Fast Freddie

The first time I skied with Fred Siget was in Snowshoe, West Virginia with Larry Walsh of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. I had some limited training but had experience as a ski instructor. So, as my maiden voyage with a visually impaired skier, I had the original blind skier in our area in front of me headed down Cupp Run. Right turn, left turn, right turn, stay, stay………..all of a sudden the only tree in play was before me as I yelled “crash” and Fred sat down on his way to running into the only tree within hundreds of yards. I felt so bad, but Fred dusted himself off with a smile and said, ” Pat- don’t worry about it at all. This will be one of many.” And we continued down the slope. This began a 40 year friendship with the one and only Fast Freddie Siget.

Fred lost his vision as a result of an accident with a high pressure hose when he was a volunteer fireman. As devastating as this injury was, he was undaunted. He became the first computer programmer for Koppers Corporation that was visually impaired. He continued dancing, and he learned to ski with guys like Larry Walsh, Jim Conley, Lynne(Kravetz) Hartnett, Shorty Leco and Micky Hutchko. People who took the time to work with Fred and make him into a pretty good skier by the time I came along. Fred always had ideas on how to make things easier for blind skiers and how to improve guiding techniques. He was the first guy I knew that purchased a transmitter where the guide had a microphone and he had an ear piece which made calling out commands easier and understandable with snowmaking machines roaring in the background. I used it one time standing on top of a slope and calling commands to Fred as he skied by himself down to the chairlift. With his” Blind Skier” jacket on, people were shocked viewing his run. In the bar afterwards, we had some fun with Herman Dupre the owner of Seven Springs Mountain Resort. I put the microphone on and guided Fred over in front of Herman and told him to tell Herman how much he admired his red flannel shirt. Herman was stunned and later remarked to me laughing that he was starting to “get hot thinking about all the free passes I gave to Fred and now he is telling me how much he likes my shirt!” Hilarious.

Fred was a bus driver in the old days and always missed driving. One night after skiing, I asked Fred if he wanted to drive again. He was puzzled. I took him to the upper parking lot at Seven Springs and guided him into the drivers seat of my Blazer and let him have the wheel. I gave him commands like skiing. Right turn, left turn, stay straight, …the smile on his face was priceless. Then we did some donuts and the laughter was infectious. Fred never forgot that night.

Fred was always anxious to help new guides. He put himself at risk during the training but always felt that it was worth it not only to train guides that could assist him, but to help the other visually impaired skiers who were beginning to show up at the BOLD( Blind Outdoor Leisure Development) outings at Seven Springs.

Fred was a local legend due to his skiing. People knew him and admired him as they skied past him or saw him making turns from the chairlift. They knew him in Vail, Colorado where he skied regularly with the Mon Valley and Pittsburgh Ski Clubs. But perhaps the most compelling thing about Fred was his kindness and appreciation for his fellow skiers and guides. He always remembered your birthday and when he called me, he sang, ” Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, get plastered, you bastard, Happy Birthday to you.” That made me laugh out loud every year. He would always ask about my wife Janet, and my son Jack. Jack would ski with us when he was a young guy and Fred always was interested in how he was doing in school and in his sports. Fred always thought about other people. He was popular for his skiing for sure, but as a person, you could not get a better guy who was always interested in others and never talked much about himself.

We lost Fred this fall at 94 years of age. Although he had an amazing life, we will miss him. I always think of him when I see people who have heartache in their lives or something that has tragically shaped their future. Fred never let his accident slow him down. He always said that he did more as a visually impaired individual than he ever did before losing his sight. He took a perceived bad thing and turned it into opportunity. Shouldn’t we all learn from that lesson? R.I.P Fred, I will miss you for sure. Thanks for reading folks.

The Oldest Guy

” Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming,” Wow! WHAT A RIDE!”

-Hunter S. Thompson

I have also heard this with the ending, ” missing parts, leaking oil and screaming “Geronimo.” I always subscribe to this way of living because I like adventure, travel and experiences in my own way. However, due to a series of events recently, I have had some thoughts that question my verve. Some of this began a couple of weeks ago when I was discovering that I was the oldest guy on the mountain bike rides.  I really should not let that bother me but with the death of my brother in law at 61, and some other news of contemporaries who have had their troubles, I began to question my lifestyle as I march quickly towards 63. Sometimes, I feel like I am in an out of control vehicle and can’t stand on the brakes hard enough. Life is screaming by.

