What constitutes World Class?

I have probably had the same experience that many of you have when I have encountered what we call world class athletes or individuals. I categorize the experience in one of four ways. First- I am sure we have all met world class individuals whose reputation precedes them. For instance, I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting people like Arnold Palmer, Art Rooney Sr., Olympian Frank Shorter, childhood heroes like Roberto Clemente, Vernon Law, Bill Virdon, and other Pittsburgh Pirates of a bygone era. They were larger than life and when I met them, I was a bit in awe because of their reputations. golf_e_arnold_576
The second type of encounter is what I would call seeing the world class athlete in action. We have all seen pro football and baseball games and marvel at the athleticism of these individuals from the seats in stadiums. I have been fortunate enough to see Tiger Woods on the practice tee at PGA events. I have seen World Cup skiers like the Crazy Canucks at the Hahnenkahm downhill ski race in Austria.Erik Guay - Race - Atomic USA I have seen the women and men at the World Cups. I will never forget seeing Perine Pelen of the French National team take a slalom section unlike anything that I would have ever imagined. So fast and fluid. I had the pleasure of caddying for Ben Crenshaw at the US Open Qualifier at Shannopin Country Club when he was a student at the University of Texas. To see him hit a golf ball and tote his bag while witnessing intense focus on the golf course was enlightening. I was a marshall at the US Open when an extremely focused Johnny Miller won and set the course record at Oakmont.14d7c856-bf4a-4b95-ada5-4359dd6b415c I have witnessed Lance Armstrong ride up Sycamore Street in the Thrift Drug Classic here in Pittsburgh several years ago before his cancer. My brother in law who said to me,” I thought you quit riding bikes when you were 14″ marveled at the athleticism and conditioning of the world class cyclists at this event. It opened his eyes for sure seeing that he only thought athletes put on pads and hit people.
Ratchet up the experience one more notch and I have been fortunate enough to participate in an event or a venue where I have witnessed a world class athlete perform with me alongside. I had the pleasure of riding with Greg LeMond at charity cycling events.DSC00468 80 miles a day with the 3 time Tour de France champion. He was not in TDF shape at all and older, but you could still see the strength in his thighs on the flats and the speed at which he took turns on the road. I have skied behind Phil Mahre the ex World Cup ski race champion and Olympic gold medalist. It was amazing to me to see his really strong turns skiing right behind him. No skidding, just pure carved turns leaving trenches in the snow behind him. His strength was amazing. Riding the chairlift with him was enjoyable as he told tales of the World Cup and the U.S. Ski Team.hqdefault I have raced in club road cycling criterium races where people like Matt Eaton ( former US National Champion and Britain’s Milk Race champion) come flying by me on the inside giving me pointers and instructions as he led the pack. The club races often combined classes and it gave us normal racers a chance to ride with the good guys. It was amazing to witness the speed and technical ability in which they took the turns in the race with a tight pack of riders all around.
So what actually makes an athlete world class? Like “epic” and “extreme”, “world class”, is often overused but a truly world class athlete is an individual that has devoted his or her life to their sport. They are often singularly focused and have been willing to make personal sacrifices in order to achieve their goals. Oftentimes, their focus has caused them to be selfish or self serving but in order to achieve, sometimes you have to have that “take no prisoners” attitude in order to be successful. But in my mind, a truly world class athlete or individual is one who can encompass all the attributes of athleticism but has a perspective on the world around them which supports their efforts. Take Joan Benoit Samuelson- the 1984 Olympic Marathon Women’s gold medalist.maine-joan-benoit-samuelson I had the good fortune of meeting her at the Boston Marathon Nike Expo. She had been in the booth a long time and when I finally made it through the line to meet her, I told her that her former ski racing coach Jace Pasquale said hello. Joan stopped whatever she was doing and was truly interested in how Jace was doing. We chatted for what seemed an eternity only about Jace. Joan was not focused on her reputation or accomplishments, only what was going on in the life of her old ski coach. She was so pleasant and unassuming that I walked away thinking to myself,” what a nice, non- self centered person.”
There are a lot of world class athletes like Joan Benoit Samuelson who use their talents and reputations to serve others. Joan is involved in many charitable causes in New England. There are also those athletes who do not focus on life outside of their sport. The impressive thing to me is to meet or see in action those that do care and think about life outside their athletic box. We may not have the talent, time, or willingness to be a world class athlete. But in my mind, we can be a world class person by caring for someone in need, being a friend to someone who is down in the dumps, sharing our knowledge about our favorite sport or hobby with someone who is just starting out. To me, we can be world class by caring. That is a trait that is not limited to athletes but can be applied to all of us who have a world class attitude towards others with whom we come in contact. Be world class!! Thanks for reading.

