Fast Freddie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks a lot, Hutch!!!

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

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

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

Fourth of July Turns

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

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

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

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

Whether to weather the weather?

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

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

Jim Cantore

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

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

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

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

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

img_1358

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.

img_1356

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.

img00137-20100210-1316

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!

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.