Thursday, September 30, 2010

Picking Back Up

My last two posts were a little too inside baseball, and (I feel) a little too Debbie Downer.  I have a lot to be happy about, including the upcoming ski season.  So here's some preseason stoke (only about a month and a half to go until east coast turns):

La Grave: A Skier's Journey Ep2 from Jordan Manley Photography on Vimeo.


Whenever anyone gives career advice, they always say that you should do what makes you happy. They usually give you some cheesy line like “do what you love and you’ll love what you do” (or something). But I think it’s pretty safe to say that a majority of people don’t follow this advice. I mean, if I was really doing what I loved, I’d wake up every morning and do whatever job I felt like doing on that particular day. One day, I’d be a sports announcer. The next day, maybe I’d be a golf pro. The next day I’d lead a backpacking trip. The day after that I’d write a sitcom. Maybe that night I’d edit some videos together. Some days, I probably wouldn’t do any job at all. I’d sit by a lake and drink beer (it’s hard to come up with a job title that encompasses that kind of activity).

My point is, there isn’t any one job that I want to do day in and day out. But the very nature of a “job” is that you have to put a lot of hours into one particular thing. And after all of those hours, you’ll be slightly to enormously better than the average person at that thing. Other people will come to you for advice. Younger workers will look up to you. In a field full of ants, you’ll be a slightly more efficient ant.

I keep a list of quotes, observations and musings (mostly culled from the “Quotes of the Day” box on my iGoogle) in an ever expanding Word file. One of these quotes is from James Baldwin:
The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.
If you work at a job long enough, you eventually get to this point. And I think I’ve reached the point in Ski Instructing. It’s not that I don’t like doing the actual lessons (most are an absolute blast), but everything associated with the “profession” of Ski Instructing, year after year, really starts to wear on me. Added responsibilities (that don’t really have anything to do with ski instructing), decreased pay, increased uniform restrictions, decreased pay, higher expectations for certifications, decreased pay – the decision to instruct becomes harder every year.

And, if you don’t mind me saying, I’m a pretty good ski instructor. Every winter, I sacrifice almost all of my free time to it. I’ve put enough hours in so that I know all the drills, I can identify all of a skier’s weaknesses, and I know how to fix all of the problems. And I have a pretty good skier’s mind, too. So even if my solutions don’t work the first time, I have an ability to explain it in another way, or recraft a drill to fit a different purpose. I’m at the highest level of teaching (PSIA level III), and if I go any further (Dev. Team, Examiner, etc.), it would be a job instructing instructors (if that makes any sense).

So I’m having a little personal crisis. I can’t tell if instructing is a worthy pursuit for me or not. I love free skiing (obviously), but I also like teaching great lessons. I like getting my season pass for free, but I don’t really want to do crowd control. I like skiing with my instructor friends, but I really like skiing with my non-instructor friends. I don’t want to offend anyone affected by the recession (a lot of people are truly going through difficult times), but this type of soul searching is probably being done all over America (I’m just lucky that it’s for my weekend job). People have devoted their lives to something, put in the long hours to make it their “job”, spent years building bonds and relationships with their companies and their clients, and then (as a thank you for their years of service) they are getting more responsibility, less pay, and, in some cases, laid off. And we wonder why workers feel so unappreciated.

I definitely feel good about the community college job that I scored last year. It looks like I’ll be able to get that gig again (knock on wood), so there’s a little extra money in my pocket (and some great lessons to look forward to). Those are the kind of days I love. Show up, teach for two hours, do a lot of skiing, see you next time. As for the weekend job, I’d like to think my mood is going to get better, but I’m not too optimistic about it. I’m going to put in my 25 days in this year, do my PSIA re-up, and see where it goes from there. I’m just lucky that, if I do decide that the benefits aren’t worth the sacrifices, I still have another job to pay the bills.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Complacency or True Happiness?

