Go Nordic!

Olympic Gold Medalist Jessie Diggins,

Years ago, I met a young lady who was a member of the Middlebury College Nordic Ski Team. She was recounting her workout routine while quickly demolishing a half gallon of ice cream right before my eyes. She had to pay close attention to her diet and make sure that she was eating enough calories to fuel her practices and meets. In many cases, they just can’t eat enough. You see, cross country ski racers are a rare breed. Among endurance athletes, they have the most impressive VO2 data and their engines are unmatched in the endurance sports world. We have a real superstar right here in the U.S with Jessie Diggins who is a member of our U.S Nordic Ski Team and a gold medalist from the most recent Olympic games in Korea. She has had tremendous success on the World Cup and is a favorite for gold in the upcoming Olympics in China. These athletes are amazing and their skill and endurance is worth watching on the upcoming coverage of the Olympics in February. Check them out.

More gold in China?

If you take it down several notches, there are opportunities out there for the mortal man to participate in this winter sport. I am an alpine skier and rarely get to go cross country skiing any more but I have always had respect for people who make use of Nordic ski centers like the one we have at Laurel Mountain right here in Pa.

Laurel Mountain Nordic Ski Center

The cool thing about cross country skiing is that you can enjoy it casually like a nice tour through the woods or you can make it a real workout. Traditional skis can be used in the machine made tracks and the feeling of gliding along with your skis floating though the tracked trail is spectacular. Shorter skating skis are also available and you can skate your way along groomed trails which is another great workout. Finally, there are wider touring skis that have metal edges which allow you to break trail on a freshly fallen snow landscape like a golf course. Many ski touring centers offer rentals and if not, most outfitters like L.L. Bean. Public Lands, and REI have equipment for sale or rent. With the recent big snow in the East, I see many people out on the golf courses and on the groomed trails these days trying to make the most of the winter weather.

Tracked Trails.

Years ago, I had touring skis and would ski at night on the golf course near my home with a light on my head. A fun workout on clear, cold nights. Oftentimes in those days, I would also visit my friend Eric in Vermont and as a diversion from alpine skiing at Killington, we would take cross country equipment out of his garage and head to the quarry near his home in Bethel, Vermont. It was there that we skied up and down gravel and sand piles showing off and usually crashing and burning many times until we either had destroyed his equipment or were so stiff and sore and snow covered that we left and headed home for a cold beer. Fun times in those days in Bethel.

I often joke with my friends who cross country ski. I call them communist skiers. They laugh because they know that I associate cross country ski racers with the Eastern Bloc. Most of the success in recent years has been with skiers from the Baltic countries or Russia as well as the usual suspects from the Scandinavian countries. But look out for the Americans. We are coming on strong and the term communist skier jokingly will be a term of the past for me.

As much as I like alpine skiing, I do miss the days when I used to cross country ski. I may take it up again although Janet and I like to snowshoe when we are not skiing. We take advantage of the snow when it comes. If you are looking for a good day in the woods, there is nothing like a sunny winter day with cross country equipment in hand. Try it and perhaps look up your local Nordic ski center or consult with L.L.Bean, Public Lands, or REI and enjoy the winter. Thanks for reading, watch the upcoming Olympics on NBC and Peacock, and think snow.

You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

Kathy Brennan- Eastern Division CEO of PSIA

At the invitation of my friend Angelo Ross who is on the Alpine Education Committee for PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America), I had the opportunity to recently ski with Kathy Brennan who is the new CEO of PSIA Eastern Division. Kathy is an accomplished skier and on the staff at Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. She is traveling the east from Maine to North Carolina listening to ski area management, snow sport school personnel, ski patrol, and industry suppliers all on the subject of how to make the organization better. Kathy is dedicated to promoting PSIA as an education platform and to be a true partner to all of the entities within the ski industry in the East.

Angelo Ross

Along with being an Examiner for PSIA and staff member of Waterville Valley, Kathy has been named as the new CEO and will have a full plate of responsibility. Hearing her vision for the organization and her mission to improve the relationship between PSIA and ski area management and to make them aware of the educational opportunities for those who teach their guests, was quite impressive. I asked her what her response was to the comments that ski lessons are extremely expensive and that the quality of the instruction does not often meet the financial layout by the guest of the area. Kathy said that her mission is to make ski area management aware that if they support the education of their instructors, they will get a better product to their customers.

