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.

Confessions of an Acrophobic Skier

Okay- I admit it.  I have skied for 53 years but I am afraid of heights.  I have faced my demons over the years and have managed to think nothing of the lifts in my local area.  But even there, when the chairs start swinging in the wind, I get a little wigged out and hang on the the back of the chair.  So, you ask, how can you be a skier and be afraid of heights?  You have to get up the mountain to ski down – don’t you?  The answer is a resounding “yes” but it is always a mental ordeal for me until I get back on terra firma with my skis on.  Let me tell you about some ski lifts that I faced in my life.  IMGP0205

The Single Chairs- Stowe used to have them and Mad River Glen in Vermont still has the single chair.  But they were kind of crazy in that they each  came screaming at you in the loading zone and before you knew it, the operator was loading you and giving you a wool blanket for the ride up because in most cases in mid winter in Vermont, it was wicked cold.  So there I am hanging in mid air, in a single chair, with a wool blanket wondering why this was the only option at the time.  The single chair is iconic in New England ski lore and most people love the history of the lift.  Me?  I just wanted to get off the damn thing and start skiing.  1196455234_3692

The Fixed Grip Doubles with the pole in the center of the seat- the two that come to mind for me were the Cloud 9 chair at Aspen Highlands and the High Campbell chair at Crystal Mountain in Washington.  I was stuck in the most frightening place on the old Cloud 9 Chair one year.  The lift stopped and all I could see was 1000 feet below me on one side of the ridge and 1000 feet down on the other side of the ridge with the chair swinging wildly in the wind.  I was hanging on to that pole for dear life.  The High Campbell Chair was scary as well because it rose higher and higher as you were coming into view of the summit.Mount_Rainier_from_west  When you got to the top and did a little hiking, you had a great view of Mt. Ranier and Mt. St. Helens on a clear day, but getting there was harrowing for me.  An avalanche took out that chair last year and it has been replaced.  I was in Crystal last winter but didn’t get to ride the replacement chair.  Oh well.  mammoth-mountain-chair-23-660

The infamous Chair 23 at Mammoth Mountain, California- Mammoth is huge and so are the drops below the gondola as well as the chairs.  A lot of them do not have safety bars as is the case with Chair 23.  Every year, I face my demons again and load this chair with my friends.  Two years ago, my friend Helen had to talk to me to distract me on the ride up.  No safety bar and if I was in the middle I literally had both arms on the back of the chair looking straight up in the air.  Helen laughed at me and so did her rotten husband.  On our Mammoth trips each year, our group always delights in seeing how I will handle the heights of Chair 23.  My phobia is well known with our group and it is a laughing matter to all of them.  Sorry, but when I slide off the ramp at the top, I am a happy man.  chair 23

Gondolas and Aerial Trams- these are not as bad for me because I am inside, sitting down or standing and have the feeling that I am in an airplane.  In some strange way, I feel secure although the gondola at Mammoth rises to some astronomical heights and I mostly stare at the metal grating on the bottom of the gondola car until my friends tell me it is time to get off.  They chuckle as I grab my skis and head for solid ground.  I always feel better when I have my skis on. Tram_winter_A_1340x700_1_normal

Sometimes to get to the good stuff you have to climb.  I have been on the High Traverse at Alta, Utah when part of it is eaten out and you have to take your skis off and walk across the rocks.  That is real shaky for me looking to the left with a view of the base lodge and steep vertical in between.  I can’t wait to get my skis back on and get out of the way of the crazy locals who are racing along that ridge to get to Eagles Nest to ski the deep stuff.  At Tuckerman Ravine in New Hampshire, you have to climb to get anything.  No lifts, and when your skis are over your shoulder, your knees are hitting the slope because of the pitch, and you are getting to the top of one of the gullies, putting the skis on and looking straight down into the valley- whoa Nellie!!!!!.  It was amazing how much better I felt when at last my skis were attached to the bottom of my boots. I climbed to get to some good stuff at Snowbasin in Utah with my friend Jeff Mihalsky.  He is a mountain goat and loves to climb.  I was happy to ski his favorite lines but I must admit that the demons were screaming around me until I had my skis on once again.

Heights are definitely my nemesis in many ways.  I have driven 18 miles out of my way to take the San Matteo bridge in San Francisco instead of taking the dreaded Bay Bridge.  Whenever I have driven that Bay bridge, I have to talk to myself in the right lane all the way across and convince myself that I can make it.  The height of that bridge is real frightening for me. Just like in a chair lift.