Then God plops me down right in the middle of Somerset county in an old barn for Biff Swager’s 65th birthday party( Is that the greatest name in the world?……Biff Swager!!!). Biff’s wonderful wife Annie organized the surprise party and all the old ski crowd came out in force. The food was wonderful, the band was GREAT, and the group danced their asses off( no other good way to put it), yes they danced their asses off and the joy of life was in full swing. Sue Baum Treacy summed it up best when she marveled at the group and vowed that we all have to get together this winter and ski because that is what brought us all together as kids in the first place. She and her husband John walk the walk by recently retiring and hopping on the back of their motorcycle, touring the west.

So, that was a real shot in the arm and dispelled any thoughts about age when I saw my group of contemporaries really enjoying each other’s company and killing it on the dance floor- of an old barn. Even Herman Dupre who is in his 80s, said he has so much work to do, he wants to live until he is 124. His wife Sis said “I will give him 100 from me and that is it.” We all laughed and as I drove off into the night, I thought what a great group and a great reason to keep living life as large as possible. You don’t have to climb Everest or do something outrageous to be adventurous. For me, taking that first ski turn down a chute out West, or rolling over a giant boulder field in West Virginia on the MTB is adventurous. Just have a positive attitude and engage in new ventures. The joy of a bike ride in cool fall weather can garner the same feeling of adventure that Jimmy Chin feels on a mountain peak. Not as dramatic, not as bold, but still relatively speaking, a personal adventure. Do what you can but like NIKE says…………just do it!!!

I remember asking Scot Nicol, the founder of IBIS Bicycles, one time on a ride,” how long do you think we can keep riding mountain bikes like this Scot?” He looked at me and said, ” Pat- don’t even think about it. Just keep riding.” This is sage advice from a Californian who really enjoys what he does. But what else dispels those internal thoughts that say, ” you are 63- who are you kidding?” Besides the joy of a ski turn and the beauty of the mountains, and the fitness created by riding a mountain bike, there are things that define self worth. The love of a spouse, the caring for friends, volunteering, being there for a cause, and spreading the good word of the Kingdom. True self worth is nothing more that knowing you are loved by the Good Lord. We are so blessed. It is incumbent upon all of us to care for each other, one person at a time, one neighborhood at a time. Make the effort folks, because as I have recently seen, life is fragile and we need to make the most of every moment. The time that is spent with your family and friends is so valuable. Sometimes you don’t realize it until someone is gone.

I know where I am going someday. But in the mean time, I will definitely leak oil, skid broadside in a cloud of smoke, and live life with that promise ahead of me. Who cares if I am the oldest guy? Thanks for reading.

Being a Brand Ambassador

For those of you who know me, you are aware that I get excited about things. My friends always laugh and say, ” Really Pat, is this the best?” I say, ” this is absolutely the BEST!” They chuckle and laugh at my enthusiasm for a wide variety of products. Recently, I went camping with a friend and used an instant coffee called Alpine Start out of Boulder, Colorado. Now I am a bit of a coffee snob but cranking up my Jet Boil, I got the water nice and hot and used the packet of Alpine Start which is a convenient instant coffee for the outdoors crowd. I was pleasantly surprised and so was my friend when we sipped the absolutely delicious coffee each morning. When I tell you it is the best, believe me, it is. I can hear my friends, but try some Alpine Start.   info@alpinestartfoods.com

As part of my enthusiastic nature, I usually contact a company and tell them how much I like their product. In some instances, like with Alpine Start, they made me a “brand ambassador.” I am not on the payroll, I just get some courtesies for promoting the product and a nice SWAG box full of goodies. It is their way of saying” thank you” and hoping that I talk it up with my friends. So what makes me a candidate to be a “brand ambassador” for anything? Well, lets go to another example from my friend Niall who is in the bicycle industry. He asks me from time to time to post something on my blog about new lines that he carries. For that courtesy, he makes me a “brand ambassador” and I get more SWAG and some courtesies from his companies that he represents. I don’t do it unless I believe in the product, but Niall says that I cover a wide swath of outdoor people with whom I interact and that makes me, in his eyes, a good brand ambassador. I am not a pro athlete, I am not on the payroll, the companies just see me as an enthusiastic guy who might exert some influence on my friends in the outdoor world to try a particular product.

When I became certified as a ski instructor back in the day, it opened up another similar opportunity to take advantage of “pro deals” which gives me deep discounts on ski equipment and clothing. For this courtesy, these companies rely on us to use the product when skiing and generate some conversations on the chair lifts which may result in a sale of the product to the public. Again, not on the payroll, just promoting the products in exchange for some nice discounts on products which I would normally use anyhow.