Personally, I am a lifetime member of the organization seeing that I have passed my 40 year mark as a fully certified Level III instructor. Although I do not teach anymore, I still like to see what is happening in ski instruction and Angelo’s invitation was a welcome chance for me to sit in on a clinic that Kathy organized. You can instantly tell how competent a skier is by the shape of their turns, their balance and edging skills. As I followed Kathy during the clinic, I was impressed at how comfortable she was on skis in any conditions and how I could learn something from her. We had numerous discussions on the chairlift and when we had a chance to follow each other, she had some pertinent commentary on my skiing which I will work on this season. I told her I have been watching the World Cup and was anxious to activate my inside knee more during the execution of a ski turn. Gold Medalist Debbie Armstrong refers to it as “driving the inside knee” but my friend Mark Hutchinson, former race coach at Stowe, says differently. He says at our age we aren’t driving anything. We are putting our body position and our knee position in place to succeed. Our ski race knee driving days are over. LOL!!! Kathy understood and helped me understand that as a taller skier, it was important to create those edge angles. She showed us some drills where we could instantly see that if our upper and lower body were not truly separated( a flaw to many taller skiers), we would compromise our turns for success. I learn something new every year and breaking some age old habits is tough. But after 60 years of sliding on snow, there are still things to learn and I am not too far gone to try to keep up with the modern technique.

Our invited group of alpine skiers, telemark skiers, and snowboarders,

It was also interesting to see how pressure control, edging, and rotary movement are common to all three disciplines of snow sports. Our group had telemark skiers, alpine skiers and snowboarders. All in all a great day on snow with the new CEO and my friend Angelo Ross. It was great to ski with him as well. An accomplished skier and PSIA luminary in his own right. Follow his podcast- Chaos and Company on You Tube. No matter what you do, there is always something to learn each year. Take the time to research the latest equipment and technique. You are never too old to learn. Thanks for reading and think snow.

The Lift Line

WOW!!!!

You know, one of the more aggravating things in the ski world is the lift line. Now usually one can avoid such things when you arrive early and try to get some runs in before the hordes of people descend on a ski area. But sooner or later a perfect storm of events happens and it produces one of the more distasteful by-products of the ski experience- the lift line. Here in the east, we got a late start, the weather has been warm and sketchy, and when the first measurable snow hit, everybody who bought a pass, got new ski equipment for Christmas, hasn’t made it out yet because of the weather and the holidays, and those who looked at a sunny day and decided this was their day- all descend on a ski area and cause gridlock. This isn’t the case all the time especially when the weather isn’t up to snuff or it is raining or it is too darn cold to stand around. Those who survive those events can usually avoid lines. But if you choose to ski on weekends, and the perfect storm hits- both literally and figuratively- you will have lines. So what to do?

Well, like I said before, if it is one of those days- on the weekend, you can get there early and ski until it is unbearable. You can try the single line- if there is one. You can look and see where the smaller line is on either side of the lift or with experience, you can see whether the inside of the line is faster or the outside. You can look for a friend or friends and try to sneak up politely to join them. Lots of tactics. Or you can give up and head out if it becomes too crazy. You give up a nice day but you can fight to fight another day especially when you might be able to ski mid- week. But even that with people working remotely, sometimes lines form on nice days mid-week and we all just have to deal with that. Again- it doesn’t happen all the time and when a lot of terrain is open, there are lighter lines because people can spread out to multiple lifts. But when things are just getting going, and not much terrain is open, and only a couple of lifts, it can look like a sea of rats all converging to get that ride up the lift, getting dinged in the helmet by an anxious fellow rider who is itching to get the safety bar down. What skiers go through to get those coveted runs and turns. In the east it usually is a good 8 months between ski seasons so most people try to ski locally and get their trips west planned. But it is a short window and to get up early, schlepp all the gear, put on your boots, zip up, click into your equipment and make it finally to the slopes, it can be a real pain in the a@#. But we all like to ski and we have to deal with inconvenience to participate in our favorite sport. So lift lines be damned, we get out and do it. How can we make it bearable if we choose to ski on a perfect storm day?

Well I for one, try to be positive. I am usually one of the first guys on the chairlift in the morning and when the hordes come out, I always figure that I at least got several quality runs in already. I also like people and skiing is a great social activity. Early in the year, you see friends whom you have not seen since last ski season and you connect with them in line. By the time you have caught up on their kids, the holidays, the new equipment they have purchased, the new clothes, and where they are planning to ski west this year or in New England, you are already sliding towards the loading area. When you are engaged in a good conversation and catching up with ski friends, the line seems to move better than when you are by yourself. I also like to hear people’s take on how things will go this season. It is interesting to hear people’s opinions on the resort, the snowmaking, the grooming and in short, their thoughts on skiing in general. You hear some great stuff on the chairlift and to me- people are interesting. Covid, skiing, kids, families, the occasional politics, and other conversations make the ride go quickly and then you are in line again to start it all over again- after a few good turns. Not so bad if you can remain positive and appreciate the camaraderie of those who find the winter and the outdoors as pleasant as you.

