I am almost speechless after watching this People Are Awesome 2013 video. There are athletic stunts and achievements here I have never even heard of, and many are clearly somewhat established “sports.” It also reminds me how nuts some people are to take these risks…like walking a tightrope between two moving trucks about to enter two different tunnels. Still can’t believe that is for real.
Archive for category skiing
Met a new friend out West who described his life of total immersion in the outdoors and his love of fast cars and motorcycles. His stories were so astonishing and descriptive that I urged him to write them down. Who could have guessed that his prose would be extraordinary too. I told him he reminded me of Hunter Thompson’s gonzo style or other journalists I imagine writing about speed on speed…or some other hallucinogenic. You are in for a real treat! (I hope he doesn’t mind that I relocated the first paragraph from deep within the story to give you a perspective of what is going on)
For whatever reasons, not the least of which was my father having a triple bypass at 35, I always figured on needing to pack as much experience into one presumably short life as a person could. So I’ve had the pedal down as far back as I can remember. The joke is on me of course, I never developed heart disease, but I did break a few bones, lose a shitload of skin and probably deserve to be dead 30 times over doing various things. Also got a late start building a career, so I’ll probably be working until I am in fact dead—but I design/test outdoor gear. How bad can that be?
OK, a quick bio: I’ve always been bipolar or multi-polar regarding outdoor sports, grew up at the beach but was sneaking onto the Irvine Ranch (before it was developed) behind our house with my .22 to hunt rabbits and quail (yes, quail, you just have to make a head shot, and I don’t mean when they are flying) and started fly fishing in the mountains around LA whenever my mom could drive me or with the Boy Scouts, then Explorer Scouts. Luckily the Explorer group I joined was the mountaineering group in Anaheim, which gave me my first glimpse of the High Sierra’s, and I got as interested in Golden Trout as I did in peak bagging.
As soon as I got my driver’s license, it was good bye to the scouts, and I was off every winter weekend to cross country ski tour/snowcamp in the San Gorgonio or San Jacinto Wilderness areas, often alone, which would drive my mom crazy, then backpack with a fly rod in the summer. Surf, ski, climb, hunt, fish, and of course getting around when younger I got everywhere on a bike, which became a nicer and nicer bike which became another, lifelong passion including a little bit of road racing in high school. I quit that because I kept getting clobbered by motorists who in those days weren’t used to seeing humans on road racing bikes out in traffic. Last crash involved being hit from behind by a car and flung through traffic across three fast lanes of the Pacific Coast Highway. It was like playing Russian Roulette with only one empty chamber and surviving without a scratch. The rear wheel and rear triangle of my bike absorbed most of the impact and I came to a stop on the center divider balancing on my crank set, still clipped in, cars whizzing by in both directions. I did not get religion, I just left the bike laying in the highway and hitched home. No more road bikes for me.
Then one summer I came through Ketchum on a fly fishing trip and saw my first mountain bike—one of Tom Ritchey’s first hand-made bikes at the Elephant’s Perch, and my life was wrecked. I was living in Laguna at the time and the steep coastal hills were crawling with jeep roads, single track and game trails.
In a fitting way I was wrapping up my involvement with motorhead activities. My first car was a red Alfa Romeo Duetto softail Spider which I rescued from ruin and re-built myself. My second car was a raging-fast Lotus Elan which followed the same pattern, find a junker and bring it back to life one turn of the wrench at a time. I’d had a go-kart my Dad built for me when I was about 7, motorcycles, etc. so high performance driving was written into the software by the time I was a teen, and I could really drive. At one point I actually thought about it as a career, maybe an F1 pilot like Dan Gurney, but as I started hanging out at various tracks I realized I couldn’t stand the people who were involved with the sport. They were like golfers on crack.
With some irony I had long been co-evolving into a leftist tree hugging wilderness freak motorhead. I joined David Brower’s F.O.E. (Friends of the Earth) when I was 16, was reading Abbey, getting pangs about joining Dave Foreman’s Earth First gang but didn’t like the idea of prison. Note that both cars I mentioned were small, light, fast, fuel-efficient machines. But showing up to a Sierra Club meeting with my Lotus (even though it got 30 mpg) didn’t go too well. Which I found really disappointing. The leftist tree huggers turned out to be like accountants on crack.