The Earth Awakens

Still waiting for the trails to dry, but we are getting close in this neck of the woods. In the mean time, I am watching the world awaken from the seat of my road bike.IMG_0154 It is interesting when you go on solo rides through the country roads this time of year, that you can take the time to appreciate spring and how the word awakens to a new season. The sun splashed hillsides yield new floral growth similar to a newborn baby smiling when it is fed after a nap.IMG_0152 If you take it in, you can almost feel the frozen ground melting and draining and enjoying the benefit of longer days and warmer sunshine. The grass grows greener instantly, the air smells fragrant with the scent of blooming plants and blossoming trees. I have to say that for many years, I did not notice. I was always working hard to stay on the wheel of the guy in front of me in a pace line on a road bike. Like the saying goes,” if you aren’t the lead dog, the view is always the same.” I did not take in the signs and the scents of spring in my early days of road riding and road racing. Now I do and it is a very pleasant experience. IMG_0150
My fascination with spring growth was fostered, I suppose, by my dad. He loved flowers. When I was young, he grew marigolds, geraniums, alyssum, and other plants in the basement under artificial light. When he built his new house, he purchased and built a Lord and Burnham greenhouse and spent many a winter night meticulously planting seeds in his plant trays and carefully watering them with the appropriate nozzles and sprays. Miracle Grow was his “go to” plant food and the result was gardens full of thick, colorful growing flowers and planters and hanging baskets groaning under the weight of the thick lush flora.IMG_0124 Whenever I see flower beds or go to the spring flower show at Phipps Conservatory here in Pittsburgh( a National Historic Landmark- built by Lord and Burnham), I think of my dad. IMG_0126 When the plants came out of the greenhouse and were ready to be planted, my dad the engineer, devised a quick way to plant them. He had a drill with an over-sized auger and would drill the hole and yours truly would plant literally hundreds and hundreds of flowers in the beds every year. It was amazing how spring came to life at my dad’s house in Wexford and also our old house on Siebert Road.
My current road riding routine includes stops to enjoy the sights of the back roads of Sewickley, Pa. I will climb to Allegheny Country Club and sit on the bench and watch the golfers approach the holes on the back nine.IMG_0145 The lush green fairways, and the manicured greens remind me of my old caddie days and I take the time to drink it all in on sunny days. I pass horse farms and stop again to visit the horses grazing in the field. Sometimes they make their way over to the fence where I am standing wondering if I have an apple for them? Power Bars and Cliff Bars are not to their liking but maybe I might start bringing an apple or two for their enjoyment? Climbs up out of Sewickley back home are steep but I don’t ride them the way I used to, suffering to keep up with my group. I drop the gearing down and spin my way to the top without taxing myself too much. It is a much more enjoyable way to ride as the 60 year old kid. I enjoy the back roads and even though I can’t wait to get back in the woods on my mountain bike, I do enjoy the road with the sights and scents of spring- including the horse manure. :)
Forsythia is another blooming bush that is verdant in the spring. My mom used to bring in sprigs from our bush on snowy spring days and ” force” the blooms in a vase of water.IMG_0167 It was her way to welcome spring although Pennsylvania spring weather was not always cooperative. My dad never planted anything before Memorial Day but we were in high gear on those following weekends. It cut into my riding routine a little bit, but I enjoyed the time with my dad and always managed to get my rides in somehow.
As we age, we tend to appreciate things a little more. I am enjoying the spring and enjoying the growth and scents of an awakening earth. It is great to do it from the seat of a bicycle. You can enjoy life and “stop and smell the roses.” Thanks for reading and enjoy the spring. IMG_0134