So yes- the lift line will try your patience even if you utilize these tips. Sooner or later you will decide that you have had enough and will leave to ski another day. The perfect storm days come and go no matter where in the country you are skiing. And with the season passes selling like hotcakes by the large conglomerates who are buying up resorts, you never know what is ahead. Just know that if it is wicked cold, raining, you have mid-week options, and maybe more terrain open, there will be more days than not when the lines will not be too bad. So if you can, stay positive, take advantage of some fun conversations in the line and enjoy the day. Things always look darkest before they turn black……………….just kidding. Think snow and thanks for reading.

The People Who Made a Difference

Peter Duke helping out in his son’s ski shop.

Scrolling through Facebook last week, I came upon an ad for Point 6 socks. Really great socks that I use for skiing and mountain biking. The owner and founder is seen above helping out in his son’s ski shop in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I know this guy and was happy to see him again in a photo even though I have not seen him for many years. Peter Duke was a great influence in my life at the time that I met him and this is the story.

When I taught skiing at Sugarloaf, Maine back in the day as a young guy, I was working towards my certification for ski instruction through the Professional Ski Instructors of America. I took many clinics in New England and met Peter as one of my course conductors. As it turned out, I had Peter for several clinics and we got to know each other. He was tough. At the time, we had to do what they called final forms which are basically maneuvers on which we would be tested and Peter wanted to make sure that they were perfect. He was a taskmaster that made us all work hard to get the final forms correct and to make sure our teaching was up to snuff in order to pass the exam. He had no problem whacking me on the backs of my ski boots if my ankles and knees were not flexed and telling me that I needed to perform or I would not pass any test much less an evaluation for the clinic in which I found myself. It was my good fortune that Peter was hard on me. I needed the work and he was demanding but fair. I respected him and was happy that I was getting what I think was the best teaching at the time. At 21 years old and just out of college, the exam was important to me because it was a way to validate what I had invested in ski teaching up until that time. It was not a career but was a great avocation. You learn a lot about your own skiing while teaching and taking clinics with the best in the country. Peter was one of those people.

Fast forward, I was at my exam in Killington, Vermont and Peter was there He was not one of my examiners but took the time to talk to me and remind me of what I had learned with him. I passed the test and became” certified” and will always be grateful to Peter for his skills, his teaching and his demand for perfection. He even introduced me to the greatest rain gear at the time- Bukflex. It was a sailing outfit and when I saw Peter wearing the gear, I had to get it. I used it for many seasons skiing and teaching in the rain. Seems like Peter had it all going on and whatever I could glean from that guy- I took it.

Several years later I was skiing in Heavenly Ski Resort out in California and I remembered that Peter and Stu Campbell ( of Ski Magazine fame), were running the ski school out there at the time. I went to the ski school office and had a nice chat with the both of them and they gave me comp tickets for the week. Nice!!! We talked about the days when they were at Stowe. In those days, the guys from Stowe were the kings and kind of a fraternity of the best examiners and course conductors. Peter and Stu got the opportunity to run the ski school at Heavenly. I told Peter what a great influence he was on me as a young guy seeking my certification. He acknowledged and said it was a tough test that many people cannot pass. He was glad to be a part of my success.

Lake Tahoe from Heavenly Ski Resort

Several years ago, I had heard that Peter had founded SmartWool socks and eventually sold the business. He was a savvy businessman and I was happy to see that he had founded a company with such great notoriety. At the same time, I was running in an off road team trail race out in Colorado called the “Colorado Relay”. Lots of fun with my Armada Supply Chain Solutions team mates and we were enjoying the expo associated with the event. I came upon a booth with the name Point 6 and went to investigate. They were giving away socks for the runners to try. I was talking to the rep in the booth when I heard him say that the founder of Point 6 was the same guy that had founded SmartWool. I looked at him and said.” Peter Duke?” He smiled and said yes and asked if I knew him. I said yes and he said, lets get him on the phone. I think he was kind of calling my bluff but when Peter answered, he said” Hello Pat. What are you doing these days? ” I think he actually was happy to reconnect and was also happy that I visited the Point 6 booth. We had nice chat and after all these years, it was nice to hear his voice again. A lot of time had passed and the exam process was a distant memory, but I always remembered his clinics and a lot of what he taught me is still ingrained in my skiing today. I still buy Point 6 socks because of the quality. But I also like the fact that I am supporting the company of a guy who had a lot of influence on me in my younger days.

