that told the story of Laís Souza, a young ski aerialist from Brazil that was drafted while being just a top level, two-time Olympian gymnast. Even though she had never skied before, she was invited to become a member of the Brazillian Freestlyle team competing at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

After taking what must have been a crash course to become “sort of a skier”, she was getting ready for the Games in Park City, when her coach took her to a fairly steep, but not forbidding mogul slope, where she fell, sustained a neck injury and became a paraplegic. This is terrible, sad and this made me wonder: “Why?”.

The poor Souza got there simply because Brazil felt compelled to become a serious player in winter sports even though there is no skiable place in that country and did everything possible to reverse-engineer a skier out of a gymnast.

With her and some other similar team members, the country would be represented, the officials would walk in the stadium during the opening and closing ceremonies and they'd think that they had become bona fide “mountain people” while the IOC and the International Ski Federation must have blessed this idiotic move.

Right, the more participants, the merrier! A sad story indeed that shows the perverse evolution of skiing which becomes a spectacle instead of real sport practiced by people who grow into it and most importantly, we are passionate about it! This is just one reason why I think aerials may be okay for the traveling circus, but have no place in the world of skiing and should be eliminated.

This said, I am very lone voice...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Military conscription...

Fifty years ago, I was called, along with my male peers, by the French government to submit to a medical examination that would select most of us to serve in the military for a sixteen-month period. This rite of passage was a good reason to party for half a week with about 30 boys and girls of my town and my age. Fun, distant memories of a bygone era...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

When the goal is well worth the pain...

A new garden means new plantings and for me, as many native plants as possible.

The area were our home stands in Park City was just covered with sagebrush and prickly pear cacti (Opuntia) before housing appeared there in the early 1970s, so I always make a point to transplant these beautiful cacti that will bloom by the end of June once they're established.
This said, picking them from where they live and resettling them into a perfect spot in my garden takes a lot of suffering because – even through my thick work gloves – their hairlike, ultra-thin prickles called glochids, easily penetrate the leather before migrating all over my hand and fingers as they detach from the plant.

Since they're so thin, they're invisible to the naked eye and the best tweezers in the world can't do much to remove them, but again as we say: “No pain, no gain!”

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Who's the GOOD God?

Frankly, I'm getting tired of watching or hearing the news about Shites, Sunnis, Jews and Christians – just to name a few - fighting each other for the sake of making sure their religion is better than the other.

I guess their Gods must be drastically different to warrant so much trouble, destruction and bloodshed. If their God were the exactly the same (as most people assume it is) this would never happen, or if it did, this common deity would be totally demented.
If, as I suspect it, these gods are all different, these jealous and schizophrenic gods are just the invention of men who use them as weapons of choice to advance their sick agenda.

If you still believe in some god, make sure yours is the right one before you waste your time and energy worshiping her!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Is Snowbird changing course?

Granted, we had little snow this winter, but with still enough snow to stay open a few more weekends, Snowbird finally called it quit yesterday. Is that early closing date related to the new ownership of the resort?
Mr. Ian Cumming who is now the boss is known more as a “numbers guy” than a passionate skier and probably didn't approve of any kind of protracted ski season that mostly benefit the season pass holders.

If his track record through Powdr Corp in Park City is any indication, the bean counting is going to tighten up at the 'Bird, the tip of its wings might be clipped a bit and some of the fun factor could eventually be squeezed out of the experience...

Sunday, May 10, 2015

From trans-gender to trans-creature?

Thanks to Bruce Jenner's copious testimonies and interviews, I've learned a lot about becoming a transgender and adopting the sex that make the most sense to anyone.

While I still can't fully understand the entire process and have absolutely no desire to change my sex at this stage of my life, I'm just wondering, what's next, and after thinking about it for two minutes, I realized that becoming a “trans-creature” might very well have a realistic place in our near future.

