randomduck

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Category: skiing (Page 2 of 7)

feeling deflated

Eight days ago I did something that doesn’t happen all too often: I injured myself while skiing.

The morning leading up to the injury was lovely: skiing with friends at Berkshire East ski area, on a bluebird day where the snow was nice and firm at first, and had just hit a bit of a “spring corn” consistency by 11:15am.

And that’s when I went down. I was on a flat traverse back to the base lodge, skiing with my pal, Liam. I turned a bit to the left to see where he was, and my right ski turned sharply and caught the outside edge. It acted like the fulcrum of a lever, and when the edge caught in the softening snow, I went down quickly and hard.

THUD!

I kept twisting through the fall, rolling out the landing on my butt, back and head (thank goodness I wear a helmet every time I ski). My right leg released from the ski binding, but my left leg went up with my momentum in a bit of a cartwheel motion, ski still firmly attached. That momentum was enough to damage the adductor muscles and tendons in my right leg (yup – it’s a groin injury, like you read about with basketball and hockey players).

It didn’t feel like much at first, so I went up for another run. But partway down that run, pain set in, and I couldn’t bear substantial weight on my right leg. It hurt “like a sumbitch,” as they say out west. So I called it a day. Steve, my friend who instructs at Berkshire East, had lunch with me, then helped me get my gear into the car.

The drive back to sprite’s folks’ place in Connecticut wasn’t bad – linear motions of the leg didn’t hurt at all – but the next few days were spent with a lot of ice, handfuls of ibuprofen, and a lot of rest. The drive back to DC was OK, even if getting into and out of the car was tough.

Now it’s been a little over a week, and I’m stir crazy. You see, the healing process for an adductor injury is slow. Rushing back into action often makes the injury chronic, so it’s best to wait out the pain and gradually get back up to speed.

And as much as I try to be patient with these things, I’m really not that kind of guy. It’s very tough. It makes me bitter, restless, and a bit of a grump. Sure, I can channel my anger into rebuilding my one bike, upgrading the other, or doing other things that need to be done.

But I really want to ride my bikes – after all, I have a big ride that requires training. I would love to ski, even if all the good powder is falling hundreds of miles from DC. I’d like to be able to walk more than a mile without having to ice my adductors afterward.

So bear with me while I vent. This, too, shall pass.

citius, altius, fortius (10 years ago)

Ten years ago, this month, I stood on a hill at 4:30 in the morning, wearing my skis and uniform, carrying a shovel over my shoulder, and pushed off down a slope lit only by moonlight and the occasional spark that shot off one of my friend’s ski edges.

Yup: I volunteered at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Utah.

My official position there was FIELD-OF-PLAY | SPORT | ALPINE SKIING | SNOWBASIN – quite a mouthful. What it meant is that I was part of the course crew at the Alpine Skiing speed venue at Snowbasin, Utah, about an hour north-northeast of Salt Lake City (my hometown). My job was to help keep a section of the women’s downhill, super-G and combined slalom course as fair as can be from racer to racer. It involved buffing snow, setting up and maintaining safety fencing, and making sure that my colleagues were all on the same page, and that we, in turn, were on the same page as the chief-of-race.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And there were hundreds of us on the mountain for these events.

It meant getting up at 2:30 in the morning on event days (3:30 on training days), meeting my carpool to drive up to a remote parking lot around 10 miles from Snowbasin, hopping on a bus (often a loaner WMATA MetroBus) still bleary eyed, getting off at the resort, going through “mag-and-bag” supervised by the National Guard, meeting my crew chief and fellow crew members in the base lodge, putting on my ski boots, grabbing my skis from overnight storage, hopping on the lift at 4:20am (5:20 on training days), getting to the summit, grabbing a shovel or rake (or sometimes 2 or 3), and skiing in the dark to my section of course.

As my course section was smack dab in the middle of the mountain, my crew didn’t have the luxury of skiing under the floodlights that covered the venue. We skied “by feel” down to our section and immediately got to work on the day’s task. We moved fences. We shoveled snow. We boot-packed loose snow, then raked and shoveled it into a smooth consistency. We talked with coaches and officials from all over the world (I had a “side business” of trading official start lists with coaches, in exchange for unique and rare pins). We would occasionally get to talk with athletes (including Picabo Street, an old mate from junior racing days).

And we had a TON of fun.

We did this for two weeks straight, as our events vied for time with the figure skating, hockey, bobsled, luge, curling, nordic skiing, jumping, biathlon and other events. Our work day was usually wrapped up by 3pm, so the volunteers could take advantage of what the Olympics had to offer from an entertainment standpoint.