I have survived the lift and climbing situations over the years but it has definitely been a challenge for me.  But, I like to ski and make turns so much that I have been willing to do whatever I can do to ride the lifts and fight my fears.  So, if you are thinking about skiing and you don’t like the idea of chairlifts, aerial trams, or gondolas, just think of me.  I have been at the mercy of my fears for 53 years but I still love to ski.  That should tell you something about the great sport of skiing. Believe me, if I can do it, you can too.  Thanks for reading and hold my hand if you are on the lift with me.

The Old Man and the Skimobile

Posting a little early to beat the Christmas rush, but this time of year, I always think of some of the great mountain towns that I have visited during the Christmas season.  One that comes to mind this year is North Conway, New Hampshire in the Mount Washington Valley. http://www.mtwashingtonvalley.org  I have visited this iconic location many times in my life with trips to Tuckerman Ravine and adventures on the legendary Mt. Washington. http://www.mountwashington.org  I have skied Wildcat and Attitash and have done some extensive hiking in the White Mountains.  But the true spirit of this location lies in the history of the area which was introduced to me by a business associate of my dad’s -John Lennon. obs-aiare2013-02-05-the-bowl

John owned a company in Boston named New England Tank and Tower and my dad represented his company among others in his manufacturer’s rep business.  John called my dad after learning that I was an avid skier and invited me and a friend to come up to Boston and then go to the Mt. Washington Valley to ski Mt. Cranmore.  I jumped at the chance during my freshman year in college and along with my ski buddy, Tom Herder, we made our way to Boston, weaving and bobbing through the suicidal traffic along Storrow Drive to I-93 North and New Hampshire.  We met John at his cabin near Mt. Cranmore and the initial fondness for the Valley began.  John was the typical New Englander, quiet, reserved, but willing to show two young guys some serious skiing in the Whites.  Our first stop was Cannon Mountain which was the home of the famous aerial tramway and close to Franconia State Park’s famous icon- the Old Man of the Mountains.download (1)  When I first looked at that rock formation which resembled an old man’s head, I thought it was funny as John was giving us the history of the area, that we were skiing with an old man and looking at the famous “Old Man” which subsequently crumbled in 2003.  Cannon was a challenge that day as it was icy and very much like skiing on a marble table. tram John explained that this weather was typical for for the area and that if you could ski Cannon, you could ski anywhere.  Tom and I were so enthused that we skied right through lunch- much to John’s dismay.  We gave him all he could handle that day and he called my dad to tell him that Tom and I tried to kill him.  We all laughed and made our way back to John’s rustic cabin for a venison dinner.  Now the last time I had venison, it had tasted like a catcher’s mitt and I was not happy that this was the first meal that we would have other than breakfast that day.  But like the history lesson, the gracious invitation from John , and his New England hospitality, his meal was equally enjoyable.  John knew what he was doing and we learned that he had many talents besides his acumen as a businessman.

The next several days were spent at the local area, Mt. Cranmore, which was John’s home hill.  Founded in 1938, it had a rich history of skiing as well as ski instruction dating back to the days when the local entrepreneur Carroll Reed brought  ski instruction to the area via Hannes Schneider and his group of Austrian instructors.  This history continued through the decades and Mt. Cranmore became a legendary resort in the Christmas town of North Conway.  The thing that was really interesting to me was the Skimobile.cranmoregr1  This had been invented in the late 30s and with the encouragement of Hannes Schneider, it became the main lift at Cranmore. Cranmore_ski_mobile_TN It was an incline where you sat down in the cars with your skis, and took an enjoyable ride to the top up a very steep track.  The Skimobile is history now along with the Carroll Reed shops, but the memory of those days at Cranmore, skiing and riding the famous skimobile, are etched forever in my mind.  John Lennon was a wonderful host and Tom and I made our way back to Pittsburgh with a lot of great memories and stories about our times in the Valley.  The seed was planted for me and I made it back there numerous times in my ski life.  I still have memories of the Christmas lights all through the town and the ambiance that was created by that place.  It is as if when you enter town after driving the famous Kancamagus Highway( voted by AAA in years past as the most scenic highway in America), you feel the town and the White Mountains almost give you a warm, welcoming hug. Weird but true! kancamagus  You feel protected in the town especially in light of the wicked weather at the ski areas and the world’s worst weather on top of Mt. Washington.  I have camped there skiing the Ravine where 90 MPH winds and sudden snow squalls were common right after a sunny start to the day.  I did the Mt. Washington Hill Climb(bicycle race) there one year when it was sunny at the start and 41 degrees and sleeting at the top- in September.  But walking in the valley and seeing the peaks while dining or shopping is especially inviting at this time of year.