Enjoy the Ride

It is mud season now. April showers bring May flowers but for mountain bikers, it is a time for us to wait until the trails are dry so we don’t trash them for the rest of the summer. I bring out my road bike and begin the long process of trying to get in shape after a winter of maintenance trail running, snowshoeing and skiing. I can always ride in the rain on the road bike because I am used to the drill. If you don’t ride in the rain in Pittsburgh, you don’t ride much in the spring. Trust me, as I get older, the process gets a little harder but I am dealing with it in a more mature way which I will discuss in a short. Suffice to say, I don’t blast out of the parking lot these days. I ease on down the road.
As I meander on the country roads north of my house, I think back to the painful rides at this time of the year when I raced a road bike. It was always a chore to try to get in shape so that you didn’t get dropped on a training ride or in a race. You had to scramble just to be able to ride with your friends. As I daydream on my current rides, I think back to when I used to meet Art Bonavoglia, Frank Habay, and George Sagan up on Saxonburg Boulevard waiting for a crew to come up out of Shadyside in Pittsburgh. I slowly dragged my sorry butt out of bed and made my way to the meeting point where George, Art, Frank and I waited for the freight train that was coming. Scott Dismukes, a former track cyclist- strong as hell, Bob Gottlieb- Cat 2 rider of local fame, Barb Katzenburg-national class road racer, and Mike Alex- PHD candidate in Electrical Engineering at CMU riding a mountain bike with slick tires. These guys(and gal), could ride and when they came roaring up the road, you better be warmed up and ready to jump on the pace line or you were history. I would see them in the distance and sigh to my friends,” Here they come.” The pain began. photo
The destination was always Lake Arthur up in Butler County. These are beautiful country roads here in Pennsylvania but all I saw on those rides was the backside of someone faster than me in the paceline. As we exchanged pulls, ( mine were always the shortest), we made our way through pastoral fields and dairy farms. Virtually no traffic which made the ride as pleasant as it could be but the pace increased with each country mile. By the time I got to Prospect, Pa with a stop at the country store to reload on food, I was exhausted. I can remember laying on the sidewalk jamming Fig Newtons in my face and washing it down with Gatorade as fast as I could swallow. I looked at Mike Alex and said,” How the hell do you ride that fast on a mountain bike?” He said the slick tires helped but he was only being humble. I looked at Art, Frank and George and said, ” How am I going to make it back?” But I always managed it somehow. Fig Newtons and bananas were the Cliff Bars and Power Bars of the day. That type of energy food was not available yet. The Newtons and the bananas generally did the trick but when I pulled into my townhouse I was totally gassed. The killer crew left me and roared back to Shadyside logging in excess of 100 miles. photo

As I come back from my daydream on my road rides now, I am usually alone. I think back to that far away time in a galaxy far, far away. Painful spring rides, wool jerseys, leather hair nets, toe clips and cleats, downtube shifters, and steel road frames. Today I ease into my spring road rides. The equipment is lighter, smoother shifting, and carbon fiber rides a lot more comfortable than Reynolds tubing, although there is something to be said for the classic steel frame. I don’t stress myself. I don’t need to train. If a hill comes, I shift down and noodle up until I reach the top. I don’t have to do what Mac Martin used to tell me. ” Take it out of park McCloskey, and when you reach the top of the hill, don’t just coast- put the hammer down because your competition will be coasting behind you.” I don’t need that pain anymore as the 60 year old kid. My road rides now are enjoyable. I can look at the spring blossoms, ride in the softly falling rain, and really……enjoy the ride. home02
I mostly mountain bike these days but I must admit that I look forward to bringing out the road bike in the spring. It reminds me of my past and I definitely don’t have the pain that I used to go through at this time of year. Like life- I am now enjoying the ride. I see flowers, trees, farms, and sights other than the back of some guys lycra shorts. Haul that road bike out guys and gals, let the trails dry out. Thanks for reading.

