The Olympic Buzz

Well, the Winter Olympics are coming up in two weeks and I am excited. I have always liked watching all the events and remember the time I was in Lake Placid in 1980 to witness it first hand. The village was abuzz with international visitors and athletes. Pin trading, and general feelings of good will ran among all of the folks walking the streets and taking in the events. It was cold and as I waited in line to get the bus into the venues, I saw the Olympic flame in the distance. I was enthralled but the buzz was quickly killed by the guy behind me who said he wanted to sit his a#$ in that flame right about now. In any event, the Olympics are amazing for a spectator but I cannot imagine the thrill of competing as an athlete. I will be headed up to Lake Placid again right before the opening of the games this year in PyeongChang, South Korea. The cool thing about Lake Placid is that they have kept up all of the venues there and continue to host international and national competitions which keep the Olympic buzz alive in the little village tucked away in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks.

As an avid skier, I am a student of the game and spend many hours watching the Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Network not only for the results of World Cup ski racing, but to take in the slow motion analysis of the ski racers which translates technique in my brain. I learn by watching and to have the opportunity to DVR the races and watching the analysis is really enjoyable for me. I am a fan and in my wife’s terms, a fan…..atic. I love the winter, skiing, wool hats, snowblowers, snowshoes, sweaters, parkas, wood fires, wood stoves, ice rinks, oh boy, oh boy……… all things about the season and I take in every experience I can during this 4 month period of the year. I actually get depressed when the winter comes to a close. Most of my vacation time is spent on the slopes out west or in the northeast and I can’t get enough of it. I love to ski locally at my beloved Laurel Mountain. Watching ski racing is a bonus for me much to the consternation of my family who think I am off the deep end. But soon, we all will take the time for a couple of weeks to witness the Olympics and even they have to admit, they love watching the races and the pageantry.

Aside from the events themselves, I enjoy the personal stories that NBC shows on its nightly broadcasts. The sacrifice that the athletes make to get to that level of international competition is really compelling and to hear the interviews and see the families and the efforts that they made to support their children’s Olympic dream is pretty fascinating. Nick Paumgarten recently wrote an expose’ in the “New Yorker” called “Confidence Game.” It is perhaps the most insightful analysis of the success of U.S Ski Team phenom Mikaela Shiffrin. Download it and read it because it is great journalism. I will be interested to hear Julia Mancuso’s commentary this year as an NBC analyst. The most highly decorated female Olympic racer of all time just retired and will be part of the broadcast team including another huge figure in the sport of ski racing- Bode Miller. Those interviews, and commentaries will be most interesting as well as all the other similar stories and reports for all of the other events this year. I even love curling. Watch those brushes go!!!

Do yourself a favor even if you are not a winter person. Watch the Olympics- opening ceremonies are on NBC on February 8. The stories and the competitions are really good TV especially seeing how dismal network television is now. This will be a bright spot for your viewing pleasure for the first two weeks of February. It may even inspire you to strap on a pair of skates or skis and try it yourself. And for those of you who are avid skiers, skaters, etc. – your time is here. The every four year focus on something other than football, basketball, and golf. Not that anything is wrong with those( PC – please Pat). But the Olympics are special. Think of me on the Summit Chair at Whiteface and the Cottage in Lake Placid, sipping an IPA getting ready for the Games. Yahoo!!! I am excited. Thanks for reading.

Mixed Doubles

Going on a couples ski trip can be like playing mixed doubles with your spouse. Depending on a number of factors, it can either go real well or not so well similar to playing tennis with your spouse or significant other. My wife Janet and I just got back from a great ski trip to Utah with our good friends Judy and Mike Smith who invited us to their new place in Park City. Along with their daughters and husband/boyfriend, we had an eclectic group of skiers enjoying the sunshine and amenities of Utah skiing. So to continue the tennis/skiing comparison, it started off a little bit on the wrong foot when early in the trip, I had Janet follow me down a slope at Snowbasin that was marked” thin cover”. This immediately raised a red flag to her and along with a whole bunch of skiers/snowboarders trying to pick their way through the section, she was terrified of the conditions and the array of traffic. I associated it with having her at the net in tennis and serving my first serve directly into the back of her head. Not a good start to say the least and like a bad start in mixed doubles, we had to sit down and regroup.