Taking this a step further, being a brand ambassador can be applied to recommending a shop with whom I am comfortable. I like Dirty Harry’s Bike Shop in Verona, Pa. and recommend their products and services. Barry and the boys are always nice to me down there when I buy something or get my bike repaired. I appreciate their friendship and great service and recommend them mostly because they are my friends. I am not on the payroll, just promoting them because of their friendly expertise.

Taking this a final step, our marketing department for the company where I am employed recently had a lunch and learn where they said that we all are “brand ambassadors” for the company when we interface with customers, carriers, and suppliers. When you think of it, if you are employed, you are representing your company every day. In exchange for a good job, benefits,culture, and the occasional SWAG, you should promote your company like I do with Armada. We do a great job for our clients like McDonald’s, and they appreciate the hard work and ethic that we have in servicing their supply chain needs.

So again, you don’t have to be a pro athlete to be a brand ambassador. I do it as an employee of my company. I also do it for companies like Alpine Start where I believe in their product. I promote my local bike and ski shop. I also promote product which I believe is superior in the outdoors industry such as Stockli Skis, Lange boots, and Patagonia clothing. Yes I get a pro/bro deal, and it helps my financial bottom line, but I would not do it if I did not believe in the product. You have to be true to yourself, otherwise, you are just a deal monger and your influence and recommendations are nothing short of shallow. So, think about it. You can be a brand ambassador. If you are enthusiastic about a product, email the company and tell them. You never know, they might come back to you and ask about your sphere of influence and make you a “brand ambassador.” I doesn’t cost you anything other than the specified guidelines for promotion and your good word. Thanks for reading.

Thanks a lot, Hutch!!!

My pal, Mark Hutchinson from Vermont, just got back from a massive 273 mile hike along the Long Trail in Vermont with his lovely wife Nancy. As soon as he got back, he is thinking about skiing and sends me this amazing video of Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein making amazingly perfect carved turns in summer training. https://instagram.com/p/BXc5g_Jl3cK/. For you skiers out there, STOP READING AND LOOK AT THIS LINK. DON’T SKIM OVER THIS!! HAHA! Amazing turns with lots of vertical motion and perfect flexing of the skis engaging the edges ahead of the fall line. No wonder- she is a World Cup racer and comes from good stock as both of her parents were World Cup racers. But now……this is in my mind like a song that won’t get out of my head. I am trying to enjoy the summer and ease my pain of making those last turns in late March with no option for more turns until November, 2017 at best. But Hutch, what have you done to me? I was on the wagon and now you have tempted me like all the magazines arriving in my mailbox with all the new eye candy for the slopes this season. I have all the out of town ski trips planned- with Janet,Hutch and Mike Smith, and the annual guy’s trip. I even bought an Epic Locals Pass. I live in Pennsylvania. Augghhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!! Addiction- it is terrible.

I try not to think about skiing in the summer but sometimes you get that itch and look at your equipment and think about what you have to get in the fall. I even used my ski gear to move a bird’s nest this year that was imbedded in a potted plant on my brother-in-law’s patio. My wife commented, “Only you would use a ski helmet and goggles to protect yourself from the attacking angry birds”. My brother-in-law could not use his patio or grill because of the protective, angry, flying robins. I changed that by moving the nest. Strangely, it felt good to put on the ski gear again. I am hopelessly addicted to making turns. I am counting the days now until the beginning of ski season and it just isn’t right. It is 85 degrees and I should be enjoying the mountain biking and the pool for as long as I can. But this video has put me over the edge and I feel those turns and see them in my mind. What have you done, Hutch?

As much as I like cycling and enjoying the warm weather, I look forward to the fall, the leaves changing and those first snowflakes that fall gently on the trails. I try to enjoy the moment, but people like Hutch make it impossible for me to rehab over the summer. So, if you see me on the trails for the balance of the summer, please know that I am trying. I enjoy the rides, I enjoy non-rainy days around here, I enjoy jumping in the pool, I enjoy cooking out on the grill, sitting in the shade with a cold one, all the good stuff of summer. But deep inside is this longing for those first turns. Tina Weirather is torturing me along with my pal Hutch who feeds me videos and commentary. Delta- you are guilty as charged too with your FB posts. Think snow…………..oh no, not yet!!! Thanks for reading.

Fourth of July Turns

Outside of setting my neighbor’s awning on fire with a bottle rocket launched by my grandfather, one of the most fun Fourth of July weekends was skiing at Tuckerman Ravine up in New Hampshire. That weekend was the second trip to the Ravine for the year with my pal Eric Durfee and we coupled great turns on corn snow with water skiing, golf, tennis, and jumping in his dad’s pond and swimming in Lake George. I came home exhausted but making ski turns in July was a real treat. I can recall the sunshine in the bowl, the beads of sweat forming on my forehead and climbing with my pack in a t-shirt and wind pants. July snow is dirty on the trail from all the freeze thaw events but the fragrance of pine trees, the rushing water in the streams, and the general communal feeling of extending the ski season was pretty cool.