Rat Poison- keeps me in the game!

As I make my last ski turns for the year and prepare to put the boards away and get myself into riding shape for another spring season, I think about a prescription that has kept me in the game for 25 years. Did you know that a component of the chemical makeup of blood thinners is the same component that is in rat poison? It is funny, when I go to the pharmacy, I always ask them for my monthly dose of rat poison. They laugh because they know, as pharmacists, what I am talking about. What I am about to tell you is my experience only. My disclaimer here is that I am not a doctor. What I say here in the post is my experience and in no way a recommendation or any type of suggestion. You may make your own conclusions but “blood thinners” have kept me in the game. IMG_0136
It all started before I was married and I returned to the U.S. from a cycling trip to Ireland. I had crashed over there and then had a long plane trip back to the US. Nothing serious because I had crashed many times on a bike and thought nothing of it. But thinking back on this, I am sure that this series of events caused my initial DVT( Deep Vein Thrombosis.) I was at a party at Frank and Jan Habay’s house when I noticed that my calf was swelling and I had a dull pain that went from my calf all the way up my leg. Long story short, I went to my doctor and he said that although I was an extremely active person, he thought I had a blood clot in my calf. Sure enough after a simple dye test in my leg, it was determined that I had a DVT and that I had to be in the hospital on Heparin drip to “thin my blood” and then onto Coumadin therapy for a couple of months. I walked all around the hospital with the IV to keep my sanity and even wanted to take it over to Shadyside to get a corned beef sandwich, but they discouraged that. :) They told me all about what my diet should be and not to eat too many foods that would interfere with Coumadin. Foods like green leafy vegetables that had lots of Vitamin K which would interfere. I watched my diet and swam for three months before I was off the therapy and the doctor gave me the green light to continue cycling. photo
Fast forward- 8 years later I was in a mountain bike race and when I came home that night, I had a stabbing pain in my back that would not stop. Janet was out of town and I drove myself to the hospital where my friend was working in the ER. Mike Mihok, a fellow cyclist, had a series of tests run and finally I had a angiogram which determined that I had a pulmonary embolism in my lung. Interesting side note is that the procedure was done by Doctor Wholey who invented the equipment for the modern angiogram. Very serious! I was back in the hospital on the Heparin drip and eventually Coumadin therapy again. Forever. My doctor at the time said that this was the ” gold standard” of treatment and he didn’t want me to throw any more clots. He liked my activities and as long as I didn’t take the big hit with some blunt force trauma, he said my skiing and bicycling were ok activities as long as I was careful. I still take a generic form of Coumadin today which has been no problem for me at all. I get my monthly tests to determine that my current dosage is satisfactory. But my lifestyle has not been compromised one bit except for the fact that I wear a compression sock when I am sitting or standing because when I am not active, my calf still swells a little bit. Alcohol is not recommended but my current doctor says as long as the beer is cold, I can have one or two. I always say ” One and done. Or Two and through” Although I usually drink one beer with a meal and at most a beer and a half. I eat a balanced diet and don’t concern myself with any food issues. Enough of the details and the background. Now for the point of all of this.
I am a very active person as I believe my blog testifies.IMG00375-20110730-0915 I take a generic prescription which prevents my blood from clotting too easily. Yes, I have cut myself shaving. Yes I have crashed on my bike. Yes I have crashed while skiing. Being careful is a relative term. But I have been no worse for the wear. My doc recently suggested a new drug which requires no monthly testing. But it takes 48 hours for the INR( clotting measurement) to return to normal. With Coumadin, a shot of Vitamin K will bring me back instantly. I have had no issues for 25 years with Coumadin or the generic equivalent. I am staying with it. My point which again, has no medical background, suggests that if you have an issue like mine which is becoming more prevalent in athletes, your life is not over. IMG_0178.JPG Several friends have inquired about this after their episodes and I tell them frankly that it has not been an issue with me. I am a good designated driver. I cycle, run, ski, hike with no issues. I was fortunate that both episodes for me were caught in time. God is good.photo This post may be a little dark but if any of you who have an issue or any of you who know of someone who has an issue, feel free to contact me. I would be happy to chat and relate my story and how my life is better through chemistry, with…………rat poison.photo Thanks for reading.

