Euro-Ski

So the other day, someone asked me what was the most interesting ski lesson that I have ever taught. I thought about it for a while and said, ” Well, aside from the time I taught a blind nun with a colostomy, or a blind Hell’s Angel from Chicago, I guess it was the Euros in Kuhtai in the Austrian Tyrol. I was there with Mark Singleton and Kenny Griffin representing Western Pa. in an event that the Austrian government called ” Ski Happyning.” We were selected by PSIA( Professional Ski Instructors of America) to represent our region along with a group from all over the U.S. One week of touring and one week actually placed with a ski school in an area in Austria. We were selected to go to Kuhtai, a little hamlet high up in the Austrian Alps. The ski school director picked us up and drove like a mad man through the night up these twisty mountain roads that led to the ski area. There he placed us in the hotel for the night and told us he would see us in the morning to shadow his instructors and their lessons for the week. You see, in Austria, tourists come to ski for the week and part of the package is a mandatory session each day with the ski school. It is tradition as well as something that the patrons of the resort look forward to each year when they take their winter vacations.

Late that night, the road was covered with an avalanche and the instructors who lived in the town below were unable to get to Kuhtai to teach their lessons. So the three amigos from Pennsylvania went from being the guests to the employees in a real hurry. The ski school director came to us and explained the situation and said, ” Do the best that you can, but you guys are being put to work.” He was a bit of an iron ass anyhow so it was not surprising that he was discouraged that a trio of apple cheeked American yahoos would be teaching his clients.

After some of the local instructors took the beginners, we were given our groups and off I went with a group of Austrian ladies who were none too pleased to be with the American, instead of their usual handsome Austrian blonde ski god. I did the best that I could seeing that I spoke little German and mostly had to communicate with physical instructions on what I wanted to accomplish. I showed them the PSIA certified technique of a wider stance and they were having none of that. They shook their heads “no” and said for me to go ahead of them and guide them down the slope. As I looked back, they had their feet glued together in standard,Arlberg, counter rotated, form at the time, and saw no reason to try a more athletic approach to stance which would enhance their turning and balance on the hill. It was quite a challenge to try to show them the wisdom of separating their feet but again, no way they were buying it. At the end of the day, they were all smiles because I had basically guided them all day which was a minor miracle in itself seeing that I had never skied the area and relied on a map and their instructions as to our direction. They bought me a beer at the end of the day and we had a few laughs in the bar, not understanding any of the conversation. I know that most Europeans speak English from my prior experience, but they held that from me with giggles and glances.

Regrouping with Kenny and Mark at the end of the day, we all had similar experiences and to have a challenge like that with a language barrier was almost as daunting as my experience teaching visually impaired individuals.

Taking us back down the mountain road at the end of the week, the ski school director thanked us in his limited English and as we left his van, he handed me their ski school banner which you see above. It hangs on my baker’s rack in the basement as a reminder of a wonderful time in Austria and a most challenging ski lesson.

Kind of reminds me that I need to get back to Europe to ski again. It has been a long time and the atmosphere and the history of the sport over there is well worth the effort. Think snow and thanks for reading.

You Are!

I am not a Penn Stater. But my wife is. An avid one at that, and so is her mom, her uncle and aunt and her cousin. They all bleed Blue and White. They all shout…..” We are!!” For almost the last 30 years, I have been witness to a phenomena that is reserved for those who have been through the State College experience and have gone through leaps and bounds in their love for their school and their PSU friends. No group could ever be as close as my wife and her PSU pals.

Every fall, we make the trek to Happy Valley to take in a football game and get together with Jan’s whole clan. The fact of the matter is that we get together with them frequently. Ski trips, football games, the beach, weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduations, all are attended by this really close knit group of Nittany Lions.

Personally, I get the bonus of riding mountain bikes in Rothrock State Forest Challenging to say the least but equally as scenic riding along the ridges of Tussey Mountain with my friend Mike Smith- the spouse of my wife’s good friend who was a cheerleader for the Lions. I see the traditions of ice cream at the Creamery, a box of Rocks at the Skellar, hamburger a la Corner, and many others that have been introduced to me by Janet and her friends.