A number of years later, I had a meeting in Fresno, California. I called my pal Jeff Rose from Philly who was also attending and I said, ” Hey man, how would you like to ski Mammoth Mountain on the weekend before and after the meeting? He was all in, being an avid skier, and as we came through our shirts in 108 degree temps in Fresno, the locals looked at us like we were nuts with all the ski equipment. Rose conked out on me as I drove through Yosemite in the pitch black night, but we made it to Mammoth at 3:00 AM. Bleary eyed, we awoke to blazing sunshine on July 19th. The latest I had ever skied in my life. Again- the feeling of getting over on something by extending yet another ski season was first and foremost on my mind. That year, Mammoth closed at noon but we were the first on the lift in the morning and made tons of turns on bullet proof ice which miraculously turned to amazing corn snow for just a short while until it turned to mush. Corn snow is fickle. It forms in the sunshine for a brief time and rewards the faithful with hero conditions. That brief moment when the corn snow is perfect has to be harvested as soon as possible. It was amazing to see how soon it turned to slop and we exited the mountain right at noon. The afternoons were spent sitting in the hot springs, drinking a beer and regaling the locals about our forward thinking to ski while on a business trip.

I have not had the opportunity to ski that late in a number of years. I know they are hiking up Mt. Rose now with good snow still in the Chutes. Nevada folks are dedicated and with the snow pack out there this year, they will most likely be skiing and hiking long into July. Mammoth will be open again and also Squaw Valley,California in Tahoe with a remarkable announcement, will have one chairlift open all summer into the next ski season. I will be there for a wedding in September and if they have that chair running as promised, I will definitely take a run or two to set a new personal record.

Why do I talk about skiing in the summer? My mountain bike friends set their watch to when I will start to talk about skiing on a ride. I look at my equipment in my garage and take the obligatory edge feel when I pass my shelf on the way to get my bike. I guess my enthusiasm for sliding on snow carries me through the year as it is the most fun outdoor activity in which I participate. Only 5 months to go. Plus, I love the winter. Not that I don’t like the change of seasons, but in those rare occurrences when I can ski outside the regular season, I thoroughly enjoyed it. My pal Bill Yalch out in Colorado will be camping in his van and getting the last turns of the season this year. He may have to do some climbing, but he will harvest that beautiful corn in that way too short window of time. Think snow? No- not yet? Thanks for reading.

Alone on the Wall

Just picked up an interesting book called “Alone on the Wall” by Alex Honnold and David Roberts. Now, I am not a rock climber but I have been interested in seeing what makes Alex Honnold tick. For those of you who are not familiar, Alex is what the climbing world calls a free solo climber. That being he climbs without the use of harnesses or ropes. He basically climbs rock walls with a chalk bag for his hands and his climbing shoes. That is it. Three weeks ago, he free soloed El Capitan in Yosemite which is one of his many “firsts”. That is 3,000 vertical feet of granite folks. If you have been to Yosemite, and look up the wall of El Cap, you can appreciate what a daunting task it would be to climb that let alone with no protection. You slip, you die.

Now I know that Alex has been interviewed many times and has achieved notoriety at 32 years of age. I have also seen interviews of his friends who say he has he ability to shut off fear. He studies the rock problems meticulously before he attempts to do anything and is fully aware of the risks versus the consequences of a fall. But one still has to wonder, why? Anything can happen and no matter how skilled you are, a slight slip of a hand hold can mean certain death.

Any of us who are involved in riskier sports can appreciate the risk versus consequence discussion. I don’t participate in anything close to what Alex does, but even in my skiing and mountain biking endeavors, these factors continually weigh into my decisions. As I get older, the consequences become more visible in that recovery is harder when you have an injury. I ride a mountain bike for exercise and not to prove anything. I am very conservative and although I am more confident because of experience, I don’t take any extra chances that would allow me to spend time in the hospital. I always say I ride to ride another day. Funny story is my doctor, Sy Hyder, is one of my mountain bike cronies. I asked him the other day why he didn’t adjust my coumadin dosage when my INR was a little low. He said,” Paddy- I knew we were riding Frick Park and I didn’t want you to bleed much.” Great when your PC has that kind of insight into his patients. He claims I am his only patient on coumadin who skis and mountain bikes. But he knows how I do it. No blunt force trauma hopefully.