Sipping water and relaxing in the lodge, we had a nice chat and Janet began to feel more comfortable knowing that I would definitely not take her down anything like that for the rest of the trip. We would ski groomers the rest of the time and she would follow me down allowing her to feel more comfortable and relaxed, knowing full well how well she skis in these types of conditions with sunshine and good visibility. Guys who bark directions at their spouses and significant others, oftentimes ruin a good match in tennis or skiing. This is why some people think it is a bad idea to play tennis or try to teach your wife the finer points of skiing. That is also why I make it my business to keep things light with Janet and make her comfortable so that she can perform at the level where she is capable. This is like allowing her to make her ground strokes and volleys in tennis with positive reinforcement rather than the pressure of constant instructions and telling her what she is doing wrong. This misguided instruction often alienates the spouse and can destroy any chance of togetherness on the court or slopes.

Fortunately, the weather was cooperative and although the west is having a poor snow year, what was open at the resorts was groomed to perfection, allowing Janet and the group to ski without any concerns about thin cover, rocks and the like. Another factor in skiing or playing a game of tennis with your spouse is the dynamics of the group that is involved. Our group was fun and all of them can ski/ride well. But we all stuck together and no one pressured anyone to ski something beyond their limits. When you have optimal conditions like good snow, sunshine, and comradery, things go quite well and the competitiveness is at a minimum. Similar to a fun round of mixed doubles with friends. No more whacks to the back of the head with a serve or a smashed overhead intimidating someone from the other side of the net. People perform well when they are relaxed. My wife is a good skier with well schooled skills and it is important for me to keep her in the game. I like skiing with her along with our friends and I keep the inconveniences to a minimum. I have a huge backback in which I carry our boots and helmets and I take her skis wherever we have to walk and only ask her to take our poles. I am like a Sherpa and we all laugh. Not that Janet could not do it herself, but if I can make it as convenient as possible, she will enjoy it better. She also has a bum shoulder which I take into consideration and I don’t ask her to lift anything. It comes with the territory of being an ex flight attendant. Too many bags in the overhead.

The final tennis comparison would be when Janet follows me down the hill, it is like me hitting the ball deep in the corners with a firm ground stroke and allowing her to hit a crisp volley at the net when the opponent struggles to make the return. When I put her in a situation where she can be successful, she excels, and like a perfect volley, or ground stroke, she feels empowered, and enjoys the day all the better.

So, lesson being here guys and gals, if you want to have a good time with your spouse or significant other in any endeavor- patience, kindness, and skill development in an environment that is not intimidating is key. Also, the fun factor. Make it fun. This is not a job. I have had to learn these lessons sometimes the hard way but I am getting much better. Thanks for reading and think snow.

The Arctic Plunge

The picture you see above is Gus Brickner aka the Human Polar Bear. My dad was fascinated with the exploits of this long distance swimmer who distinguished himself by his winter swims in the Monongahela River in the winters around Pittsburgh. His famous New Years Day plunge in 1962 was witnessed here by yours truly and my dad. He said,” Patrick, lets go down and see Gus Brickner jump in the Mon.” As an 8 year old kid, I was thrilled that my dad wanted to take me and off we went to see the guy who eventually logged 38,500 miles swimming, two English Channel attempts, and swimming behind the ice breaker boats in the Mon during the most brutal winters near Charleroi, Pa.

My dad was an engineer and he always wanted to show me things that meant something to him as a technical person. I remember going to Geneva on the Lake when I was a kid and my dad taking me to Sandusky, Ohio to see the big ore freighters that traveled the Great Lakes bringing iron ore to the steel mills. He would explain the process of making steel and eventually built a continuous caster scale model for me to enter into the Buhl Planetarium Science Fair. Now, I knew nothing about continuous casting in the steel industry as a young kid and when asked about the project, I fumbled my way with the nuns trying to explain what my dad had told me. To my surprise, I was not a technical person, but my explanation along with my contrite personality with the nuns, got me a good grade and also an entry into the Science Fair. I( we- my dad) eventually ended up in the finals and once again, I had beads of sweat coming out of the arm pits trying to explain the virtues of the continuous caster. My dad was so proud of his- er a – my project.