Facebook takes a lot of criticism for many things- warranted and not so much. But the nice thing is that sometimes, you see these pictures of people who you have not seen in a while and they remind you of good times in the past and maybe how people have come and gone in your life but remain an influence. Peter is one of those people. He probably does not realize the impact he had, but when I saw his picture on Facebook under the Point 6 ad, I was happy to reflect on our past association. Point 6 is a great company that makes quality merino wool apparel. If you get the chance, check them out. You will not be disappointed and now you know a little bit more about them. Thanks for reading and think snow!!!

” If you really want something- give it.”

I was in the parking lot of my church with Johnny Salvini ( a great guy and friend) who quoted a wonderful Christmas saying . ” If you really want something- give it.” He heard that line while he was volunteering, ringing the Salvation Army bell at one of the local malls. I asked him how his experience was and he said it was really an excellent way to spend some time during the Christmas season. As with most people who volunteer, he stated that he got more out of it than the time that he gave. He greeted people with “Merry Christmas” and they responded with smiles and donations to the kettle. Some people said ” I don’t celebrate but thank you.” You see- Merry Christmas is not offensive but a wonderful way of greeting people this time of year and celebrating the Christmas season. Christmas is a time of giving and if you focus on that, you will really get what you want at this time of year.

The Pittsburgh Creche- US Steel Building

Switching gears just a bit, I am in our local county park a lot and I often think of the many nights I would run around the lake and finish at a grove right near the parking lot. That grove had beautiful lodgepole pines surrounding it and was a perfect setting for a Christmas creche that was set up for years inside the grove. I can remember running in the winter on cold, clear, nights, looking up at the stars and thinking about the birth of Christ. When we speak of giving- that birth, life ,and death on the cross with the Resurrection, was the greatest gift of all and we celebrate at this time of year. I thought about that a lot as I ran around that lake and at the end of the run, I always walked up to the pine surrounded grove and spent some time looking at that creche. Loved it when it snowed too- just added more to that ambiance. I thought about the significance of the Christmas season and also what was going to happen with my life. Would I ever have a child? What would lie ahead for me and my young wife Janet? What could I do to give more at this time of year and how those acts of kindness would mean more to me than the ones receiving the gesture? It was comforting to run and then stop to see that creche at the Christmas season. It was a symbol of the greatest gift of all and how we are called to walk in that light.

The vacant grove

Things have changed in the last several years and there is no more creche in that grove. It is kind of cold and lonely out there at night and when I rode up to the grove the other night on my mountain bike, I was kind of saddened at the scene. The creche was always a reminder to remember the true meaning of Christmas and in many ways, an inspiration to be true to Johnny Salvini’s quote- ” if you really want something- you have to give it” That inspiration is ringing that bell for the Salvation Army, volunteering and giving your time to a cause that is bigger than yourself, visiting a sick friend and giving them hope and inspiration, and in general being kind and loving rather than angry and bitter with the current state of the world today. People need your help. Please – give it. Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas.

Pushing the Season

Boyne Mountain, Michigan

This time of year, I always got anxious to start the ski season. I pushed it many times by traveling north to New Hampshire while I was in college to ski with a friend of mine. We visited a friend of my dad’s who had a cabin near North Conway and we skied Cranmore and Cannon. Fast forward and I made a lot of early season trips to Killington to ski with my friend Eric and some of his pals who eventually became some of my pals due to frequent visits to the Beast. But some of the more interesting early season trips were to a place where you might not expect. Boyne Mountain , Michigan.

I passed my PSIA certification for ski instruction at Killington, Vermont way back in the day and when I returned to Pittsburgh, I had some really great opportunities to expand on what I had learned out in the mid-west of all places. Larry Cohen, Bob Irish and Chip Kamin were all mentors of mine when I was preparing to take my test. Chip was an examiner in the central division of PSIA ( Professional Ski Instructors of America) and he invited all of us to attend some clinics at Boyne Mountain. I didn’t know much about skiing in the mid west other than it was an 8 hour plus drive to the top of the mitt of Michigan – similar to my driving times to New England. The ride up was interesting as we talked about skiing and instruction most of the way. These three guys were probably some of the most enthusiastic guys I knew at the time and it was a great way to start the ski season heading off to the mid-west for these clinics. Chip had a fellow examiner , Peter Battiste, who was quite impressive and was able to convey some things in the clinics that I had not heard in my clinics in the east.

Chip Kamin and our crew at Tuckerman Ravine back in the day.

