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.

Ski the Midwest- you may be surprised.

Not too long after I worked for the winter up at Sugarloaf, Maine and after I passed my PSIA Certification Exam for ski instruction, I was motoring west through Ohio to a PSIA clinic sponsored by Boyne Mountain, Mi. 161 I was feeling rather smug with my recent accomplishment and time on the big mountain, Sugarloaf, and wondering what I could learn in Michigan?  Was there really any decent skiing there?  Do they have any vertical or elevation to speak of and why did I agree to come to this event?  Chip Kamin, who was an examiner for PSIA Central, and Larry Cohen had asked me to accompany them to this workshop clinic and I agreed because these were the two guys who got me into ski instruction in the first place and I respected them both.  So here we were, making our way through Toledo into Michigan which was no where near any reputable skiing in my mind.  I was more concerned with visiting the Christmas super store- Bronner’s, in the Bavarian themed town of Frankenmuth, Mi. logo01 I figured if I was going to drive all this way to ski on something in Michigan, I would at least salvage the trip with a visit to this famous little town with the famous Christmas store.  Boy- was I surprised when I got to Boyne and had the experience of a Central Division workshop clinic.

Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in my mind were famous for Nordic skiing.  The Upper Peninsula in Michigan has the famous ski jumps at Iron Mountain and cross country skiing up  in those three states is king.136  But we will get back to that in a minute.  Boyne, as it turns out today, is the second largest operator and owner of ski and golf resorts in the country.  Among its current properties are Big Sky, Crystal Mt., Sugarloaf and Sunday River.  Boyne knows how to operate a ski area and although the vertical at its home base in Michigan is a little smaller than my home area here in Pennsylvania, it is very well run and the snowmaking, grooming and natural snowfall make for some pretty nice conditions.  Chip introduced me to Peter Batiste who was a fellow examiner in the Central Division and he did the split of all of the attendees at the clinic.  I was fortunate enough to make the first split and ended up in Peter’s group.  My smugness started to melt as I watched our course conductor ski.  His handling of the clinic and his skiing ability made me real glad that I had decided to attend this event.  Like I have said in many of my earlier posts, smaller mountains have produced some pretty impressive skiers.  Boyne was no exception and the enthusiasm for skiing at the smaller mountains is infectious.  No wonder Glen Plake, the famous extreme skier, spends time in the smaller areas.  Not only are they a feeder to the big resorts out west, but they have their own character and enthusiasm even with a limited vertical drop.  I learned a lot in that clinic and on our way back, the conversation was lively with Chip and Larry about Peter and the professional quality of the PSIA clinic in the Central Division.

Fast forward to another time and I had the opportunity to once again ski the midwest only this time in the frozen tundra which is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.383816_10150517402916753_1548434111_n  Here is where winter is locked in for many months of the year and if you read my post about the National Blind Skiing Championship, you will get a feel for the challenging weather and conditions that skiers in that region face. https://chroniclesofmccloskey.com/2013/02/17/the-national-blind-skiing-championship/   You really have to love the winter to live there and especially ski there. 308261_10151571337441753_2003138656_n 40 below zero straight temperatures are not uncommon in these parts and when you are skiing a small area with limited vertical terrain, you wonder sometimes why you do it?  But again, the midwestern ethic of fun, excitement, and passion runs deep in this neck of the woods.  I was again surprised at the excellent conditions and  the professional way in which the area, Blackjack, ran its “mountain.”  People are tough up there and in many ways, they reminded me of the tough as nails people from Maine that I had known in my stint at Sugarloaf.  If you didn’t have a dipstick in your engine block heating the oil, there was no way you were starting your car in either area of the country.  I had 40 below in Maine as well, but the UP is in a class of its own with the winds off of Lake Superior and the copious amounts of snowfall due to lake effect.  Blackjack might be a smaller area but they get boatloads of snow.  599556_10151571337436753_1357161776_n

Bottom line, never judge anything before you have the experience.  I had preconceived notions about Alpine skiing in the midwest, but I was pleasantly surprised.  What they lack in vertical, they more than make up for in professionally run areas and expertise in their ski instruction.  Sadly, Larry and Chip are no longer with us, but the memories of those clinics( I went back several times), are etched in my mind.  I have always been grateful to Larry, Bob Irish and Chip Kamin for getting me involved in ski instruction.  I miss all of them.  Thanks for reading and You Betcha…………ski the midwest.