Let me explain; we could begin with being “trans-mammal”, but honestly, who wants to become a cow or a simple chimp? I'd rather be something else, so the change might have to be a tiny bit more drastic; suppose that deep-inside I longed to fly just like a bird and own a residence on some tree branch or into some cavity up a forbidding cliff, I might want to move away from my human status to that of say, a peregrine falcon.
I don't know if I would need to check my human brain on the tarmac and settle for a much smaller, bird-sized set. In this instance, I probably would need to give up my Facebook account, not a big price to pay.

But, come to think of it, managing my Facebook page shouldn't require more than the brain power of a finch... I just hope that my next of kin would be accepting of my urge of changing specie and that it's not against any law on the book in Utah or in the United States. If it is, no big deal, I'm ready to fight for it!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Elon Musk's bridge strategy

Recently the founder of Tesla unveiled its Powerwall energy system which sounds so simple that you and I might think: “Why didn't I think about this!”

The product will be built in a $5 billion, 50GWh factory in Nevada, which isn't even fully completed yet, but that didn't prevent our prolific investor to begin taking reservations for it.

Just a few days following the announcement, Musk said that his company already received 38,000 reservations for the home system that will start shipping this summer and 2,500 reservations for the much bigger, commercial-scale battery systems.

Wow, that's close to a billion dollar in prepayment! This means that the Powerwall storage system is sold out until mid-2016. What a way to think of a great idea, present it to the the public, get everyone excited, take reservations, and then worry about building with the hefty advance fee!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Bear frenzy

Nothing ever gruesome happens in idyllic Park City and when a bear has been on the loose for the past four days, it immediately becomes the main headline on the local radio and newspaper.

Two days ago, a helicopter was flying low trying to spot the savage beast and our police force was fully mobilized to trap and book the visitor into our county jail.
Schools were in lock down alert and we were... amused! Everywhere in Colorado and all around Lake Tahoe, bears sightings are a daily occurrence and life goes on, bear or no bear. Here, in Park City, it was as if ISIS had attacked us.

As of tonight, the bear is still on the loose. Just be a little bit patient, sort of understanding and bear with us!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The undertaker wants my business!

In recent months, I have received a lot of direct-mail from hearing aids merchants, but yesterday, signs of my decrepitude went one step farther as I received another solicitation that got my full attention.

It was from a nearby funeral home asking me to fill out a survey about my preferences about dying, my funeral budget, plus answering a bunch of questions to die for.

Of course if I filled the survey and gave all of my personal information to the undertaker, they'd send me in return a booklet called “Final Wishes Organizer” absolutely free.

I took a long, somber look at that piece of junk mail, thought for two brief seconds and muttered “Go to hell” as I crumpled it and threw it in my waste basket!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Bill Clinton's bills...

Early this week, former president Bill Clinton said he had no plans to stop giving paid speeches if Hillary becomes president. “I gotta pay our bills,” he said to defend his main source of income.

He had the nerves to state this when the the Government Services Administration (GSA), in charge of supporting federal disbursements, had spent around one million dollars for the former president in 2014 alone. This included Clinton's $201,000 pension for 2014, four times the median American family income.
From 2001 through 2014, the Clintons have received more than $15 million in federal money. This said, Clinton’s pension is a tiny portion of the former president's cost to taxpayers. In 2015 the GSA has budgeted $450,000 to pay for Clinton’s office space, the highest total of the four living presidents!

I won't even mention the $100 million Clinton has racked up so far in speaking engagements, nor the $8 and $14 million Hillary received for her two memoirs, but suffice for me to say, that Bill has no reason to worry about paying his bills. Instead, he should shut up and lay low for as long as he lives...

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What's a great general contractor?

General perception or reputation have often nothing to do with reality. We once had one of these “famous” general contractor (GC) build a house for us and his work was rather disappointing. 
He had built many houses for folks with deep pockets, had a huge margin of maneuver and, of course, his work might have looked impressive on the surface, but the man missed all the great qualities that generally are the hallmark of a great manager, like being a people person or listening attentively to name some of the most important ones.

