Hahnenkamm- The Super Bowl of Ski Racing

You know, anytime you get to witness a sporting event up close and personal, it is electrifying. I have had the opportunity to stand on the sidelines at a Penn State football game, see Tiger rip off a drive at the US Open, and see World Cup giant slalom and slalom events from the side of the trail. It is amazing to see the skill level of these athletes. We have a local sports writer who pooh poohs the Winter Olympics and calls them games at best. He is also the same guy who does not consider Tiger Woods an athlete because he wears dress slacks to play his sport. I have had a running dialog with this guy who most likely never toed the line in a race or ever really had much experience as an athlete. Because, if he did, he would respect the talent and dedication that is needed to perform at a national level or a world class level in any sport. But in all of my experiences as a spectator, none was more electrifying than witnessing the Hahnenkamm Downhill Ski Race in Kitzbuhel, Austria. This race will be run again this weekend – the 75th edition, and if you have Universal Sports as a cable channel option, you can witness it live. I will have the DVR on for sure because I am addicted to the Universal Sports Channel.Erik Guay - Race - Atomic USA
A number of years ago, I had the good fortune of being selected to represent Western Pennsylvania along with Kenny Griffin and Mark Singleton on a PSIA trip to the Austrian Tyrol Region.photo The event was sponsored by the Austrian tourist board and the ski instructors group from the US had representatives from all of the national regions. We were each domiciled in a particular area for one week- teaching and sharing experiences with the local instructors. The other week was spent skiing different areas of the Austrian Tyrol , but the highlight of the trip for me was to see the Hahnenkamm up close and personal on the side of the famous “Streif” race course.AUT, FIS Weltcup Ski Alpin, Kitzbuehel Ski racing and bicycle racing in Europe is like the NFL here in the states. Eurovision broadcasts all of the World Cup ski races and cycling events and the European public is very knowledgeable about the details of each sport. They are rabid fans and show up in masses at events as shown on the famous climbs of the Tour De France. But there is no event that attracts more people in one venue than the famous downhill held each year in Kitzbuhel.Google Image Result for http--www.flags.net-images-largeflags-AUST0002.GIF (2)
To give you a little bit of the atmosphere, imagine if you will, 100,000 people lining the race course, schnapps and beer flowing, excitement mounting as the first racers descend the mountain at an average speed of 66 MPH. At the start at the Mausefalle, the skiers are airborne and reach a speed of 60+ MPH within seconds of starting the race. The Austrian army uses water hoses the night before in the course preparation to ensure that the track is rock hard and icy, which the downhillers prefer. As they make their way down the 2.06 miles of racecourse, they come up on an off camber left hand turn called the Steilhang. This is where Kenny and I stood and watched as the rabid fans with their cowbells screamed as the racers flew by. The technical ability of a ski racer to hold a turn, on rock hard ice,off camber, at speed is impressive and it is anything but a game as the local sports hack surmised. The year we attended was in the prime of the “Crazy Canucks” where Canada reigned supreme for four consecutive years. Todd Brooker, Steve Podborski, and Ken Read were the heroes of the day, spoiling the Austrian and Swiss dominance of the race. I had seen Brooker race before when I worked at Sugarloaf,Maine. As a young guy with wild, wavy red hair, and a devil may care attitude, he represented Canada at the Can Am Races at Sugarloaf on his way to advancing to the World Cup level. It was neat to see him ski again in Austria at this premier event. He has had a checkered past with this event, winning once and having the worst crash of his life in Kitzbuhel on the Streif.Hahnekammrennen2011
In the final straightway to the finish line, racers approach 90 MPH and as they cross the line, the noise is deafening. An electrifying sports experience to say the least. I have never seen a Grand Prix event or Indy, but I can’t see how those events could be any more exciting that seeing these world class athletes rocket down a steep alpine face at 90 MPH. These guys are all 220 pounds plus with massive thighs.  You have to be that strong to hold those turns in that course at speed.

