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.

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.

A Colonial Christmas

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

Wiliamsburg just might be one of the nicest places to visit during the Christmas season. Not only is it rich in history dating back to the 17th century but the reconstruction of historical sites make it seem like you are walking back in time. There were many nights when it was colder and  I walked the streets and talked to colonial dressed people standing beside an army stack of firewood burning brightly and warmly on the street corner. Their discussions of topics of revolutionary times not only made it seem real, but for visitors like me, it gave me great pleasure to see how it might have been had I lived in those days.
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Williamsburg is also famous at this time of year for their decorations on the doors of the shops and pubs and the Christmas decorations in general are exceptionally well done especially with a dusting of snow on the buildings and the streets. 605fd664dfc5584d478748da52c67ef3

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

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

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

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

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

Watching and Learning

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In the ski industry, our region is known as the “Banana Belt”. Any winter weather expectations are tempered below the New England, New York State line and those of us who long for winter weather experiences so that we can enjoy our winter sports here in Pennsylvania, have it tough sometimes. The only salve for these wounds of expectation is the hope that the weather will turn locally,focusing on our planned ski trips up north and out west, and………watching ski racing on television. I have always been a fan of ski racing because coming from an instructor background, racing shows the ultimate technique required to make a ski turn efficiently. I make an effort to watch NBC Sports, NBC Sports Network, Universal Sports and use the DVR function to watch turns in slow motion to see if there is anything I can glean from watching the world’s best racers.

I made efforts in past years to watch ski racing up close and personal, climbing up the sides of courses to see exactly how world class racers maneuver their way through combinations in slalom, as well as see their lines in GS and the Downhill. I remember watching Perrine Pelen race slalom at Waterville Valley back in 1982. Perrine was an Olympic silver and bronze medalist in slalom, and giant slalom, and won a gold in slalom at the World Championships. I looked at that combination where I was standing and imagined myself going through that particular section of the course.. When Perrine came rocketing through, it was almost too fast to see exactly what she was doing. Any expectation that I had was completely blown away by her world class technique and speed. It was hard to relate. I needed that slow motion function.

French skier Perrine Pelen smiles as she shows her two Olympic medals, 18 February 1984 in Sarajevo, at the Winter Olympic Games. Pelen won the silver medal in the slalom, 17 February, and the bronze medal in the giant slalom, 13 February.   AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STAFF/AFP/Getty Images)

French skier Perrine Pelen smiles as she shows her two Olympic medals, 18 February 1984 in Sarajevo, at the Winter Olympic Games. Pelen won the silver medal in the slalom, 17 February, and the bronze medal in the giant slalom, 13 February. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STAFF/AFP/Getty Images)

I had a great opportunity to meet our US Ski Team member Cindy Nelson at that race with my buddy Billy Boucherimg_1221 and we had a nice discussion with her on the finer points of racing and what her experiences were at the World Cup level. A number of years ago, I had the great experience of being with a group of instructors at an event called “Ski Happyning” in Austria and witnessed the Super Bowl of ski races- the Hahnenkamm. The speed and the treachery of that course was impressive and I learned quickly the value of sharpened edges when I skied the Streif the next day. img_1223

Fast forward, I saw our current slalom star, Mikaela Shiffrin, race in the U.S. Nationals at Squaw Valley two years ago and have watched her career with interest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RyIpHiHBVA&list=PLiDVMRUU2yRQzbDx3HfH1eHpF86W2tmOG&sns=em

Last weekend, I watched her impressive win in slalom at Killington on NBC. It was the first time in 25 years that the World Cup was on the East Coast and the crowds were huge.It was not only interesting watching her win in front of thousands of fans, but more importantly in front of her 95 year old grandmother who had never seen her race live. 28pennington1-master768 Mikaela is not only extremely confident, but her turns are executed flawlessly. Her timing is perfect as she pressures the skis through a turn and quickly sets up for the next turn high above the next gate. She is never late and as it stands now, she is in a league of her own beating the other ladies by seconds which is light years in ski racing. Her balance is unmatched as she stands perfectly on the skis all the way through the turn. It is really fun to watch.

All in all, you can learn a lot from watching any sport executed by the world’s best. Golfers are always watching the swings of the Tour players and trying to emulate what they do correctly. It is the same with skiing. We watch and learn from skiers like Shiffrin, and see what they do especially when you can see it in slow motion. So, as I wait for the snow and placate myself with muddy mountain bike rides at night or on above frigid weekend days, I hope for the best. The equipment is sitting there waiting, the trips are planned, all we need are the HKD guns to start blasting locally and with a little luck from mother nature, maybe just maybe, we can apply what we learn from watching before Christmas. Think snow, even if you don’t ski or like winter…..it is beautiful to see. A landscape that is blanketed in snow is a visual wonder. Thanks for reading.

Photo of Perrine Pelen – Getty Images
Photo of Mikaela Shiffrin and family- Erich Schlegel- USA Today Sports, via Reuters.
Video – US Ski Team videos.