And there was a lot to do during this “downtime!”

Downtown Salt Lake City was transformed into a 24-7 party. Concerts were held in conjunction with the medal ceremonies. Each Olympic committee from each participating nation had its own “house” with food, drink and festivities. The locals were almost all in good spirits (even those who fought, tooth and nail, to prevent the Games from coming to SLC), and the out-of-towners each brought their own enthusiasm to the mix.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been looking at my box of memorabilia from the Games. I still have the uniform, even if it’s a bit too big these days (I discovered long-distance road cycling in the intervening years). I have a large pin collection, populated not only with team pins but also pins that refer to Utah’s quirks, as well as ones that were only issued to the volunteers. I still have the commemorative watch, though I need to get its band repaired. I have a stack of newspapers from the Games and the previous year’s World Cup, where I also volunteered. I have a couple of “spectator kits” from the opening and closing ceremonies (neither of which I attended, though I was at the dress rehearsal for the opening ceremony). There’s a pile of ticket stubs from various events and concerts I attended. And I have a lovely bronze medallion, minted by the same jeweler who made the athletes’ medals – it’s lovely.

You can see pictures snapped by my fellow volunteer, John Risley, here (I’ll also be posting pictures of other memorabilia in this set – keep checking for that). And just to show that I still have (and occasionally wear) the uniform, click here.

of parents and mentors

As I sit on a flight back to DC, my mind reflects on the past week spent in Utah. The trip featured two dominating factors: visiting my mom and reuniting with former ski teammates to honor our common friend and mentor.

First things first: sprite was a trooper through the entire journey. She didn’t have the best time, and had to endure a lot of boredom and frustration due to myriad reasons. I owe her a ton for this trip.

Visiting with mom for the first few days was trying. Our trip originally had us getting into Salt Lake City the night before surgery to repair damage from an injury sustained the previous winter. We planned to help her around the house for a few days as she recuperated.

However, at the eleventh hour she cancelled the surgery due to a lingering lung ailment, which caught sprite and me off guard. We had planned to do some much-needed cleaning of her house, to try and get her a leg up on typical spring chores – a task far easier to do without parental micro-management. So both sprite and I were a bit purturbed about the change of plans.

That said, we did get some housework done. Her bedroom got a bit of tidying. The front hall and kitchen received a bit of cleaning and sorting. I planted a cherry tree in the yard and we had her car washed from stem to stern. We also set up her new, flat screen TV, which is a big improvement over her old CRT unit.

And through all of this, she was amazingly cooperative compared to the usual routine. It was still draining on both of us (all of the dust was trying on our allergies, which is a workout on top of the housework). But she’s my mom, and I’m her only child – it’s just one of the truths of life, and truth isn’t always pretty.

The latter half of the trip had me at “OlleFest,” a retirement party for my former ski coach and mentor, Olle Larsson. After 28 years at Rowmark Ski Academy and many more years coaching for national and college ski teams, he has decided to hang up the coaching hat. And this retirement party brought out many former pupils, fellow coaches, family and friends to honor his years of service.

Olle was a wonderful coach who taught me a lot about not only skiing, but life and overcoming its challenges. His outlook on life is summed up in two key things: his telltale and infectious laugh, and his personal belief that every day is a gift. And by the huge turnout at OlleFest, it’s easy to tell that his footprints are woven into the lives of many people.

Since my relationship with Olle was forged through skiing, it was fitting that the best part of the reunion was skiing and hanging out with many fellow Rowmark alumni, both racers and coaches. On Saturday, we raced against each other in dual-slalom courses, followed by free skiing with Olle. And as a final act of coaching, he led his “old fart rust corps” of alumni through drills.

Yup, drills. You know, the basic lessons on the fundamentals of a sport. All Rowmarkers know the old drills: javelins, cardboard turns and the like. But with the new, shorter, more shapely skis, all of the old drills have been retired as the essential skills have evolved.

So a group of thirtysomething and fortysomething Rowmarkers, including former World Cup and Olympic skiers, did basic “ski racing 101” exercises on a bluebird day at Park City Mountain Resort.

And it was hilarious: all of us are still great skiers, but the new tricks didn’t come easily to many of the old dogs. And Olle, ever the critical analyst of technique, doled out his advice to one and all until we all got it right.

(And I was totally pleased to find out that my own analysis and adaptation to modern racing and ski technique was spot-on – as I said to Olle, the master taught his pupil very well.)