Not long after the visit to the Mon to see Gus the Polar Bear, it seemed like spring came early and off we were to the ball games at Forbes Field. My dad, being a fan of baseball, explained the technical aspects of fielding a baseball to me and under no circumstances was I ever to do a “basket catch” like my idol Roberto Clemente. My dad dissed him as a “hot dog” but I was impressed that he could throw out guys at the plate all the way from right field. To me – the “Great One” was something but to my dad, if you did not have the glove over your head and trap the ball with the other hand so as not to drop it, you were not technically a good ball player. My dad- seen here in the middle with the great Honus Wagner back in the day in Bellevue.

It really did not matter to me that we went down in the middle of winter to see a guy jump in the icy river, or make the trek to see the giant ore boats, or go to the ball park, or launch Estes rockets across the street that my dad had built for me. It was the chance to spend time with my hero, my dad. He took the time for me and showed me things as a young kid that I remember to this day- a man in my 60s. I remember the kite flying when my dad would use three balls of string and stretch the kite out into the stratosphere- or so it seemed to me. The cleaning bag flying balloons powered by a little can of sterno glued to a cross bar of balsa wood – floating away into the clear night air. So many fun projects and excursions. The first time my sister and I went skiing, we were stuck in a raging snowstorm on the Pa turnpike – on my dad’s birthday, because he wanted to get us started on what he termed the sport of a lifetime. He and my mom did not ski but they made sure we did. The father and son swim competitions where I would see that big smiling face swim to the wall watching me take off in relay fashion.

Gus Brickner, the great Roberto were all heroes to me. But the main hero was the guy who took the time to take me to see them. For you young fathers out there, take a page out of R.J McCloskey’s book. Spend time with your son and daughter. You will never get that time back and they will remember it forever. I did. I saw Gus jump in the river when it was snowing in 1962. Thanks for reading.

Hero at Zero

We were kind of lulled to sleep this fall with the unusually warm weather. The ski areas struggled to get some slopes open in early December and then all of a sudden, the arctic fronts started to move south over an unusually warm Lake Erie. Record setting snowfalls(7 feet and counting) up in Erie, Pa. buried the city right before Christmas.The Laurel Highlands, east of us, have felt the cold weather and natural lake effect snow fall, contributing to really good ski conditions here in Western Pa. People are excited again for a real winter with cross country skiing, alpine skiing, skating and snowshoeing. In fact as the pictures testify above, this is the first time I have seen pond hockey in our area in a long time. Kids loving it, parents and coaches loving it. Winter has returned despite all the doom and gloom of global warming. But it has come with a price- record setting cold temperatures.

Now I try to look at the bright side, not just a skier and lover of the winter, but as a positive person making the best of what some would consider really cold weather. My friend the Shark always says, ” no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.” It is true that if you bundle up, you can enjoy the winter. Take my pal Jaime here. Jaime just moved back here from Switzerland with his sweetheart of a wife Melissa, and has found a new resolve to start skiing again. He has not missed much since the cold started and has a smile on his face despite the frigid conditions. We both marvel at the “hero” snow where you can lay an edge down in a pressurized arc and feel the ski carve. The turns feel good, we smile on the way down, we both yelled ” Hero at Zero”. Hero snow at zero degrees F. You have to like winter in those temperatures, but Jaime Thompson and I have the place to ourselves up at Laurel Mountain. It is like our own private club and our name is not even Scaife or Mellon. And we are skiing the longest and steepest run in the State.