I think a lot of things depend on one's frame of reference.  Whenever a skier from out west comes to the east, everything is icy.  When someone switches to shaped skis (or fat skis, or rockered skis), they wonder how they could have gone so long without trying the new technology.  And the 60 or so days a year that I get are pittance to a 120 day skier, but enviable to a 20 day skier.  But really, is the guy who skis the east, on straight skinny skis, about 20 days a year that bad off?  He still has a pretty big smile on his face.

In that vein, I wonder if I am asking for too much.  I mean, shouldn’t I be happy with what I have going?  I have a house.  I have a great job, with plenty of vacation time, a decent salary, and great benefits.  I have a great wife who loves skiing (and biking) as much as I do.  We live in a great area.  Gore is an hour away, Whiteface is 2:15.  My parents’ lakehouse is 2:45 away, with a boat and a jet ski. Ace’s parents’ condo is 45 minutes away and 20 minutes from Gore.  Mountain Biking at SMBA is about 25 minutes away, at Luther Forest about 15 minutes away.  Any number of Road Bike Rides are available right out my front door.  We have a lot of friends in the area for the summer, and we have a lot of friends at the mountain for the winter.  Our families live close.  And I love Gore.  It’s definitely top 5 in the East for trees (Stowe, Smuggs, Jay, MRG), which is what I like to ski most.

Really, if I was to pick up and move west, it would be for the following reasons:
  1. Change of Scenery – I’ve lived in this area for (pretty much) my entire life.  I took 3.5 years off to go to school in Maine, and half a year to do a semester in New Zealand.  Other than that, I’ve lived in Upstate NY.
  2. Snow – As much as I like Gore (and most of the East), the lack of natural snowfall is a killer.  It’s great when we have it, but sometimes we seem to spend weeks waiting for it.  I don’t really know how much snow I want (I don’t necessarily need Alta’s 500 inches, but Crested Butte’s 240 inches doesn’t sound like enough)
  3. Terrain – As much as I like Gore, there’s no doubt that the terrain of a western resort is far superior in both acreage and variety.
  4. Ski Town Vibe – I hate to dis where I grew up (because it worked out well for me), but Clifton Park, NY is a suburban wasteland.  The town is overcome with raised ranches (one of which is mine) and contains every single fast food restaurant, Friday’s/Chili’s type joint, and big box store known to man.  A proper ski town isn’t like that.  I picture Victorian houses and quaint streets.  And for me, there’s a certain feel to a ski town, where everyone is on vacation, and you can’t help but have your mood lifted.
 And that’s about it.  Let’s look at the list, and see what would be different. 

#1 is a weak reason.  It doesn’t take too long to adapt to a new place, and once I settle in and find my favorite spots, would I move again just for a “change of scenery?” 
#2 is big, but how big?  We get about 3 to 5 Powder Days at Gore per year.  By driving around a little bit, I might be able to squeeze another 3 to 5 out of other parts of the East Coast.   That’s 6 to 10 pretty good (5-7” +) powder days.  Granted, we hardly ever get the 12-24 inches that pile up overnight at western resorts.  I’m thinking the average western resort gets more like 18-30 awesome powder days a year . . . 3 times as much.  But the other thing is that, with all the natural snow, even the “droughts” are really good.  20 day old natural snow is a lot better than 20 day old manmade snow (that’s why I like “natural” trails in the east – no ice pellets to screw up the consistency).  Finally, we almost never see the rare and fantastic blue sky powder day that you always see in ski pictures.  So that’s a really big driver.
#3 is pretty important, because even when we do get a big power day (Valentine’s Day storm a couple of years ago), you need a mountain that can deliver the goods.  Let’s face it, some of the runs on the lower mountain don’t have enough pitch to keep you going on a really deep day.  They’re great cruisers in a snow drought, but just not cutting it when there’s 36” of fresh on the ground.  The top of the mountain, however, rocked on that day (and the day after . . . and the day after that . . . and the following weekend).  A lot of mountains out west have serious vertical right down to the base (I would just have to be careful when I choose).
#4 is really more of an image, I think, than a want.  Life in a ski town, while it looks glamorous, is not as cool as I’m making it out to be.  Great Jobs are few and far between, and there’s probably not going to be any health insurance.  There’s not even any guarantee that I will get to ski on those epic blue sky powder days.  Everything is expensive, the paycheck probably won’t be consistent, and I’d have to hustle to make things happen for myself (which may cut into my ski time).