The evening’s banquet was great for catching up with still more friends, and while it was a bit long at times, it also brought back a flood of memories. Especially fun was a slideshow retrospective of Olle’s life and the racers whose lives he touhed. Seeing me as a teenager, acting all cool, looking every bit the young pup I was, made me feel both old and young at the same time. And sprite got to see slices of my life as viewed through Olle’s ever-present camera lens (did I mention that he’s one of the best sports photographers in the world?).

Sunday’s free skiing a Park City was a bit more free-spirited and casual. I skied with fellow alumni and we shared stories of youthful indiscretion and adventure between runs skied with reckless abandon. There were a lot of shared laughs, a lot of Olle stories and an excess of positive memories. New friendships were forged and old ones refreshed.

But the best part was realizing that Olle still is a mentor. He’s a Ph.D in the school of life, embracing every moment and inviting others to share the joy. And while he may not be coaching any longer, I can’t see him slowing down. Rather, I think hs simply changing course, trimmig his sails for the next challenge in his vast ocean. I can’t wait to see what comes next for him, as it’s bound to be interesting.

Both my mom and Olle helped forge who I am. Both provided challenges for me to face, both helped me up when I was down and celebrated when I was victorious. And this past week reminded me of how my own life shares the challenges and achievements they both brought to my life.

random olympics: how not to broadcast a showcase event

I need only look at last night’s abomination of a broadcast from the National Broadcasting Corporation to see some of the worst possible chop-shop, dumbed-down sports broadcasting ever put on TV. This four-and-a-half hour long exercise in broadcast futility can be broken down thusly:

The showcase event of alpine skiing, the men’s downhill, featured six racers out of 64 starters. These included:

  • Two of four starters from Team USA (including Bode Miller, the bronze medal winner).
  • Two of four starters from Team Switzerland (including Didier Defago, the gold medal winner).
  • One Norwegian (Aksel Lund Svindal, the silver medal winner).
  • One Canadian (Robbie Dixon, who crashed out of the race).

During this coverage there were four commercial breaks of 2:30 per break. The six racers accounted for a grand total of 11 minutes of racing time, plus about 4 minutes of interviews.

(Congratulations, by the way, to all three medalists, who raced to the most closely contested downhill in Winter Olympic history. And welcome back to the good side of media coverage, Mr. Miller.)

The next segment was a feature on polar bears who, as far as I know, are not competing in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. This was around 10 minutes, all told.

The following segment of speed skating had problems due to no fault of NBC, but that of broken Zambonis at the Richmond Oval.

There was about 12 minutes of coverage of snowboard cross, which featured one of the most compelling final rounds I’ve ever seen on a slope, be it skiing or snowboarding. This round was shoehorned in between rounds of…

Pairs figure skating! Yup, there was tons of figure skating on NBC last night. And that also meant way too much commentary from Dick Button, who sounds increasingly like Abe Simpson complaining about the applesauce in the Springfield Retirement Home. At least they have Scott Hamilton doing the play-by-play (he at least understands the athletic aspects of modern figure skating).

And the quality of skating, save for the top two pairs, was woeful. I mean, it was awful: crashes, slow-pace, spinning to a stop, the works. If these were truly the best the world had to offer, it’s a sad statement about modern figure skating. Seriously, it looked like Jamie Salé and David Pelltier were ready to bust out of the broadcast booth, strap on their skates and show these clowns how to actually skate with feeling and ability.

Back to my point: NBC dedicated more than half of the night’s broadcast to figure skating, showing many of the pairs in a sport that is so made-for-TV silly as to be painful. Granted, I enjoyed watching the two Chinese pairs who finished 1-2, as they looked like they actually were skating to win. So that was, what, almost 9 minutes of compelling coverage?

Otherwise, there were interview pieces (about 20-25 minutes of ’em), the worst of which featured Chris “I Can Only Really Broadcast NFL Football” Collinsworth interviewing Lindsey Jacobellis, the U.S. snowboarder whose hubris in 2006 was legendary. And Collinsworth asked her the same questions she’s been asked over the past four years, getting the same answers as every other interviewer. Why did NBC fly this clown to Vancouver?

Oh, and there was over one hour of commercial time during the 4.5 hour broadcast time. I guess that NBC Universal wants to recoup as much of the financial loss as possible.

NBC, you remain pathetic.

random olympics: nbc’s dumbed down games racket

For years, I’ve been critical of TV coverage of the Olympic Games by the United States media.

They think that the average American is stupid.

No, seriously – they do. Thee assume that, as a whole, we know nothing about sports other than baseball, football, basketball, NASCAR and hockey. They think that we’re only interested in Team USA and its athletes, or barring that, the athletes who “overcame every obstacle to get to the games.”

