Miss Molly Could Turn ’em

My sister Molly and I had a great childhood learning to ski thanks to the initial encouragement of our parents and subsequently with the opportunity to stay at the Rich cabin on County Line Road every winter weekend. Bob and Sally Rose, Barley and Dixon Rich, and our parents,Carol and Dick, made it a priority that all of us kids would ski and enjoy the winter with the opportunity to stay in the mountains together-with spread out sleeping bags all over the living room.

Fast forward, my sister attended Carnegie Mellon University,majoring in Music Theater, and I would take her on her spring breaks to ski areas in the east and the west. When we would drive to New England, I forced her to ski in the most challenging conditions( rain, sleet, snow, ice,) and we would drive forever trying to find the best snow. She skied the bullet proof conditions at Killington, Sugarloaf and Stowe, and when she returned to school, she was exhausted after a week with her Type Quad A brother.

We would also go west to Snowbird, and Alta with my friend Mike Smith from Lake George and oftentimes she would stare down the Cirque with some apprehension and I would encourage her to go for it because she had the technique to ski it. After a harrowing trip for her on the High Traverse to the top of High Rustler at Alta, Molly started down and initiated a small slide. Her eyes were as wide as a pie plate and I said it is all fine, just ski it – and she did.

Molly and I would ski locally at an area near her home,when she relocated to Westfield, N.J, named Vernon Valley which is now Mountain Creek. At the time, their best run had a great deli at the bottom and there was nothing like skiing a steep run, dodging the yahoos from New York City, and eating a great corned beef on rye for lunch and doing it all over until the lifts closed.

Fast forward again, Molly got a great gig as the host of a nationally syndicated TV show out of WOR TV Channel 9 in New York. Romper Room and Friends with Miss Molly was seen by children all over the country on the super station and when she would return to Pittsburgh to visit, she had “Doobie Stickers” in hand which would end up on the back of everyone’s season passes at Seven Springs – our local ski area.

Molly was not only a celebrity from the TV show, but a local celeb who skied very well. We would race together in the Poconos on Pro Am teams during our cousin’s tenure with Coca Cola and as a strong woman skier, the guys from the Pro Skiing Circuit were all too happy to have her on their teams. We got some nice hard wear from those Pro Am races,which were Coca Cola sponsored, and the Belden brothers(Kurt and Kent) from Pico, Vermont, always wanted us to be on their team. More money for them and bigger bowling alley trophies for us.

Life moved on for Molly and she had 4 kids and the skiing days started to become far and few between. I tried to encourage her to grind through and keep her ski days in the winter, but it just became too time consuming with her work of raising a family.

Recently, things came a little full circle when my nephew Charlie, his new bride Trina, and my niece Mary all visited Laurel Mountain for a ski day with Uncle Pat. . As I watched Charlie and Mary, I saw glimpses of their mother in their turns and it was a joy to me that somehow my sister’s genes rubbed off on the slopes. Trina was a natural even though she was never on a pair of skis before in her life. Charlie remarked that he and Trina will make this a priority in their lives together and that made me smile.

Molly has a new hip now and the excuses for a return to the slopes with her Quad A brother are quickly fading. Maybe we will see some more Doobie Stickers re-surfacing as she perhaps makes a comeback? I am hoping so. Life can get in the way of things that you really like to do. But if you make it a priority and grind through the BS, you can enjoy the mountains, the slopes, or whatever your pleasure is. Carpe Deium folks. Life is short. Enjoy it. Maybe you will be seen in the Magic Mirror again? Thanks for reading.

Mixed Doubles

Going on a couples ski trip can be like playing mixed doubles with your spouse. Depending on a number of factors, it can either go real well or not so well similar to playing tennis with your spouse or significant other. My wife Janet and I just got back from a great ski trip to Utah with our good friends Judy and Mike Smith who invited us to their new place in Park City. Along with their daughters and husband/boyfriend, we had an eclectic group of skiers enjoying the sunshine and amenities of Utah skiing. So to continue the tennis/skiing comparison, it started off a little bit on the wrong foot when early in the trip, I had Janet follow me down a slope at Snowbasin that was marked” thin cover”. This immediately raised a red flag to her and along with a whole bunch of skiers/snowboarders trying to pick their way through the section, she was terrified of the conditions and the array of traffic. I associated it with having her at the net in tennis and serving my first serve directly into the back of her head. Not a good start to say the least and like a bad start in mixed doubles, we had to sit down and regroup.