These days , my viewing is limited to what I see on Universal Sports. I love to see how these racers make turns. Lots of ski technique taught today at an advanced level is influenced by the way a racer turns. World Cup ski racing is the benchmark for equipment manufacturers which trickles down to standards in manufacturing and standards in ski instruction. Witnessing world class ski racing is something that is always etched in my mind. I will never forget the atmosphere of Kitzbuhel, the great apple strudel, the beer, the food,  and having the opportunity to witness an event as powerful as the Hahnenkamm. If you get the chance, try to watch it on Universal or streaming on line. It is not the same as being there, but you will get the idea. Thanks for reading and enjoy the winter.

Ski the Midwest- you may be surprised.

Not too long after I worked for the winter up at Sugarloaf, Maine and after I passed my PSIA Certification Exam for ski instruction, I was motoring west through Ohio to a PSIA clinic sponsored by Boyne Mountain, Mi. 161 I was feeling rather smug with my recent accomplishment and time on the big mountain, Sugarloaf, and wondering what I could learn in Michigan?  Was there really any decent skiing there?  Do they have any vertical or elevation to speak of and why did I agree to come to this event?  Chip Kamin, who was an examiner for PSIA Central, and Larry Cohen had asked me to accompany them to this workshop clinic and I agreed because these were the two guys who got me into ski instruction in the first place and I respected them both.  So here we were, making our way through Toledo into Michigan which was no where near any reputable skiing in my mind.  I was more concerned with visiting the Christmas super store- Bronner’s, in the Bavarian themed town of Frankenmuth, Mi. logo01 I figured if I was going to drive all this way to ski on something in Michigan, I would at least salvage the trip with a visit to this famous little town with the famous Christmas store.  Boy- was I surprised when I got to Boyne and had the experience of a Central Division workshop clinic.

Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in my mind were famous for Nordic skiing.  The Upper Peninsula in Michigan has the famous ski jumps at Iron Mountain and cross country skiing up  in those three states is king.136  But we will get back to that in a minute.  Boyne, as it turns out today, is the second largest operator and owner of ski and golf resorts in the country.  Among its current properties are Big Sky, Crystal Mt., Sugarloaf and Sunday River.  Boyne knows how to operate a ski area and although the vertical at its home base in Michigan is a little smaller than my home area here in Pennsylvania, it is very well run and the snowmaking, grooming and natural snowfall make for some pretty nice conditions.  Chip introduced me to Peter Batiste who was a fellow examiner in the Central Division and he did the split of all of the attendees at the clinic.  I was fortunate enough to make the first split and ended up in Peter’s group.  My smugness started to melt as I watched our course conductor ski.  His handling of the clinic and his skiing ability made me real glad that I had decided to attend this event.  Like I have said in many of my earlier posts, smaller mountains have produced some pretty impressive skiers.  Boyne was no exception and the enthusiasm for skiing at the smaller mountains is infectious.  No wonder Glen Plake, the famous extreme skier, spends time in the smaller areas.  Not only are they a feeder to the big resorts out west, but they have their own character and enthusiasm even with a limited vertical drop.  I learned a lot in that clinic and on our way back, the conversation was lively with Chip and Larry about Peter and the professional quality of the PSIA clinic in the Central Division.

Fast forward to another time and I had the opportunity to once again ski the midwest only this time in the frozen tundra which is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.383816_10150517402916753_1548434111_n  Here is where winter is locked in for many months of the year and if you read my post about the National Blind Skiing Championship, you will get a feel for the challenging weather and conditions that skiers in that region face. http://chroniclesofmccloskey.com/2013/02/17/the-national-blind-skiing-championship/   You really have to love the winter to live there and especially ski there. 308261_10151571337441753_2003138656_n 40 below zero straight temperatures are not uncommon in these parts and when you are skiing a small area with limited vertical terrain, you wonder sometimes why you do it?  But again, the midwestern ethic of fun, excitement, and passion runs deep in this neck of the woods.  I was again surprised at the excellent conditions and  the professional way in which the area, Blackjack, ran its “mountain.”  People are tough up there and in many ways, they reminded me of the tough as nails people from Maine that I had known in my stint at Sugarloaf.  If you didn’t have a dipstick in your engine block heating the oil, there was no way you were starting your car in either area of the country.  I had 40 below in Maine as well, but the UP is in a class of its own with the winds off of Lake Superior and the copious amounts of snowfall due to lake effect.  Blackjack might be a smaller area but they get boatloads of snow.  599556_10151571337436753_1357161776_n