I am no stranger to cold weather. Teaching skiing in Maine like I did back in the day, I was used to waking to -40 degree temps. If you did not have the electric heated dip stick in your oil reservoir, your car had no chance of starting. I first skied with my best pal Eric Durfee up at Mad River Glen in Vermont one similar day when they were selling single lift rides because of the arctic weather. When we got to the window, Eric said, ” two day passes please.” The crusty old Vermonter in the ticket booth looked at us with his steely eyes and said, ” did you hear what I said, bub?” Eric said, ” I heard you. Two day passes please” I knew it was going to be a long cold day with this determined Vermonter, Eric Durfee, seen here second from left.

I experienced -40 in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan one winter when I accompanied two of our visually impaired skiers at the National Blind Skiing Championships. Due to the cold and the attrition of guides, I was eventually in charge of 13 skiers, helping to set the race course, and basically anything else that the promoters needed help with due to the weather. A hard week with hard temperatures. – 40 without the wind chill.

Nothing is colder than the Adirondacks in New York State, or Vermont in the middle of winter. Many days at Killington were spent with Eric and also our friend Mark Hutchinson who is a native of the Green Mountain State. The cold is one thing, but accompanied by howling winds on those peaks takes fortitude to withstand and ski. But again, we like winter and we like to ski, so you do what you have to do.

So, it is all in perspective. The single digit temperatures around here are not as bad as -40. It probably will mellow out a little here in a few weeks, but we all hope that this winter stays/continues like the winters we all knew and loved as a kid. If you have not skied, skated, tobogganed, ridden a sled, gone snowshoeing, ridden a snowmobile, maybe this is the winter to try it out or be like Jaime and become born again. Embrace the winter. The snow, the crackling fires, the smell of wood smoke from the wood stoves, the gorgeous views in the mountains are are beckoning you to come. Make the effort to start a new sport or rekindle an old passion like Jaime. Be a hero at zero. Thanks for reading.

Duct Tape- the Panacea of Repair

Home repairs have never been one of my strong suits. My dad could do anything- plumbing, electric work,etc. and you would think that I could have picked up some skills over all the years that I did the grunt work for him while he skillfully repaired things in our house. My brain is not wired that way and unfortunately the art of true home repair or repair of any kind escapes me. I am basically a “rigger”. I rig things. Take when my wife Janet first moved into my townhouse when we were married. She inquired what the wire hanger was doing protruding out of the toilet in the upstairs bathroom. I explained that I had it in there as a shim to stop the leaking Flushmaster valve in the toilet. I told her to remove the hanger when she had to go to the bathroom, then after the tank filled up, place the hanger under the Flushmaster internal valve arm and put the lid back on the toilet. She looked at me with a puzzled look and said……….” that is not going to fly, Pat.” So I eventually did learn how to replace a toilet valve. One of my limited skills due to necessity.

However, duct tape has been my saving grace for many a rig job over the years. Take ski gloves for instance. If you ski, you know that these gloves take a beating from handling skis in the winter, carrying luggage, and basically used for keeping the hands warm. When they start to go, I duct tape the fingers which tend to wear out first. It saves the gloves for a little while longer to avoid the expense of constantly replacing them. To the fashion conscious like my wife, these look terrible after a repair job. I try to use black duct tape to blend in. It tends not to alert the fashion police who would arrest you for using the standard silver duct tape. I tore a brand new jacket skiing in the trees at Alta one time and fortunately had a roll of the coveted black tape with me for an instant repair. No one noticed except my wife. I still ski in that jacket.

One time I was skiing in Deer Valley, Utah a rather high brow ski area if there ever was one. The high rollers tend to be attracted to Deer Valley where they valet your skis, the food is really high end in the ski lodge, and the grooming for all the beautiful people is impeccable. Much to my friend Norm’s chagrin, I was skiing in my favorite ski pants with silver duct tape covering a tear caused by a collision on a crash with my ski edge. We were chatting with several female trust funders and Norm was aghast that I was sitting there with silver duct tape on my ski pants. Later he inquired why I would ever ski a nice place like Deer Valley with duct tape on my pants? I responded that I liked those pants and if someone judged me by the character of my ski clothing, they were not worth the acquaintance anyhow- plus, I ski circles around them. Those pants are still in the closet today and I bring them out with the torn jacket for matching duct tape attire.