So, I have to decide if the good (all that stuff in #2 and #3) outweighs the bad (all that stuff I mentioned in #4).  And right now, I just don’t see it.  Better Snow and Better Terrain seem like a reason to vacation there, but the negatives I listed in #4 prevent me from moving there (at this point in my life).  Things will happen, though, over the next few years.  People will move away, global warming might destroy eastern snowfall totals, and I might win the lottery.  For now, I’m just going to keep on keepin’ on.  And hopefully, I’ll learn to appreciate the things that I do have . . . Right after I buy myself some sweet rockered skis.    

Monday, September 20, 2010

Television, etc.

I try not to watch too much TV.  There are a lot of shows that are stupid (Real Housewives of Wherever), annoying (everything on during the day), or not funny at all (almost every network sitcom).  Sure, there are some good shows.  In particular, I like Family Guy, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Tosh.0, and this new series on HBO called Boardwalk Empire.  Generally, though, if I’m not watching sports or the Ski Channel, I’m not watching TV.

That might change, however with the recent announcement of A$pen: The Series.  From what I gather, it’s a scripted sitcom about the making of a (fictional) reality show in Aspen, Colorado.  It’s aimed at the 18-34 year old demographic, and it includes cameos from Paris Hilton, Carmen Electra, and Bode Miller.  Wow.  In addition, the article promises that “Scenes shot in Aspen include EXTREME SPORTS at one of the planet’s greatest ski resorts” (my uppercase, but it would’ve been a lot cooler if they wrote it like that).  The producers say that the actors and actresses (who are playing the roles of reality show contestants, I assume) “are shown as wealthy spoiled brats loving HARD, skiing HARD, and having HUGE bank accounts” (my uppercase again . . . sorry).

Maybe I’m being a little bit of a curmudgeon, but do we really need more “spoiled brats” on television?  We already have the Kardashians, the Housewives, and The Hills (ended, but somehow surviving in syndication).  At some point, don’t people get tired of watching rich people whine about trivial problems?  There’s an opportunity, I guess, to use the format of the show to take the piss out of these types of “stars”, and maybe that’s what they are going to do.  Maybe the $ in the title means that they recognize the ridiculousness of the culture, and they are going to savagely knock people down as hilarity ensues.  I’ll definitely be watching, so I’m hoping that it’s more Joe Shmo and less The Mountain.

Really, though, isn’t it time that we expected a little more from our televisions?  And shouldn’t we expect more from our internet, too?  Here’s a post from

The work also involved building an Interconnect between North Pole and Gore, and a new quad chairlift at Gore.

Wow.  North Pole and Gore??  Sweet!!  Coca-cola for All!!!

But just when I thought all was lost, I found this solid internet post, about a sick early season backcountry excursion in Montana’s Bridger Mountains.  A guy went out skiing on September 12th after an early season storm dropped a few inches on some of his favorite lines.  Unfortunately, it appears as though someone beat him to the goods:

I hoped to get first tracks but two people beat me to it, probably the day before.  The top half was great thick pow that sloughed while I skied down.  The second half was tight due to lack of snow, but skiable until the top of the apron. Pretty much the best September turns I”ve ever got.  Cheers to who ever beat me to the Great One, nice work.

Probably those spoiled brats from A$pen.  I heard they were EXTREME.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Skiing like you live Your Life/Aspen Extreme

I stumbled across this old column somewhere in the depths of the internet.  Basically, it says that you can tell a lot about a person just by watching their skiing:
“I’ve come to the conclusion,” she said, “that people ski the way they live their lives.”