What’s lost in all of this? Showing the beauty of the competition as it unfolds, on its own, with the venue and the athletes as the stars.

That brings me to the National Broadcasting Company – a.k.a. NBC. They have exclusive U.S. broadcast rights for the Olympics Games, both summer and winter, through 2018. This means that any and every bit of live or same-day-delayed footage of the Games, be it TV or internet, must be distributed by them.

As such, it sucks – big time. Let’s break this down:

NBC has five networks at their disposal for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games: NBC, Universal Sports, CNBC, MSNBC and USA Network. They also have the online presence of NBCOlympics.com.

There are a large number of events at the 2010 Games, many of which run simultaneously throughout the day, so it would seem that NBC, with their large investment in the games, would flex their collective broadcast muscle to show as many events as possible in as complete and immersive a way as possible.

But they don’t – and they won’t.

Here’s how they don’t:

Say, for instance, you are like me and get all of your TV from over-the-air broadcasting (i.e. no cable, no dish). There are two NBC networks available for Olympic broadcasting: NBC and Universal Sports. And how are they using these networks?

NBC is showing sliced-and-diced coverage: coverage where events are shown in a non-contiguous manner, with rapid-fire switching between events and frequent interruptions of coverage with so-called “human interest” stories about Canada, culture, athletes with “inspiring stories,” et al. The only events with more-or-less contiguous coverage are daytime events that have lower viewership, hockey and figure skating. If you are a fan of alpine skiing (like me), bobsled, luge, ski jumping or long-track speed skating, the coverage is “custom fit” to showcase Team USA and “select favorites for the events.”

Ugh.

And it gets worse when you count in Universal Sports, a usually wonderful network that is now saddled with “talking head” shows, where commentators blather on at length about sports and athletes without showing a shred of actual competition. During prime time, Universal Sports shows reruns of pre-Olympic competition that has zero bearing on the day’s competition in Vancouver and Whistler.

In a word: pathetic.

When you add in the cable networks, it gets even more warped. The combined power of CNBC, MSNBC and USA Network are showing hours upon hours of hockey (in all fairness, they’re showing both the men and the women) and some curling (ooh – curling, the most non-athletic event at the Winter Olympic Games!). Furthermore, they seldom show Games coverage is NBC if showing something on their flagship network, and haven’t yet scheduled anything in prime time to challenge the mother ship.

And just when you thought that was absurd enough, there’s the internet factor. NBCOlympics.com is the go-to place for internet coverage of the Games in the United States. They seem to offer a gold mine of great content, including live streams of skiing, speed skating, hockey, curling, ski jumping, luge, bobsled – the works! They even offer full event recap footage, with all of the competitors shown – hot dog!

But….

If you try to access this content and are not a subscriber to a cable or satellite TV service, you are shit outta luck – “no content for you!” screams the National Broadcast Company. Sure, there’s some online video content available, but it’s all the “fluff piece” human interest interstitial bits, a montage of “hugs and tears” from the previous night’s figure skating competition, a bit on the science of the slap shot, and other things that have nothing to do with the day’s events.

If this is a direct result of the impending merger of NBC Universal and Comcast, consider me angry. Furthermore, this preferential content system is a slap in the face of net neutrality, a cause I believe in most strongly. If NBC’s argument is that people using non-cable internet providers “aren’t paying for content,” then riddle me this: I’m paying for my DSL connection, therefore I’m paying for access to content. Where’s the difference between that and cable TV?

Furthermore, if I had cable-provided internet and TV, why would I be watching events online if they were also available on TV broadcast?

I understand that NBC is a business and has a lot of money invested in broadcasting the Olympics. In fact, it’s estimated that they overpaid for the broadcast rights to the 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016 Games to the tune of over $200 million.

I also understand that their two over-the-air networks are governed by the FCC and must provide a public service. And I see their mauling of the content on NBC, combined with the complete waste of their Universal Sports network with pointless talk shows, to be a misuse of their FCC license.

So why can’t NBC simply ignore the focus groups that state that their target audience for Olympic coverage is women, age 25-64, who want to see “pretty things” on their TV? Why can’t they assume that the average viewer will understand a new sport if given the opportunity to watch it, warts and all, seeing a lot of the field and learning to spot good moves from bad? Why can’t they flex the muscle of their five TV networks and spread out the coverage, offering simultaneous and full coverage of as many events as possible?

That was the promise of NBC when they first took over broadcasting of the Olympics with the 1992 Summer Olympic Games and the “Triplecast,” a pay-per-view set of three cable channels that showed simultaneous event coverage. And in the 1980s, the previous tenders of the Olympic flame on TV – ABC and CBS – showed more coverage of more events, without breaking to-and-fro between events, teaching people about the sports as the broadcast went along.