Sipping water and relaxing in the lodge, we had a nice chat and Janet began to feel more comfortable knowing that I would definitely not take her down anything like that for the rest of the trip. We would ski groomers the rest of the time and she would follow me down allowing her to feel more comfortable and relaxed, knowing full well how well she skis in these types of conditions with sunshine and good visibility. Guys who bark directions at their spouses and significant others, oftentimes ruin a good match in tennis or skiing. This is why some people think it is a bad idea to play tennis or try to teach your wife the finer points of skiing. That is also why I make it my business to keep things light with Janet and make her comfortable so that she can perform at the level where she is capable. This is like allowing her to make her ground strokes and volleys in tennis with positive reinforcement rather than the pressure of constant instructions and telling her what she is doing wrong. This misguided instruction often alienates the spouse and can destroy any chance of togetherness on the court or slopes.

Fortunately, the weather was cooperative and although the west is having a poor snow year, what was open at the resorts was groomed to perfection, allowing Janet and the group to ski without any concerns about thin cover, rocks and the like. Another factor in skiing or playing a game of tennis with your spouse is the dynamics of the group that is involved. Our group was fun and all of them can ski/ride well. But we all stuck together and no one pressured anyone to ski something beyond their limits. When you have optimal conditions like good snow, sunshine, and comradery, things go quite well and the competitiveness is at a minimum. Similar to a fun round of mixed doubles with friends. No more whacks to the back of the head with a serve or a smashed overhead intimidating someone from the other side of the net. People perform well when they are relaxed. My wife is a good skier with well schooled skills and it is important for me to keep her in the game. I like skiing with her along with our friends and I keep the inconveniences to a minimum. I have a huge backback in which I carry our boots and helmets and I take her skis wherever we have to walk and only ask her to take our poles. I am like a Sherpa and we all laugh. Not that Janet could not do it herself, but if I can make it as convenient as possible, she will enjoy it better. She also has a bum shoulder which I take into consideration and I don’t ask her to lift anything. It comes with the territory of being an ex flight attendant. Too many bags in the overhead.

The final tennis comparison would be when Janet follows me down the hill, it is like me hitting the ball deep in the corners with a firm ground stroke and allowing her to hit a crisp volley at the net when the opponent struggles to make the return. When I put her in a situation where she can be successful, she excels, and like a perfect volley, or ground stroke, she feels empowered, and enjoys the day all the better.

So, lesson being here guys and gals, if you want to have a good time with your spouse or significant other in any endeavor- patience, kindness, and skill development in an environment that is not intimidating is key. Also, the fun factor. Make it fun. This is not a job. I have had to learn these lessons sometimes the hard way but I am getting much better. Thanks for reading and think snow.

The Arctic Plunge

The picture you see above is Gus Brickner aka the Human Polar Bear. My dad was fascinated with the exploits of this long distance swimmer who distinguished himself by his winter swims in the Monongahela River in the winters around Pittsburgh. His famous New Years Day plunge in 1962 was witnessed here by yours truly and my dad. He said,” Patrick, lets go down and see Gus Brickner jump in the Mon.” As an 8 year old kid, I was thrilled that my dad wanted to take me and off we went to see the guy who eventually logged 38,500 miles swimming, two English Channel attempts, and swimming behind the ice breaker boats in the Mon during the most brutal winters near Charleroi, Pa.

