Euro-Ski

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Keep Daylight Savings Time – all the time!

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was the first guy to have the bright idea about Daylight Savings time? Did you know that we could save more than 1% of electric use if we had DST all year? Did you know that the University of Michigan did a study that concluded that when the time change comes in the fall, there were 227 vehicle/pedestrian deaths versus 65 in the summer. Did you know that Carnegie Mellon did the same study with roughly the same results? Safer to drive with more daylight? Even when daylight dwindles in the fall/winter?

The old adage that standard time is better for chicken and dairy farms doesn’t hold water. In fact, the animals don’t like the changes and would rather have more daylight in the evening. They are used to being fed and milked in darkness and want to thrive, and distribute methane during the day,….. in more daylight. Nothing like a contented cow? How about a contented mountain biker?

I don’t mind pulling out the lights for night riding when the time change comes, but it sure would be nice to sneak in a ride before darkness after work or at least only use the lights to finish a ride. I was even a proponent of moving the clock ahead in the fall instead of falling backward to have more daylight in the evening. People are used to getting up in the U.S. before dawn(70 % of us do), so what is the difference if it is a little darker for more time in the morning if it affords you more light in the evening? People would be more active, use less electricity, drive more safely, (commute in daylight instead of darkness or dusk, driving home when they are tired.)

I can also tell you from a skier’s perspective, the light starts to get flat around 3:00 in the afternoon. If you had a little extra light you could ski right through that 3:00 benchmark and make a full day out of it with decent daylight until the lifts close. You ski so much more confidently when you can see clearly. To me, there is a lot of benefit to extended daylight in the evenings even in the fall/winter months when the sun is low on the horizon for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere.

There is a lot of history to DST. Franklin Roosevelt was a proponent to protect our soldiers in World War II. And in fact, lately, with the passage of legislation, the clocks are changed later than in the past with the spring ahead slated for the second Sunday in March and the fall back on the first Sunday in November. But if we can do that, why don’t we just go the full gamut for the four months and continue the summer time schedule? We can all get through the dark winter better,and when the spring rolls around, we will have more daylight anyhow. More Vitamin D for all of us, improving our moods. Less crime on darkened streets during regular pedestrian hours. So, we need to start to pester our politicians about this matter. Maybe a note to your senator or congressman? Have a farmer, mountain biker, skier, or anyone else for that matter that values daylight after school or work, do the same. The vociferous rooster, the clucking chicken, the farting Holstein, will all thank you. Enjoy your Thanksgiving. We all have a lot to be thankful for- especially the prospect of more daylight.

My Global Warming

This poor guy reminds me of my plight with my endless search for winter,not making light of the current global warming issues which we all face. The world’s temperature has risen 2 degrees since 1880 which has had a dramatic effect on weather, El Nino, La Nina, hurricanes, fires, arctic ice pack meltdown, etc. This is no joke and whether it is the result of the normal cycles of freeze and thaw in the annals of time for our globe, or whether we have significantly contributed to the fray with CO2 emissions from industrial pollution and automobile emission pollution, unregulated in some countries,it is a major debate. I suspect that it is somewhere in between but I am not a scientist ( or a politician for that matter) and therefore leave the debate to those more informed. However, I do know that I have an issue with our warmer winters.

While I was out on the mountain bike the other night, I saw and felt the first snowflakes of the season. It was a night ride up on North Ridge when I was pleasantly surprised and thought to myself, maybe we will have a winter after all?

This time of year when the time changes, it can become depressing with the lack of daylight. Therefore, night riding is a must and getting out on the weekends is even more paramount. The guy at GNC approved of my purchase of vitamin B3 along with my fish oil pills. He said my mood would improve with the D3 and I told him, ” Brother, I am always in a good mood. But I will take the pills.” People like me make their plans for ski trips with the hopes that all the money spent on airfare, cars, food, lift tickets, is worth while because the locale out west will hopefully have enough snow. It has been a crap shoot in recent years, but the plans are still made. Which leaves us to the other part of winter- skiing and snowshoeing locally.

I am hoping for a ” good winter” around here. This past weekend, I made sure all of our skis are sharpened and waxed and I check the weather feverishly to see when I can make those first turns. Frankly, anything before Christmas is a bonus because our weather is changing. Winter does not really arrive until January as of late, and ending sometime in March to early April. I jokingly, but sometimes sadly say that our weather is turning into North Carolina weather. There definitely is something to this global warming. I caught a break last year out in California and Nevada with record snowfall, but that was after several dismal winters out there from a skier’s perspective.

I love it when it snows around my birthday here in Pennsylvania which is mid -November. And that is usually my countdown to see when the first turns occur. I have been enthused about winter since I was a kid. However, when it does not happen and warm weather continues, I tend to get nervous and jerky. But I have a new M.O. this year. I can’t make it snow. I can’t control the weather. I just have to be thankful that I am healthy enough to participate in activities around here that can be adjusted to the weather. If there is no snow, I will continue to ride. If it snows, I will ski and snowshoe. But I am promising myself that I will not stress out. With all that is going on in the world today, I am thankful every day that I have my family and my health.

