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

He’s Back!!!!

Well folks, after a year recess, the batteries have been recharged. The Chronicles are back and I am hoping that you will enjoy some new perspectives from life in the fourth quarter. Games are won or lost in the fourth quarter so there is a lot of activity left for aging kids like us. Stay active, keep healthy, eat well and enjoy life. IMG_0334 I needed to do some things to update my profile and page which will be available soon but in the mean time, I will be posting weekly about some nonsense for your enjoyment and perhaps some perspectives from a guy who still thinks he is a kid- even though he looks in the mirror and knows he is not. IMG_0723
Stay tuned for weekly ramblings available on WordPress.com and also Facebook. Hopefully the posts will give you a laugh, some insight from the mind of a 61 year old fun seeker, and most of all, a break from the daily grind. The Chronicles are back. Have a laugh or two at my expense. IMG_0515

What constitutes World Class?

I have probably had the same experience that many of you have when I have encountered what we call world class athletes or individuals. I categorize the experience in one of four ways. First- I am sure we have all met world class individuals whose reputation precedes them. For instance, I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting people like Arnold Palmer, Art Rooney Sr., Olympian Frank Shorter, childhood heroes like Roberto Clemente, Vernon Law, Bill Virdon, and other Pittsburgh Pirates of a bygone era. They were larger than life and when I met them, I was a bit in awe because of their reputations. golf_e_arnold_576
The second type of encounter is what I would call seeing the world class athlete in action. We have all seen pro football and baseball games and marvel at the athleticism of these individuals from the seats in stadiums. I have been fortunate enough to see Tiger Woods on the practice tee at PGA events. I have seen World Cup skiers like the Crazy Canucks at the Hahnenkamm downhill ski race in Austria.Erik Guay - Race - Atomic USA I have seen the women and men at the World Cups. I will never forget seeing Perine Pelen of the French National team take a slalom section unlike anything that I would have ever imagined. So fast and fluid. I had the pleasure of caddying for Ben Crenshaw at the US Open Qualifier at Shannopin Country Club when he was a student at the University of Texas. To see him hit a golf ball and tote his bag while witnessing intense focus on the golf course was enlightening. I was a marshall at the US Open when an extremely focused Johnny Miller won and set the course record at Oakmont.14d7c856-bf4a-4b95-ada5-4359dd6b415c I have witnessed Lance Armstrong ride up Sycamore Street in the Thrift Drug Classic here in Pittsburgh several years ago before his cancer. My brother in law who said to me,” I thought you quit riding bikes when you were 14″ marveled at the athleticism and conditioning of the world class cyclists at this event. It opened his eyes for sure seeing that he only thought athletes put on pads and hit people.
Ratchet up the experience one more notch and I have been fortunate enough to participate in an event or a venue where I have witnessed a world class athlete perform with me alongside. I had the pleasure of riding with Greg LeMond at charity cycling events.DSC00468 80 miles a day with the 3 time Tour de France champion. He was not in TDF shape at all and older, but you could still see the strength in his thighs on the flats and the speed at which he took turns on the road. I have skied behind Phil Mahre the ex World Cup ski race champion and Olympic gold medalist. It was amazing to me to see his really strong turns skiing right behind him. No skidding, just pure carved turns leaving trenches in the snow behind him. His strength was amazing. Riding the chairlift with him was enjoyable as he told tales of the World Cup and the U.S. Ski Team.hqdefault I have raced in club road cycling criterium races where people like Matt Eaton ( former US National Champion and Britain’s Milk Race champion) come flying by me on the inside giving me pointers and instructions as he led the pack. The club races often combined classes and it gave us normal racers a chance to ride with the good guys. It was amazing to witness the speed and technical ability in which they took the turns in the race with a tight pack of riders all around.
So what actually makes an athlete world class? Like “epic” and “extreme”, “world class”, is often overused but a truly world class athlete is an individual that has devoted his or her life to their sport. They are often singularly focused and have been willing to make personal sacrifices in order to achieve their goals. Oftentimes, their focus has caused them to be selfish or self serving but in order to achieve, sometimes you have to have that “take no prisoners” attitude in order to be successful. But in my mind, a truly world class athlete or individual is one who can encompass all the attributes of athleticism but has a perspective on the world around them which supports their efforts. Take Joan Benoit Samuelson- the 1984 Olympic Marathon Women’s gold medalist.maine-joan-benoit-samuelson I had the good fortune of meeting her at the Boston Marathon Nike Expo. She had been in the booth a long time and when I finally made it through the line to meet her, I told her that her former ski racing coach Jace Pasquale said hello. Joan stopped whatever she was doing and was truly interested in how Jace was doing. We chatted for what seemed an eternity only about Jace. Joan was not focused on her reputation or accomplishments, only what was going on in the life of her old ski coach. She was so pleasant and unassuming that I walked away thinking to myself,” what a nice, non- self centered person.”
There are a lot of world class athletes like Joan Benoit Samuelson who use their talents and reputations to serve others. Joan is involved in many charitable causes in New England. There are also those athletes who do not focus on life outside of their sport. The impressive thing to me is to meet or see in action those that do care and think about life outside their athletic box. We may not have the talent, time, or willingness to be a world class athlete. But in my mind, we can be a world class person by caring for someone in need, being a friend to someone who is down in the dumps, sharing our knowledge about our favorite sport or hobby with someone who is just starting out. To me, we can be world class by caring. That is a trait that is not limited to athletes but can be applied to all of us who have a world class attitude towards others with whom we come in contact. Be world class!! Thanks for reading.