In those years I tried everything that fit my personal ethos of small footprint, treading lightly, loving wild places, and having a fucking great time getting to those places. Think of hand-made (by me), aero cross-country ski racks and skis tucked behind the tiny roof line of a Lotus Elan howling through the desert North of LA at 2 A.M., on the way to Mammoth Tamarack lodge with the headlights off, navigating by the full moon at 120 mph with the Doors playing Riders on the Storm backed up by the sound of a nasty, tweaked-out twin cam motor pushing a low, smooth glass slipper through the void. Fuck the Sierra Club. (Continue to Part 2/3 in post below)
Fifteen thousand skiers start the 88th Vasaloppet cross-country marathon in Mora, Sweden, one of the oldest, longest and biggest ski races in the world.
Photo taken 3/4/2012 by Jonathan Nackstrand
I have just returned from Sun Valley, Idaho, where some friends urged us to visit them for a week and enjoy the outdoors. Though New York City dwellers most of the year, these urbanites thrive on physical activity out west, spending 5-6 weeks in the winter and a couple of months each summer. And they have found a community of compatriots who are also the most passionate athletes. Some of these SV friends are working people from cities on both coasts who come out on weekends and holidays. Others are retirees who live for sports and outdoor motion.
Four to six days a winter week, they are skiing in the morning for a couple of hours. Followed by a hot tub soak, stretches and weights in the gym, and then a hike, snowshoe or cross country ski in the afternoon. One dinner guest I met goes downhill skiing, then skate skiing, then biking—all in the same day! And he is not unusual. The summers and falls are filled with days of hiking, fishing, golfing, biking, motorcycling, hunting and of course time in the gym…NOT to build muscles, but “because I love it. It feels so good.”
How I admire their enthusiasm for so much activity. I can almost understand it, cannot relate to it, and certainly can’t keep up with it…although I did push myself to ski four times in five days, and also hit squash balls with friends two days, once after skiing. But I am not a life-long athlete. Only these last few years do more moderate daily doses of sports activity seem desirable.
The last time I was in Sun Valley in 2006, my school-age kids were with me and glued to beds the first day. I went skiing in a snow storm, struggling as a Florida-raised boy should. Exhausted by the effort, the snow, the limited visibility, the lack of being fit, I trudged back proud that I hadn’t injured myself. Refreshed by 12+ hours of sleep, my kids urged me to play squash with them (instead of collapsing and not moving forever), and I complied for family harmony and bonding. Unfortunately I tore my shoulder in three places, and that interrupted my physical life for about eight months.
This time I was more cautious, but also in much, much better shape. I could pace myself wisely and recognize signs of fatigue and strain. After two days of skiing painlessly with friends, I rested the third day and only played squash. The trails had been groomed with artificial snow up till then. I did feel wimpy that my friends were indifferent to the below zero to 5 degree temperatures. In spite of decades up north (I grew up in Miami Beach), that’s still pretty cold to me.
The fourth day was the first big snow in two months. Two feet of monster flakes began dropping nonstop, and it was beautiful but challenging. Going out alone was too dangerous, I was told—I’d get lost, take the wrong trail, die alone in the cold. Ridiculous…but to placate the worriers, I hired a ski instructor and heard that I was doing it all wrong—the problem with not learning the sport until my 20′s. Two and a half hours later, I could turn a lot better, and my coach took me on a black diamond run with moguls. Finally I was finished, exhausted, and somehow made it back to the house with jelly-legs that would barely support me. No squash that night.
The fifth day I went out alone in spite of the falling snow. My quads were aching on the first run, and I took it real slow. Thank goodness no one was with me I had to keep up with. Two-plus hours later I was wiped and went home.
As usual, I was relieved to have survived without injury. Maybe if I’d grown up in the snow, I’d be more comfortable with the speed. I’d be eager to enjoy the cold, the slopes, a few jumps. But skiing is always a bit confronting for me, like running a gauntlet that I force myself through to prove I can do it. The truth is I will never be like the others who enjoy it so much that they buy second homes in Sun Valley and go six days a week in freezing temperatures and wind. Now when it comes to tennis…
My son has a great idea, and two years later he is much closer to realizing it: a penguin hat! But it’s not a hat for penguins. It’s a stuffed penguin on a hat for humans. Quite cute. He has a great sense of humor and works sometimes for The Onion and the Comedy Channel.