There are differences in teaching at a smaller mountain that I was able to use in subsequent years while teaching at Seven Springs here in Pa. An interesting note is that some of the best ski racers in the country cut their teeth in racing programs at ski areas smaller than Seven Springs and Boyne Mountain. I taught skiing at Sugarloaf, Maine right after college and prior to my certification. Sugarloaf was a big mountain and the clinics I attended there were excellent but based on miles and miles of skiing and teaching on a big mountain. Boyne had less than 1000 ft vertical but Peter and Chip and his cohorts made the most of it and the early season learnings there were ingrained in my head to this day. Short radius turns, make use of the hill, edging exercises, and many other drills that utilize a smaller setting can still be beneficial in personal skiing and teaching. I see so many people at a smaller mountain not making use of the terrain. But the clinics at Boyne back in the day taught us all how to utilize a smaller mountain not only in skiing tasks but also in the teaching progressions which do vary from teaching at a larger mountain. How to get a student to be successful in a smaller crowded area is not easy and with conditions that are icy and not optimal for learning, you had to make the best of it to teach a successful lesson. But aside from the drills and exercises, one of the main things I learned is that enthusiasm many times can carry the day. We learned that when the weather is not optimal, the class size is large, the hill is crowded, there are a lot of factors that work against the instructor. But if one has an infectious passion for the sport, it can carry the day and these three guys who mentored me were a prime example of that enthusiasm.

Early Season in the Mt. Washington Valley in New Hampshire.

Sadly, my three mentors have all passed away as well as Peter Battiste. Ken Griffin, my old ski instructor pal and executive at Boyne Mountain , told me the news about Peter. I think back on those days and how their enthusiasm and passion ignited a young Pat McCloskey early in the seasons. I have retired from ski instruction but still maintain my certification status and have an interest in what is new in ski teaching. There have been many changes since my exam. Penn State has been retained as a consultant for PSIA and the education process is now very similar to a college and grad school level course. There are also revisions that will make the certification process more uniform across divisions of PSIA. Examiners will all be trained to be consistent in their evaluation or “assessments” to limit the variation of interpretations across divisions. I try to keep in touch with the process but mostly these days, I try to utilize what I hear and learn in my own skiing and no longer in a teaching mode. You never stop learning and Larry, Chip and Bob taught me that a long time ago. They are missed but the result of their passion is alive in me today. Thanks for reading and think snow!

Wagner Bowl

Wagner Bowl – Seven Springs, Pa.

For most of my life I have always looked forward to this time of year when the ski season in the mid -Atlantic rolls around after 8 months of waiting. You have to be a real enthusiast to be watching the weather and looking for the snow reports. As a kid, I used to scour the weather on TV and call the ski report to hear the iconic Lars Skylling tell everyone that the ski season has begun and the skiing is ” good to excellent with a few izzzzzy spots.” It is tough to be enthused with the climate change affecting our ski seasons but none the less, I always get excited to make those first turns- no matter where. If you are a skier, you understand. If you are a person who goes skiing here and there, you might not have that same vigor. And the first turns for about 60 years now have been on Wagner Bowl at Seven Springs Resort here in Western Pennsylvania.

My last turns for the season were with my friends Mark Hutchinson and Eric Durfee at Mt. Rose out in Nevada. I make an effort to get out west twice a season and also get up to Western New York and the Adirondacks to try to stretch out the season and possibly make up for any shortfalls here. I live in Western Pa and can’t be out west all the time, so I try to ski locally as much as I can. People harass me and say why would you go to Seven Springs and ski Wagner Bowl when you have the opportunity to ski elsewhere? I tell them point blank, I like to ski. I like to make turns. And if that is limited to Wagner Bowl, so be it. At least I am on the snow and making that first turn over the crown of the bowl every season. More will be open at Seven Springs and Laurel Mountain as the season progresses, but for the moment, if Wagner is the only game in town- I am in.

The Chutes at Mt. Rose
The Summit Chair at Whiteface – Lake Placid
The Daly Chutes at Deer Valley, Utah

I can remember as a kid skiing Wagner Bowl with wooden skis, cable bindings, and leather lace boots. No snowmaking then and no grooming. Cold Friday nights with icy conditions. I couldn’t get enough. Richard Nicolette and I would rush in and grab a hot chocolate and warm ourselves by the roaring fireplace being careful not to melt our jackets or gloves. We then would rush back out the door and head up the Wagner chair lift for more. We hated it when the lifts stopped. I still do.

Young Pat in front of the old Ski Lodge

So yes, I have plans for this season skiing with my wife out west and some other plans that will stretch our ski season. But it will all start with that first turn over Wagner Bowl at Seven Springs. Just as it has for the last 60 years. People will laugh and think I am crazy or I will get the usual jazz from people who say that they just ski out west. I tell them so do I, but if you only do that, you ski maybe 5 days a season and you are a person that skis, not what I would consider a skier. A skier who lives here makes the best of it. I ski in the rain and whatever the weather throws at me. The more days I can get in the better. It is a short season in the mid-Atlantic and the Laurel Highlands and you have to make hay while the sun shines. Because in spite of your trips, the season will end and it will be a long 8 months until you ski again. Some people are not hooked like me. Some have given up. But I try to maximize the ski experience. I watch the World Cup on TV and watch carefully how the world’s best make turns. I always learn something every year and that keeps me going.