One of my most historic memories of being in the Valley was one year when I attended a PSIA clinic at Cranmore.  I had the opportunity to meet Toni Matt who recounted his famous winning run in the Inferno Race on Mt Washington.  This run was legendary and to actually meet a person who would go down in history as a member of the New England Ski Hall of Fame was really special to me.  As you can tell, I have a real fondness for the Mt. Washington Valley.  I would highly recommend vacationing there at any time of the year.  Christmas is particularly scenic and a stay at the famous Omni- Mt. Washington Hotel might be appropriate. HotelCloseupWinterweb Ski Bretton Woods along with Cranmore, Cannon, Wildcat and Attitash and you would have the classic New England Ski Vacation.  Think of me, munching on that venison beside a crackling fire and enjoy your world class experience.  Think Snow and thanks for reading.

HKD- the man, the myth, the snowmaker!

Scene:  A charlift at a ski area out west somewhere.

Skier in chair:” Hey buddy, where are you from?”

Pat:” Pennsylvania”

Skier in chair:” Where do you ski in Pennsylvania?”

Pat:” Seven Springs Mountain Resort”

Skier in chair(snickering):” How good could it be in Pa?”

Pat: “See those big snowmaking towers over there?  If the man from Seven Springs had not invented them, you would not be skiing this early season fluff here, skippy..  You can thank Herman Dupre for your early season western fun.  Also the US Ski Team would not be training hard at the Speed Center at Copper Mountain if it were not for HKD Snowmaking.” image002

I met Herman Dupre, the former owner of Seven Springs, many years ago when I was a young lad.  When I would see him on the mountain as I do today, his cheery smile and sparkling eyes always greet me with his standard line, ” Hi Pat- welcome to the mountains.”  I have always felt that when I saw Herman, he was truly interested in how I was and that his greeting was always heartfelt.  That is the personality of this larger than life man who I have always respected and admired.  Herman is first and foremost an engineer and a tinkerer.  How many guys do you know that put together their own power plant on the local Youghiogheny River? Or were instrumental in reclaiming wastewater at the resort and using it for snowmaking?  I would see Herman from time to time in the coffee shop at Seven Springs and ask him things like,” Hey Herman- why don’t you buy Laurel Mountain and run it as a sister ski area?”  Herman would smile and sit me down, buy me a coffee, and tell me,” Pat- I will give you 38 reasons why and began illustrating to me the folly, in his mind, of investing in a state ski area two ridges over.  download

Another time, I was skiing in the Poconos with my sister and came back excited to tell Herman about the 55 gallon drums that had large funnels attached to the top of the barrels.  They served as waste recepticles for people who wanted to drop cans off the chairlift.  Once again, Herman sat me down in the coffee shop, bought me a coffee, and explained to me that he knew exactly how much each unit costs to build.  He said,” Pat- I can send a guy up there at the end of every shift and clean up all the cans for a lot cheaper that it would cost me to build a bunch of those units.”  Once again, the wisdom of Herman and his practicality came shining through along with his wit and his smile.  I enjoyed the coffee as well.

Aside from building a ski area and a major mountain resort, Herman’s claim to fame is that he is a pioneer in snowmaking.  He always tinkered with how to utilize high pressure air and water to help Mother Nature spread some snow on our local area which is hampered by cyclical warm weather/cold weather events.  When you ski in the mid Atlantic, you need some help to keep the slopes open.  Snowmaking was the answer and Herman was at the forefront.  In 1973, he applied and received his first of many patents, and in 1990, he introduced the standard tower snow gun that was the first of many low energy products that he and his son in law, Charles Santry and his daughter Anni would bring to the ski area management market.  If you look at their website, you will find all the technical detail of their tower guns, and their new fan jet technology with their recent acquisition of a Canadian company which has increased their R+D capabilities as well as their engineering expertise. http://www.hkdsnowmakers.com   Check out the website because I need to get back to giving you a vision of the founder of all of this.  impulse-landing

Herman is obviously very successful but when you see him driving his Subaru or his motorcycle puttering along at the resort, you would think that this is a maintenance guy checking out equipment on the slopes.  His flannel shirts and jeans are standard attire and his low key, non-“highbrow” demeanor is most welcoming in this world of recently gained affluence and the attitudes that go along with it.  Herman is a working guy and his engineering aptitude keeps his mind fresh even though Herman is well along in years now.

There are new owners currently at Seven Springs and they run the resort a little differently.  Skier visits and  bottom lines are the drivers now in what is a business atmosphere at this long standing resort.  Not that Herman ran it without those considerations, but it is just different now – not saying that it is good or bad- just different.  One thing is that Herman knows snowmaking.  He still experiments in his workshop up near the area and although his company, now run by the Santrys ( Charles -son in law, and Anni- daughter), no one can discount the influence that he has had. HKD Snowmakers is now the leading manufacturer and engineering company in the business with equipment in resorts worldwide.   Automation is big in the industry now and you can see the module components of complete snowmaking systems on the website.  But in the back of your mind as you peruse this site, think of the guy who always thought out of the box and how he influenced an enthusiastic young skier back in the day………..and today on the mountain as well.  ” Welcome to the mountains, Pat.”  That greeting completes that Laurel Highlands experience for me.  Think Snow and thanks for reading.