Bottom line, never judge anything before you have the experience.  I had preconceived notions about Alpine skiing in the midwest, but I was pleasantly surprised.  What they lack in vertical, they more than make up for in professionally run areas and expertise in their ski instruction.  Sadly, Larry and Chip are no longer with us, but the memories of those clinics( I went back several times), are etched in my mind.  I have always been grateful to Larry, Bob Irish and Chip Kamin for getting me involved in ski instruction.  I miss all of them.  Thanks for reading and You Betcha…………ski the midwest.

Confessions of an Acrophobic Skier

Okay- I admit it.  I have skied for 53 years but I am afraid of heights.  I have faced my demons over the years and have managed to think nothing of the lifts in my local area.  But even there, when the chairs start swinging in the wind, I get a little wigged out and hang on the the back of the chair.  So, you ask, how can you be a skier and be afraid of heights?  You have to get up the mountain to ski down – don’t you?  The answer is a resounding “yes” but it is always a mental ordeal for me until I get back on terra firma with my skis on.  Let me tell you about some ski lifts that I faced in my life.  IMGP0205

The Single Chairs- Stowe used to have them and Mad River Glen in Vermont still has the single chair.  But they were kind of crazy in that they each  came screaming at you in the loading zone and before you knew it, the operator was loading you and giving you a wool blanket for the ride up because in most cases in mid winter in Vermont, it was wicked cold.  So there I am hanging in mid air, in a single chair, with a wool blanket wondering why this was the only option at the time.  The single chair is iconic in New England ski lore and most people love the history of the lift.  Me?  I just wanted to get off the damn thing and start skiing.  1196455234_3692

The Fixed Grip Doubles with the pole in the center of the seat- the two that come to mind for me were the Cloud 9 chair at Aspen Highlands and the High Campbell chair at Crystal Mountain in Washington.  I was stuck in the most frightening place on the old Cloud 9 Chair one year.  The lift stopped and all I could see was 1000 feet below me on one side of the ridge and 1000 feet down on the other side of the ridge with the chair swinging wildly in the wind.  I was hanging on to that pole for dear life.  The High Campbell Chair was scary as well because it rose higher and higher as you were coming into view of the summit.Mount_Rainier_from_west  When you got to the top and did a little hiking, you had a great view of Mt. Ranier and Mt. St. Helens on a clear day, but getting there was harrowing for me.  An avalanche took out that chair last year and it has been replaced.  I was in Crystal last winter but didn’t get to ride the replacement chair.  Oh well.  mammoth-mountain-chair-23-660

The infamous Chair 23 at Mammoth Mountain, California- Mammoth is huge and so are the drops below the gondola as well as the chairs.  A lot of them do not have safety bars as is the case with Chair 23.  Every year, I face my demons again and load this chair with my friends.  Two years ago, my friend Helen had to talk to me to distract me on the ride up.  No safety bar and if I was in the middle I literally had both arms on the back of the chair looking straight up in the air.  Helen laughed at me and so did her rotten husband.  On our Mammoth trips each year, our group always delights in seeing how I will handle the heights of Chair 23.  My phobia is well known with our group and it is a laughing matter to all of them.  Sorry, but when I slide off the ramp at the top, I am a happy man.  chair 23

Gondolas and Aerial Trams- these are not as bad for me because I am inside, sitting down or standing and have the feeling that I am in an airplane.  In some strange way, I feel secure although the gondola at Mammoth rises to some astronomical heights and I mostly stare at the metal grating on the bottom of the gondola car until my friends tell me it is time to get off.  They chuckle as I grab my skis and head for solid ground.  I always feel better when I have my skis on. Tram_winter_A_1340x700_1_normal