Love to watch Mikaela Shiffrin ski. A portrait of balance
Mammoth Mountain , Ca. But it all starts on Wagner Bowl.

So I am waiting. And so are lifelong ski friends around here. I have skied with most of them for 60 years. We all started as kids and still text, email, and call each other in anticipation of the coming season. I can’t wait to see them and really folks, I can’t wait to ski Wagner Bowl. Think snow and thanks for reading.

Dixon, Melissa and Jaime- still skiing after all these years.
The Nicolette Brothers at A Basin- still skiing strong.

The Return of the Ride King

Jeff Wuerthele- aka ” The Ride King”

You know, you have to be a special kind of enthusiast to get two knee replacements and then come out on a 28 degree morning to bounce around on the rocks and roots of Laurel Mountain in November on a mountain bike. Jeff Wuerthele is that kind of person. In fact this whole crowd of guys who are in their 50’s and 60’s are enthusiasts who think nothing of weather and just appreciate the opportunity to ride in the Laurel Highlands on one of the last nice, sunny days of the year. From this point on, the weather here gets a little sketchy but these guys take it all in stride. They are also skiers and snowboarders so it stands to reason that they are not inhibited by weather that would make most people shy away and just sit on their couch watching SportsCenter. These are fun guys and I am happy to call them friends. In fact, my doc who is also in this group, commented that we all are good friends united by the sport of mountain biking. Guys like Jeff Wuerthele kept us all together for years with rides in the mountains and I am happy to have him back on the trails. He said it was the first group ride he has done in a while and he was happy he showed up.

Just to give you a snapshot of how these guys tick- lets take a quick look at this group, of which I am the elder statesman soon to be 67 years young.

Jeff Wuerthele- retired, former bike industry luminary and overall fun guy who lives full time in the Laurel Highlands and enjoys snowboarding and riding a mountain bike- again after two knee replacements.

Angelo Ross- the youngster in this crowd. A true renaissance man who is a retired school teacher, is currently on the Alpine skiing education staff for the Professional Ski Instructors of America. He has his own podcast, his own clothing business, and is also a guide for Wilderness Voyageurs in Ohiopyle, Pa. Very talented in a lot of areas.

John Cassucio- successful businessman and mountain bike and skiing enthusiast who is in excellent shape and fuels himself on Hammer products and vitamins. He is a testament to living cleanly and respecting his health as he ages. Not to mention a fun guy with a great sense of humor, and a skilled videographer.

Mark” the Shark” Sauers- mentioned many times in this blog. A true character who is a successful sales guy in the medical field, a certified snowboard instructor and excellent mountain biker. Perhaps his greatest asset is his willingness to share his faith on the trails with all those who ride with him. He walks the walk for sure.

Steve Gurtner- dentist and enthusiastic skier and mountain biker. Great sense of humor and a really skilled rider. His famous self deprecating line is ” Pat- we are bringing our B game to an A ride.” Not quite true in his sense because he is a fit, skilled rider, but funny all the same.

The Doc- Syed Hyder- seen here on the right. Syed is always on a busman’s holiday on our rides because he is always patching up people. The story of him inserting a presta valve into some guys chest on a ride to relieve air pressure is legendary in the medical community. An excellent and skilled rider and a really funny sense of humor always entertains us on the rides.

5 old ding dongs trying to repair Syed’s tire. Jeff working hard- LOL!
The Doc prior to Wolf Rocks eating his tire.

While we were all out in the woods as far as we could be from the cars trying to repair Syed’s tire in many different ways, we all remarked that just hanging around in the sunshine in the Laurel Highlands was enjoyable enough. Nobody cared that we were temporarily dead in the water as it was all part of an adventure for old guys out in the wilderness. That is the cool thing about mountain biking. Probably more than any venture I do outdoors, this community is responsible for fostering many lifetime friendships. Hard to explain – you have to be a mountain biker to understand. But, the adventures, the laughter, the camaraderie and the ability to participate as we all get older is fantastic. Most of my friends are either mountain bikers or skiers or in many cases, both. Lots of gray hairs under those helmets.

The wonderful end to the day of adventure was eating at the Out of the Fire Cafe in Donegal with our good friends – Julie and Jeff Chetlin. Jeff is very much like the Ride King in that he is the lynchpin of many cycling groups. Currently rehabbing from a health issue, Jeff is anxious to rejoin this group of merry men as well as others in the expansive network of Chetlin ride partners. He and Julie were so happy to see everybody and hear the stories of mishap on the trails. He is missed and we are all sure he will soon return to full health. Like Syed, he remarked that he has met all his good friends through mountain biking. Again, there is something about this sport that is uniting in many ways and we all feel it one way or another.