Rat Poison- keeps me in the game!

As I make my last ski turns for the year and prepare to put the boards away and get myself into riding shape for another spring season, I think about a prescription that has kept me in the game for 25 years. Did you know that a component of the chemical makeup of blood thinners is the same component that is in rat poison? It is funny, when I go to the pharmacy, I always ask them for my monthly dose of rat poison. They laugh because they know, as pharmacists, what I am talking about. What I am about to tell you is my experience only. My disclaimer here is that I am not a doctor. What I say here in the post is my experience and in no way a recommendation or any type of suggestion. You may make your own conclusions but “blood thinners” have kept me in the game. IMG_0136
It all started before I was married and I returned to the U.S. from a cycling trip to Ireland. I had crashed over there and then had a long plane trip back to the US. Nothing serious because I had crashed many times on a bike and thought nothing of it. But thinking back on this, I am sure that this series of events caused my initial DVT( Deep Vein Thrombosis.) I was at a party at Frank and Jan Habay’s house when I noticed that my calf was swelling and I had a dull pain that went from my calf all the way up my leg. Long story short, I went to my doctor and he said that although I was an extremely active person, he thought I had a blood clot in my calf. Sure enough after a simple dye test in my leg, it was determined that I had a DVT and that I had to be in the hospital on Heparin drip to “thin my blood” and then onto Coumadin therapy for a couple of months. I walked all around the hospital with the IV to keep my sanity and even wanted to take it over to Shadyside to get a corned beef sandwich, but they discouraged that. 🙂 They told me all about what my diet should be and not to eat too many foods that would interfere with Coumadin. Foods like green leafy vegetables that had lots of Vitamin K which would interfere. I watched my diet and swam for three months before I was off the therapy and the doctor gave me the green light to continue cycling. photo
Fast forward- 8 years later I was in a mountain bike race and when I came home that night, I had a stabbing pain in my back that would not stop. Janet was out of town and I drove myself to the hospital where my friend was working in the ER. Mike Mihok, a fellow cyclist, had a series of tests run and finally I had a angiogram which determined that I had a pulmonary embolism in my lung. Interesting side note is that the procedure was done by Doctor Wholey who invented the equipment for the modern angiogram. Very serious! I was back in the hospital on the Heparin drip and eventually Coumadin therapy again. Forever. My doctor at the time said that this was the ” gold standard” of treatment and he didn’t want me to throw any more clots. He liked my activities and as long as I didn’t take the big hit with some blunt force trauma, he said my skiing and bicycling were ok activities as long as I was careful. I still take a generic form of Coumadin today which has been no problem for me at all. I get my monthly tests to determine that my current dosage is satisfactory. But my lifestyle has not been compromised one bit except for the fact that I wear a compression sock when I am sitting or standing because when I am not active, my calf still swells a little bit. Alcohol is not recommended but my current doctor says as long as the beer is cold, I can have one or two. I always say ” One and done. Or Two and through” Although I usually drink one beer with a meal and at most a beer and a half. I eat a balanced diet and don’t concern myself with any food issues. Enough of the details and the background. Now for the point of all of this.
I am a very active person as I believe my blog testifies.IMG00375-20110730-0915 I take a generic prescription which prevents my blood from clotting too easily. Yes, I have cut myself shaving. Yes I have crashed on my bike. Yes I have crashed while skiing. Being careful is a relative term. But I have been no worse for the wear. My doc recently suggested a new drug which requires no monthly testing. But it takes 48 hours for the INR( clotting measurement) to return to normal. With Coumadin, a shot of Vitamin K will bring me back instantly. I have had no issues for 25 years with Coumadin or the generic equivalent. I am staying with it. My point which again, has no medical background, suggests that if you have an issue like mine which is becoming more prevalent in athletes, your life is not over. IMG_0178.JPG Several friends have inquired about this after their episodes and I tell them frankly that it has not been an issue with me. I am a good designated driver. I cycle, run, ski, hike with no issues. I was fortunate that both episodes for me were caught in time. God is good.photo This post may be a little dark but if any of you who have an issue or any of you who know of someone who has an issue, feel free to contact me. I would be happy to chat and relate my story and how my life is better through chemistry, with…………rat poison.photo Thanks for reading.