My dad was an engineer and he always wanted to show me things that meant something to him as a technical person. I remember going to Geneva on the Lake when I was a kid and my dad taking me to Sandusky, Ohio to see the big ore freighters that traveled the Great Lakes bringing iron ore to the steel mills. He would explain the process of making steel and eventually built a continuous caster scale model for me to enter into the Buhl Planetarium Science Fair. Now, I knew nothing about continuous casting in the steel industry as a young kid and when asked about the project, I fumbled my way with the nuns trying to explain what my dad had told me. To my surprise, I was not a technical person, but my explanation along with my contrite personality with the nuns, got me a good grade and also an entry into the Science Fair. I( we- my dad) eventually ended up in the finals and once again, I had beads of sweat coming out of the arm pits trying to explain the virtues of the continuous caster. My dad was so proud of his- er a – my project.

Not long after the visit to the Mon to see Gus the Polar Bear, it seemed like spring came early and off we were to the ball games at Forbes Field. My dad, being a fan of baseball, explained the technical aspects of fielding a baseball to me and under no circumstances was I ever to do a “basket catch” like my idol Roberto Clemente. My dad dissed him as a “hot dog” but I was impressed that he could throw out guys at the plate all the way from right field. To me – the “Great One” was something but to my dad, if you did not have the glove over your head and trap the ball with the other hand so as not to drop it, you were not technically a good ball player. My dad- seen here in the middle with the great Honus Wagner back in the day in Bellevue.

It really did not matter to me that we went down in the middle of winter to see a guy jump in the icy river, or make the trek to see the giant ore boats, or go to the ball park, or launch Estes rockets across the street that my dad had built for me. It was the chance to spend time with my hero, my dad. He took the time for me and showed me things as a young kid that I remember to this day- a man in my 60s. I remember the kite flying when my dad would use three balls of string and stretch the kite out into the stratosphere- or so it seemed to me. The cleaning bag flying balloons powered by a little can of sterno glued to a cross bar of balsa wood – floating away into the clear night air. So many fun projects and excursions. The first time my sister and I went skiing, we were stuck in a raging snowstorm on the Pa turnpike – on my dad’s birthday, because he wanted to get us started on what he termed the sport of a lifetime. He and my mom did not ski but they made sure we did. The father and son swim competitions where I would see that big smiling face swim to the wall watching me take off in relay fashion.

Gus Brickner, the great Roberto were all heroes to me. But the main hero was the guy who took the time to take me to see them. For you young fathers out there, take a page out of R.J McCloskey’s book. Spend time with your son and daughter. You will never get that time back and they will remember it forever. I did. I saw Gus jump in the river when it was snowing in 1962. Thanks for reading.

Hero at Zero

We were kind of lulled to sleep this fall with the unusually warm weather. The ski areas struggled to get some slopes open in early December and then all of a sudden, the arctic fronts started to move south over an unusually warm Lake Erie. Record setting snowfalls(7 feet and counting) up in Erie, Pa. buried the city right before Christmas.The Laurel Highlands, east of us, have felt the cold weather and natural lake effect snow fall, contributing to really good ski conditions here in Western Pa. People are excited again for a real winter with cross country skiing, alpine skiing, skating and snowshoeing. In fact as the pictures testify above, this is the first time I have seen pond hockey in our area in a long time. Kids loving it, parents and coaches loving it. Winter has returned despite all the doom and gloom of global warming. But it has come with a price- record setting cold temperatures.

Now I try to look at the bright side, not just a skier and lover of the winter, but as a positive person making the best of what some would consider really cold weather. My friend the Shark always says, ” no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.” It is true that if you bundle up, you can enjoy the winter. Take my pal Jaime here. Jaime just moved back here from Switzerland with his sweetheart of a wife Melissa, and has found a new resolve to start skiing again. He has not missed much since the cold started and has a smile on his face despite the frigid conditions. We both marvel at the “hero” snow where you can lay an edge down in a pressurized arc and feel the ski carve. The turns feel good, we smile on the way down, we both yelled ” Hero at Zero”. Hero snow at zero degrees F. You have to like winter in those temperatures, but Jaime Thompson and I have the place to ourselves up at Laurel Mountain. It is like our own private club and our name is not even Scaife or Mellon. And we are skiing the longest and steepest run in the State.