Angelo, the Ride King and Cassucio- just hanging around.

So, as I finish my rambling this week, I guess the point of all of this is that there is value to being active outdoors that extends beyond the health benefits. To participate in a healthy, challenging sport and to foster life long friendships as a result, is a real plus as we all age. I always remember Scott Nichol, of Ibis Bikes, stating a simple encouragement. When I asked him how long did he think we all could do this at this level as we age? His simple remark was,” Pat- don’t think about it- just keep doing it.” That has been my mantra for sure- just keep doing it. And if I can do it with friends like these guys, I will be a happy man living a long, healthy, fruitful life. Thanks for reading.

The End of an Era

So, I was on a mountain bike ride with my pal Steve Gurtner the other day and he said, ” did you hear they tore the cabin down on County Line Road?” I said- “Dixon’s ?” He said yes. “nothing but a big old hole in the ground now” I was a little shocked and took a drive over to see for myself. Sure enough. A big old hole in the ground where once stood the Rich’s cabin or as my dad used to call it…..” The Dixon Hilton.”

The cabin had come into some neglect and disrepair in the last number of years and my childhood friend Dixon Rich said that it was time for it to come down. Dixon bought the cabin from his folks a while back and as the years went on, it didn’t get much use and was becoming a liability. So Dixon sold the property to some friends who will build a new place. As I stared at the hole in the ground, lots of memories came rushing back to me from my childhood weekends in the cabin near Seven Springs Resort where we all skied as kids

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The old ski lodge and yours truly.

I grew up with Dixon Rich and we have been friends since the minor league in baseball. His dad bought the cabin a long time ago and every weekend, Bob Rose used to take all of us kids up in the station wagon to spend the weekends at the Rich cabin. Sleeping bags all over the floors were common and the bunk beds were filled as well. Usually it was either Sally and Bob Rose, Barley and Dixon Rich Sr., or Ted and Mary Struk who had the chaperone duties and cooking detail to keep all of the neighbor kids from the Berkley Hills area fed and in line. That was the standard weekend in the winter for all of us thanks to the generosity of Dixon Rich Sr. who got the place for all of us to enjoy. I couldn’t wait for the phone to ring on a Friday afternoon when Bob Rose Sr. would call and say- ” 15 minutes- be ready and have all your gear ready.” We would ski Friday nights until 11:00, all day Saturday, Saturday night, and all day Sunday until we would pack up and head back to the burg. That is where we all really learned to ski at Seven Springs, and spending our nights at the cabin on County Line Road. For years!!!!

Dixon and I still skiing together nearly 60 years later.

As the years went on, kids became teen agers and there were all kinds of cars in the driveway. The key to the cabin was always on the top of the entry door and the only rule was before you left, you better put the key back where it belonged. If those walls could talk, you would hear some tall tales from that cabin with all of those raging hormones and visitors coming from near and far to ski weekends with the Berkeley Hills crowd. The parents would still show up from time to time but their git up and go for us had gone up and left as they aged a bit. The Dixon Hilton was party central for many of us growing up on weekends in the Laurel Highlands. Dix and I got into mountain biking around the same time and we used the cabin as a meeting place for our growing number of riding friends. It was cool to have a place to stay and hang out after a big ride from the cabin, over to Hidden Valley and back again. Dixon and I would also take mega rides to Ohiopyle and often get lost on the way back. We relied on the sunset to give us direction and if it got too late, the kindly neighbors from Indian Head would give us a ride back up the hill to the cabin where we were completely exhausted. When they had the NORBA National Mountain Bike series at Seven Springs, Dixon and I raced in our category, and then watched the national class races. The whos who of mountain bike racing came to Seven Springs in those days and somehow they all heard of the parties at the cabin on County Line Road. It was not uncommon to see luminaries of the mountain bike world show up in Dixon’s yard. Maurice and Elaine Tierney of Dirt Rag Magazine, Sue Haywood, Kurt Vooreis, and even Gary Fisher graced the grounds of the Dixon Hilton. The cabin became the meeting place for rides and the after ride festivities for years and it became our little year round resort.

Tough Trail at the NORBAS

Time flew by and our little band of neighbor kids spread out all over the country. The cabin didn’t get much use in recent years and one time Dixon was staying there and he called me on the phone. ” Hey Patrick, you wouldn’t believe it. I was sleeping and at about 3:00 AM the deck fell off.” ” I didn’t know you had to shovel snow off the deck to relieve the weight.” ” All of a sudden it was gone” We both had a good laugh about that one along with some other good memories.