The ladies are particularly close and a lot goes into planning the trips, the food and drinks at the tailgates at the Smith’s motor home. How Judy(the cheerleader) manages to drive that behemoth through traffic, set up the tents, the food, the drinks, and welcome friends and strangers alike with her husband Mike, is really remarkable. For almost 30 years this crowd has invaded the Ritchey home as they graciously allow us to crowd in and crash for the weekend. Mark and Kathy are an amazing couple whose generosity over the years is inspirational. Kathy was Janet’s “roomie” and they are the best of friends. Dunz, Copes, Fru,the O’Donnells, the Readings, the incredible food prepared by Diane Barrett and her husband Billy. These guys all blow your mind with their love and passion for each other.

But the spirit of the Penn State Experience was truly on display this weekend when a record breaking attendance was set in Beaver Stadium for the game against Michigan. If you have ever experienced a “white out” it is a most intimidating sight for the opposing team but the zeal of 110,000+ people chanting “we are” stirs the collective soul of everyone who calls himself or herself a Nittany Lion.

However, if you really want to understand the soul of the Penn State experience, it really lies in the friendships that are created over the years. Penn State people love their school but more often than not, their fondest relationships and memories are with their friends from their days in Happy Valley. Janet’s best friends are her Penn State friends and they make an effort to get together, email,talk on the phone and plan the next get together. My wife recently lost her brother and the last crowd in the corner at our house was the PSU crowd. Gathering around Janet and her mom, crying, laughing, sharing feelings and hurts, and collectively wrapping their paws around two of their brood who were sad and hurting. This is the soul of the group. They love each other in the good times and in the bad times. They are there for each other through thick and thin and often it is no easy task seeing that the group is spread all across the country.

As I sat among Michigan fans this past weekend( the way the tickets worked out), the people around me remarked what a great experience they were having in Happy Valley. They said, there is nothing like the Big Ten experience and I am sure that friendships like these can happen at most schools who create that kind of atmosphere. I had a quite different experience going to a Division 3 private college but I have learned a lot watching the Penn State crew over all the years. They have become my friends as well and have embraced me like one of their own. Their paws have comforted my wife and me in hard times and welcomed us in all the good times when we get together. They are generous,kind, attentive, and would do anything for you. When I looked out on that massive crowd this past weekend, I thought about the cheer “we are!” It vibrated through the stadium and echoed in the mountains around Happy Valley. It was broadcast nationally on television and as I took it all in,I can surely say….., without a doubt…….. ” Yes- you are!!!” Thanks for reading.

Almost Heaven

Why is it that it always rains sideways when I go mountain biking in West Virginia? I remember the NORBA races back in the day at Snowshoe when it poured biblically the night before the races and the course was a peanut butter mess with extremely high humidity. I suffered like a dog. The years that we all went down to Slatyfork for the Fat Tire Festival, we could hear the torrential rains swelling the creeks outside of the Jerico Bed and Breakfast http://www.jericobb.com in Marlinton and woke up to flash flood warnings. But we rode. This year we went to a great event called Dirt Fest run by Dirt Rag Magazine http://www.dirtragmag.com in Big Bear, West Virginia and again, it rained cats and dogs on the Friday that we arrived. It was like “Almost Heaven” was saying to me,” Pat- you have to bring your “A” game down here and we are not going to EVER give you a gimme.” Even though we had brilliant sunshine on Saturday and Sunday, the damage had been done and the slime on the rocks, boulders, and roots which define West Virginia riding, made Saturday morning the usual challenge. There are people like Tom Florcik http://www.trailflobikes.com and Sue Haywood who make it look easy and send it over the big drops. But I tend to be more cautious because as I always like to say, ” I ride to ride another day.”