The same mindset has become reality for me in skiing. Although I have much more experience in skiing than I have in mountain biking, I still have seen a more conservative approach as I age. Yes, I still try to ski the steeps and probably ski faster than I should, but as I age, sometimes I look a little longer down that chute to see where my first turn will be or if I want to do it at all. Rock walls are unforgiving and anything can happen on a pair of skis, even when you are in the zone and making great turns. Bravado can lead to consequences if you are not careful. But I only take chances if I know I can probably pull off the end result.

As I have posted before,I don’t like heights. Kind of strange for a skier but that is just the way it is. Reading “Alone on the Wall” and looking at Alex above in Yosemite gives me sweaty palms as I type. My fingers are sticking to the keys just thinking about what this guy does. They say youth is wasted on the young and maybe Alex can summon up courage and shut the fear factor off better than most his age or younger. But to me, he takes amazing risks even though he is well prepared in his mind.

I read fast so this should be a quick book to finish. But be assured that he makes me think. I admire his feats on the walls of the world but wonder if he can quit before it is too late? Maybe age and responsibility will bring him back to using harnesses and ropes? Even the great climbers of the world agree – begrudgingly. They love the thrill. But the consequences are real. Thanks for reading.

Whether to weather the weather?

I have always been fascinated with weather. I can remember times watching a lightning storm dance over the ocean, or ripple a cornfield with fingers of electricity that lit up the darkened sky against a mountainous backdrop. Nature’s fury can be dangerous with tornadoes, and hurricanes. In our neck of the woods, there is a tornado alley this time of year just north of where I live and I have seen the destruction that occurs when a tornado or a micro-burst ravages trees and buildings. My wife and I are glued to the TV when a hurricane story begins on the Weather Channel.

Speaking of the Weather Channel, I always envied Jim Cantore’s job.

Jim Cantore

I always wanted to be the reporter hanging on for dear life in my Weather Channel Gore Tex outfit. I saw myself clinging to a light pole in a hurricane, 100+ MPH winds, garbage cans flying by my head, debris everywhere bringing the storm into the comfortable living rooms all across America. Pat McCloskey reporting live from Tampa, Florida, Niles, Ohio, or Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It’s crazy but I would love that job. Always wanted to be a storm chaser too. Looking for the tornado waiting to be born.

In addition to being fascinated by weather events, I love to be out in it. I have my Gore Tex outfits and am completely waterproof when I ski in torrential rainfall. The snow is soft and great even though the water is cascading down my goggles like a Yosemite waterfall. This spring has been particularly wet here in the east and if you don’t get out to enjoy your outdoor activities because of weather, you don’t get out much. I have ridden my mountain bike more days this spring in foul weather than I can remember, but as my friend Mark ” the Shark” Sauers says,” There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.”

The funny thing about being out in the foul weather is that once you make the effort, you are glad you did even though most people would think you have lost your mind. I can remember having my best results back in my weekend warrior days when the skies would open up on an mountain bike race course or during a road race. Most people either quit or didn’t bother to start. The ones who persevered sometimes didn’t have the attitude to continue like the guy changing his shirt here at the NORBAs at Seven Springs. He had enough when the skies opened up for a third time – concurrent with each lap. Mac Martin, a legend in cycling, taught me to persevere in bad conditions. He always said that if you think you are suffering, the other guy is suffering worse. Just continue on. I can remember going over the handle bars in Month of Mud races where it snowed 6 inches during the race. But grinding it out despite the crashes, paid off in the end. A little suffering for the weekend warrior taught me lessons in competition. You have to outlast the bastards.

Those days are gone now but I still make it a point to get out no matter what the weather is doing. I have skied in raging snowstorms and seen some amazing snow events. I have ridden on the road and trails in torrential rain and snow and coming back half frozen or soaked to the bone, I still have a smile on my face. Sure the sunshine is great, but look what you miss if you let weather ruin your fun. If you have the mindset that you go out no matter what, you will be happy you did instead of sitting on the couch. Get the gear- it is worth it no matter what you pay. If you suit up correctly, you can enjoy nature at it’s grumpiest. Experience the muffled silence of a snowstorm in the woods. Enjoy the smells of the green forests during a rain storm. The fragrance of the blossoms blooming in the humid air of the woods is better than any department store perfume counter. The soft tapping of rain on the leaves of the canopy is relaxing and even though things can get a bit sloppy, the experience of that soft rain is rewarding. Be like the Shark, no matter what, get out. No such thing as bad weather. Thanks for reading.