Time to razor and wax em!!!

I usually get a celestial gift on or around my birthday in the form of snow flurries or snow showers.  They look after me up there and remind me that I am on their radar screen.  🙂  But it is also a trigger to get some things organized so that when the first turns are made on the slopes, I am ready to go.  I usually put the ski magazines that come trickling into my mailbox in August, September, and October in a rack so that I don’t get too excited too early.  My mountain bike friends always joke about how long it will be before I will mention skiing on a ride.  They set their watches and look for new records in the discussions.  But when those flakes start to fall, the precipitation  reminds this big flake to get organized for the season ahead.photo

My friend Eric Durfee taught me the fine art of sharpening and waxing skis many years ago.  He is a native Vermonter now living in Tahoe and his son Travis was top ten in Downhill and Super G west of the Mississippi for many years .  He and his dad know a thing or two about tuning skis.  Back in the day, Eric got me a pair of these tuning vices which are now too narrow for the bottom work because of the width of skis these days.  I have to Magiver a little bit to do any work on the bottoms but mostly when needed, I take them to the local shop and use their Wintersteiger machine to get the bottoms flat. http://www.wintersteiger.com  In the old days, we used a 10″ mill bastard file to try to flatten the bottoms but ski bottoms are so hard these days that only a machine will get them flat.  The modern tuning machines can also provide a beveled edge and Eric and Travis can also do that manually with file devices with specific bevel adjustments.  I am not that sophisticated.  I get the bottoms flat and then side file with an 8″ mill bastard file and can feel the sharpness measured on my fingernails- old school.  The Durfees chuckle at this because it is so old school and how I cannot utilize the technology of bevel file tools.  But I prefer to have the edge sharp to my own liking.  There is something also therapeutic and comforting knowing that you are working on your own skis.photo

Waxing is another requirement.  I use Swix all purpose wax that I buy cheap through PSIA.  When I go to Tahoe, the boys grab my bar and throw it violently into the wastebasket.  But I use it here at home mostly because it works and it is cheap.  Nothing like a freshly waxed pair of skis.  I have a bit of nostalgia when I go to my garage on tuning days, especially in the beginning of the new ski season.  My dad made my bench out of a door that he bought at the hardware store many years ago.  He mounted it in his house when I was younger and then he helped me mount it in later years in my garage in my townhouse and then in my first house in West View, Pa.  I had it mounted in my current garage and every time I work on my skis, I think of my dad who helped me with many things.  He was the first guy who got me skiing 53 years ago and he didn’t even ski.  He loved the fact that I took to the sport when I was young and then when I asked him to help me design a bench, he was more than happy to help.  His mechanical engineering and general carpentry skills came into play.  I wish I had more of his talent, but it lies elsewhere.  I am a klutz mechanically.  But I can sharpen and wax a pair of skis.

I like to stay after tuning all winter because it really makes a difference in the way a ski performs.  Mentally it is an edge when the conditions get icy because you can feel confident that you have a pair of skis that will hold when you put pressure on a ski in the initiation of a turn.  The Durfees are way ahead of me when it comes to modern tuning technique but for the most part, my way has served me well over all the years.  When I go out west to visit though, I have to be at the top of my game because the Durfee boys will be inspecting and criticizing my work.  I am a tuning guru locally, but I am behind the times in the Sierras.  But it is all good and it works for the most part.photo

Funny how things like tuning can be passed down generations or even among friends.  My pal Art Bonavoglia and I used to ski in Vermont when the Durfees lived there and Art got his first taste of Durfee Tuning 101 in the basement of the Durfee home in Bethel, Vermont.  Art can really put a sharp edge on a pair of skis but these days he is spoiled because the local shops in Vail tune his skis. He is on the ski school staff there.  But his input goes into the shop as he drops them off and no doubt a lot of his requirements came from those Vermont days and also from days in the McCloskey garage where we worked together on the boards back in the day.Minturn-Red Cliff-20120202-00009

A lot of folks take their skis to a shop in the beginning of the season and then don’t touch them until the following season.  Not much tuning is required if you don’t ski in icy conditions but waxing is always a must for all skiers.  I am constantly preaching the value of sharpening and waxing on a more regular basis to local skiers.  But whether they take my advice or not, I know that I will continue to tune my skis and my wife’s skis and that the benefits are not only in performance of the equipment, but also in the memories of seasons gone by with my old bench and my 30 year old Geze vices that have withstood the test of time.  Thanks to Eric and thanks to his son Travis who keep us all in line.  Think snow and thanks for reading.