Ski Camp for Old Guys

As we pulled into Huntsville, and exited the vehicle after a great day of skiing at Snowbasin, we ran into the town drunk who cheerfully slurred and pointed,”  in there- the best cheeseburgers in town.”  I knew he was right because I had been there before but some of our posse had not and we all were treated to the simple fare of cheeseburgers, chips, and beer at the Shooting Star Saloon.  Check out their sign.IMG_0097  Aside from the ceiling filled with dollar bills and the “jackalopes” mounted on the wall( mythical jackrabbits with antlers), the St. Bernard head mounted on the wall that was accidentally shot after rescuing 11 skiers trapped in an avalanche, and the lone pool table, the oldest tavern in Utah survives on simple fare and simple customers.IMG_0096  A great place for us to relive the days exploits at Snowbasin- the site or the 2002 Winter Olympic speed events for skiing.  IMG_0088

The five of us who get together every year are avid skiers.  From left to right we have Mark Hutchinson(our historian and former race coach at Stowe), Eric Durfee( our ring leader and organizer from Lake Tahoe via Vermont), Proctor Reid( ex ski racer from Dartmouth who grew up with Hutch and Eric in Vermont), yours truly, and Bart Smith( our host this year from Park City and ex Cornell racer along with Eric) Our missing member this year was John Ingwersen, another ex Cornell racer.  Traditionally we have gone to Tahoe but seeing that the conditions were bleak for the second year in a row, Bart generously offered to host the group at his place in Park City.  This group is a passionate one.  Much like guys who go on golf trips, fishing trips, or hunting trips.  Comradery is the key component to any outing like this but our group also values time on the hill.  These guys are bell to bell, first chairs and last chairs up the mountain for the day.  It is hard to chronicle the enthusiasm. It really is something to experience.  Skiing is not just something this group does, it is a lifestyle.IMG_0178.JPG  Sitting around the apres’ places having a beer and eating a buffalo burger, you hear some great stories about ski racing in New England, and relationships with some of the big names in the ski world.  Hutch and Eric’s old friend George Tormey was the K-2 ski rep for years as well as a race coach at Stowe.  The K-2 Four ski was made available to Bode Miller originally to race at Sugarloaf in the Junior Nationals.  Bode won by a large margin in most of the events including the speed events using the conventional K-2 Four shaped ski.  It was innovative at the time and Bode wanted to use them.  The only other pair available went to Travis Durfee- Eric’s son who was a top ranked junior racer in New England and eventually made the Far West Team when the family moved to Tahoe.

Sitting around Bart’s table, one can continue to hear great ski racing and ski instruction stories from the past and the single focus of our week long adventure is skiing, skiing, and more skiing.  We wake up and decide which area we will ski for the day, eat breakfast provided by Bart and his wife Joe in absentia( she went to visit her mom),  ski all day hard usually in a fast pace line weaving through unsuspecting skiers on the mountain, having a beer and something to eat, showering, watching March madness and retiring usually at 9:00 at night.  No night life on these trips, skiing is too important and our fearless leader makes sure we are first ones in the parking lot and first on the chairs.  Pretty good for a group of  in shape guys that just turned 60.  Bart is a year older but he is the strongest one of us all.  First time I met Bart was years ago when I saw him launch himself straight into Corbett’s Couloir in Jackson Hole while we were trying to inch our way into the couloir from the side.03jack395.2  I said to Eric,” Who is this guy?”  Eric said, ” you will find out a lot about Bart.  Try to keep him in sight.”  A true strongman and powerful skier.  Age means nothing in this group.  All good skiers.  All strong skiers.  Jokingly Bart said one morning, ” this is like summer camp for old guys.”  The great thing about this annual gathering is that none of us think about anything else but skiing hard, laughing, and reliving old times.  Eat breakfast, ski, have a beer and something to eat afterwards, relax and do it all over again the next day- just like camp!!  Lots of sleep and up with the birds.  Might not be interesting to many people who include other things on ski trips, but for this group, this plan works just fine.