I know it’s quite a stretch to include this video and link about how to improve your winter sport experience, but I am sure you will forgive me. You can learn more about the hat and how you might buy one if you go to here .
An earlier post about Ueli Steck, the fastest mountain climber, showed him going up the Eiger Mountain in about one fourth the time of other climbers. Someone asked me how he gets down, and I may have found one answer…a helicopter arrives to bring him skis and a chute, and this is what happens next:
I just bumped into an old story on TV that almost had me crying. It certainly pushed me later to strain a little more while weightlifting and doing push ups. If Petra can ignore the pain and gut out her third place finish in cross country ski sprinting, then I can certainly do better than I have been performing.
She may have been favored to win the gold, but in the practice run, she overshot a turn and fell down into a ditch 10 feet, hit a rock and was in agony. Nevertheless she forced herself to enter the race. She came in 19th in the first heat, which accepted the top 30 out of maybe 50. Then after a brief break, maybe an hour, she entered another heat, then another and then the finals. An amazing performance. She had to be carried off the course after each heat. A quick x-ray between heats showed no rib breaks, but after the finals, it was determined that she had raced with four broken ribs and a punctured lung.
You can start this video at 00:42 or watch another inspiring athlete, Terry Fox, who has an award named after him that was also given to Petra for her courage and incredible achievement. It’s all stills after 1:28, so you may want to stop there.
She was told she couldn’t go to the medal award ceremony, but she forced herself and the doctors to get her there in a wheelchair. And people had to lift her onto the podium. This kind of determination and will power is unimaginable. It shows what we are capable of if we push ourselves. I love that her psychologist “encouraged her to compete, as a day of pain was nothing compared to decades of preparation.”
This video from a 2009 race gives you an idea of what this sport is like. You will see that she fell in the race, but still came from behind…
Now here is a detailed news story about Petra’s astonishing achievement:
Whistler, Canada – Petra Majdic won her cross-country sprint bronze medal with four fractured ribs and a tear of the membrane of the lung from a training crash, Slovenian team doctor Tatjaz Urul said on Thursday. Turel told Slovenian television TVS said that the injuries will not allow Majdic to compete again at the Vancouver Games but can’t fly home immediately either because of the lung injury…
Majdic’s heroics were the talk of the town even before the exact nature of the injuries were later known. She arrived in a wheelchair at the medal ceremony late Wednesday to collect her bronze behind Norway’s Marit Bjoergen and Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland.
“I think that they (the Slovenians) will think that I am just more than a hero, especially when they find out what injuries I was competing with. I think for sure more than a hero,” Majdic said.
Majdic, 30, fell on an icy patch and slid into a small gorge during the warm-up. First ultrasound examinations revealed no fractures and she used just pain killers to get from qualifying through the quarter-and semi-finals onto the podium.
“This is not a bronze medal, this is a gold medal with little diamonds on it. I already won a medal for going to the start. The wish was so big because I have been fighting for this for 22 years,” she said.
“There was a big hole. I fell three metres. I fell on rocks. I broke one ski and both poles. I was screaming.”
Majdic, who had to be helped out of the finish area by team officials after each race, named personal and national pride as the driving force behind her refusal to give up.
“I thought it was over. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, couldn’t walk. But my desire was so strong. The second part of me said I will go to the start,” she said.
“You know what it is like when you came from a small country. And you never know whether you will get such a chance again.”
Majdic got the first Olympic cross-country medal for Slovenia, the nation’s fifth overall (all bronze) and the first individual medal since 1994.
Majdic’s psychologist Matej Tusak encouraged her to compete as a day of pain was nothing compared to decades of preparation.
“It is just a lot of pain and I said to her ‘You have 25 years of training, you can do this, you have to do this for yourself, you will just have to hear your heartbeat and feel your arms and legs, then you can do it,’” said Tusak.
Majdic was the Olympic top favourite as leader of the sprint World Cup, and with 16 of her 20 World Cup race wins coming in this discipline.
She said Wednesday that she would likely miss Friday’s pursuit but would try to compete in next week’s 30km. However, the final diagnosis now ended her Olympic adventure.
Just received the footage of my jump on the snowmobile last March in Park City, Utah. It’s at 3:00 in the video above. And then my crash right after that. My son, Gavin (in the red plaid hat), and his friend, Jason, are the other players I recognize. They also filmed and edited this video. Check out my earlier story about that weekend here .