That’s how I became hooked on alpine ski racing: watching the 1984 Winter Olympic Games from Sarajevo, where brash Bill Johnson showed up ski racing’s Austrian royalty to win the downhill, and the Mahre twins raced to gold and silver in their final international competition. It was compelling without resorting to “sob story” tactics, while showing all of the top racers and not just the cherry-picked Americans. It made me say “I want to do that!”

And I can’t see this current means of presentation of one of the most compelling competitions around being as compelling to tomorrow’s athletes. Once NBC took the reins, the slice-and-dice methods of Dick Ebersol took over, and the quality of the broadcast went down as a result.

What NBC fails to realize is that great competition is compelling in and of itself. Remember Picabo Street? She was charismatic and compelling on her own, without the help of an “After School Special” biography before each of her races. Same thing with Alberto Tomba, the macho Italian whose rise to fame in the 1988 Winter Games was unprecedented. And how about the “Battle of the Brians” – Orser and Boitano – from the same year? The sport drove the narrative, not the other way around.

So please, NBC: respect the viewer and serve us a multi-station buffet of Olympic choices, rather than spoon-feed us carefully repackaged tripe. You still have almost two weeks to make things better, and there are four years until Sochii (and two until London) for you to make amends. Please do.

Otherwise, you’re all but dead to me.

monday musings: cycling goals and stuff i want to do

I figure that today’s musings (actually on a Monday, no less) will be forward looking. I want to share some cycling goals for 2009, as well as some longer-term aspirations. A lot of the latter was brought on by Sarah and her impending adventures in Jordan (color me jealous).

The big cycling goals for 2009 are:

  • Beat my 2008 time at Mountains of Misery (pardon the rather unfortunate picture there – it seems that the organizers really like to feature pictures of this rider and her suffering expression). Last year’s total time was 6:36:26 – and I know I can do better than that.
  • Finish the Harpoon Brewery-to-Brewery Ride with energy left in the tank.
  • Enter a few races – preferably not crits, as I’m not a fan of demolition derby on a bike.
  • Beat my previous best at Mountain Mama (6:03:21) – quite doable.

Before I do any of that, I need to get my bike tuned up. While I know that Campagnolo Egropower shifters can be rebuilt – and I’m sure that I can do it – I’m a bit sheepish, and may end up having my LBS do the honors. I know that I need to replace my chain and derailleur hanger, both of which are jobs within my skillset. And I need to track down a new bottom bracket, in all likelihood (it’s probably best that I bite the bullet and go with the ceramic model, which is much more durable – the basic cartridge unit wears down quickly).

Now, on to the “stuff I want to do” part….

I love traveling.

I love flying and airports (which seems weird, but I’ve been a fan of both since I was a wee tot). I love the thrill of seeing new places and the wonder of things that are different. These things can be nearby or far away – though I prefer the latter.

So here’s a quick list of places I want to see and things I want to do in the not-too-distant future:

  • Ski the Haute Route.
  • Ride my bike in the Alps, Dolomites and Pyrenées – possibly in l’Etape du Tour, La Marmotte or the Grand Fondo Marco Pantani, though I’d happily ride a self-designed tour through any of these areas.
  • Visit my mom’s homeland along the Black Sea.
  • Go skiing in South America or New Zealand.
  • Hike and/or ski in the Canadian Rockies
  • Visit some National Parks in the west (e.g. Zion, Yosemite, Crater Lake).
  • Visit Norway and Sweden.
  • Hike from hut to hut in the Alps in the summertime.
  • Get together a group of friends for a trip somewhere.

It’s a bit of an unruly list, I know. And if you know the way I travel, I’m not one who sits still for long. I’m not like Rick Steves, who lays out tour itineraries that spend very little time in any one place, but I’m not one who simply sits back for more than an hour or two while on holiday. This can be problematic to folks who travel with me (e.g. I kinda, sorta missed out on the café culture in France, as I wanted to be on the move – a mistake I won’t repeat when next I’m there!), and I need to remind myself to slow down and soak things in.

But I love to travel.

I love to be on the move.

I love adventure.

And I know that the next year or two will be fairly barren in terms of new sights and destinations. It’s a bit frustrating to me, as I really like seeing new things and doing something that isn’t the same ‘ol, same ‘ol. But there are quite a few factors that force me to play my hand a bit more conservatively, and I’m going to roll with those punches. 2009 will be a much lighter travel year, for sure; I hope that 2010 has a bit more in store, but it’s too early to tell.