So why do I keep beating my head against the wall and venturing into a most challenging environment? I do it for the beauty of West Virginia and the people who make the event so much fun. Dirt Rag Magazine has been around for over 25 years and was the brain child of Maurice and Elaine Tierney. I am happy to say that I have known MO a long time and have had many enjoyable riding days with him along with cohorts like Karl Rosengarth and Jeff Wuerthele. Dirt Rag arranged all the logistics with Big Bear which is a formidable task along with arranging a whole myriad of suppliers in the bike industry to attend with demo equipment. Along with great food by Doan’s Bones Bar b Que http://www.doansbones.com and the fabulous pizza supplied by Liz Klevens, the event was lacking for nothing. The movies and the beer supplied by Green Flash http://www.greenflashbrew.com and Oskar Blues http://www.oskarblues.com did not disappoint and the whole weekend went off without a hitch. No one seemed to mind the muddy but steadily improving conditions. But what really brings us back year after year? The People!! The mountain bike community is a friendly lot of “crunchy”, ” earthy” people who love the outdoors and can really ride the challenging conditions. It is not often that you see a group of ladies like Val from Asheville, NC, Chrissy from the Canaan Valley and Stephanie from the burg, pound fearlessly over muddy, rocky obstacles with smiles on their faces and laughter all around. Mountain bikers know how to have fun and at the end of the day, know how to kick back and enjoy the fading sunlight and the roaring fire complete with stories about the adventures of the day sipping a cold IPA. I love my crew and also love to gather with the “tribe” at events like Dirt Fest. The Chetlins, the Girones, and Sy were missing but they were in Bend riding. So, they had an excuse. Our local crew makes a contribution to the scene with characters like the Shark, Bob Bannon and John O’Toole- veterans of the sport, Johnny Mac and Bob Anderson- really skilled riders, Pete Hilton, Mike Connors and his son Riley-fun, good riders, and Angelo Ross- the originator of http://www.naturalcause.org . John Casuccio, Joe D’Oro, Michele with an “L”, Michelle with two “Ls”, all skilled MTB folks, and of course Jeff Balicki who got MVP for the weekend riding the heinous rocks and roots just out of knee replacement surgery three months ago. If you ever saw passion for a sport, look no further than this affable barrister from Pittsburgh. He worked hard to get back on the trail and will be ready for ski season for sure. It’s the people…..people!!!! That is why we ride. Sure it is challenging, it is hard, it rains like a cow peeing on a flat rock, but the people of Dirt Rag and the folks of the eastern mountain bike community make it fun with the camping stories, the crackling fires, and the beers. Barry and the guys from Dirty Harry’s make sure all of us ride in style and repair the damage after weekends like this. The local shop is part of the community and we should all support them.

So if you ride mountain bikes, find events like Dirt Fest and support the cause. You will not only have a lot of fun no matter what the weather does, but you will make friends for a lifetime sharing the passion of riding and the truly spectacular trails. Thanks for reading.

Younger Next Year

I learn something new every ski season. I like to think other people do as well like my buddy Bill Yalch, seen here with his eyes closed. He and Brady Cunningham asked me how to smooth out their turns and I gave them a tip that always works that basically says…”don’t be in a hurry to finish the turn and engage the new downhill edge early and ride it out- flexing the ankles along the way”. Ankles are the key. I followed them down the trails at Arapaho Basin and called out when to engage the edge and when to flex the ankle. They did it and were very happy. John and Richard Nicolette are two childhood friends of mine who are great skiers. They ski in a very efficient, traditional way, but were interested in the new method of engaging edges and widening their stance. Bottom line- good skiers like Richard and John get it done for sure, but there is always something to be learned with new technique.

Fast forward a day and I made my way to Reno to meet up with our annual gathering of F.O.E.D.( Friends of Eric Durfee).

This group comes from all over the country to ski with Eric due to his generosity and we all represent different phases of his life. Mark Hutchinson and Proctor Reid are his childhood friends from Vermont. Hutch was a race coach at Stowe and coached Erik Schlopy who was a U.S. Ski Team member. Proctor raced with them as juniors and eventually raced for Dartmouth. John Ingwersen and Bart Smith raced for Cornell with Eric, and I came on the scene after Eric was married to my friend Helen from Seven Springs. This group skis hard and for a bunch of 60+ guys, we go from the first chair to the last chair. This year we had a little addition to our usual hard core gathering. My friend Jeff Mihalsky, a snowboarder- splitboarder to be exact( he has great prowess in the back country), came up from Sacramento to ski with us at Mt. Rose. It was funny- he kept calling us “old dudes” but we all learned a bit about snowboarding and my friend Eric said no doubt that snowboarding saved the ski industry. It was a great vision to see a bunch of old hard core skiers having a blast with a young snowboarder. We all get down the hill hard and fast and it was a great day and a mutual learning experience.