Some of you have asked about the weather in Canada. I heard it was going to be around 50 in the day and 20 at night and cool on the top of Mont Tremblant.
The first day I wore a long sleeve fleece under my ski jacket and was sweating like a horse.
The second day I wore a T-shirt under the ski jacket and saw a teen-ager wearing just a T-shirt. She said she wasn’t the least bit cold, although I zipped my jacket when the wind blew.
The third day I was really aware of how to dress, even though it was cloudy. I didn’t even have to zip up my jacket. Here is how I was skiing:
February was full of sports activity, but little exercise and crunches. Maybe I am just too tired to work on muscles and abs. Could I be lazy as well? Can’t really say that when I was active 24 out of 28 days.
I played tennis 15 different days for a total of 41.5 hours. (The totals in December and January were 15 and 14, 41 3/4 and then 36) There were eight days that I played squash for 7.5 hours (up from once in December and two times last month). I went cross country skiing twice and downhill skiing once (in a storm on powder) (up from once in each of the last two months). And I did crunches just once a week, four times in the month (down from nine times in Dec and seven times in Jan), and 550 ball crunches was my largest amount (down from my record of 1050 last month). For a guy who used to do almost no sports or exercise in previous lives, this is a huge improvement. Nevertheless, I feel badly that I am not working on my abs and chest muscles.
Guess I should start doing them if I want that six-pack..
A friend said he was very proud that at my tender age I had just learned to ski moguls He thought it was cool. Of course I am pleased to have accepted this challenge and finally achieved the impossible. And of course another friend said that I was too old to be doing this.
I have been wondering why I was able to do this after so many years? Instead of plodding along at a snail’s pace—a scared snail in fact—who traversed a mogul field by going all the way to one side and then all the way back 100 feet or so to the other side, I was finally able to zip down within a narrower 15 or 30-foot corridor. How did this happen? What was the difference that allowed me to not fall, to speed up, to lean downhill?
I have concluded it was because my son was there as an inspiration. I wanted us to be able to ski together on the same trails at the same time. My being on a blue, while he was on blacks would not have been satisfying. I had to overcome my fears. I had to make it down through the mogul field. I had to go fast enough to not make him impatient or bored. And he was kind enough to put no additional pressure on me.
So I rose to the demands of this occasion. I always had the talent. I was merely able at last to call up my latent skills and deliver the motions. If inspiration can move mountains, it can also let some of us ski on mountains.
I’d like to be able to do this in tennis and squash as well. Maybe in other aspects of my life outside of sports. Too bad my son will be away in school for almost all those contests…
I finished the Andre Agassi auto-bio, Open, on this vacation. A great depiction of what the pro-tennis life can be about. Terrible. What a grind. But more importantly, Andre describes in detail how much of a mind game this sport is. And many others must be as well. In my earlier posts, I have guessed ones mental attitude was critical. Now it is more than confirmed. Momentum. The change in one’s outlook. The killer instinct. The passion to win. These are all very very real. I love the challenge of improving my performance. Now I must go hard after my goals…
At lunch yesterday in Montreal, the waiter told us an astonishing observation: “In the two years I have been working at this restaurant, you are the first English family who tries to speak French.” My son has been studying in school, so he is pretty conversant in French, and I know enough words to ask for tarte du pomme and say merci beau coup.
However to hear that no other people raised speaking English would try a few words at the table is stupefying to me. It tells me how afraid people must be to fail. Or too lazy to try to learn. How can they realize any dreams (assuming they have them) if they don’t take chances and risk losing or making mistakes? Especially a mistake as minor as using the wrong foreign word. Like I once asked in Italy for fish (pesce) ice cream instead of peach (pesca) ice cream…it’s a family joke still. I also told a Spanish grave digger I was visiting my cousin’s (primo) cemetery instead of my first (primero) cemetery. That’s another family laugh at me. And the poor gravedigger kept trying to help me find my dead cousin…
Are you one of those people afraid to make any mistakes? Maybe a slight change in behavior will lead to bigger, more meaningful changes in the future…
One of the great satisfactions about learning a new skill is progressing…moving towards the goal, feeling the power of achievement, the elimination of an interim obstacle.
I had that a few days ago in a black diamond mogul field at the top of Mount Tremblant Ski Resort, which is 135 kilometers (84 miles) northwest of Montreal, Canada.