“Look at the people around you. Take Amy, for example,” Pat said, mentioning a friend who’s a student and part-time ski model. “She skis beautifully: smooth, in control, with purpose. That’s exactly the way her life is. Her sister, Val, on the other hand, skis just a little out of control, just a little wild…the same way she lives her life.”

I started thinking about this, and I’m pretty sure there’s an element of truth to it.  People I know who live their lives conservatively have a very conservative ski style - Slow, methodical turns; focused on making each turn perfect, completely content with getting to the bottom and seeing a Farmer Dave –type track that affirms their consistency.  People who live a little more towards the edge ski more aggressively, taking a few risks, trying a new line, or catching a little air.  But I feel like the concept breaks down when it comes to me.

My skiing style stems from the final scene in Aspen Extreme.   

Breaking the standard orthodoxy of the “Powder 8” competition, TJ Burke and his young partner go off course, off the judge’s monitors, and out of bounds for some sweet, sweet cliff jumping action.  I loved that scene when I was a younger, so I immediately tried to copy their moves.  I didn’t really care about falling because TJ didn’t land everything perfectly, and the hip checks and butt drags that he did have probably helped him control his speed on the steeper terrain (RIP Doug Coombs - best ski stunt double ever).  I had some spectacular crashes, some brutal injuries, and some embarrassing moments, but then I started having some success.  I felt really good when I began to nail some of the tricks in the movie – the 720 and Iron Cross 360 were definite highlights.  And I always took the mindset of exploration, rather than orthodoxy, in line selection.  To this day, every time I go skiing, I continue to try to explore new areas and take new risks.  Three years ago, I added the 360 to the top of the Rumor headwall not because I had a death wish, but because I wanted to TJ Burke the trail – ski it in a way that nobody had ever done before.

Which is what makes my career path so different.  On skis, I look at a line, question whether something can be done, and say “I’ll give it a try”.  In life, I look at my position, determine where I want to go and say “Ehhh, I’ll get there eventually.”  I think for me, it’s a question of consequence.  The worst thing that could happen on a failed Rumor Headwall 360 is a fall and an injury.  The worst thing that could happen with a failed career decision is poverty, desperation and despair. So I choose a life of security – secure job, secure income, secure house – instead.  I’ve written about this before, and these types of thoughts always seem to creep into my mind at the start of ski season.  So the question becomes, should I make my skiing decisions as conservative as my life decisions?  Or should I take a few more risks with my life decisions, as I do with skiing?

For TJ Burke, the answer was easy.  A promotion at the Auto Plant wasn’t a great way to get some security (even in a highly paid union job), it was bad news.  It meant that he’d continue to live in Detroit, slave away in a factory, and ski at Mount Brighton for the foreseeable future.  That alone was enough to spur him to make a drastic change in his life.  And so, every year I watch the movie.  And every year, when TJ asks the question “Wanna get out of here?” I get closer and closer to saying “Yes.”

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Life

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Life. You know what I’m talking about. When you’re on vacation, you sit back in your beach chair (or your Adirondack chair, or your comfy couch in front of the fireplace), you take a sip of your beer (or margarita, or fruity drink inside a hollowed out coconut), you look out over the ocean (or mountains, or lake) and you say to the people with you: “This is The Life.”

I used the vacation example because I assume that’s where most working people get their most satisfying taste of The Life (you don’t hear a lot of people dropping that quote in their office cubicle). My parents, who are looking forward to retirement next year, have been putting the pieces together for a pretty nice version of what I’m talking about. Since they love to Golf, they bought property in North Carolina and they’re building a house on the 13th hole of a really nice Golf Course. Then, since they love the Adirondacks (but not necessarily the winter), they’ve been making renovations to their lake house to make it a more “permanent” summer residence. I’m sure they’ll finish plenty of days toasting to The Life.