My son recently remarked that the duct taped rust holes on my old Jeep was an indication that perhaps I needed to trade in the old Jeep and get a new one which I eventually did. But the black duct tape did the trick on the tail gate and as I explained to my son, it gave the old Jeep character. He just shook his head and walked away. My rigging was lost on him. Like many things.

Some other famous rigs- my old Docksiders- when the sole broke away- duct tape. The smoke alarm door that never closes- duct tape. The poorly designed break away Leki ski poles- duct tape the handle to neutralize the break away feature. Duct tape book binders. Duct tape a battery to the mountain bike frame when the strap breaks on the battery cover. Duct tape a hole in the garbage can. So many rig jobs available when you have the skill to just roll that black tape. My wife usually finds out and forces me to either buy something new or repair it properly, but in my hectic life, there is nothing like a rigged duct tape job. It gets you by when you need it and gives you time to contemplate what it would take for a proper repair. I am not a slave to fashion much to Janet’s dismay, but if I can hide the rig job for at least a little while, I have achieved in internal victory of some kind.

So, why fix something properly when you can rig it? Well, that philosophy is slowly waning and I guess in 2018, one of my resolutions is to try to be better at home or general repair. If not, ……….rrrrrrrrrrrrrrippppppppppp. Out comes the tape. Have a happy New Year and rig something. Thanks for rigging or…..reading.

The EVL Fix

No, not Evil. EVL- as in Ellicottville, N.Y. This time of year, the guys I ski with, here in Western Pa., are itching to get started on the season. We want to break that seal for the new ski year. I always say, locally, anything before Christmas is a bonus as far as the ski season goes. So, when we are trying to kick and claw out a start with sporadic cold snaps augmented by snow making technology, the pickins get kind of slim. This group of guys are fanatics like I am and we talk about skiing all year round. We plan our western or New England trips and can’t wait to ski the big mountains. But living where we do, we can’t be there all the time and we have to make the best of what we have locally- which is pretty good if you look at it in a positive manner. Enter Western N.Y. and the Lake Erie snow machine.

The guys here start to get jazzed when they see the cold fronts from Canada marching across the big warm Lake Erie producing colossal amounts of snow. We know that Western New York is going to get it and even though the vertical drop is not up to western standards, it still allows for lots of turns and smiles with lots of snow. You can say what you want about modern snow making technology and we would be nowhere without it, but there is no snow machine like the Lake Erie snow machine. My drives on I-86 will testify to the whiteouts that occur when this phenomena occurs. So the trek north begins and we all assemble in EVL and go …………..night skiing. I don’t particularly see well at night but our enthusiasm takes hold and we make turns in the shadows and hidden terrain changes. The cheeseburger and beer at John Harvard’s Brew House follows along with a host of stories and one ups from this group of expert skiers. The next day was sunny and the visibility was perfect, so it was a little better experience. But I would not have missed the night skiing for anything. Just fun to get out there and ski. If you added up the years of this group skiing, you would have well over 250 years of turns. We have skied together a long time here in the Laurel Highlands, and have shared laughs and ski days for many seasons. We appreciate the history of the sport too and the beer fueled conversations often lead to the equipment that we started with, people that we knew, and places where we have skied. When we stroll the hallways of Holiday Valley and Holimont up in Western N.Y., we see pictures like this showing the history of the sport and the traditions that are sacred to Western New York. You see, there are enthusiasts like us everywhere in the ski world and part of the mystique of skiing is respecting that tradition and keeping it alive no matter what tries to get in the way in our busy hectic lives. As I gazed closer at these relics in the case, I see the same Lange ski boots that I used as a kid. I see wooden skis and cable bindings and lace leather boots that I also used as a young guy just starting to ski.