So one day at Mammoth, Eric says to Hutch ( a seasoned PSIA Ski Instructor as well as race coach), ” Hutch- give us all a tip for us to work on this trip.” He thought about it for a while and after telling me to lower my center of gravity and look more ahead, telling Eric and Ing to follow the turns with their center of mass instead of being so countered in the typical race position, and telling Proctor practically nothing because he bends the skis so well and gets them out from under his body that there isn’t much improvement there. We all learned something from those suggestions and even though we all are seasoned skiers, we all can learn something every season. Thanks Hutch.

After a series of shoulder surgeries, hip replacements, and other corrected maladies with this group, the skiing is still pretty high level and I asked Eric how long did he think we could pound it like this. He remarked that as long as nothing catastrophic happened, he didn’t see any reason why we wouldn’t have at least another ten years of high level skiing. That is the premise behind one of my favorite books,” Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley. Keep doing what you enjoy, stay in shape, and don’t let anyone tell you that you are too old. Chris is now in his eighties and skis and rides a bike everyday……everyday!!

I actually get a little depressed at the end of the ski season. I think about the year and how much fun it is to rip GS turns on a perfectly groomed slope. The thrill of skiing the steeps with the chalky smooth snow peeling from beneath my sharpened edges. The sun, the mountains, and the ability and the opportunity to enjoy them is something I treasure with my friends. As I nodded off on the plane after looking at the Rockies one last time this season, I daydreamed about the year and the laughs, the learnings, the fun, and the benefits of skiing. From the Laurel Highlands, to the Adirondacks, to the Rockies, to the Sierras, this season has been fun. Skiing is a lifetime sport and as we all move into another season, we have our motto…..” Younger Next Year”. Thanks Eric, Ing, Proctor, Bart, Richard, John, Bill, Brian U, McClean,Jeff L, Porter, John, Tim, Monty, Alan,Tom, Chris, Judy, Mike,Mike S, and my lovely wife and Holimont ski pal Janet, for a great 2016-2017 season. Thanks for reading and now it’s time to haul out the mountain bike.

Not a Pine Knot!

img_1393

This winter is a weird one for sure here in the East. Some weeks are cold and snowy and others are really warm. We had the great opportunity to enjoy The Lodge At Glendorn this past weekend and got some good skiing in at Holimont and some nice snowshoeing before it all started to melt.fullsizerender The last day we started a new sport- mudshoeing because of the deteriorating conditions of the trails. However, any time spent at the Lodge at Glendorn is a good one and the weather was generally cooperative for a winter stay. http://www.glendorn.com dining-6more-gd-pics-039

One of the other activities that Mike Smith and I take part in when we are at Glendorn is learning a little bit about skeet and trap shooting. The Glendorn facility is second to none and the instructors are well versed along with the equipment that is available. The collection of shotguns is impressive and some of those pieces of equipment are over $12,000.00 each. It is harder than it looks folks, and I am here to tell you that as much as I enjoy it, I can’t hit the broad side of a barn with a bag of rice. Enter George.

img_1390

We were first introduced to George as we walked into the facility for our 3:00 appointment at the range. George is a retiree working at the resort with 43 years in at Kendall Refining behind him. A nice older gentleman who asked us what we knew about skeet shooting. When we feigned mostly ignorance, he thought we were sandbagging him, but I told him he will surely see we were rookies when we first hold the shotgun. We all laughed and George explained the finer points of skeet and trap before we stepped foot on the range. George is a good instructor. He is patient and kind and understanding. He said that he gets as much of a kick out of us breaking a clay pigeon as he would himself. I didn’t want him to be disappointed in my lack of skill but he guided us all the way through. The poignant conversation began when George stopped and said, ” You know fellas, you might think I am an old pine knot up here taking up space in the woods, but I was a 5 time Pa. State Champion at Skeet.” I was not surprised at all because of his knowledge and the way he handled the shot gun. But I was more taken by the fact that he was a little insecure because of his age and perhaps what we thought of him. Nothing could be further from our minds as we respected his knowledge and skill. It struck me that older gentlemen sometimes feel like they have outlived their usefulness and that life has somehow passed them by. It became my mission to make sure George felt comfortable even though I was the one intimidated by trying to perform in front of a 5 time State Champion.