Sometimes to get to the good stuff you have to climb.  I have been on the High Traverse at Alta, Utah when part of it is eaten out and you have to take your skis off and walk across the rocks.  That is real shaky for me looking to the left with a view of the base lodge and steep vertical in between.  I can’t wait to get my skis back on and get out of the way of the crazy locals who are racing along that ridge to get to Eagles Nest to ski the deep stuff.  At Tuckerman Ravine in New Hampshire, you have to climb to get anything.  No lifts, and when your skis are over your shoulder, your knees are hitting the slope because of the pitch, and you are getting to the top of one of the gullies, putting the skis on and looking straight down into the valley- whoa Nellie!!!!!.  It was amazing how much better I felt when at last my skis were attached to the bottom of my boots. I climbed to get to some good stuff at Snowbasin in Utah with my friend Jeff Mihalsky.  He is a mountain goat and loves to climb.  I was happy to ski his favorite lines but I must admit that the demons were screaming around me until I had my skis on once again.

Heights are definitely my nemesis in many ways.  I have driven 18 miles out of my way to take the San Matteo bridge in San Francisco instead of taking the dreaded Bay Bridge.  Whenever I have driven that Bay bridge, I have to talk to myself in the right lane all the way across and convince myself that I can make it.  The height of that bridge is real frightening for me. Just like in a chair lift.

I have survived the lift and climbing situations over the years but it has definitely been a challenge for me.  But, I like to ski and make turns so much that I have been willing to do whatever I can do to ride the lifts and fight my fears.  So, if you are thinking about skiing and you don’t like the idea of chairlifts, aerial trams, or gondolas, just think of me.  I have been at the mercy of my fears for 53 years but I still love to ski.  That should tell you something about the great sport of skiing. Believe me, if I can do it, you can too.  Thanks for reading and hold my hand if you are on the lift with me.

Ski Bars- Home of the Whoppers!

One of the wonderful things about a great day of skiing is sharing the fun ups and downs( no pun intended) of the day with your friends at the local ski bar.  Apres ski, as it is called, is a celebrated ritual at great ski bars across the country like the Snorting Elk at Crystal Mt., Washington or the Classic apres at the Red Lion in Vail.  East Coast skiers hang at places like the Wobbly Barn on the access road in Killington, VT. or the iconic Matterhorn in Stowe, Vermont.20140227_174308slide4  Last March I had a great day skiing at Whiteface up in the Adirondacks with my pal Mike Smith and we sat at the corner of the bar eating a late lunch at The Cottaqe which was the scene of many a McCloskey, Durfee, Smith, ski outing.  We loved talking to the bartender about Andrew Weibrecht’s silver Super G medal at the Olympics seeing that he is a Lake Placid native and his folks own The Cottage as well as the famed Mirror Lake Inn.  The fun runs of the day, the bravado, and the thrills and spills are all recounted at the ski bars across the country during ski season and the atmosphere in these post ski day hangouts is electric.  photo