The “Renaissance” Man

We had a former pastor say one time that there are people in this world who are “drainers.”  People who will suck the living life out of you with their neediness and high maintenance ways.  Then there are people who fill your personal cup to the brim and overflow it with kindness, appreciation, information, friendship, and other enhancements to your life that make you appreciate with wonder- why do they do it?  How do they do it? ” Boy, am I glad that they do it.” ” They are a real force in my life.”Usually people like this have many talents and interests.  I call them Renaissance men or women.  They appreciate life and all it has to offer and are willing to share their talents, wisdom, care and friendship with those around them.  One such person in my life is a guy named Don Cunningham.  photo

Now I am not going to DWELL on the fact that Don is an accomplished freelance engineer for sports television or that he has traveled the world working events like the Olympics, the US Open Golf Tournament, the Masters, Steeler games, Penguin hockey games, Pirate baseball games, the Tour of California bicycle races, the US Pro Cycling Challenge.  Nor am I going to DWELL on the fact that he takes his gear with him and gets a road ride or a mountain bike ride in, or even some slope time skiing.  But Don makes the most of his travel and is not a “slam clicker.” https://chroniclesofmccloskey.com/2013/05/19/dont-be-a-slam-clicker/

Again, I am not going to BELABOR the point that Don is also a very accomplished mountain biker who has an enthusiasm for the sport that is infectious to others around him.  When you see his fitness, and skill level in negotiating rocks, roots, stumps, steep downhills, and grueling uphills, you are amazed at his riding ability.  Don has competed in some of the most daunting MTB races on the planet including the Trans-Alps in Europe as well as being a 10 hour finisher at the Leadville 100 garnering the coveted silver belt buckle.  But he is very humble about his accomplishments.  Kind of like a “ho-hum- yes I did that”  response.  But with all his ability on the bike, he is willing to ride with new riders and show them the ropes of the riding game with a smile on his face and a willingness to spend whatever time it takes to introduce a newbie to the sport.

I similarly am not going to PONDER on how he skis with fluidity and enjoys the winter months almost as much as the more comfortable months because he is willing to subject himself to the weather or any ski conditions. We went to Holimont last season in Western New York and had a wonderful day together at this private ski club and Don handled the cut up Lake Erie fluff with style.  His turns were strong and deliberate but his enthusiasm for the day was the most memorable thing to me.  We both are ski nuts and it was wonderful to share the winter wonderland with a friend like Don.  He even drove which was even more pleasant.  photo

The guy has been everywhere, done everything, and always seems to be in the mix of the fun events that mark our outdoor sports world.  If there is a big ride – Don is there.  If the skiing is good locally or out west- Don is there.  He makes friends easily as is evidenced by his recent meeting with a good friend of mine in Aspen on a mountain bike ride.  He was a bit lost and rode up to some folks on top of a ridge in Aspen.  With a smile, he asked for directions and the girl noticed the pronounced Pittsburgh accent.  After a few exchanges she found out that Don was a friend of mine.  Laughs abounded and now Don is a new riding buddy for Liz Talenfeld when he goes to Aspen.  He is like that.  Makes friends easily and people like to be with him.

Finally I am not going to GO ON SHAMELESSLY, about how Don makes absolutely the best beer in the universe.  His skill as a craft brewer is legendary and at every mountain bike picnic whether he is there or not, his beer is there and the accolades ring far into the night fueled by the current Cunningham IPA.  He is a Renaissance man, I tell you, in every sense of the word.  Traveler, athlete, educator, brewmeister, but most of all…………Don is a friend.  He probably has mastered that skill the best.  He is truly one of those individuals who fills your cup or fills your spirit and when you have spent some time with Don on the slopes, or on the trail, or sitting by his keg of IPA, you feel so much better just having spent the time with him.  He is compassionate, knowledgeable, energetic, and in most instances can grind you into the dust at his chosen sport.  But being an enthusiastic friend is what he does best.  If you can assemble some Renaissance men or women in your life, you are truly blessed.  We all have our share of drainers.  Oh, and one more thing………he does it all with a prosthetic leg.  Be inspired.  Thanks for reading.