Friendships like this are rare and should be cherished.  When you start to lose friends like I have this past year, these get togethers are even more important.  You never know what will happen in life, but if this group has anything to say about it, the conditioning and the all out enthusiasm will keep us going for a long time.  We don’t think about age.  We think about challenge and keeping it all going.  Hopefully you are fortunate enough to have a group like this.  Work at the friendships and keep outings like this alive.  Thanks for reading.

Dusting Gunnar

It was a bright, sunny day last Sunday in Somerset, Pa. when the clan started to arrive. Heidi and Melissa, Annie and Biff, the Bouchers, Lars and Inger, the Baum girls, Linda Belle, Dixon, Porter,Patty, and a host of others who call the English family their friend. You could feel the warmth of long lasting friendships in the building and in many ways, the group was holding each other tight as mountain life enthusiasts do.11060297_10205067359516366_5866834607737862685_n Mountain people are a tight knit group all held together through a love of sliding down a mountain on skis, riding knobby tires, hiking, fishing, and otherwise enjoying the mountains as a place of rest, fun, and safe haven with friends.IMG_0582

We lost one of our own last Thursday when Brad English was taken from us so unexpectedly. That is why the gathering at the funeral home was in many ways a meeting of the clans from up in the Laurel Highlands. You had the locals, the weekenders, the commuters, all the folks who forged friendships up at Seven Springs Mountain Resort here in Pennsylvania. The North Hills group, the Fox Chapel group, the Mt. Lebanon group, and of course the Seven Springs and Rockwood group. All close knit friends for many years. It was a homecoming of sorts seeing that some of the group had moved away, but as everyone paid their respects to Greg and Mary Ellen English and their family and Brad’s lovely daughter Jenny, you could feel the warmth in the room and the need to hold on to our life in the mountains.1380110_10205067173871725_2086237601213283491_n Bill Boucher put it best when he said, ” This one really hurts.” And it did. Brad English was one of the good guys. A friendly welcoming man who grew up in the mountains, built his own house, raised his daughter, and was a friend to everyone on the mountain. He was the first guy standing in line at the Gunnar Chairlift every Saturday when I made my way from the North Face lot to the base of the Gunnar chair. Both of us enjoyed the first chair up the hill, and the groomed perfection that lies ahead for the early birds on the ski slopes. Brad had a great sense of humor when he harassed the ski patrol and lift operators to open the lift up early. He wanted to ski and in his own funny, needling way, the lift guys and the patrol scrambled to make his wishes come true. Brad was a skier, a hunter, a fisherman, all things mountain. Interestingly, when I was a young guy skiing at Seven Springs, the English brothers were in my estimation, the best skiers on the hill. Natural talent. Even when Brad did a stint living in Vail, I remarked out there that Brad was still one of the best skiers in Vail. He was an enthusiast, skilled skier, and sportsman. But most importantly, he was a friend. He was welcoming into his home, and was one of us and now he is gone. FullSizeRender

Tuesday there was an on slope service, which is what he would have wanted. Friends skiing, watching the celebration of life from the top of the chair, toasting with frosty beverages and literally and figuratively setting Brad’s spirit free to the Laurel Highlands which he loved so well. 10390199_10205067161071405_9122657908372867184_n The Gunnar Chair and slope will always be home to Brad. I will always think of him while riding that chair on Saturday mornings.

Life is so fragile and the message that kept ringing in my head was what my mother always told me. ” To have a friend is to be a friend.” That is why she had so many friends and it holds true with Brad English. Lots of friends on that mountain. Life flies by so fast and it is easy to get caught up in the day to day. Easy to never make plans to get together with friends, easy to let convenience get in the way, easy to let work schedules dictate your life. But in the final analysis, your family and friends are everything. Cherish them. Cherish the old times and keep the friendships alive with a phone call, a lunch, a ski date, or whatever. I am guilty as much as the next guy. But like Bill said, this one hurt. It makes you think when you lose a friend. Embrace opportunity. RIP Brad. Thanks for reading.