One of the more interesting things that usually occurs during the apres ski sessions are the embellishments of the feats of the day in direct correlation to the amount of beer consumed.  The stories get better and better and sometimes one needs to keep the tales in check because you never know who is listening.  That goggle tanned girl that is sitting next to you might have just hucked off an 80 foot cliff into deep powder and skied away like it was no effort at all.  She might not be all that impressed with your beer goggled story of how you cruised a groomer at 60 MPH according to your I- phone app.  That speed is doubtful at best, and as the girl chuckles and walks away, she thanks you for the beer.   Perhaps one of my favorite stories occurred at the Mangy Moose in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  I was sitting at the bar with my friend Paul Vey who had just skied Corbett’s Couloir for the first time.  Paul played basketball for the University of Vermont and used to sneak out of the dorm to go skiing at Stowe or Smuggler’s hoping not to be caught by the coach.  Paul is an avid skier and to hear him say that skiing Corbett’s that day with me was the highlight of his athletic career was impressive. It made me feel good being a part of his skiing experience down that classic run. Paul was a Division I NCAA athlete.  We both talked about the experience, but were interrupted by a loud conversation next to us which involved a guy who was telling the tale of how he skied Corbett’s Couloir that day on telemark skis.  Paul and I were amazed at the gall of the guy who was obviously working the crowd with his tales of tele glory.  The fact of the matter was that we recognized this guy as the one who crashed and burned down Corbett’s right in front of us.  We helped him clean up his yard sale all over the slope below the couloir. You could see the sheepish look on his face as he altered his story for the fans but we all had a good laugh and talked about the challenge of Corbett’s and Jackson Hole skiing in general.  03jack395.2

Sitting with your friends at a ski bar and telling the tales of the day can be extended if you buy one of the t-shirts or hats for sale.  The good times can be extended to the summer when you wear the stuff and someone notices a familiar after ski haunt.  Hopefully you wash the shirt a few times so that it is a bit worn and maybe run the hat over with your truck in the parking lot to give it some character.  Maybe some sweat stains might also help the cause.  Appearance is everything and your favorite t-shirt or hat from that famous apres ski bar is a prized piece of clothing.  Our friends from Philly, Judy and Mike Smith, always laugh at my clothing which always has some kind of a logo from a ski area or a ski bar. They think that this is the only type of clothing I may own.  They might be right,  although I don’t have Mangy Moose pants or The Cottage boxers. My favorite is an old, worn Rocky Mountain Oyster shirt from that famous little joint in Jackson. The rather well endowed mountain goat on the front advertises the delicacy of what is a gastronomical treat to some westerners.  I don’t want to go into it but Google Rocky Mountain Oysters and see how “they” are prepared.

The next time you find yourself in the apres ski joint of your choice, take time to listen to some stories and chuckle at how some guys work really hard to impress the ladies, or their friends with tales from the day.  Maybe you will find yourself recounting and embellishing a few stories yourself.  If you look down at the other end of the bar or another table, you might hear me and my friends telling some tales of our own.  Remember- the older we get- the better we were.  Especially in a ski bar.  Thanks for reading and think snow.  Elk+Taps+%26+Fire

The Old Man and the Skimobile

Posting a little early to beat the Christmas rush, but this time of year, I always think of some of the great mountain towns that I have visited during the Christmas season.  One that comes to mind this year is North Conway, New Hampshire in the Mount Washington Valley. http://www.mtwashingtonvalley.org  I have visited this iconic location many times in my life with trips to Tuckerman Ravine and adventures on the legendary Mt. Washington. http://www.mountwashington.org  I have skied Wildcat and Attitash and have done some extensive hiking in the White Mountains.  But the true spirit of this location lies in the history of the area which was introduced to me by a business associate of my dad’s -John Lennon. obs-aiare2013-02-05-the-bowl

John owned a company in Boston named New England Tank and Tower and my dad represented his company among others in his manufacturer’s rep business.  John called my dad after learning that I was an avid skier and invited me and a friend to come up to Boston and then go to the Mt. Washington Valley to ski Mt. Cranmore.  I jumped at the chance during my freshman year in college and along with my ski buddy, Tom Herder, we made our way to Boston, weaving and bobbing through the suicidal traffic along Storrow Drive to I-93 North and New Hampshire.  We met John at his cabin near Mt. Cranmore and the initial fondness for the Valley began.  John was the typical New Englander, quiet, reserved, but willing to show two young guys some serious skiing in the Whites.  Our first stop was Cannon Mountain which was the home of the famous aerial tramway and close to Franconia State Park’s famous icon- the Old Man of the Mountains.download (1)  When I first looked at that rock formation which resembled an old man’s head, I thought it was funny as John was giving us the history of the area, that we were skiing with an old man and looking at the famous “Old Man” which subsequently crumbled in 2003.  Cannon was a challenge that day as it was icy and very much like skiing on a marble table. tram John explained that this weather was typical for for the area and that if you could ski Cannon, you could ski anywhere.  Tom and I were so enthused that we skied right through lunch- much to John’s dismay.  We gave him all he could handle that day and he called my dad to tell him that Tom and I tried to kill him.  We all laughed and made our way back to John’s rustic cabin for a venison dinner.  Now the last time I had venison, it had tasted like a catcher’s mitt and I was not happy that this was the first meal that we would have other than breakfast that day.  But like the history lesson, the gracious invitation from John , and his New England hospitality, his meal was equally enjoyable.  John knew what he was doing and we learned that he had many talents besides his acumen as a businessman.