Bitten by the Ski Bug

Back in 1961, my mom and dad( who did not ski) took my sister and I for the first time to Seven Springs Resort here in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania.  It was a terrible experience of travel that cold March night on the turnpike and I remember clearly my dad white knuckling our car all the way to the Donegal exit.  What transpired that weekend was a lifelong love of skiing that was made possible by the generosity and care of my parents.  On a subsequent visit to Hidden Valley the following year, my mom skied for two feet.  At the prodding of her friend Virginia Ruth, my mom put on the skis, slid for two feet, fell on her head and said,” That’s it- take the damn things off.”  She never skied again nor did my dad who had back surgery and skiing was not in the picture.

Fast forward and I was a regular on the Friday night ski bus from the little ski shop in the North Hills Village shopping center.  My dad made friends with the owner and she said she would look out for me with all the high school kids on the bus.  How I skied with my wooden skis, cable bindings, and leather lace up boots is still a mystery to me.  The slopes were icy, no grooming to speak of, early primitive snow making or no snow making at all, at night, cold as hell.  But I loved it!!!  The ski bug bit me and the venom of that bite still flows through my veins- 53 years later.  I spent weekends after that at the Rich cabin on County Line Road and the weekly trip to the Laurel Highlands was the norm for me.  I had a smile on my face the whole way.  Franklin Park-20130307-00105

I have skied in 108 different areas to date and still manage to take several trips per year out west and to New England.  If you look at my bio, it shows my history in the sport and people ask me why I still ski at Seven Springs when I have the opportunity to ski elsewhere during the season.  The reason is put best by a guy that I rode the chair with last weekend.  As we braved the new snow on opening day at the Springs, I remarked to him that people asked me why I was going up to ski 3 slopes this early in the season.  He said,” Why not?  You make the same turns here that you do at Jackson Hole.”  How true.  I love to make turns- whether it is at Seven Springs or elsewhere, skiing is fun.  What else should I do on a Saturday morning- watch cartoons?  My friends from 53 years of skiing are still there and we all get together on opening weekend to catch up, drink coffee and tell each other about the new equipment we have and trips we will take.  Skiing is addicting and it is a lifestyle not just something we do.  I like to consider myself a skier and not just someone who skis.  There is a difference.  I also noticed this past Thanksgiving weekend that there were as many gray hairs and beards out there as there were young kids.  When you are bitten by the ski bug, you are a skier for life.  Whatever metaphor you like- bitten, hooked, etc, skiing is part of your life and that opening day no matter where it is excites you.  I still can’t sleep the night before.  Just like when I was a kid.  Love the Laurel Highlands.  O'Hara-20130104-00081

Returning back to last weeks post, ” Pay it Forward”, the ski bug or hook can be set by someone bringing new people into the sport.  My friend JR who I work with, has taken the time to bring his son Isaac to ski.  Along with Kate, Sydney, Joey and Jackson, they get up early, make the trek to the mountains, and ski together.  JR is a good man.  He is not wild about skiing but sees that Isaac and his pals and cousins love it and so he puts himself out there as the sherpa much like my dad did with us when my sister and I started.  Sometimes a friendly word from an outside source such as yours truly helps the process.  JR was skiing at Hidden Valley last spring and called me to tell me that he had the group there.  I immediately went to my car, drove with my ski boots on( a real acquired skill as a skier), and located them at HIdden Valley.  One of the boys was struggling a bit and I saw the problem and asked JR if I could intervene.  He responded in the affirmative and with a few friendly pointers, the kid who might have quit for the day became hooked- or bitten, and this past weekend, he skied better than ever according to JR.  You need a good start in the sport and whether you take a lesson or you learn from someone who knows, the initial experience is crucial.  So many people go skiing with a friend, get hurt, have a bad experience because their start was not good.  Take the time to learn properly.  Kids acquire skills naturally and take to the sport reasonably well.  But a few well placed words of instruction can mean the difference between someone catching on or someone quitting and never returning to the mountains again.  Guys like JR, my dad, Bob Rose all took the time and made the sacrifices so that kids like me and this group, could take up the sport of a lifetime.  I will always be grateful to my dad and Bob Rose- and this crowd will always be grateful to JR.  In the immortal words of Oswald, the old mascot for Seven Springs in his Tyrolean hat and Leiderhosen- ” Leben Weider” – Live again!!!  The excitement, the passion, the fun all reside on the slopes for me and I can’t wait for each season to start.  850 vertical feet and 3 slopes- you bet.  I will be there!!!  Thanks for reading and be passionate about something.  IMG_20141129_122823049

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.

What I have learned from writing a blog.