So do yourself a favor and be active and try to enjoy the winter. It is a good time to get back to the YMCA if you don’t like to be outside. Get with friends who are like minded and grind through it together. If you are an outside person, don’t let the weather dictate your fun. Get out in it and enjoy the elements no matter what presents itself. Headlamps, rain suits, wool hats, gloves, all are available to minimize discomfort even when it is sleeting sideways. It makes that post winter workout worthwhile when you are with friends enjoying a hot toddy around a crackling fire. I love winter. I just hope it sticks around. Thanks for reading- think snow!

The 40 Year Competition

This is my friend Mike Smith who I have profiled before in my posts. He owns a marina up on Lake George and every year, we ski together at Gore Mountain and Whiteface up in the Adirondacks. For a review, Mike has jumped over 2200 times out of an airplane, he pilots his own plane and has flown open cockpit planes in the past with the leather helmet and goggles doing aerial acrobatics over Lake George to the delight of his neighbors and kids from the Hole in the Wall camp. He is also a strong skier whose lifestyle is gas pedal to the floor.

I first met Mike years ago at Laurel Mountain in Pennsylvania where he worked as the mountain manager. He then went on to work for Herman Dupre at Seven Springs as the mountain manager there and then took a job with several grooming vehicle companies eventually settling down with the marina. During the time of his sales career with the companies who make the groomers for the ski resorts, Mike visited a lot of areas in New England as well as out west. He ended up skiing at many of them with the mountain managers and would always call me and say, ” Hey McCloskey- are you working today?” To which I would respond in the affirmative and he would laugh yelling through the phone what great conditions he was having and how he was racking up more ski areas than I had at the time. You see, we have this 40 year old competition to see how many different ski areas we have officially visited and skied. We wrote them down one night over beers at the Algonquin on Lake George and ever since then, we have had this competition to see who is ahead. For documentation purposes, the areas visited have been in New England, New York State, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia,New Jersey, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, California,Nevada,New Mexico,Michigan, Oregon, Washington, Canada, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Never made it to South America or Australia or New Zealand but they are on the bucket list.

There are rules though which govern this competition:
You must officially have a lift ticket and take at least one run.
The tally must be for different ski areas- no credit is given for multiple visits to any ski area.
The only exception was Tuckerman Ravine which has no lifts. We hiked and skied there many times.

I remember one year passing the Donner Ranch Ski Area in Tahoe and my friends all wanted me to stop and hike up to take one run to rack up another area on Smith. They know all about this competition. The area was closed for the day and I reminded them of the rules. Smith and I would go back and forth with phone calls when each of us visited another area that we could add to our list. I delighted in calling him and he the same. In fact, when we ski together, his comment is that he knew he was making me mad when he called me daily on a visit to a new ski area. I laughed about it but you know, he was right. He did irk me when he would call on a daily basis while I was strapped to my desk. Jagoff!

I was behind for many years but eventually caught up to him and now have surpassed him because he is out of the grooming business and he skis mostly areas that he has skied before. However, I make it my business to continue the competition and when I visit a ski area, I always look for another place to get my tally ahead. My last addition was Homewood in Lake Tahoe which has beautiful views of the lake and advanced me to 108 different ski areas visited and skied in my life. One of my observations about ski areas is that smaller, family owned areas seem to have more of an appeal than the large corporate giants. The spirit of skiing is alive in the hard work and effort it takes to keep a small area running. The ambiance of a little area in Vermont or New Hampshire with roaring wood fires in the lodges and rustic architecture, to me is more appealing than the concrete behemoths that are the norm for lodges in the corporately owned areas. High speed chairlifts are not always the panacea for the skier. Sometimes those slow lifts add to the atmosphere and allow for conversation between runs. I like that. Sure, I like to rack up vertical with high speed lifts, but there is nothing wrong with the smaller areas and their fixed grips and surface lifts. Kind of reminds you of how skiing was in the old days. Single chairs are a classic a la Mad River Glen.

So, 108 different ski areas skied and visited is a pretty good achievement but before I puff out my chest too big, one final note. I met Ogden Nutting a few years ago who is the patriarch of the Nutting Newspaper empire which currently owns the Pittsburgh Pirates and Seven Springs Ski Area, Hidden Valley Ski Area, and manages Laurel Mountain on State property. Mr. Nutting has the unofficial record of 475 different areas visited in his lifetime. This was written up in Ski Magazine. I sheepishly boasted about my 108 but enthusiastically voiced my admiration for his achievement. He said, “my boy( I was 59),you have a lot of years left.” So, lets hope I can continue to accumulate visits to different areas. I have trips planned for this year, but if I spot an opportunity to take at least one run at some place where I have never been, I will do it. I need to keep my foot on Smith’s neck like a true hard core competitor. LOL. Thanks for reading and think snow.

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.

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.