The next several days were spent at the local area, Mt. Cranmore, which was John’s home hill.  Founded in 1938, it had a rich history of skiing as well as ski instruction dating back to the days when the local entrepreneur Carroll Reed brought  ski instruction to the area via Hannes Schneider and his group of Austrian instructors.  This history continued through the decades and Mt. Cranmore became a legendary resort in the Christmas town of North Conway.  The thing that was really interesting to me was the Skimobile.cranmoregr1  This had been invented in the late 30s and with the encouragement of Hannes Schneider, it became the main lift at Cranmore. Cranmore_ski_mobile_TN It was an incline where you sat down in the cars with your skis, and took an enjoyable ride to the top up a very steep track.  The Skimobile is history now along with the Carroll Reed shops, but the memory of those days at Cranmore, skiing and riding the famous skimobile, are etched forever in my mind.  John Lennon was a wonderful host and Tom and I made our way back to Pittsburgh with a lot of great memories and stories about our times in the Valley.  The seed was planted for me and I made it back there numerous times in my ski life.  I still have memories of the Christmas lights all through the town and the ambiance that was created by that place.  It is as if when you enter town after driving the famous Kancamagus Highway( voted by AAA in years past as the most scenic highway in America), you feel the town and the White Mountains almost give you a warm, welcoming hug. Weird but true! kancamagus  You feel protected in the town especially in light of the wicked weather at the ski areas and the world’s worst weather on top of Mt. Washington.  I have camped there skiing the Ravine where 90 MPH winds and sudden snow squalls were common right after a sunny start to the day.  I did the Mt. Washington Hill Climb(bicycle race) there one year when it was sunny at the start and 41 degrees and sleeting at the top- in September.  But walking in the valley and seeing the peaks while dining or shopping is especially inviting at this time of year.

One of my most historic memories of being in the Valley was one year when I attended a PSIA clinic at Cranmore.  I had the opportunity to meet Toni Matt who recounted his famous winning run in the Inferno Race on Mt Washington.  This run was legendary and to actually meet a person who would go down in history as a member of the New England Ski Hall of Fame was really special to me.  As you can tell, I have a real fondness for the Mt. Washington Valley.  I would highly recommend vacationing there at any time of the year.  Christmas is particularly scenic and a stay at the famous Omni- Mt. Washington Hotel might be appropriate. HotelCloseupWinterweb Ski Bretton Woods along with Cranmore, Cannon, Wildcat and Attitash and you would have the classic New England Ski Vacation.  Think of me, munching on that venison beside a crackling fire and enjoy your world class experience.  Think Snow and thanks for reading.

HKD- the man, the myth, the snowmaker!

Scene:  A charlift at a ski area out west somewhere.

Skier in chair:” Hey buddy, where are you from?”

Pat:” Pennsylvania”

Skier in chair:” Where do you ski in Pennsylvania?”

Pat:” Seven Springs Mountain Resort”

Skier in chair(snickering):” How good could it be in Pa?”