I talked to Dixon the other day and he told me about the sale. I asked him if he kept some memorabilia from the cabin and he said that he had, including the valued pair of Jet Stix. We both laughed and said most people would not even know what they were. For you younger folks- google Jet Stix. Also- he said he kept the flashing yellow light that they used to alert people coming up County Line that the cabin was open and people were there.

Looking at this hole in the ground, I will miss the old days. But I will always be grateful to the Rich’s, the Roses and the Struks ,and my parents, for their investment in the kids in the neighborhood. That cabin was our home in the winter and I could not think of a better way to grow up. I am still skiing sixty years later and my enthusiasm has not waned one bit. That love of the sport was ingrained in us as kids and I will always be thankful for the cabin on County Line Road. Thanks for reading.

Listening to an Icon

Dave Gorsuch

I read in Ski Racing Magazine this week where Dave Gorsuch passed away in his home in Vail, Colorado at age 82. Many of you may recognize the name if you ski Vail, as the proprietor of the uber- successful ski shop in Vail -Gorsuch LTD. The brand has expanded to several other large ski areas and always specialized in high end ski clothing and ski equipment. Dave’s history was in ski racing where he was a junior national champion, an NCAA downhill champion, and competed at the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley before he took his energy and passion into the ski business. Along with his best friend Max Marolt, who also competed in the Squaw Valley Olympics and was a member of the US Ski Team, Dave and Max were icons of the sport for many years.

Gorsuch LTD in the Vail Clocktower Building

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Dave and Max on a heli skiing trip years ago at the Bobbie Burns location for Canadian Mountain Holidays. There were three groups that week in house. Our group from Pittsburgh, a group from New York City and Dave’s group from Colorado. The Bobbie Burns was a new location for CMH and thus there was a dining area, a small lodging area and a log sauna. That was it for 500 square miles and we were all brought into that location by helicopter. The protocol was for the helicopter to fly all day and pick up each group, transport them to a ski location with a guide, and then fly on to the next group. We didn’t get a chance to ski with any other group but our own, but in the evenings, there was lots of time to have a beer, eat together, and have robust conversations with each group because really there was nothing else to do.

I didn’t really know of the pedigree of the Vail group as well as I should have, but in the conversations that ensued during the week, I knew I was in the presence of greatness. I loved listening to the stories of ski racing past, people in the industry who Dave and Max knew well, and in general- I took in some really good history of the sport of skiing through these two guys. For some reason, they took a liking to me and to my friend Rolf Sigmund who was an Austrian transplant here in the US and migrated to Pittsburgh. Rolf was rather humorous and the Vail group got a kick out of his antics. But the main thing that I took with me as a result of their kind friendship that week was to ………listen. That is hard for me. I like to talk. But knowing that these guys were the real deal kept me quiet and I learned a lot that week just from having beers and eating with the two world class skiers and entrepreneurs.

Juxtaposed to my keen interest in what these guys had to say was the demeanor of the group from NYC who had no idea who these guys were and could care less. All they wanted to do that week was to impress the Vail group with their prowess at Hunter Mountain and Killington. To Dave and Max’s credit, they politely listened to these guys and were polite and courteous in their responses. I admired them all the more- Dave and Max- not the NYC group. Too bad really because it was an opportunity to really learn about skiing and the history of skiing if they would only listen and not talk so much. I am really happy to have had that opportunity and although it was not planned, that week with Dave Gorsuch and Max Marolt was a week I will never forget. Oh yes- the skiing was good too.

I like to listen to stories about skiing because I have such a keen interest in the sport. Take my two friends who I ski with every spring. One guy lives in Tahoe and the other in Vermont – they both grew up together and ski raced as kids. Hutch was a race coach at Stowe and Eric raced for Cornell University back in the day. Both of them have great stories about New England ski racing and the history of skiing in New England. Again, I force myself to keep quiet and listen to their stories. None of the ” first liar doesn’t have a chance” one upsmanship conversations, because I really can’t compete with their knowledge and ski racing pedigree. So again, it is great to just listen and take in some fun tales about the sport that I love. And yes, the skiing with these guys is always good – no matter what the conditions are.

Eric and Hutch

So I guess the takeaway from all of this rambling is that it is really important to recognize where you can learn some things from people who are the real deal. Recognize their talent and ability and most of all, listen. I need to focus on that a little bit, but the times that I have forced myself to do it, I learn a lot and am grateful for the opportunity to spend time with some quality people. Dave and Max are both gone now but I will always remember the week in the Canadian Rockies where I had the opportunity to be with them. RIP Dave and Max. Skiing together in Paradise. Thanks for reading.