I am no stranger to cold weather. Teaching skiing in Maine like I did back in the day, I was used to waking to -40 degree temps. If you did not have the electric heated dip stick in your oil reservoir, your car had no chance of starting. I first skied with my best pal Eric Durfee up at Mad River Glen in Vermont one similar day when they were selling single lift rides because of the arctic weather. When we got to the window, Eric said, ” two day passes please.” The crusty old Vermonter in the ticket booth looked at us with his steely eyes and said, ” did you hear what I said, bub?” Eric said, ” I heard you. Two day passes please” I knew it was going to be a long cold day with this determined Vermonter, Eric Durfee, seen here second from left.

I experienced -40 in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan one winter when I accompanied two of our visually impaired skiers at the National Blind Skiing Championships. Due to the cold and the attrition of guides, I was eventually in charge of 13 skiers, helping to set the race course, and basically anything else that the promoters needed help with due to the weather. A hard week with hard temperatures. – 40 without the wind chill.

Nothing is colder than the Adirondacks in New York State, or Vermont in the middle of winter. Many days at Killington were spent with Eric and also our friend Mark Hutchinson who is a native of the Green Mountain State. The cold is one thing, but accompanied by howling winds on those peaks takes fortitude to withstand and ski. But again, we like winter and we like to ski, so you do what you have to do.

So, it is all in perspective. The single digit temperatures around here are not as bad as -40. It probably will mellow out a little here in a few weeks, but we all hope that this winter stays/continues like the winters we all knew and loved as a kid. If you have not skied, skated, tobogganed, ridden a sled, gone snowshoeing, ridden a snowmobile, maybe this is the winter to try it out or be like Jaime and become born again. Embrace the winter. The snow, the crackling fires, the smell of wood smoke from the wood stoves, the gorgeous views in the mountains are are beckoning you to come. Make the effort to start a new sport or rekindle an old passion like Jaime. Be a hero at zero. Thanks for reading.

The EVL Fix

No, not Evil. EVL- as in Ellicottville, N.Y. This time of year, the guys I ski with, here in Western Pa., are itching to get started on the season. We want to break that seal for the new ski year. I always say, locally, anything before Christmas is a bonus as far as the ski season goes. So, when we are trying to kick and claw out a start with sporadic cold snaps augmented by snow making technology, the pickins get kind of slim. This group of guys are fanatics like I am and we talk about skiing all year round. We plan our western or New England trips and can’t wait to ski the big mountains. But living where we do, we can’t be there all the time and we have to make the best of what we have locally- which is pretty good if you look at it in a positive manner. Enter Western N.Y. and the Lake Erie snow machine.

The guys here start to get jazzed when they see the cold fronts from Canada marching across the big warm Lake Erie producing colossal amounts of snow. We know that Western New York is going to get it and even though the vertical drop is not up to western standards, it still allows for lots of turns and smiles with lots of snow. You can say what you want about modern snow making technology and we would be nowhere without it, but there is no snow machine like the Lake Erie snow machine. My drives on I-86 will testify to the whiteouts that occur when this phenomena occurs. So the trek north begins and we all assemble in EVL and go …………..night skiing. I don’t particularly see well at night but our enthusiasm takes hold and we make turns in the shadows and hidden terrain changes. The cheeseburger and beer at John Harvard’s Brew House follows along with a host of stories and one ups from this group of expert skiers. The next day was sunny and the visibility was perfect, so it was a little better experience. But I would not have missed the night skiing for anything. Just fun to get out there and ski. If you added up the years of this group skiing, you would have well over 250 years of turns. We have skied together a long time here in the Laurel Highlands, and have shared laughs and ski days for many seasons. We appreciate the history of the sport too and the beer fueled conversations often lead to the equipment that we started with, people that we knew, and places where we have skied. When we stroll the hallways of Holiday Valley and Holimont up in Western N.Y., we see pictures like this showing the history of the sport and the traditions that are sacred to Western New York. You see, there are enthusiasts like us everywhere in the ski world and part of the mystique of skiing is respecting that tradition and keeping it alive no matter what tries to get in the way in our busy hectic lives. As I gazed closer at these relics in the case, I see the same Lange ski boots that I used as a kid. I see wooden skis and cable bindings and lace leather boots that I also used as a young guy just starting to ski.