I can keep dreaming, though, and that’s not a bad thing, at all.

a short post

Just want to assure folks that I’m still around.

What’s been going on? Let’s see…

I’ve been riding the bike, and my mileage for Jan-Feb 2009 is almost the same as the same period in 2008, though I’m at odds to explain why, because I don’t feel like I’ve been on the bike as much. However, I have, which is good, because I’m starting to feel like I want to ride it again. All of the riding last year caused a wee bit of burnout, and the break from the bike – or even the perception thereof – seems to have done the trick.

That said, I’m still wishing I had the resources to get in more skiing this winter. I’ve loved the outings I’ve taken this season, including a day trip to Mount Snow, VT, last weekend. But further trips don’t look like they’re in the cards, as other considerations (including some pricey-yet-necessary dental work) have eaten away at the possibility of any more big trips. Oh well – winter will return, and the skis will remain sharp and at the ready.

We had an enjoyable Pi(e) Day here in The Burrow yesterday. sprite baked two pies (apple and pecan), and Michael brought two quiches for the savory end of things. All told, six of us had a grand time eating, talking, drinking and playing Trivial Pursuit. T’was good times – and even Jeremiah, the fraidy cat of the house, made an appearance before folks left.

Okay, I’m off to bed. I’ll try to post more often, even if it’s just a quick observation or quip – gotta keep the posts coming.

welcome to 2009 – let’s catch up

So now we’re two full days into 2009, and it’s been… well, another set of days.

Actually, it’s been a lot of fun – though I’ll need to backtrack to last year to really recap what’s been going on.

After arriving back from New England early Wednesday morning, sprite and I got a bit of sleep before heading out on our traditional New Year’s Eve pastime: movie watching. We saw three films (with a dinner break at Ella’s Word-Fired Pizza), including Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire and Bedtime Stories. I liked all three films, though sprite really disliked Slumdog (it exceeded her tolerance for graphic violence and tension, so she left part-way through the film – Sarah and I stayed for the duration and liked the film quite a bit). The pizza, as usual, was good.

And due to the crazy timing – the third film was really short – we were home before midnight, so we got to toast the arrival of the new year with Dick Clark on the toob.

On New Year’s Day, I went out and rode 24 miles as part of the annual “Circle of Cycles” down at Hains Point. The morning was clear but brisk, and the wind was its usual strong self on the northbound side of each lap. But I got in some good miles, saw some old cycling friends, and felt alive on the bike – I guess I’m finally over my slight burnout that affected my riding in the last few months of 2008.

After that, sprite and I went to a wonderful brunch hosted by friends on The Hill, and partook of traditional Southern luck food, enjoyed lovely drink and lively conversation. So far, so good.

And today was a final vacation day for me (sure, I’m off on Saturday and Sunday, but those days are always off), so I slept in. After going out to a late lunch with sprite (who had to work, and whose lunch I delayed a tad because I didn’t realize the time), I came home to prepare a pot of chili before watching the Sugar Bowl.

And all I can say is…. GO UTES! And they once again prove that the BCS is a crooked crock: 13-0, destroyed a strong EC opponent, yet never in consideration for #1 because they’re not part of the money racket that is the BCS consortium – there was no way that they would be selected for the BCS National Championship Game, barring serious calamity. If they’re not #2 in the final rankings, it’s a sure sign that the system is rigged to favor those who pay into the scheme.

So where were we? Oh year – 2009. Should be a fun, busy year. I’m looking forward to skiing this winter (been skiing 5 days already this season, all in Vermont, all in less-than-ideal conditions), and will certainly make my way out west to Utah and Colorado. And I hope to meet up with more friends, old and new, on the slopes, because the social aspect of skiing is a real draw. And I might race a bit, too – the clarion call is there, once again.

I’ll ride the bike and race it some more in 2009, but I’ll also make sure to allow myself more time with sprite and our friends – better time management. I rode 5,300 miles and change in 2008, and aim to do the same or more in 2009.

I also plan on writing more often here on this blog. I’ve been distracted by other online social centers over the past year – Twitter, Facebook and sport-centered forums – but my real focus is this website, where I’ve been writing for years. Sure, I’ll still be writing tweets more often (easier to do on an iPhone), but they’ll be part of this site (once I get the silly plugin working properly again – it’s still mired in the past, it seems).

So welcome to 2009, everybody. Tighten your belt, exhale, and hold on – it’s going to be quite a ride.

aftermath of a thanks…. giving

The weekend came and went, and it was welcome.