Pat: “See those big snowmaking towers over there?  If the man from Seven Springs had not invented them, you would not be skiing this early season fluff here, skippy..  You can thank Herman Dupre for your early season western fun.  Also the US Ski Team would not be training hard at the Speed Center at Copper Mountain if it were not for HKD Snowmaking.” image002

I met Herman Dupre, the former owner of Seven Springs, many years ago when I was a young lad.  When I would see him on the mountain as I do today, his cheery smile and sparkling eyes always greet me with his standard line, ” Hi Pat- welcome to the mountains.”  I have always felt that when I saw Herman, he was truly interested in how I was and that his greeting was always heartfelt.  That is the personality of this larger than life man who I have always respected and admired.  Herman is first and foremost an engineer and a tinkerer.  How many guys do you know that put together their own power plant on the local Youghiogheny River? Or were instrumental in reclaiming wastewater at the resort and using it for snowmaking?  I would see Herman from time to time in the coffee shop at Seven Springs and ask him things like,” Hey Herman- why don’t you buy Laurel Mountain and run it as a sister ski area?”  Herman would smile and sit me down, buy me a coffee, and tell me,” Pat- I will give you 38 reasons why and began illustrating to me the folly, in his mind, of investing in a state ski area two ridges over.  download

Another time, I was skiing in the Poconos with my sister and came back excited to tell Herman about the 55 gallon drums that had large funnels attached to the top of the barrels.  They served as waste recepticles for people who wanted to drop cans off the chairlift.  Once again, Herman sat me down in the coffee shop, bought me a coffee, and explained to me that he knew exactly how much each unit costs to build.  He said,” Pat- I can send a guy up there at the end of every shift and clean up all the cans for a lot cheaper that it would cost me to build a bunch of those units.”  Once again, the wisdom of Herman and his practicality came shining through along with his wit and his smile.  I enjoyed the coffee as well.

Aside from building a ski area and a major mountain resort, Herman’s claim to fame is that he is a pioneer in snowmaking.  He always tinkered with how to utilize high pressure air and water to help Mother Nature spread some snow on our local area which is hampered by cyclical warm weather/cold weather events.  When you ski in the mid Atlantic, you need some help to keep the slopes open.  Snowmaking was the answer and Herman was at the forefront.  In 1973, he applied and received his first of many patents, and in 1990, he introduced the standard tower snow gun that was the first of many low energy products that he and his son in law, Charles Santry and his daughter Anni would bring to the ski area management market.  If you look at their website, you will find all the technical detail of their tower guns, and their new fan jet technology with their recent acquisition of a Canadian company which has increased their R+D capabilities as well as their engineering expertise. http://www.hkdsnowmakers.com   Check out the website because I need to get back to giving you a vision of the founder of all of this.  impulse-landing

Herman is obviously very successful but when you see him driving his Subaru or his motorcycle puttering along at the resort, you would think that this is a maintenance guy checking out equipment on the slopes.  His flannel shirts and jeans are standard attire and his low key, non-“highbrow” demeanor is most welcoming in this world of recently gained affluence and the attitudes that go along with it.  Herman is a working guy and his engineering aptitude keeps his mind fresh even though Herman is well along in years now.

There are new owners currently at Seven Springs and they run the resort a little differently.  Skier visits and  bottom lines are the drivers now in what is a business atmosphere at this long standing resort.  Not that Herman ran it without those considerations, but it is just different now – not saying that it is good or bad- just different.  One thing is that Herman knows snowmaking.  He still experiments in his workshop up near the area and although his company, now run by the Santrys ( Charles -son in law, and Anni- daughter), no one can discount the influence that he has had. HKD Snowmakers is now the leading manufacturer and engineering company in the business with equipment in resorts worldwide.   Automation is big in the industry now and you can see the module components of complete snowmaking systems on the website.  But in the back of your mind as you peruse this site, think of the guy who always thought out of the box and how he influenced an enthusiastic young skier back in the day………..and today on the mountain as well.  ” Welcome to the mountains, Pat.”  That greeting completes that Laurel Highlands experience for me.  Think Snow and thanks for reading.