I only bring this up because I read this amusing article on (which, incidentally, is a fantastic aggregator of the tramdock, bonktown, chainlove, deal every hour or so websites): The 10 Things You Need to Know about Being a Ski Bum. It seems that being a ski bum is not the most glamorous existence in the world:
Everything is expensive in a ski town: food, drink, gas, rent, entertainment, and all that shiny gear you thought you needed. Debt grows quickly where many jobs are seasonal and don’t pay enough to cushion existence with more than the bare essentials.
To cut costs, ski bums pack into skid cribs that make frat houses look clean. Ski bums camp out over the summer months. Ski bums scrounge food and other essentials. A truly savvy ski bum knows every trick in the book for getting by with minimal dependence on “The System”. Unfortunately, after 40+ years of battling ski bum infestations, mountain town manifestations of “The System” know what it takes to keep things clean and pleasant for the tourists.
 Which is all true. I remember watching an over-the-top, hilarious documentary called Ski Bums about a bunch of guys living in the Whistler area in British Columbia, who mostly prove the second axiom of the aforementioned list (Many “ski bums” don’t ride very much but most can party with the worst of em’). “Crucial” Mike (he thinks his name comes from a “marijuana reference”) was able to “stylize [his] existence” after a spring thaw under-the-chairlift treasure hunt, and Johnny Thrash (a.k.a. “Johnny Two Stroke, Johnny Four Stroke”, etc.) was able to score a pretty sweet set of Salomons from a garbage dump. I don’t want to ruin the movie, but Crucial’s scene at the mid-mountain food court has got to be the emotional climax of the film.

When I imagine The Life, I definitely don’t imagine digging through Garbage Dumps. But I guess I don’t really imagine being a “bum” either. I mean, sure, they’ll be some times of sweet, sweet relaxation. The requisite magazine shot of people chilling outside a snow covered coffee house with the newspaper comes to mind:

 But I have too much energy to just sit around all the time (and I’m becoming increasingly annoyed with reading the paper). The question is what to do to support my existence (I can always stylize it later). I like ski instructing, but I also like to make ski movies. I like doing my blog, but I also like to party (Ommegang Brewery “Ommefest” tomorrow in Cooperstown). With that in mind, I think I have found the perfect job for myself:
[W]e at Canyons want you to come work for us. Not only will we pay you a salary but, we’ll put you up for free – at a suite at the Waldorf Astoria, no less, and give you full VIP treatment including heli-skiing, avalanche training, spa treatments and full gear! Read on to learn how to Apply.
Blog about your day’s activities 3-4 times a week with photos and video
Attend Canyons events
Participate in monthly Canyons activities
Shadow shifts with various departments: Ski Patrol, Food and Beverage, Lift Operations
Hmmmm . . . Season Pass to the Canyons, $10,000 a month, “head to toe” ski gear, airfare, avalanche training, and heli-skiing. Sign me up!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mountain Biking Last Weekend

I'm feeling a little lazy right now (in a real beer drinking/football watching mood), but last weekend was a great MTB weekend.  We explored the Pine Hill Park in Rutland last Saturday (awesome) and ripped the SMBA trails north of Saratoga on Sunday.  A friend of ours put this little video together (I'm riding the orange bike).  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Resort Culture

There seems to be some grumblings about skiers these days being over pampered.  This recent article on puts the argument forward.  It centers on the new, heated seats for a bubbled quad at The Canyons, but the article goes even further in its critiques.  Money quote:
But now, resorts coddle skiers so much, it's like a padded-room version of the mountains, a relaxing, spa-like space in which you can observe the mountains, but not really be in them. Snowbasin, Utah, for example, has elegant bathrooms that look like they belong in Trump Tower. Beaver Creek, Colorado, has escalators that deliver you to the chair lift. California's Northstar-at-Tahoe has a new village with more wine bars than ski shops. Deer Valley, Utah, has a seafood buffet that costs $62 per person. The newest hotel at Snowmass comes with ski valet, in-room milk frothers and poolside cabanas.  
Ummmm . . . Yeah.  The experienced skier would say "No shit. This has been going on for a long time, where have you been?"  Of course things are getting more "guest centered."  High speed lifts, meticulous grooming, and terrain parks all developed because resorts are focused on giving the people what they want.  In fact, I actually had the seafood buffet at Deer Valley (inside tip: if you go for lunch, it's half price), and it was delicious.  The real question is, are we looking at the development of the "new" ski resort?  Is the old school Alta/Mad River Glen/Jay Peak model dying?