Anyone can write a blog.  Word Press and other platforms make it easy for one to put out thoughts and musings about a myriad of subjects that may or may not interest the general public.  It all started for me in January of 2013 when I was repeating one of my inane stories from the past to my wife, Janet.  She was laughing and suggested that I start writing these stories down for posterity and to perhaps start a blog.  I thought about it, looked up Word Press on the Internet, and began a journalistic adventure that has continued for 167 posts to date.  Most of my drivel is about outdoor adventures and experiences that have been humorous as well as telling about how I view the world.  My friend Eric from Nevada said to me when I started, that unless I have climbed Everest, saved sherpas and climbers from imminent death with my heroics, no one will really care about my blog except my friends who know me.  In fact many of my friends laugh and say that they can hear me telling the stories by the way that I write.  It is almost as if I am talking when they read the posts.  photo

So here are some conclusions for you to review along with some suggestions for those who might consider writing a blog:

  • Anyone can write a blog.  Millions of people do and most people will not be published in a magazine so this is the only way of scratching the writing itch.
  • Don’t expect to get rich.  It takes thousands of hits on the blog to get advertisers interested.  I currently have 567 followers -some faithful, some not, but it keeps growing incrementally and that is fine with me.  I am happy that some people find my writing entertaining and informative.
  • Keep it specific to a genre.  I chose to write about outdoor adventures with a touch of humor.  I am not an international outdoor adventurer sponsored by magazines or equipment manufacturers.  I am just Joe Blow who has had some funny times riding a bike, skiing, and running trails. images (3)
  • You have to be a shameless promoter.  At the risk of being obnoxious, I have told people about my blog and asked them to be a follower.  I have had business cards made, bumper stickers made( many of which have been plastered at ski areas all over the country).  My wife Janet keeps me in line if I get out of control promoting.  I just like to write and it is fun to see the blog grow.
  • Pay the hundred bucks to get the premium service from the platform provider.  You can put a lot of pictures and video with the space that Word Press allows and they give you excellent support.
  • You have to be creative and selective with “tags”.  If used properly, they can attract traffic to your blog.  Tags like “cycling” , ” skiing” , “humor”, etc.  IMG00375-20110730-0915
  • As the blog has grown, it is amazing to see where the hits come from.  All over the world!  Most of the followers now are people whom I have never met.  Other bloggers, curiosity seekers who are interested in outdoor subjects, people trying to sell me on marketing my blog, Facebook followers who are friends of friends.
  • Facebook was instrumental in growing the blog.  But as it has expanded, the Word Press followers have eclipsed the Facebook followers.  It is easy on my blog- just hit the button to the left and be a follower.  You will get an automatic email when I get creative- which is usually once per week.  See- promoting again!!
  • The posts are archived monthly and as I review them, I think my writing style has improved from the early posts.  I have learned what people like to read and what bombs as a post.  This post will most likely bomb but I had to do it as a review of where I have been and where I want to go with this.
  • Re-blogs are good to do because a lot of folks will not read the archives( frankly they don’t have time).  But the occasional re-blog will be timely and give me a chance to recharge the memory banks.  IMGP0205
  • Personal stories and posts that expose feelings and stations in life can be interesting to some folks who are going through the same thing or thinking the same thoughts.  I try not to get too serious but sometimes events inspire me to drop my drawers and expose my feelings for all to see.  Sometimes I moon people, sometimes I expose my heart.
  • I write a lot of this to document my life for my son.  He doesn’t read it.  But maybe someday he will.  Nothing malicious on his part.  He is just not interested.  And……………….that’s ok.  photo
  • As I go forward, I am running out of material.  My experiences and memory are waning.  But I will continue to write about things that strike me as I continue what has been a very active and fun outdoor life. I will keep it humorous, somewhat educational, and easy to read in a couple of minutes because that is all the time people have time to give my blog.  photo
  • I follow other people’s blogs to get ideas and to fan the flames of the kindred spirit.  They follow mine as well and I have amassed some very fun blogging friends from all over the world.  The Ouachita Shutterbug is a fun photo and musings blog.  Single-Tracked Mind is another and we have threatened to do guest blog posts for each other.  “To the nth degree ” is another one focused on outdoor life in Pennsylvania.  Helena is a mountain biker and kayaker.           My friends keep me grounded.  So far, I have not” jumped the shark” and when I do, enough will be enough.  But the challenge will  continue to write inspiring, “if I can do it, you can do it” posts as well as funny stories from the past.  Good photos will be included to round out the stories and if you have the chance to comment, please do so on Word Press or Facebook.  If you wish to contact me, my email is on the cover page.  Thanks for reading and I hope that I have not been too obnoxious or boring.  Hopefully my self deprecation will make you laugh and be inspired.