Johnny O’s Excellent Adventure

Well, most of my ski group has been pounding the high speed chairlifts both at our local area and out west in search of the biggest vertical, and most runs that we can ski in a day. In our zeal to be the first on the lift, we look forward to reaping the most vertical before the crowd gets too cumbersome. So, it was a nice change when our nordic and mountain bike guru, John O’T contacted us and suggested we take a day locally and either use backcountry skis with skins or snowshoe to one of our favorite ski areas that has been closed for some time.photo As we assembled at an undisclosed location we donned our gear. The backcountry equipped guys began xc skiing the trail to the closed location and Hiller,Jeff B, and I used our snowshoes and carried our skis and pack with ski boots tucked inside.photo The weather was blustery and it was snowing heavily as we forded the miles and finally arrived at the closed lodge. Hiding ourselves from the wind, Hiller,Jeff B and I changed into our ski boots, put the hiking boots in the pack and joined John and the rest of the group as we en masse headed down the steepest and most challenging slope in Pennsylvania.IMG_1574 It had been a long time since I have skied there and although there have been several other scofflaws that have done the same thing, the turns made on that slope in the last 10 years have been few and far between. photo

I wondered what the slope conditions would be like. I knew that the snow would be good but what had grown on that slope in the last 10 years? As we made our way through the sparse puckerbrush on the upper part of the slope, we were greeted by only a few small trees that had grown up over the years. The powder snow was deep, the turns were fun, and no one seemed to heed the warnings of the state workers that we might be fined for making this excursion into a closed ski area. There were no signs, it is a state forest, and we pay taxes so …………we ski!!!

The first run was pristine. At the bottom, I dropped my pack and we all boot packed up the slope all the way to the lodge at the very top of the run. Once more we made turns in the uncut snow and as we made it to the bottom, we sat for a moment relishing what we had done in the softly falling snow. The skins went back on, snowshoes were donned, and the group began the slow slog up the side trail that would eventually lead to the outbound trail to the cars.photo We noticed the varying efficiency of the different equipment- backcountry skis with skins versus snowshoes. The snowshoes seemed to have an advantage on the steeper parts but once we made it to the flats up top, the xc motion of the skis was faster than walking in snowshoes. On our way out, we saw a guy with a snowboard on his back. I said to him,” What are You doing?” He looked at me and laughed and said, ” What were You doing? We both had a chuckle as we saw another guy with backcountry gear. He looked over and said, “You know, I just left Jackson Hole to come back to Pa for powder. Should have just stayed here.” We agreed but time in Jackson is well spent no matter what the conditions.