Unbridled Enthusiasm

Well, I just completed another lap around the sun this week and I am here to tell you that at 62 years old, I have as much enthusiasm for the upcoming winter season as I did when I was a kid. img_1188

When I was a young guy, I couldn’t wait for that first snowflake to fall. I read everything I could read on skiing and impatiently waited for that phone to ring where Bob Rose would tell me to get ready for the weekend ahead. ohara-20130104-00081

As life moves on, people get busy and sometimes the passions of their youth wane with responsibilities, families, work and other life challenges. But in my mind, if you have a passion like I have for winter and the ski season, it is cherished and has been something that has lasted for 55 years of my life. My wife Janet thinks I am a little off the wall when I get all of my equipment out and make sure that the new boots fit the bindings properly, the DIN settings are correct and the skis are all freshly tuned and waxed for the upcoming season. I get the strange looks from the new neighbors when I am out in the yard with shorts and ski boots. img_1132

I now have skis for every possible condition and whether I am skiing locally, out west, or in New England, my quiver is full and I am locked and loaded for fun. img_1129

People ask me all the time how I can get so excited to ski at our local area and I tell them that I have been doing it for 55 years and although I have skied in 108 different areas in my life, I still have that fondness for the Laurel Highlands here in Western Pa. The other thing I tell people is that if you can get your legs locally, you can enjoy your trips all the more. Get up early, ski until noon, and you can get more runs in than most people do all day. Then when you do venture out west, you are ready to go. But there is more to skiing locally. You have the camaraderie of friends with whom you have been skiing for a long, long time. They have the passion too and we all cannot wait for the season to start so we can get together on that first chairlift ride. Rob Alarcon and I were riding our mountain bikes the other night when he looked at me and said, ” I am getting nervous” ” I am getting so excited for skiing that I can’t stand it.” His way of dealing with it is to buy more and more equipment and when we talked clothing, he said,” I have so much clothing that I could insulate my house with it.” A funny line to be sure but graphically illustrating the passion of which I speak.

Skiing is like a lot of activities where friendships are formed that last a lifetime. You don’t have to be a skier to feel this passion and excitement. There are so many activities that foster this friendship, fun, passion, and love for whatever holds your community together. So, if life is marching on, take the time to remember what fueled your passion as a young person. Maybe some of that excitement needs to be rekindled? Memories of that first ride to the mountains and how much it mattered to you, can be restored with your family or friends. Life is too short not to have passions. I love life from the seat of a bicycle or sliding down a mountain on a pair of skis. The speed, the wind, the excitement of that first turn never gets old. Just do it!! Thanks for reading. img_0723

The Tribe

I am reading an interesting book by Dr. David J. Rothman called,” Living the Life- Tales from America’s Mountains and Ski Towns”. I thought it was going to be some fun stories about the ski life but it has turned out to be so much more in the description of the lifestyle of the sports that we are all passionate about. Dr. Rothman suggests that there was a certain “cause and effect” that took place when we realize that something that we were attracted to as an outdoor activity became a passion. The resulting experiences and stories are shared by a group of people that are communities in effect and we understand the stories that we tell about ourselves.

I remember coming back from Tuckerman Ravine2013-02-05-the-bowl one year and telling my folks about the steepness of the skiing and the ice block avalanches and the weather and the total experience of being in the mountains in it’s most raw state, and my mother’s response was, ” That’s nice dear- would you like some more potatoes.” Not my mom’s fault but she just didn’t get it or appreciate it. But the Tribe does. That is what Dr. Rothman so eloquently describes in his book and what I am about to describe here to you.

There are groups of people who I call fans. They are football fans, baseball fans and many of them have played the sport but most of them are fans of a sport in which others perform. In sports like skiing,mountain biking and snowboarding, there are groups that are formed and friendships made that last a lifetime. IMG_0803 These groups also merge into what I call ” The Tribe” which is a gathering of many groups celebrating the passions of these activities. The gathering of the Tribe can take place at a mountain bike festival, a race, or at the bottom of the slopes in the springtime for instance at a ski area where folks are celebrating the weather, the friendships, and the stories around a beer and a burger on a sun splashed deck.

If you are not involved in a group or a Tribe of people, chances are you will be lost in the conversations of the Tribe. ” Hey- did you see that endo that Joe did over the bars into the creek with all that splooge on his face?” ” Hey- did you see Mike ski down that couloir with rocks on every side?” ” I looked down that couloir and had to really think about that first turn.” ” How about that climb out of the canyon?” ” How about that rock strewn singletrack with the slimy root section- hairy wasn’t it?” These are the types of conversations that infuse the gathering of the Tribe at a festival, race, or ski area. IMG_0723

The disappointing thing about being with the Tribe of your peers, is that when you come back to work, or home and try to recreate the vibe of that weekend or time spent with the Tribe, you cannot adequately describe it. But the cause and effect and the passion that resulted in the decision to join a group and the several times a year gathering of the Tribe, is necessary because these are the people who are ” your people.” Nothing against your co-workers, family, friends who may not participate but there is nothing like the feeling of when the Tribe gathers and the stories begin at the end of the day around a campfire or an outdoor deck. IMG_0811

Recently the local mountain bike tribe gathered in the Laurel Highlands for a celebratory ride for a birthday of a friend. A whole cadre of folks came out representing many groups of riders all there to celebrate the big day of one of our own. Elaine Tierney, of Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Dirt Rag Magazine notoriety, said it best when she was amazed at the gathering of different age groups represented. Elaine remarked,” We have people riding here in their 20s, 30s, 40s 50s and 60s. All age groups riding together and enjoying all that the mountains and the friendships have to offer. Age means nothing when you are passionately involved in a sport like mountain biking, skiing, or snowboarding. So, I always encourage older folks not to shy away from an activity because they think they are too old. There is a group for you and also a Tribe who will welcome you with a smile, a beer, and conversation that you can understand once you are a member. Thanks for reading. Be a follower of the blog