Navigating the Adventure Waterways

Piloting a water craft has never been my strong suit.  I have always been attracted to rafts, kayaks, canoes and the like, but my technique has never allowed me to be successful.  In fact some of the most humiliating experiences of my outdoor adventures have been my poor attempts to navigate the waters of adventure.  20It all started when I was a kid and our community pool manager,Don Geyer, took all of us to Ohiopyle,Pa. to go rafting on the Youghiogheny River.  It was fun and the large rafts navigated the rapids rather easily and I thought I was destined for greatness on the waters of the Laurel Highlands.  We had several trips over the years and I always went and my appetite for water adventure was created in those rapids on the Yough.  Fast forward to post college in my granola crunching years where I thought it would be cool to take up kayaking.  I took a 6 week course and felt really uncomfortable trying to roll myself upright in a pool in the kayak.  I always exited in ” save my ass” fashion and surfaced much to the disappointment of the instructor.  As patient as he was, he was not getting the rollover technique ingrained into his worst student.  I like to consider myself athletic but for some reason, the kayak and I were not friends and my balance sitting down in the thing was tenuous.  It was at this time of the year when we had our “graduation” on the Yough and I went to Ohiopyle with the group on a crisp fall day with snow flurries in the air.  Not the optimum conditions in my mind.  But I brought my state of the art Buckflex rain suit with me figuring that it would help me stay dry and warm as I navigated the river.  As expected, I went in the drink a lot and my rain suit was a poor substitute for a wet suit and I paddled soaking wet for most of the outing.  With snow flurries in the air and my teeth rattling from heat loss, I was a poor picture of a successful kayak whitewater adventurer..  My expert paddling friends Bert Davis, Jim Weaver, and John Hinderliter would not have been happy with my performance.  As I dragged the craft up the hill to the truck in silence, I knew that the kayak world of Ohiopyle was not for me and I had better find another pursuit.

7a8f5ae2-4c4f-439c-b3fd-312ea1779447_MSo moving on to the next opportunity, I entered an interesting race in the mountains that was a combination of skiing, mountain biking, canoeing and trail running.  My friend Dixon and I entered this race and I was undaunted by the fact that I had never piloted a canoe.  I figured that I had the skiing, cycling, trail running thing down pretty well and that the canoe would be a short venture into the unknown.  Was I surprised!!!  The skiing went well as we crossed the face of the mountain as fast as we could and were the first guys at the transition.  Dix and I both jumped on our bikes and rode the snow covered trails down to the Loyalhanna Creek where the canoe transition was placed.  Pumped up by the fact that Dix and I were both in the lead, I jumped in the canoe and promptly flipped it and I ended up in the drink again only this time, the water was bone chilling, teeth rattling, icy cold and it took my breath away.  As I saw Dixon successfully paddling downstream( he had been a canoe paddler all his life in his summers in New Hampshire), I scrambled to right the canoe and managed to drag my soaked frame into the boat and start the process of paddling.  As my legs started to cramp from the cold and wet, I once again told myself that I would never paddle another craft in my life as my teeth rattled in a deja vu fashion from my kayak days.  I managed to get the canoe to the shore for the next transition and changed into my wet trail running shoes and was able to catch up to Dix because he was not a runner.  We both were surprised that someone had surged ahead of us on the water and we ended up second and third, but looking at the snowy banks of the Loyalhanna from a submerged position in the water was an experience that I did not want again.

The last foray into the water craft world was right after I was married and much to my trepidation, I relented to take my father in law, mother in law, and my wife on a rafting trip on the Yough.  They knew that I had done it before and I was the household resident expert.  I ended up with my mother in law and my wife in a small 4 person raft as my father in law went with some other friends.  All was well until we approached the notorious “Dimple Rock” which had the reputation for bending canoes in half and sucking unsuspecting rafters into a vicious eddy before spitting them out into Swimmers Rapids. As luck would have it, my female companions were firmly planted in the front of the raft with yours truly at the rear piloting us directly into the path of the infamous, sucking rock.  No matter what I did, that thing was like a magnet and as we hit it flush in the center, the raft folded in half, I ended up 8 feet in the air and as the raft sprung back into shape after bouncing off the “Dimple” I was ejected out into the Swimmers Rapids.  My wife said later that she was talking to me and looked back to see no one in the rear of the craft..  I floated by them laying on my back with my life vest and tennis shoes protruding from the rapids and told them I would see them in a mile at the end of the Swimmers Rapids.  They were not too happy to be piloting the 4 man raft which was now the panicky two lady raft.  I climbed back in at the end of the rapids with my ears ringing with nothing sympathetic to say the least.

So as I see the leaves falling and the beautiful colors of the Laurel Highlands in full grandeur, I like to view it all from the seat of my mountain bike or on foot hiking the miles of available trails in our ridges to the east.  I have been tempted to try SUP and perhaps kayaking again.  But safe to say, those thoughts quickly vanish as I picture the drowned rat 59 year old kid on the waters of adventure.  Thanks for reading and don’t let me dismay you.  0fcb7bc6-f5b3-403f-98e3-006f9f8d1f5f_M

Luxury Vehicles? Not for me.