I like older guys. I would bet that in fact, George was not all that much older than me, but all in all, probably had a few years on me. You could see the 43 years of hard work in his hands, the slight fatigue of an older gentleman, but the twinkle in his eyes still showed me a passion for his sport and the thrill of passing on his knowledge to others like Dr. Mike Smith and me. I do notice young people today sometimes do not respect the older generation. They sometimes dismiss them as old men who don’t know anything. I always have taught my son Jack to respect the older guys as he learned a lot over the years from his grandfather- another George, George Bope. These guys have seen a lot and in my zeal to make George feel comfortable, I truly wanted to show him that in my eyes, he was not a pine knot at all but someone who was truly interesting to me. I asked him about his years at Kendall Oil and he obliged me with stories from the refining days and his experiences in the back woods of Pennsylvania. His slight intimidation disappeared as we continued to shoot and BS, and he realized that Mike and I truly appreciated our time with him. I told him, ” George- it may be nothing to you, but just having the experience of handling a shot gun and knowing how to load and shoot it was a good experience for me.” Even though I kept shooting behind the target, I was hitting the mark with experience and a good time in the wilds of Pa. with my friend Mike and our new buddy George.

Returning to the cabin to meet our wives, we discussed our meager results. img_1391 But more importantly, we discussed how much we were impressed with George. I am looking forward to seeing him again when we return to Glendorn. He may think he is an old pine knot, but to me, he is wealth of experience. Respect the older guys, you will learn something. Thanks for reading.

A Colonial Christmas

49b27bfa102e6a90e1b298b1b21233af

I am a history nut and particularly the history of the Revolutionary days in this country. We here in Western Pennsylvania are fortunate in that a lot of the events that took place to shape the direction of the new nation took place right here in our region. I often daydream of what it would have been like to be an 18th century man. At this time of year, that daydream turned into a bright vision as I walked down the Duke of Gloucester street during my visits to Williamsburg, Virgina. 6c3139f39b95ad590a6b9fe3fffca04e

Wiliamsburg just might be one of the nicest places to visit during the Christmas season. Not only is it rich in history dating back to the 17th century but the reconstruction of historical sites make it seem like you are walking back in time. There were many nights when it was colder and  I walked the streets and talked to colonial dressed people standing beside an army stack of firewood burning brightly and warmly on the street corner. Their discussions of topics of revolutionary times not only made it seem real, but for visitors like me, it gave me great pleasure to see how it might have been had I lived in those days.
images

Williamsburg is also famous at this time of year for their decorations on the doors of the shops and pubs and the Christmas decorations in general are exceptionally well done especially with a dusting of snow on the buildings and the streets. 605fd664dfc5584d478748da52c67ef3

One of my more vivid memories of those visits was to take in the Candlight concert series at Bruton Parish Church which was founded in 1674. When you come in from the cold and are greeted by candlelight and a choir from a visiting town, you can really get into the Christmas spirit absorbing the atmosphere and listening to the harmonies and the musical excellence of the chamber orchestras.

During warmer visits, I took my mountain bike and joined the evening rides with the shop guys from Bikes Unlimited ( 757-229-4620). You can call them for the ride schedules and can be treated to trail rides on the William and Mary campus trails as well as the Chambrel trails near by. The rides are always followed by a gathering of riders at the local Panera. These trails are twisty, turny, singletrack and although there are no measurable hills in the Tidewater region, they are challenging enough with the meandering trail construction. It is interesting to take a break on the campus of William and Mary and be facing a statue of Thomas Jefferson. Knowing that he attended here as a student and looking at his countenance was a treat to this history buff.

Sometimes history is lost on people. I had my family in Williamsburg one summer when it was 100 degrees. As I was extolling the virtues of Patrick Henry to my son as we heard his speech done by an actor, my son looked at me and said,” Hey dad- where is the pool.” Now there were no 18th century pools available but he eventually soaked his hot little bones in the hotel pool. My wife was looking for relief as well but all I could think about was ” give me liberty, or give me death.”

The Williamsburg Inn is the hallmark location to stay in the village. images-1
This is a beautiful hotel with first class amenities but the Williamsburg Lodge is another option if the budget for the Inn is not there. 806309_44_b

If I were to offer a suggestion, I would still stick by my recommendation for Williamsburg at Christmas time. If you get lucky with some snow and winter weather, you will really feel the colonial ambiance. Take it in and take a walk back in history. Thanks for reading.