It is fun to get together with my group every week during the winter, because we all share that passion. When the first snowflakes arrive, we can’t help talking to each other about the coming season. People who do not ski cannot relate and sometimes are mystified by our willingness to drive through raging snowstorms to get to our slopes. But when you are willing to drive in harrowing conditions, ski in the rain, battle the ice, basically ski the east, you are not just a person who goes skiing. There is a difference. You are a skier! I hear people all the time say, ” Oh, I only ski out west.” I say, ” Oh that’s cool- you only ski one week a year?” Ski locally, then when you do go out west you are ready and not needing a couple of days to warm up. Don’t be a ski snob. Real skiers use every opportunity, no matter where they live, to enjoy what they have and look forward to great ski days out west too. You can’t be there every weekend so why not enjoy what your local mountains or hills offer?

So my continuing theme in the chronicles is no matter what fuels your passion, get out there and do it and keep doing it. I love the winter. I make no bones about it. I love the snow and although I like the change of the seasons, I get amped with the first snowflakes and make every effort, like my group here, to get out and ski, snowshoe, hike, whatever. I even throw in some yodels just for good measure. Thanks for reading and think snow!

Don’t Circle the Drain

Janet and I went out to dinner the other night with some neighbors who are a little older than we are. They were laughing and joking about some friends of theirs when asked how they were doing? The friends remarked that they were just circling the drain. We all laughed about that visual but in the middle of the night, I took it a little more seriously and thought that I hoped I would never make that statement of being sucked into the vortex of oblivion. I want to be like the spider clawing furiously away from that drain and out of the tub. I try not to think about age but when I do, I make sure I am always taking every opportunity to be active and healthy, and not throwing in the towel. Lots of fun, active times ahead. My friends who are contemporaries feel the same. Take Helen and Eric above. They live in Tahoe and enjoy life in the Sierras. The photo above is from their month long trek in the Himalayas. They ski, hike, trek, and do not circle any drain.

This picture above is Nancy and Mark Hutchinson from Randolph Center, Vermont. They hiked the Long Trail this summer which is from the Massachusetts border all the way to the Canadian border. There are no drains in the Hutchinson household. They take their vacations and are active.

Now you have Bob Bannon. The Lord of Lumens. Bob schedules all the local mountain bike rides and is the guru of lighting systems for night mountain bike riding. Always has spare lights and batteries and is so enthusiastic about riding even with a full schedule of silk screening clothing for a living and being a referee in high school and college volleyball. He is not circling any drain any time soon.

Here is a guy recovering from a close personal tragedy. Mike Rich always has a smile on his face and spends his free time hunting and enjoying the outdoors even with a heavy heart. It would be easy for Mike to feel sorry for himself, but he gives unselfishly to others especially young guys who are at risk for lifestyle choices. No drains out there in Burgettstown.

How about my buddy Art Bonavoglia? He is in his 6th season teaching skiing in the Vail Ski School. When the graphic arts business went in the tank due to on-line publishing and the like, Art went down another path. They love him in Vail. They call him the singing ski instructor. He regales his students with Tony Bennett songs on the chairlift. Art is not going down any vortex.

My main man Mike Smith. Owns a marina on Lake George, flies his own plane, skis, hikes, and sky dives. An amazing ball of energy for a guy in his late sixties. He will work, ski, skydive, most people into the ground. The water is full to the top at Lake George. No swirling drains up in the Adirondacks.

Lastly- a great inspiration to me on enjoying life into his 90s was my grandfather John Reynolds. As an avid fisherman, we went everywhere to fish and he and his buddies would rise with the birds to get that first bite either in the Everglades, or on the lakes in Canada. I had the honor of being their first mate and seeing up close and personal guys in their 80s and 90s enjoying the wilds of nature. No sitting around for these guys.