Recently, an acquaintance suggested that our next door neighbor was “the best GC” in town, when in fact the man is anti-social, blinded by his enormous ego and appears to have a few screws lose. Hard to believe this kind of assertion.

A great GC should be someone who is not well grounded, can creatively solve problems that could otherwise be onerous to the owner, can lead his subs into greatness and can perfectly execute budget-sensitive projects when money and time are tight; none of the visible and popular nonsense!

Monday, May 4, 2015

The huge restaurant check

Last night I dreamed that for some strange reasons, the former Look employees and various work associates had randomly met at some restaurant. The atmosphere was fun, festive, nothing like the day-to-day Look business used to be, and everything was quite pleasant.

When we had our fill and were all ready to leave, I finally asked for the check. I feared to see the bill and for some reason, it didn't occur to me that it should have been split between all the diners, but when I opened the folder, I saw that it amounted to almost three thousand dollars. Fortunately, it included a 18% tip, so that made it a bit more palatable.

Then to my great relief and understandable disbelief, Gary Petrich, who sat right to my left at the table, said: “Don't worry, I'll do it!” and grabbed the folder off my hand. I replied: “Thanks, Gary, but you didn't have to!”

Sunday, May 3, 2015

First mountain bike ride of the year

There's a time for everything and my first day out on mountain bike couldn't have been better. For the most part it was easy and fun and I had little problem handling the hills. It's almost as if I just picked up where I left off just six month ago, just to the day.

For the not so thrilling part of the outing, there was that hard piece of sagebrush, on a newly cut and nice section of the trail, that hit my hand and the handlebar of my bike on the way down, spinning me around and sending me flying over – luckily – a big sagebrush.

I only ended up with some scratches all over and a painful bruise on my left femur. I took a few moments to gather myself and slowly and humbly rode home.

Need to pay much more attention, man!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The US Ski Team Credo

Recently, Ski Team Men’s Alpine Head Coach Sasha Rearick, gave a presentation at Snowbird during the annual PSIA-AASI Academy. Rearick, who was taught skiing by my friend Leon Empereur before being trained as a ski instructor in France, said that currently, all of his coaches are using simpler, more focused instruction with their racers based on the fundamentals that can improve their performance.

Here are some highlights from his presentation:

“Skiing is simple. We are the ones who make it complicated,” he said [I agree]. He then boils down the three most important elements to ski racing: If you are making turns too round, you are going slower. Going straight can also present some problems. But, really, you want to take the straighter line. You want to be carving instead of sliding. You want to pressure your skis in the fall line [that one is interesting and true!]

Rearick said there are five basic elements to GS:
  • Good lateral balance. 
  • Independent foot action for active weight transfer. 
  • Much more movement forward to carve all the way from tip to tail. 
  • Skiing around the gates (i.e., making clean turns around them instead of skiing through them). 
  • With today's stiffer GS skis, having the physical stamina to race on them [not for me!] 

He also said there are six basic elements to slalom [nothing new there]:
  • An athletic balance and stance so a skier can move in any direction at any time. 
  • Skiing outside ski to outside ski. 
  • A stable upper body. 
  •  The skis have to maintain contact with the snow. 
  • Early ankle and lower leg engagement, to allow pressuring skis in the fall line. 
  • A good pole plant for recovery, rhythm, and timing 

Now that you know what you must do to win ski races, get off your ass and start training!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Iran's nuclear capabilities

In viewing an interview of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif by Charlie Rose, just a few days ago, I was struck by Charlie Rose's aggressive defensiveness and unease, in front of a smart and eloquent guest like Mr. Zarif.
At the same time, we were reminded by Javad Zarif that the big elephant in the room remains Israel's illegal nuclear arsenal (at least 200 war-head strong) that stands in violation of the non-proliferation treaty and that most people don't even know about.

Trying to make a deal with Iran under these circumstances seems to me to be a waste of time and energy, as long as Israel doesn't come clean on their status as nuclear nation. The solution, as I have suggested before, would be to denuclearize the entire middle-east, but don't count on that any time soon!