Sure, we had to deal with traffic, but with provisions like these available along our northbound route, we were good to go. Fortunately, we have driven this northbound route from DC to Connecticut enough times to know where to abandon I-95 for alternate routes that are a bit less tedious.

And we made decent time, though we arrived in CT late enough that there were doubts that we’d wake up in time to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But were managed to regain enough coherence to get up and see the parade (including a rare live vocal performance [thank you, James Taylor, for not lip-syncing your part] and the fabulous Rick-rolling by the float for “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends”) and enjoy coffee, tea and breakfast pastries.

The rest of Thanksgiving Day was enjoyable as well, and the various dishes all cooked up perfectly for our evening feast. Later in the evening we sat in front of the fire and watched Mrs. Santa Claus.

The next morning I made an early departure for Vermont, where two days of skiing awaited. The first day was at Stratton Mountain, and while the weather was somewhat blustery, the skiing was wonderful – especially for so early in the season. The snowmaking crew did a fantastic job covering the available terrain with a soft and thick layer of snow, and the crowds didn’t materialize until after 9:45 or so – and I’d been on the slopes since 8:15, so I got to let the speed legs loose for a while in the morning on smooth slopes. Even after the “Black Friday” shoppers arrived from points elsewhere, the crowds and liftlines never became too unruly, which makes me tip my hat to the Stratton management for opening up enough trails to spread out the crowds.

After a bit of shopping along the way (including a sighting of a ski boot mountain), I stopped for the night in West Dover, at the lovely Red Oak Inn. It’s a quiet, family-run place that, while a little worn around the edges, is very friendly and comfortable. I soaked my legs for a spell in the hot tub, then enjoyed dinner and a movie (Quantum Of Solace, which I liked quite a bit).

The next day, I skied at Mount Snow, only a couple of miles up the road from my lodging. Last year, I also skied at Snow over Thanksgiving weekend, and was impressed by their new management’s commitment to top-notch snowmaking. This year the snow gods have been a little more kind, and more terrain was open. That said, they didn’t quite have quite the variety that Stratton had open, which meant that crowding was a bit more of an issue. No matter, though, because the skiing was still most wonderful. I especially enjoy their new re-purposing of the Carinthia section of the mountain, where they’re now concentrating all of their terrain parks and half-pipes. The logic behind this is to try and reduce dangerous interactions between freestyle skiers and snowboarders and those who aren’t into the tricks (and are sometimes scared by the seemingly unpredictable nature of the tricksters). We’ll see how it works out, but it looks like a fabulous idea – there were certainly quite a few skiers and boarders taking advantage of the available jumps and rails.

I called it an early day, as the crowds eventually became a bit too much for comfort, and stopped by two abandoned ski areas to take pictures: Haystack Mountain (pictures here and here) and Hogback (pictures here and here). I love seeing these old areas, as sad as it is to see them fall into disuse and disrepair. They’re a bit of skiing history that allows a glimpse at how things used to be.

One thing that was a tiny letdown was that I didn’t find a new pair of ski pants while up north. At the very least, I found three brands that fit me well, so I now can try and find the pants I want at a decent price.

I didn’t let this minor disappointment affect my stop in Brattleboro (one of my favorite towns in the country) for some shopping, walking and coffee drinking. I’m really in love with this town, and it’s tough for me not to peruse the housing market while up there (not to worry – it’s all outside my price range, and I love my DC friends too much to leave just yet). But eventually I had to return to Connecticut and to the family, so I left Vermont just after sunset on Saturday.

The rest of the trip was relaxing: a lazy Saturday night and Sunday morning, followed by a late drive back to DC.

when in colorado, ski you must

Deep tuftsWhen I was in Colorado back in January, my friend Paul mentioned that he’d be having an end-of-season party to celebrate his first year of sobriety. He said I should come out and have some fun – not a tough sell, right? So I booked my tickets back to Colorado, and had a great time skiing there this past weekend.

After a bit of a delay getting into Denver (due to fog in New England that muddled the schedule of many westbound Southwest Airlines flights), I made it into the Rockies (where snow was falling in large bursts) and to Paul’s house in Eagle, which is west of Vail. We spent the evening catching up a bit, and then got some shut eye as the next morning…

…dawned powdery! Yes! We piled our stuff into my Jeep and made our way to Vail, where the powder was ample, and where our friends, Don and Betsy, were waiting to share in the bounty. Run after run, we aimed for the fresh snow: down wide boulevards, over moguls small and big, through trees and threading chutes. Paul showed us some fun routes that are off the official map, and all of us had ear-to-ear grins as we enjoyed mid-winter conditions (in April!) with powder that ranged from ankle to mid-thigh in depth.