We all pulled out some micro brews back at the parking lot and I brought out a cheese platter with crackers for the group. As we discussed the days fun at our ad hoc picnic, seeking shelter from the storm under my tailgate, we all were appreciative of Johnny O’s excellent suggestion that led to the excellent adventure. We all are used to western adventure, but were sure happy that we got to have a true backcountry adventure right here in our home state of Pennsylvania. Sometimes you have to slow it down in order to really appreciate the beauty of the mountains.photo It isn’t always about the most vertical or how fast we can ski. We really appreciated the muffled silence of the woods in the falling snow.We took the time to look around and enjoy.photo As we parted and I made my way down the mountain, I had a big smile on my face knowing that we all had pulled off something special with the hopes that someday, this amazing local treat of an area would once again be open to the public. Our merry band of outlaws, Hiller, John O, McWilly, Jeff B and me will be back if in fact the area remains closed, and perhaps another day of skiing through great snow and puckerbrush will lie waiting for us as we trudge out way through the Laurel Highlands snowfields. Another example of how to enjoy the winter. It is hard, it is long, but if you take the time to be creative and enjoy, the winters are wonderful. My favorite time of the year. Enjoy. Thanks for reading.

The Standard Race

For all of us growing up at Seven Springs Mountain Resort here in Pa., Lars Skylling, the Director of Skiing, was like a god to us. Handsome, with the Swedish accent, and great skier to boot, with Stein Eriksen form. We all looked up to Lars and wanted to emulate him on the slopes. Lars is shown here in this picture below, receiving his award for induction into the Pennsylvania Snow Sports Hall of Fame. He has the Tyrolean jacket on with the green tie- third from left in the back. Great guy, we all love Lars. He is retired now but I had the opportunity to ski with him a couple of years ago in Vail and for a guy in his elder years, he still made elegant turns. IMG_4952
So, when we were kids, Lars was the ski school director and he started an open race every Sunday after the day session ended that was called the Standard Race. My buddy Porter said it was called the Head Standard Race but in any event, it was an open, four gate flyer from the top of the front side of the mountain down to the finish line in front of the old warming hut. If you came within a certain percentage of the time that Lars laid down, you received either a gold, silver, or bronze “7” pin that we all clamored for with every run that we made. As we all got older and into our early teens, we were able to finally get that gold “7” because we were catching up to the master. However, Lars threw a surprise for all of us when he added the upper trail on the Stowe slope and jumped the corner when he made a right hand turn down on the Cortina Trail. Whoa!!!!! We all were taken by surprise and the conversation on the hill that day and on the chairlift to the start was whether we had the guts to jump the corner like Lars did. If we didn’t, there was no way we would get the gold so we all had to see if we had the bravado to do it and if we survived, we got the coveted pin. photo
One year, I decided that if I leaned forward at the finish line and tried to break the beam with my hand, I might be a little faster. Unfortunately, I blew out of my bindings when I lurched forward and took out the whole timing device and the electric eye. John Fraser and his dad came running out of the hut to see if I was ok, but the real challenge was to get the timing device up and running again. As we all crossed the finish line, Bob Rose would herd us into the station wagon that he had strategically placed outside the warming hut and the North Hills clan would eventually make it back to Pittsburgh with a dinner for the crowd at my folk’s house. My parents didn’t ski but they sure could cook and entertain. That was their contribution. All the kids talked about the race and how we ended up. If you got the gold pin, you were a stud, and everyone knew that the next step was the day that you would finally be able to beat Lars straight up. That day eventually came for most of us as we got older and faster. But no matter the outcome, we all loved Lars and if we were able to finally best his pacesetter time, it was a milestone in our skiing career that we would never forget. photo

The years have gone by but a lot of the guys who I still ski with at Seven Springs still have their pins. Porter, Jamie Edson, and me. Porter and Jamie proudly wear theirs in remembrance of an era gone by. NASTAR had taken over the citizen race arena with a much more sophisticated national ranking system and national championship. But the old Standard Race was a free form flyer that we all loved, and no matter what improvement we made with equipment upgrades, the prestige of that pin was something that is still remembered to this day. The Standard Race is a memory for all of us growing up at the last resort. So, Greg, Brad, Melissa,Dave Helmick, Heidi, all the Dupre girls, Johnny Fraser, Johnny McCarthy, Andy, Richard Nicolette, the Rose clan,the Edsons, the Rich clan, the Siegle clan, ………….dig out those “7”s and wear them with pride. You cut the corner, you survived the races, and you got your pins. Thanks for reading and enjoy the winter.