Playing with Fire- Skiing DH Boards.

Erik Guay - Race - Atomic USA As readers of my blog, you know that my background is ski instruction and not ski racing. I dabbled in some racing as a young guy and also in the Masters category but suffice to say, I made nice turns in a course but was not fast. When I worked at Sugarloaf, I had the opportunity to witness Downhill racing up close by working on the Can-Am Downhill course from time to time with the race crew. I witnessed the Hahnnenkamm Downhill in Austria up close by hiking up to the start and then watching the race from the Steilhang turn on the course. It was rock hard and those guys are flying. 90 MPH into the finish. Skiing on a downhill course the day after a race is harrowing because it is like skiing on marble. I can’t imagine going that fast on that surface. Speaking with Ron Biederman ( ex US Team downhiller) one day up in Vermont, I inquired how you develop the technique and frankly the guts to ski that fast. He said that it is acquired over a long time with junior races, senior races and eventually getting up to the national class and World Cup level. I have been watching the speed races on Universal Sports Channel and am always amazed at the skill level of World Cup skiers. Several friends and acquaintances of mine have experience racing the downhill and could probably give a discertation way better than me, but I had a glimpse of the discipline watching these races and even entering 2 masters category races with actual downhill boards. No great results but fun to experience.

I actually bought a pair of downhill skis one time when my friend Eric was living in Vermont. We have a mutual friend who works for Atomic who managed to get us two pair out of their Salt Lake City facility and Eric coached me on how to use them. Basically they sat in my garage until I made one of my treks northward to Vermont and we brought them with us to Killington early in the mornings. No one was on the hill and as I tried to keep Eric in view, I was amazed at how fast you could get up to speed with a pair of 220 cm skis. They are rock solid but the speed is a bit un-nerving if you are not used to it. Eric is used to the speed and I had to learn how to ski these long boards without killing myself or killing someone else. After we made a few runs, some people started to come out and when you see someone doing a wedge turn out into the middle of a trail, it is amazing how fast you can close in on them with the 220s. Seeing that they have the right of way, I had to make decisions in a hurry on where to ski so as not to come close to them. We rocketed by people like that until Eric decided that it was time to put them away and get our regular skis for the rest of the day. In a very Walter Mitty like way, I imagined myself as a downhill racer as I tried to follow Eric but as we skied to the K chair I was always happy to finish another run in one piece. I had a lot of fun on those boards and gained an even greater respect for downhill racers by using the equipment that they used. But my speeds were no where near that level.

My wife and I traveled to Steamboat one year and I took the DH boards with me. I used them early in the mornings and scared myself a few times out there but it was fun to ski the west with them on a perfectly groomed trail. I exchanged them for my regular skis when I picked up my wife for the day and she asked how it was. I didn’t let her know that I was playing with fire out there. I meekly put them away and skied the groomers with her. Eric, Travis, Proctor, Edie, Rosi, Gretl, Hutch, I have a lot of respect for you guys racing on that equipment in those kinds of races. For the rest of us mortals, watch the men’s and women’s downhill on the Olympic coverage and you will get a feel for how fast this discipline is.

My use of these skis came to an inauspicious ending when as a member of Team Mike Malone, I used them in the Jimmy Heuga Classic at Seven Springs Resort here in PA. The event was a fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy and the winner had to raise the most money and ski the most runs. It was amazing to see how fast you could cover 800 vertical feet with the aid of downhill skis and a high speed chairlift. All went well until I went a little too far right on one run, hit a mud patch, ejected out of both bindings, and barreled down the slope in a muddy mess. Fortunately the skis were not damaged and I continued the event looking like I had been in a football game. We would have won but someone at the last minute brought in a check that beat us out at the end of the day. The DH boards were retired after that day never to be used again.

Years have passed since those days and I often think about the fun but scary times that I spent on skis that were really not for a guy like me. My friend Eric has always had the habit of sending me into the realm of the unknown but I somehow come out of it with a great experience and the knowledge that I pushed myself again a little out of my comfort zone. 220 downhill skis will do that to you but looking back, it was worth the scare. Watch the Olympics and have a great winter. Think snow and thanks for reading.