We skied most of the mountain. On the front side, we cruised the rollers on Ledges and made zipper lines through the bumps on Zot. In the Back Bowls, we had fun cruising China Bowl and poaching a few turns in WFO. And in Blue Sky Basin we laughed in delight as we “sipped” the powder in Champagne Glades.

There wasn’t a dull run all day long – we even finished with a nice little aspen glade for our last run – and we all returned to our cars tired, but very pleased that we enjoyed such an ideal day.

Day two, Saturday, was the day of Paul’s big bash. His wife, Renée, had done a lot of shopping for the party, the fruits of her labors stuffed into the back of their VW EuroVan, which Paul and I carted to Arapahoe Basin early that morning. Renée and their son, Justin, followed in their Audi, as we arrived at A-Basin just after 8 a.m. to claim our spots on “The Beach,” the area of A-Basin’s parking lot that opens up onto the bottom of the ski hill. During the spring, “The Beach” is party central in the Rockies, with huge parties featuring grills, benches, umbrellas, bands – and even portable hot tubs!

But our party was to celebrate the one year anniversary of Paul’s sobriety – it’s been a helluva turnaround for him, his family and his friends, and all for the better. So while the surrounding camps devolved into various states of pickling, we concentrated on the food (burgers and brats), the friends (who were there from all over the place), and the skiing.

Looking down the basinAnd skiing at A-Basin is a really retro experience. It reminded me quite a bit of Alta, Utah: slower lifts, not as much grooming, and some incredible lines through rocky terrain. The only discernible differences are the presence of snowboarders (still verboten at Alta) and the high altitude. A-Basin tops out (lift-wise) at 12,500 feet, which makes for a lot of oxygen starvation if you overdo it.

I ended up having fun skiing with Don, Betsy, Spence, Tracy, Katy and other random friends of Paul. We had too much fun exploring the mountain, which was wind-whipped and cold for April 12th. The benefits of the wind were many, though: fewer crowds on the fun terrain, and re-deposited powder back in Montezuma Bowl. The only odd part of that equation was the somewhat mysterious entry into said bowl, as the snow obscured the lip of the cornice leading into the powder-laden trough. Somehow, though, we managed to find our way down.

On Sunday, Paul and I made our way back to Vail. And unlike our mid-winter experience on Friday, Sunday’s weather dawned sunny and warm, with temperatures making their way through the 40s to near 50 degrees (F) as the day progressed. What was light powder on Friday was corn and “mashed potatoes” by Sunday – a perfect spring skiing recipe!

We started our day with a couple laps on Vail’s front side groomers, where we sliced beautiful arcs into uncrowded corduroy. However, we had friends to meet – Bob, Pete, Greg and Mike – so we made our way to the summit of Chair 4. As we waited for our friends to arrive, we saw the beginnings of the costumed crazies that make closing day at Vail such a trip: Captain America was there to keep the peace, and a wayward woman in a prom dress traded money for photographs. It was quite the sight, and only got more insane as the day progressed.

But we were there to ski – and ski, we did! Once we met up with Pete and Bob (and Pete’s friend, Rick), we made our way back to Blue Sky Basin for a few laps of Steep & Deep and Heavy Metal. We even did a short out-of-bounds excursion that featured some steep and fun trees (still with nice, soft powder) and a slalom-like tree run back into the ski area (I had to practice my gate blocking skills to fend off the pine boughs).

Poppin' the pink champaleWe then met up with Greg and his son, Mike, who were also at the previous day’s party. With them, we skied a couple of laps on the Teacup lift. On the first ride up the lift, I scouted out a nice, tall cornice at the entrance to Genghis Khan, one of the lines in China Bowl. On the next run, I let Paul lead out to the lip of the cornice and asked him if the landing was clear. He nodded with a bit of confusion as I took a running start and lept off the cornice ledge into the bowl. I got some nice air, then stuck the landing into 5 big, sweeping super-G turns, hearing the whoops and hollers coming from the chairlift above (which happened to be stopped at the time – a captive audience). Paul met me a minute or so later, laughing and marveling that I did something so crazy. But it was such a rush!

We wound down the day as the temperatures soared and the snow became sticky. We met up again with Bob at the top of Chair 4 to see out the rest of the season, basking in the sun, watching the drunken revelers celebrate the end of a record-setting season in the Colorado high country. As the clock passed 4 p.m., the last skiers made their way up the mountain and Paul, Bob and I made our way down. The last run was sweet, and we took our time to lap it up. While it was not the end of Paul’s season, it was the end of mine, so I decided to save it for posterity:

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