Non- Revenue and Space Available

One of the funny things that they say about flight attendants is ” Marry me, fly for free.” Now that was not the carrot that drew me to my lovely wife Janet, but it sure was a great perk while it lasted. 31c039e513832a80dde8f645936e7d8e
I can remember the first flight by myself as a “non-rev” passenger. In those days we had to wear a coat and a tie and Janet told me not to ask for any food unless they had enough to serve. Living in guilt ridden hell like I did, I didn’t move for the 5 hour flight to L.A. I politely refused any service and sat in the seat quietly and read my book for the entire flight. When I got to LAX, I ran to the men’s room and breathed a huge sigh of relief. When relating the story to Janet, she said the flight attendants probably thought I was some kind of weirdo. I got better at flying “non-rev” after that.
I saw a lot of places in those days and the ski areas were the number one target. Who can pass up a free flight to ski out west or in New England? chair 23
I got pretty good at judging what flights were full and where to go. I also got quite adept at changing my clothes on I-70 East in Colorado on the way to DIA. Many times I was stripping down from ski clothes to a rumpled mess of a sportcoat, tie and pants while on the move eastward. As I ran into the airport many times barely making the flights, I prayed that the doors would close and I would not get bumped. I didn’t realize that I still had the zinc oxide on my lips and the suntan lotion slathered all over my face. The baseball hat covered up the greasy helmet hair and all was good headed home. Although my seat mates probably did not appreciate the sweat and the stench for the 4 hour flight. 03jack395.2

Jan and I had a lot of nice weekends together to the west coast when she worked a San Francisco flight or a San Diego flight. We would head out on a Friday night, get to the hotel and go out on the town. The next day we would get up early and sight see and hit every tour and restaurant we could during the day. We would have lunch at George’s on the Cove in La Jolla and see the Jags and the players in their Gucci shoes. I would ask Jan if she had a nice time? She would say “yes” and then I told it was time to get back on the bus with the bag ladies to San Diego. Reality struck hard. Then the plan was to take a quick nap because she would work the “red-eye” and we would be back in the burg early on Sunday morning. Those were whirlwind weekends.

When we would head to the beach, Jan became a weather channel junkie. If there was even a sniff of a tropical disturbance off the west coast of Africa, we were out of there. She always told the horror stories of getting bumped during hurricane season and often our trips were cut short because of a pending hurricane that was still thousands of miles out in the ocean. photo

One time coming back from Jackson Hole for a ski trip, we were stuck in Chicago. We waited two days and there were no “space available” seats. No chance whatsoever with all the cancellations and we rented the last vehicle available at O’Hare and drove through the blizzard back to Pittsburgh. We had my cousin Michael in tow with his buddy and were packed like sardines as we braved the harrowing roads headed east.

Oftentimes, I would be in the airport and would run into a flight attendant friend of Janet’s, who would laugh and say to me, ” are you flying again and your wife is working?” I sheepishly said yes but somebody had to do it! No wonder my neighbors called me the married bachelor.

Janet eventually retired from the airlines when we had our son Jack and we moved to the frequent flyer points from Southwest for a ticket. The good thing about those is that you actually have a seat and are not subject to the potential of getting bumped off the plane in some location that was a connection. We continued to travel together but in a more relaxed mode and my individual, last minute trips eventually came to an end. However, being the flexible curmudgeon that I am, frequent flyers and work trips became a new target for associated fun. But the adventures of the “non-rev” flights will always be in my memory because of the unknowns of weather, full flights, and last minute runs to the gate because I had to get that last ski run at a major resort. Traveling space available with ski bags and bike boxes was a challenge, but it was always worth it when you reached the final destination. photo

Flights today are packed and when Jan speaks to her flight attendant friends that are still working, they say flying “non-rev” is difficult because of the full flights. So, we laugh and say, we got it while the getting was good. Lots of fun times and lots of memories thanks to my wife’s hard work with USAIR. Thanks for reading and don’t bring that zeppelin bag for the overhead. Check it. My wife’s buddies will appreciate your courtesy.