To begin with, I can’t ski moguls. Too hard to think fast, turn my skis in time, lean downhill, not fall backward, overcome my fears. Growing up in Miami Beach, Florida did not prepare me for snow skiing. Unlike my kids who were skiing at the small mountain five minutes from our house and getting lessons from their school every winter Friday since third grade.
But at 24, I made it to a Vermont mountain for my first attempts to ski snow. Followed by a few times every few years to master—no, barely pass over—the downhill runs. I have broken a foot following a champion ski lady I was dating. I have tested my first ski boots by taking a one-foot jump that had me in the hospital with a twisted ankle three days before a long-awaited family trip to Sun Valley, Idaho (not much skiing that year).
Now I can get by on the green-circle (easy) and blue-square (medium) marked trails. However haltingly. It’s those black-diamond (hard) paths that are the real challenge. They are steeper and faster and often have moguls. So I avoid them most of the time in the interest of not getting hurt. Obvious. Logical. Right?
What’s a mogul? It’s a bump of snow formed when skiers push the snow into mounds or piles as they execute short-radius turns. Once formed, a naturally occurring mogul tends to grow as skiers follow similar paths around it, further deepening the surrounding grooves known as troughs. Picture whole fields of them, like giant mousetraps, waiting to catch you, pull you into them, and break your legs, skis and spirit. Terrifying.
I have had lessons from professional instructors teaching me the theory of how to maneuver through the mogul fields. All sounds good. But I can’t do it. Can’t lean the right way, keep my weight balanced, turn the skis, climb the sides of the mounds to slow me down, not fall into the troughs that are way too narrow for my skis to cross. It’s just not possible for me to keep my chest aimed straight downhill and both shoulders in a perpendicular line to my direction of travel. So I fall…and fall…and fall. And promise that I will practice another year.
However I only skied with my grand kids and my brother’s kids twice each of the last two years…plus one snowstorm striving to keep up with a friend who loves powder and has been freestyle skiing since he was five. Not much practice that way.
And it’s scary to do something that is going to knock you on your butt and remind you what so many contemporaries have told you for 25 years with disdain or know-it-all authority: “You are too old to learn how to do moguls.” “Your bones are too brittle.” “You should stick to just nice curvy-carving like I do on almost-level green trails.”
That is why the other day was so strange and unexpected. Read the rest of this entry »
Buzz Cohn loves to ski and wrote the following:
My 45-year passion for skiing continues with at least annual trips out West—the last being to Copper Mountain in February 2009. In the 1980’s I attended a ski racing camp which sparked my interest in NASTAR racing & culminated in my receiving gold medals at 3 major resorts at the age of 52. [NASTAR (NAtional STAndard Race) racing is a program where recreational skiers of all ages and abilities can test their skills on courses set up at resorts.]
Ira asked me to write about some ski racing adventures. Since it’s more entertaining to hear about someone’s foibles than triumphs, I’ll relate three experiences under the categories of: My most embarrassing moment, The dumbest thing I ever did & Best unintentional put-down.
Most Embarrassing Moment: I was at the starting gate at the top of a NASTAR course. Wanting to achieve the shortest possible time, I decided to do what the “real racers” do in leaning forward, with my shins & feet most posterior so that they would be the last part of my body to trip the wand. The wand in turn would start the clock. An additional maneuver you’ve seen the pros use is to jump out of the gate to start acceleration. In performing the jump-start, I did it so forcibly that my boots came out of the ski bindings. I landed several feet from the starting gate, flat on my face in the snow with my skis still remaining in place behind the wand.
There were 15 to 20 racers in line behind me who were polite enough not to cheer or laugh. I quickly reconstituted my equipment & reduced self esteem, re-entered the starting position & began the descent through the course – this time being more than happy to sacrifice the 1-1.5 seconds a more aggressive start might have gained me.
Dumbest Thing I Ever Did: I was in Taos, NM during midweek & the only racer at the top of the NASTAR course. It was laid out in such a way that I could not see the course from the lift, nor the whole course from the top. I disobeyed the tenet of taking a slow, non-timed run beside the course to check it out. Every course I had been on before or since (& what you see on TV) levels off after the finish line or even goes uphill a little.
As I was feeling especially aggressive, I did a regular timed run initially, at full speed. Read the rest of this entry »