At Gore, we live through the old vs. new debate every day.  I think we all realize that change is inevitable.  We just hope that the good parts (new lifts, trails, glades, etc.) outweigh the bad (congestion, faux-euro village, etc.).  But even if everybody's worst fears come to fruition, will Gore cease to be a great time?  I think this is where the article gets off track:
"Okay. But admittedly, this is pretty plush, no?" I asked her. "I'm assuming this kind of thing helps you attract upscale clientele."
"We attract the core skier who is interested in steeps and bumps but we also have a strong destination skier market," Dowd explained. "For people who take a ski vacation and only ski one week a season this chair will be a memorable experience. Why not pamper guests and make their vacation stand out?"
Here's what I wished I'd answered: Ski vacations should stand out because people challenge themselves and learn something -- about the mountains, about themselves. That is what should make a ski trip memorable. Not some heated orange box that gives you a view of the mountains, but never really lets you experience them first hand.

What has happened to our sport?
Does a heated seat on a lower mountain chairlift prevent you from challenging yourself?  Does it prevent you from exploring the mountains?  Does it somehow sour your mountain experience? While it sounds like cheesy corporate spin, the woman from the Canyons is exactly right.  For some people, a ski vacation isn't great unless they're pushing the limits of what's possible on skis: dropping cliffs, ripping trees, and launching insane tricks in the park.  For other people, a ski vacation is great because of the buffet, the wine bar, and the poolside cabana.  And really, there's no reason that the two can't coexist.  The day before I enjoyed the Deer Valley buffet, Ace and I enjoyed untouched tree shots and prime slackcountry in the Daly Chutes, completely alone on a mountain populated by people who prefer to stick to the groomers.  And I'm sure that the many of those people didn't even care that a 10 minute hike could yield steep, powdery chutes.  They were too busy thinking about the buffet.

But whether you're talking about the shrimp scampi or the tree-choked pillow lines, the only thing that makes a ski vacation "stand out" is the smile on the face of the individual skier.  And nobody should have to tell you the "right" way to get that smile.

Friday, September 3, 2010

More Movie Stuff

I've been getting psyched about ski movies lately.  In addition to the discussion on Harvey Road, I've been watching a lot of stuff on the Ski Channel, and checking out trailers for the upcoming "ski movie season" of September-November.  This one jumped out:

Legend of Aahhh's Trailer from Ryan Gillentine on Vimeo.

While I find Greg Stump to be a bit of a pompous douchebag (can you imagine that, given the chance to sit down with Warren Miller for an interview, he basically asks him "What do you think about me?"), there's no doubt that he made some great movies.  Blizzard of Aahhh's was sweet, and P-Tex, Lies and Duct Tape was even better.  I think he's giving himself a little too much credit for starting the entire "Extreme Sports" industry, but he definitely played a significant role.  The best line of the trailer, though, came from the Former Marketing Director of Breckenridge, David Peri:

There's only two things that people have ever purchased in all of humanity: Solutions and Good Feelings.

Exactly!  I don't know if you need a degree in marketing to figure that out, but it's a great point.  If nothing else, Stump's movies definitely provided the Good Feelings - nicely demonstrated by Scott Schmidt if you stuck around to about the 13:45 mark.  And really, I think that if you're spending the majority of your money on the Good Feelings, you're living a pretty successful life.  I feel like I've had a lot of Good Feeling expenditures this past summer, and it turned out to be pretty terrific.

Although I think I did notice something else in this trailer that brought a nagging problem that I've been having.  I haven't quite found the exact way to express how great I am.  I guess I need to purchase the solution: