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.

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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.

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.

The Chairlift

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So, I was sitting on the chairlift last weekend at Laurel Mountain here in Western Pa. The rain was sheeting off my helmet and cascading down over my goggles and I noticed that I was the only one on the chairlift. Looking back to admire the view of our beautiful Laurel Highlands there was no one behind me or in front of me and I turned back around and sat in silence. Even though the weather was foul, I was protected in Pro Gore- Tex and thought about all the times in my life I have sat in silence on a chairlift while skiing. Truth be told, we spend way more time on the chair than we do skiing so what is it like?

Personally, I like skiing by myself sometimes. On foul weather days, I can ride the chair in silence and contemplate the scenery around me and most of all…..take the time to think about things. One of the nice things about enjoying your own company is that you can relax and not have to wait or meet up with anyone. Not that I don’t like to do that with friends, but silent times on the chairlift are therapeutic to me. Kind of like riding a mountain bike by myself. I talk to myself…..sometimes I get answers.

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I have skied in 108 different areas so I have ridden a lot of chairlifts in my time. Single chairs at Mad River and Stowe, fixed grip chairs with no safety bars at Aspen Highlands and Crystal Mountain, with short seats that scare me, and of course my main nemesis that I ride annually out at Mammoth- the infamous Chair 23. chair-23

I have posted about that before and when you have a four person chair, with no safety bar, suspending you hundreds of feet in the air over a wide expanse, people like me who are a bit acrophobic, tend to do the Archie Bell and the Drells and do the tighten up. But I get through because it is the only way up. So, what happens when other people are on the chair with me? Friends engage in conversation about the day and what is happening in their lives. It gives us all a chance to catch up and the social aspect of skiing is always enjoyed on the chairlift because …..well, as I stated, we spend the most time of the day there. The funny thing is when you sit with a stranger on the chair or a group of folks who you don’t know. Depending on my mood, I can sit there and say nothing, nestled behind my high collar and goggles. But in most cases, I usually chime in and say at least a cheery “Hello- great day huh?” That usually elicits some kind of civil discourse and oftentimes you meet interesting people and find out how their day is going, where they are from, what they like about skiing at an area, and then you hit the exit ramp and never see them again.

Then there are the ear bud types who play their music and just want to be left alone. Sometimes they look up and give you a loud, ” Hi. ” But most often they nestle behind the collar and the goggles and keep to themselves. That’s cool. You hit the exit ramp and never see them again.

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Late next week I hit the epic snows of the west. No more chairlift riding in the rain for me this season, but even though we have had a dismal winter here in the east, tenacity wins the day and one of the benefits has been time alone on the chairlift. I can look around, use the time to take in the beautiful mountain scenery of the Adirondacks, the Laurel Highlands, and on to the breathtaking vistas of the west. I will be hanging on for dear life on Chair 23, with my friends laughing at me all the way. But I won’t ride that chair by myself- that’s for damn sure. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

Not a Pine Knot!

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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.

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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.

The Adirondack Experience

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As I was winding my way through the Keene Valley this week en route to Lake Placid and Whiteface Ski Area, I was once again reminded why this road is voted one of the most scenic highways in the country. It is winter in the North Country and despite all the conversation of global warming, this region not only gets winter weather, but the residents enthusiastically embrace it. Whiteface was the scene of the 1980 Olympic alpine skiing events and my group of aging enthusiasts skied the Summit Chair reveling in the crystal blue skies and packed powder of the runs that once served as the start of the women’s and men’s downhill. Following a great day on the mountain, Lake Placid offers an atmosphere that still is electric with Olympic fever. Lake Placid was the host of the Winter Olympics in 1980 and 1932 and the Olympic Regional Development Authority manages all of the venues which still offer competition sites for many different winter sports to this day. img_1356img_1353

Every year, I make the journey to the Adirondacks to see my old friend Mike Smith who owns a marina on Lake George. Joining us this year, making the trip from Randolph Center, Vermont, was another friend Mark Hutchinson. Hutch coached ski racing at Stowe for 20 years and at 150 days per year in those days, he has a lot of experience in those legs of his. Couple this with Mike Smith, my skiing, sky diving, acrobatic plane flying, speed boat selling, motorcycle riding, gas pedal to the floor friend, you have the recipe for a couple of days of great skiing in a beautiful venue. But more than the skiing, there are many reasons that I like visiting the Adirondacks. img_1370

First and foremost, the scenery of the High Peaks region is incredible. As you wind your way through the mountains, along some of the most picturesque streams, and the Hudson River, you see nature at it’s finest. The roaring rivers choked with ice are a dramatic reminder of the power of water. The trees at the summit of the mountains remind you of giant ice cream cones covered in a white frosting. But another part of the Adirondack experience lies with the people themselves. Sitting around Bean’s Country Store in Queensbury, New York, you have a relaxed atmosphere of sitting over a coffee and talking to the locals who regale you with tales of snowmobiling, and skiing, with really no rush to go anywhere. The people are hard working and used to braving the elements, but you get the sense that they love living where they do and the harsher the winter, the more they embrace it with their enthusiastic attitude. img_1369

We made our way to Gore Mountain yesterday which has that Adirondack feel to it. But as most ski areas that are run by the State of New York,there is not much real estate development, which leads to a private ski club atmosphere. The Backwoods Ski Club meets there regularly which basically is an organization of local retirees and active people in the ski community whose sole purpose is to enjoy skiing and sit around and talk about it over a meal and a cold one. No dues, no meetings, just show up and ski together. The oldest member is 91 years young. It is so neat to hear his tales of life in the Adirondacks back in the early part of the 20th century.
At Gore, you can ski two of the steepest runs in New York State. Rumor and Lies both make you think about that first turn and it is not a rumor or a lie to say that they are challenging. But the locals love it when the challenge is extended to outsiders. The fireplace at the end of the day offers definite rumors and lies about the performance of the skiers that day, but the smell of that fireplace along with a beverage is one of the reasons why I always return to the Adirondacks year after year.IMG_0084

Making my way home along NY State Route 8, I am always amazed at how remote some sections of the Adirondacks can be. I took some pictures and hardly ever saw a truck or a car along the route. The North Country is rugged and although my wife likes the summers in Lake George and the vistas from Mike Smith’s Pilot Knob Marina deck, I personally like the winters. Not just for the skiing, but taking in the whole atmosphere of small towns, crystal clear streams, the High Peaks, and the charming Olympic town of Lake Placid. Nothing like a cold beer at The Cottage looking out on Mirror Lake where you can see pick up hockey games everywhere. photo

Sometimes I think I am misplaced living down here in the banana belt where you have to be tenacious to ski and get your days in. But it is nice to know that I have good friends in ski country and if you make the effort to visit, their welcome is enhanced by the region of the country that offers great vistas and challenging terrain. Think Snow. I want some more winter before it is all said and done. Thanks for reading.

Lake Erie Fluff

This week, the west is being pounded with “Snowmageddon”. Amazing amounts of snow in the Tahoe and Mammoth Mountain region. I can’t wait to get out there in March, but for the time being we are treated here in the east to the maddening cycle of snow and cold, rain, warmer temperatures, back to cold, ice, wind, etc. etc. etc. It takes fortitude to be a skier in the East and even if there is no snow on the ground in the city and suburbs, don’t ever underestimate the power of grooming, and snowmaking at the local resorts. img_1265

Fortunately cycles change and we are blessed periodically with a phenomena that I call Lake Erie fluff. As with the storms that come from the Pacific that bang into the Cascades, we here in the banana belt see storms that come from Canada. They roll over the warmer waters of Lake Erie which produce locally heavy snows in the Western New York areas as well as colliding with the ridges of the Laurel Highlands and produce a light powdery snow that is the fluff. Lake Erie is our “snow machine” and for those who live in the northwest corner of Pa. and Western New York, it is a reality of winter even in the cyclical winters of late. I went to school in Meadville, Pa where I wore Bean boots from September through May. But to local skiers, we look forward to these storms which can salvage the cyclical damage of the winter rain, freezing rain and warmer events. IMG_0515

My wife Janet and I take advantage of these storms each winter snowshoeing and skiing locally but also traveling north to the Lodge at Glendorn http://www.glendorn.com to celebrate her birthday and to take advantage of mid winter storms in the “icebox” of Pennsylvania. Snowshoeing on the local trails there is a very pleasant experience especially when the Lake Erie fluff falls softly during our outings. The crackling fires of the lodge are welcoming and we have been very fortunate to time these visits with snow events rather than warmer, rain events. We usually combine these visits with trips to Ellicottville, NY to ski at Holimont http://www.holimont.com or Holiday Valley, each of which lie directly in the path of the storms rolling across Lake Erie. ellicottville-20130208-00088

It is not uncommon here in Pa. to see blizzard conditions in the northwest corner of the state with nothing on the ground as you drive farther to the south. Then the snowpack increases as you drive into the Laurel Highlands where you see the results of the storms colliding with those ridges and emptying larger amounts of the fluff on the local areas in the region. A strange weather pattern to be sure but it enables us to have some outdoor winter activities despite not being in the more traditional snowbound areas of New England or the west. newaerial

I often hear people say that they don’t ski in the east or they don’t ski locally, they only ski out west. That is fine if you are satisfied with only a week or two enjoying your favorite winter sport. In my mind, take advantage of the local opportunities so that when you do go on a trip, you can be ready to go. In my mind, making turns is making turns. The more you make of them, the better you are prepared and also the more you can enjoy the winter. This particular winter has been a strange one but skiing Wildcat at Laurel Mountain has been a fun experience seeing that it is the steepest slope in Pennsylvania and the area has been reopened after a 10 year hiatus. I know that lapping those runs will get me ready for my Adirondack and western trips but it also has been truly enjoyable in its own right. Janet and I will be venturing north shortly and hoping for a nice dump of that Lake Erie fluff again on our visit. Our friends, Mike and Judy Smith, drive all the way from Philly to join us.img_0541 They usually only ski the west but were pleasantly surprised with the Holimont experience in Western New York. Also the stay in Glendorn is memorable. Get there if you can.

The Return of a Classic Ski Area

I have skied a lot of areas in my time and most of them were in New England where there are the giant, corporately run areas and the smaller privately held areas. The smaller areas always held my interest because they had a sense of tradition and a feel of skiing in another time. Recently, in our neck of the woods, down here in the Banana Belt, Laurel Mountain came to life again this year. It went from being one of the lost ski areas to a vibrant, resurgence of a classic ski area reminiscent of those areas in New England. In fact, there is a tie to Mt. Cranmore in the Mt. Washington Valley of New Hampshire. Apparently, when the Mellon family first had the idea to develop a ski area in 1939 for the members of the prestigious Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier, they hired Hannes Schneider to lay out the trails. Hannes Schneider was the ski school director at Mt. Cranmore who was brought to the US from Austria by the industrialist Harry Gibson, a friend of Richard King Mellon. Schneider is widely acclaimed as the father of ski instruction in this country. newaerial

When you first pull past the stone entrance hut on the mountain road, you feel as if you are driving back in time. The parking lot is never full and as you make your way to the top of the mountain lodge which has been recently refurbished, you can relax in an Adirondack chair by a roaring fire and put your boots on. img_1263 You can then take your brown bag lunch inside or take advantage of some good comfort food in the new bar area in the base of the lodge. The picture windows look out on the whole Ligonier Valley which is not only scenic during the day, but a sight at night if you choose to night ski. The refurbished snowmaking by HKD and the new Pistenbully groomer make the Wildcat slope a delight to ski and it is known to have the steepest vertical in the state. img_1266

I remember skiing Laurel when it was run by the state and had some amazing powder days there with Frank Pipak, a friend who took the PSIA exam the same year that I did. Although, I spent the winter prior to that exam in Sugarloaf, Maine, I often credit my runs down Lower Wildcat with preparing me for the steeper terrain that was utilized in the exam. My friend Hiller Hardie always says, ” if you want to get your legs ready for the western trips, lapping Wildcat at Laurel will put you in good form.” Your legs get a work out on lower Wildcat with the steep vertical pitch. img_1265

When Seven Springs Mountain Resort decided to bring Laurel back to life this season, along with the DCNR of the State of Pennsylvania, it was time to promote it. I have told a lot of friends about my good times at Laurel and how they must try it. Like my two snowboarding friends, Tina and Mark Sauers who were totally enthralled with the area and the family feel to the place. img_1262

We have some challenges down here in the banana belt with the weather being on the edge of rain and snow. But credit Laurel with good snowmaking and grooming to make it possible for enthusiasts like me to get the most days out of rather dismal early winter conditions. I have a lot of good memories of skiing at Laurel back in the day including fun times with my son Jack and our visits to Fort Ligonier and the Pie Shop in Laughlintown at the bottom of the mountain. IMG00117-20100116-1123

Two years ago, Hiller, John McWilliams, Jeff Balicki and John O’Toole and yours truly used our snowshoes to hike into the closed area and after unloading our packs, took two runs down Lower Wildcat. Four hours plus of hiking for two runs was “having to have it” and it showed our devotion to an area which we all loved. It is so nice now to have Carl Skylling’s new Sky Trac chairlift instead of bootpacking to claim our vertical. IMG_1574photophotophoto

So if you are a local, get over to Laurel. You won’t regret it and if you are visiting, check it out. Lower Wildcat will surprise you even if you are a veteran of steep skiing from points beyond. I am so happy it is back. Hannes is probably up there smiling at all of us. Thanks for reading.