I guess the point here is that sometimes we let people influence us with statements like, ” when are you going to slow down?” Or “aren’t you a little old for that?” Or maybe “wouldn’t you rather be sitting by the fire under an afghan?” Yes I would – after a great ski day or a great mountain bike ride. I don’t roll over under the comforter if it is cold outside. I like to get out there no matter what. So do these friends of mine mentioned above. They do not go gently into that good night. They are kicking and clawing to stay out of the vortex. Most of them don’t even get close to that swirl just yet. With a new year dawning, if you are thinking that somehow you are getting slowly sucked into that circling drain swirl, maybe it is time to reverse the process. Get active in 2018. You are never too old for anything. Thanks for reading.


I have to hand it to George Frideric Handel. His oratorio produced in April of 1742 still stands today as one of the finest pieces of orchestral and vocal performance. On my way out of the beautifully decorated Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh the other night, Janet asked me how I knew every word and the accompanying solo artist performance? Aside from the fact that “Messiah” is all based on scripture and reveals the salvation message of the Bible, the music is powerful and the choral work is so inspiring it brings people like me to tears. The Pittsburgh Symphony and the Mendelssohn Choir bring this masterpiece to life and I always take the opportunity to take it in during the holidays when I can. The reason I know it well, is that at Christmas time, I play it often in my vehicle.

“Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low.” Isaiah 40:4 “Oh thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain.” Isaiah 40:9

On my way to the mountains to ski, I listen to this verse and imagine the power of that day. In my meager effort to imitate the tenor part here, I sing it in my car much to the delight of passing truck drivers and toll booth operators. They laugh and think I am rocking out to something on the radio. Little do they know. Listening to this, and seeing the mountains around me in the car, it is almost like I am transported to a place higher than where I am.

“Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel; God with us.” Isaiah 7:14

I take this in silence in the vehicle. Contemplative and the counter tenor part is inspiring.

“And the angel said unto them: Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2 10-11

Aside from thinking about Linus and Lucy in a Charlie Brown Christmas here, the soprano part definitely stirs the Christmas soul in all of us. This is a signature performance for the soprano in the oratorio and in Heinz Hall the other night, Rachel Gilmore was spectacular. I crank this up in the car when I listen on the road, because I really appreciate the talent of a trained soprano.

“All we like sheep have gone astray,we have turned everyone to his own way;and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isiah 53:6

I hear this and think how crazy the world has gotten. Some of the things that have happened in the news- natural disasters, violence, division among us, it makes you think when you hear a chorus like the Mendelssohn sing this verse in a venue like Heinz Hall. Not only does the music stir you, but the words make you think about the message of Christmas. We need some help here folks.

Then comes the ultimate moment when tradition has all of us stand when the orchestra and the chorus sing the Hallelujah Chorus. One year I took my wife Janet to see the performance and it was a sing a long. All the local choirs came and sang each part with the Mendelssohn. When the Hallelujah Chorus was sung, all of Heinz Hall was singing and I almost jumped out of my seat. I sang the tenor part and was part of a powerful group of people singing their hearts out with one of the world’s finest symphony orchestras and an equally talented Mendelssohn Choir. We have a little history here in that my wife’s grandmother sang in the Mendelssohn years ago and when my mother in law went with us this year, she told the tales of the practices and performances in days gone past.

“Oh death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Corinthians 15:55-56

Driving, or listening in Heinz Hall, I think of all who have gone before us. This beautiful message sung by the tenor and the counter tenor, makes me smile and think that they are happy and enjoying the best Christmas of their lives in the company of a celestial chorus of angels. What a vision.

Heinz Hall comes alive for one last chorus of the Great Amen and everyone is up and reveling in the magnificence of the Pittsburgh Symphony, the brass,the violins,the cellos,the resounding kettle drums, and the combined voices of the chorus that shake the walls. To a sentimental Christmas guy like me, memories come alive of Christmas in the past, and great treasures of Christmas present. I hold my wife’s hand as we listen to the last verse from Revelations 5:9.

I love it. I cannot wait to take it in again. If you get the chance, take in “Messiah.” One of the truly great musical and visual performances you will ever see. Merry Christmas. Thanks for reading.