The “Renaissance” Man

We had a former pastor say one time that there are people in this world who are “drainers.”  People who will suck the living life out of you with their neediness and high maintenance ways.  Then there are people who fill your personal cup to the brim and overflow it with kindness, appreciation, information, friendship, and other enhancements to your life that make you appreciate with wonder- why do they do it?  How do they do it? ” Boy, am I glad that they do it.” ” They are a real force in my life.”Usually people like this have many talents and interests.  I call them Renaissance men or women.  They appreciate life and all it has to offer and are willing to share their talents, wisdom, care and friendship with those around them.  One such person in my life is a guy named Don Cunningham.  photo

Now I am not going to DWELL on the fact that Don is an accomplished freelance engineer for sports television or that he has traveled the world working events like the Olympics, the US Open Golf Tournament, the Masters, Steeler games, Penguin hockey games, Pirate baseball games, the Tour of California bicycle races, the US Pro Cycling Challenge.  Nor am I going to DWELL on the fact that he takes his gear with him and gets a road ride or a mountain bike ride in, or even some slope time skiing.  But Don makes the most of his travel and is not a “slam clicker.” http://chroniclesofmccloskey.com/2013/05/19/dont-be-a-slam-clicker/

Again, I am not going to BELABOR the point that Don is also a very accomplished mountain biker who has an enthusiasm for the sport that is infectious to others around him.  When you see his fitness, and skill level in negotiating rocks, roots, stumps, steep downhills, and grueling uphills, you are amazed at his riding ability.  Don has competed in some of the most daunting MTB races on the planet including the Trans-Alps in Europe as well as being a 10 hour finisher at the Leadville 100 garnering the coveted silver belt buckle.  But he is very humble about his accomplishments.  Kind of like a “ho-hum- yes I did that”  response.  But with all his ability on the bike, he is willing to ride with new riders and show them the ropes of the riding game with a smile on his face and a willingness to spend whatever time it takes to introduce a newbie to the sport.

I similarly am not going to PONDER on how he skis with fluidity and enjoys the winter months almost as much as the more comfortable months because he is willing to subject himself to the weather or any ski conditions. We went to Holimont last season in Western New York and had a wonderful day together at this private ski club and Don handled the cut up Lake Erie fluff with style.  His turns were strong and deliberate but his enthusiasm for the day was the most memorable thing to me.  We both are ski nuts and it was wonderful to share the winter wonderland with a friend like Don.  He even drove which was even more pleasant.  photo

The guy has been everywhere, done everything, and always seems to be in the mix of the fun events that mark our outdoor sports world.  If there is a big ride – Don is there.  If the skiing is good locally or out west- Don is there.  He makes friends easily as is evidenced by his recent meeting with a good friend of mine in Aspen on a mountain bike ride.  He was a bit lost and rode up to some folks on top of a ridge in Aspen.  With a smile, he asked for directions and the girl noticed the pronounced Pittsburgh accent.  After a few exchanges she found out that Don was a friend of mine.  Laughs abounded and now Don is a new riding buddy for Liz Talenfeld when he goes to Aspen.  He is like that.  Makes friends easily and people like to be with him.

Finally I am not going to GO ON SHAMELESSLY, about how Don makes absolutely the best beer in the universe.  His skill as a craft brewer is legendary and at every mountain bike picnic whether he is there or not, his beer is there and the accolades ring far into the night fueled by the current Cunningham IPA.  He is a Renaissance man, I tell you, in every sense of the word.  Traveler, athlete, educator, brewmeister, but most of all…………Don is a friend.  He probably has mastered that skill the best.  He is truly one of those individuals who fills your cup or fills your spirit and when you have spent some time with Don on the slopes, or on the trail, or sitting by his keg of IPA, you feel so much better just having spent the time with him.  He is compassionate, knowledgeable, energetic, and in most instances can grind you into the dust at his chosen sport.  But being an enthusiastic friend is what he does best.  If you can assemble some Renaissance men or women in your life, you are truly blessed.  We all have our share of drainers.  Oh, and one more thing………he does it all with a prosthetic leg.  Be inspired.  Thanks for reading.