Photos and title courtesy of Melissa Updegraff Thompson and Annie Rose Swager.

Johnny O’s Excellent Adventure

Well, most of my ski group has been pounding the high speed chairlifts both at our local area and out west in search of the biggest vertical, and most runs that we can ski in a day. In our zeal to be the first on the lift, we look forward to reaping the most vertical before the crowd gets too cumbersome. So, it was a nice change when our nordic and mountain bike guru, John O’T contacted us and suggested we take a day locally and either use backcountry skis with skins or snowshoe to one of our favorite ski areas that has been closed for some time.photo As we assembled at an undisclosed location we donned our gear. The backcountry equipped guys began xc skiing the trail to the closed location and Hiller,Jeff B, and I used our snowshoes and carried our skis and pack with ski boots tucked inside.photo The weather was blustery and it was snowing heavily as we forded the miles and finally arrived at the closed lodge. Hiding ourselves from the wind, Hiller,Jeff B and I changed into our ski boots, put the hiking boots in the pack and joined John and the rest of the group as we en masse headed down the steepest and most challenging slope in Pennsylvania.IMG_1574 It had been a long time since I have skied there and although there have been several other scofflaws that have done the same thing, the turns made on that slope in the last 10 years have been few and far between. photo

I wondered what the slope conditions would be like. I knew that the snow would be good but what had grown on that slope in the last 10 years? As we made our way through the sparse puckerbrush on the upper part of the slope, we were greeted by only a few small trees that had grown up over the years. The powder snow was deep, the turns were fun, and no one seemed to heed the warnings of the state workers that we might be fined for making this excursion into a closed ski area. There were no signs, it is a state forest, and we pay taxes so …………we ski!!!

The first run was pristine. At the bottom, I dropped my pack and we all boot packed up the slope all the way to the lodge at the very top of the run. Once more we made turns in the uncut snow and as we made it to the bottom, we sat for a moment relishing what we had done in the softly falling snow. The skins went back on, snowshoes were donned, and the group began the slow slog up the side trail that would eventually lead to the outbound trail to the cars.photo We noticed the varying efficiency of the different equipment- backcountry skis with skins versus snowshoes. The snowshoes seemed to have an advantage on the steeper parts but once we made it to the flats up top, the xc motion of the skis was faster than walking in snowshoes. On our way out, we saw a guy with a snowboard on his back. I said to him,” What are You doing?” He looked at me and laughed and said, ” What were You doing? We both had a chuckle as we saw another guy with backcountry gear. He looked over and said, “You know, I just left Jackson Hole to come back to Pa for powder. Should have just stayed here.” We agreed but time in Jackson is well spent no matter what the conditions.

We all pulled out some micro brews back at the parking lot and I brought out a cheese platter with crackers for the group. As we discussed the days fun at our ad hoc picnic, seeking shelter from the storm under my tailgate, we all were appreciative of Johnny O’s excellent suggestion that led to the excellent adventure. We all are used to western adventure, but were sure happy that we got to have a true backcountry adventure right here in our home state of Pennsylvania. Sometimes you have to slow it down in order to really appreciate the beauty of the mountains.photo It isn’t always about the most vertical or how fast we can ski. We really appreciated the muffled silence of the woods in the falling snow.We took the time to look around and enjoy.photo As we parted and I made my way down the mountain, I had a big smile on my face knowing that we all had pulled off something special with the hopes that someday, this amazing local treat of an area would once again be open to the public. Our merry band of outlaws, Hiller, John O, McWilly, Jeff B and me will be back if in fact the area remains closed, and perhaps another day of skiing through great snow and puckerbrush will lie waiting for us as we trudge out way through the Laurel Highlands snowfields. Another example of how to enjoy the winter. It is hard, it is long, but if you take the time to be creative and enjoy, the winters are wonderful. My favorite time of the year. Enjoy. Thanks for reading.