As the beautiful fall colors are adorning our trees here in Western Pa., I see a lot of folks driving their luxury vehicles on leaf peeping excursions.  You know the ones with the Mercedes, Lexus, BMWs,  whose cars are immaculately shined, tires gleaming with Armour All, drivers dressed in pressed khakis and starched Polo shirts- loafers with no shoes, sweaters draped over their shoulders sporting aviator sunglasses.  These folks love their cars and love the idea of driving them to parties, work, or other locations where they can show their passion for their vehicles.  My crowd is a little more earthy and the mountain bikers, hikers, and skiers that I know drive dated SUVs and 4 wheel drive pickups.  I am no exception with a 5 year old Jeep which has 143,000 miles to date and is absolutely filthy- much to my wonderful wife’s dismay.  ” Why do you beat our vehicles” she gasps as she sees my Jeep filled with firewood or piled to the ceiling with mulch in the spring.  Some of that mulch is still working its way out of the seats this fall and the sand from the beach this summer compliments the compost like decor I have beneath my seats and on the surface of the carpets.  I see vehicles as a practical mode of transportation and if there is a layer of mud from my mountain bike gear, or last years doughnut crumbs still wedged in my cup holder, I am not dismayed.  As long as I can transport my gear and get there safely with 4 wheel drive, I am not concerned with the appearance of a vehicle.  IMG_0574

This disdain for vehicle maintenance all began when I started to drive my mom’s 1964 yellow Buick convertible back in high school. I transported many of my friends to school and back and oftentimes the top was down- even in the winter.  As we pelted classmates with snowballs from the moving convertible, it became a battle vehicle until the day the top would not go back up and my dad was aghast at the snow in the seats and floors.  I put large snow tires on the rear wheels and loaded the trunk with sand bags for the weekend ski trips to the mountains.  Whenever there was a snow day at school, you could be sure that the yellow Buick was filled with equipment and headed for ski country- no matter what the road conditions were like.  My parents were very understanding.  1964_Buick_Special_convertible

Moving along, I graduated to four wheel drive SUVs and the original orange International Scout hauled many a friend out of a ditch with the obligatory come-a-long or tow strap that I had stashed in my trunk.  I felt obligated to get anyone who was stuck, out of the snow and it was fun seeing what the Scout could do in adverse conditions.  That vehicle made many New England ski trips, hiking excursions to the Mt. Washington Valley, and regular weekend trips to the Laurel Highlands here in Pa.  When my dad built his house in Wexford, the Scout was our construction vehicle hauling angle iron for his greenhouse, mulch, lumber, and other required materials.  My dad thought the Scout was a great vehicle and often overestimated its capacity to haul.  Lots of oversized materials were transported in the Scout and as time went on, it was abused beyond function.  1979_International_Scout_II_For_Sale_Front_resize

Next came the Blazers.  Chevy warns you to break in the vehicles slowly and not drive too fast for long periods of time when you first acquire a Blazer.  My friend Bob Dresher and I would take the radar detector and set land speed records to Killington and the Mt. Washington Valley.  Needless to say, that vehicle woke up in a hurry.  Skis, mulch, firewood, all filled the Blazers for many, many trips and as the mileage piled up, so did the warning lights on the dashboard telling me that I had abused the vehicle beyond its normal capacity and maintenance was sorely required.  Honda Passports, Mitsubishi Monteros, and finally the Jeep have graced my driveway and my friends and neighbors all chuckle with the constant addition of ski related or mountain bike related bumper stickers or window decals.  My friends with the luxury vehicles all look at me with confusion in their eyes as to why I am not interested in driving a comfortable, well manicured vehicle?  I guess it just goes with my ragged, humorous personality and internal value systems.  The things that get me up in the morning are those that are fun and adventurous.  I may have wrinkled shirts and pants, and my Jeep is a mess, but my wife loves me for who I am and knows that some things are not on my radar screen.  Experiences are important to me, not creature comforts.  I have tried to be more considerate of Janet over the years, but that dirtbag ethos is lurking in my soul and I try to keep the lid on it as well as I can.  Ross_TX_89Blazer_1RR

The Jeep is running well and as I look forward to another winter of mountain adventures, I know that American ingenuity will keep me upright on the snowy roads.  I may have to hose it down from time to time and take comfort when I see a muscle car get stuck on the side-roads.  But I know that my selection and treatment of vehicles over the years has provided me with many memories of classic road trips. I don’t need pressed pants or a sparkling vehicle to enjoy the good times.  Just unloaded 2 Jeep-loads of firewood in my backyard over the weekend.  Guess I will be finding all of that bark next summer at the beach.  Thanks for reading.