It is fun to get together with my group every week during the winter, because we all share that passion. When the first snowflakes arrive, we can’t help talking to each other about the coming season. People who do not ski cannot relate and sometimes are mystified by our willingness to drive through raging snowstorms to get to our slopes. But when you are willing to drive in harrowing conditions, ski in the rain, battle the ice, basically ski the east, you are not just a person who goes skiing. There is a difference. You are a skier! I hear people all the time say, ” Oh, I only ski out west.” I say, ” Oh that’s cool- you only ski one week a year?” Ski locally, then when you do go out west you are ready and not needing a couple of days to warm up. Don’t be a ski snob. Real skiers use every opportunity, no matter where they live, to enjoy what they have and look forward to great ski days out west too. You can’t be there every weekend so why not enjoy what your local mountains or hills offer?

So my continuing theme in the chronicles is no matter what fuels your passion, get out there and do it and keep doing it. I love the winter. I make no bones about it. I love the snow and although I like the change of the seasons, I get amped with the first snowflakes and make every effort, like my group here, to get out and ski, snowshoe, hike, whatever. I even throw in some yodels just for good measure. Thanks for reading and think snow!

Don’t Circle the Drain

Janet and I went out to dinner the other night with some neighbors who are a little older than we are. They were laughing and joking about some friends of theirs when asked how they were doing? The friends remarked that they were just circling the drain. We all laughed about that visual but in the middle of the night, I took it a little more seriously and thought that I hoped I would never make that statement of being sucked into the vortex of oblivion. I want to be like the spider clawing furiously away from that drain and out of the tub. I try not to think about age but when I do, I make sure I am always taking every opportunity to be active and healthy, and not throwing in the towel. Lots of fun, active times ahead. My friends who are contemporaries feel the same. Take Helen and Eric above. They live in Tahoe and enjoy life in the Sierras. The photo above is from their month long trek in the Himalayas. They ski, hike, trek, and do not circle any drain.

This picture above is Nancy and Mark Hutchinson from Randolph Center, Vermont. They hiked the Long Trail this summer which is from the Massachusetts border all the way to the Canadian border. There are no drains in the Hutchinson household. They take their vacations and are active.

Now you have Bob Bannon. The Lord of Lumens. Bob schedules all the local mountain bike rides and is the guru of lighting systems for night mountain bike riding. Always has spare lights and batteries and is so enthusiastic about riding even with a full schedule of silk screening clothing for a living and being a referee in high school and college volleyball. He is not circling any drain any time soon.

Here is a guy recovering from a close personal tragedy. Mike Rich always has a smile on his face and spends his free time hunting and enjoying the outdoors even with a heavy heart. It would be easy for Mike to feel sorry for himself, but he gives unselfishly to others especially young guys who are at risk for lifestyle choices. No drains out there in Burgettstown.

How about my buddy Art Bonavoglia? He is in his 6th season teaching skiing in the Vail Ski School. When the graphic arts business went in the tank due to on-line publishing and the like, Art went down another path. They love him in Vail. They call him the singing ski instructor. He regales his students with Tony Bennett songs on the chairlift. Art is not going down any vortex.

My main man Mike Smith. Owns a marina on Lake George, flies his own plane, skis, hikes, and sky dives. An amazing ball of energy for a guy in his late sixties. He will work, ski, skydive, most people into the ground. The water is full to the top at Lake George. No swirling drains up in the Adirondacks.

Lastly- a great inspiration to me on enjoying life into his 90s was my grandfather John Reynolds. As an avid fisherman, we went everywhere to fish and he and his buddies would rise with the birds to get that first bite either in the Everglades, or on the lakes in Canada. I had the honor of being their first mate and seeing up close and personal guys in their 80s and 90s enjoying the wilds of nature. No sitting around for these guys.

I guess the point here is that sometimes we let people influence us with statements like, ” when are you going to slow down?” Or “aren’t you a little old for that?” Or maybe “wouldn’t you rather be sitting by the fire under an afghan?” Yes I would – after a great ski day or a great mountain bike ride. I don’t roll over under the comforter if it is cold outside. I like to get out there no matter what. So do these friends of mine mentioned above. They do not go gently into that good night. They are kicking and clawing to stay out of the vortex. Most of them don’t even get close to that swirl just yet. With a new year dawning, if you are thinking that somehow you are getting slowly sucked into that circling drain swirl, maybe it is time to reverse the process. Get active in 2018. You are never too old for anything. Thanks for reading.