Friday, December 30, 2011

Long December

It's been a long December and there's reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.

It's been a very, very, very tough year. I've tried to push through and just keep on keepin' on as best I could, but it's been pretty difficult. I know next year is going to be better though. I still believe in happiness. I still believe in love. And I still believe in deep snow, bluebird skies and epic days. It might not come now, it might not come next week, but it will come. I know it will.

Happy New Year.

EDIT: Didn't mean to make this post sound so down. Here's a cool video of 3 people cruising around the country in a tiny house searching for powder to boost the mood:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Early Season Malaise

As a “weekend warrior”, I don’t suffer from the general malaise that seems to be setting in among mountain people across the country (except for Alaska). Here’s the Female Ski Bum:
I am here, stuck in the midst of my "why hasn't the winter season really started yet" depression, and struggling to feel my soul connected to the mountain.
Even the Jaded Local is talking crazy:
It all seems so far away, so impossible… and then all of a sudden you’re considering drastic measures like getting a job or buying telemark gear.
Now that's just insane. Don’t get me wrong. I ask the same questions, look at the same weather reports, and wish for the same powder. I just have other stuff to do: gym climbing Tuesday at The Edge-Halfmoon, office Christmas parties, last minute shopping, dicking around on the internet, work, etc. I’m keeping myself busy, confident that the snow will be there (as it always is) in February and March, when my ski instructing duties slow down and I can get to ripping.

I do have to say, though, that once I get to that point, I’m not thinking about work, shopping, or internet dicking. Apparently someone is, though, because the newest thing to be introduced in Vail is the Wi-Fi enabled gondola. I see more and more people whipping out their phones and texting, facebooking, and playing angry birds on the way up the mountain. God forbid they actually hold a conversation with the people around them – maybe make some new friends, discuss the snow conditions, laugh at a spectacular crash below. Nope. Instead of engaging with other people and actually being present, they choose to completely remove themselves from the situation and zone out everything that’s going in their vicinity. Ugh. They might as well be at home staring at a glowing box.

In a related story, there’s a new app available for iPhones that uses the GPS to identify the mountain peaks around you in the Adirondacks. Now this is the kind of thing I’d like to see more of. This app uses technology in a way that actually allows you to be more tuned in to what you’re doing. Part of the reason I like Photography and Video is that they force you to find creative ways to view your surroundings. Year End photo journal-style blog posts, like this and this, wouldn’t be possible if the authors were not paying attention to everything going on around them. Even a walk in the woods can be an amazing experience if you just stop and look around once in a while. These are the kinds of things that inspire me to get out there, have more adventures, take more pictures, and be more imaginative in my photography.

I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here (it’s probably another one of my pleas to live in the moment), but I guess I’ll finish with a story about the rock gym. First, let it be known that I am not a good rock climber. Well, I guess I’m good enough to know that I’m not good. I’m not a Gumby, but I’m definitely not flashing 5.9s, and I constantly find myself pumped out and hang dogging the last few climbs of the night (I’ve been reviewing the glossary of climbing terms because people have entire conversations in that gym that sound completely foreign to me).

Anyway, when I’m in the gym and I’m belaying or resting, I’m looking around like crazy. I always find it interesting how many different ways there are to climb the same route. And there are so many different styles (mostly corresponding to body type). I’m starting to learn what constitutes good technique (using the skeleton as much as possible to rest the muscles), and trying to be more smooth in my climbing (funny how that’s the goal in so many sports). I’m so caught up in everything I’m doing, that I’m not thinking about work or relationships or anything else. And I’m definitely not thinking about taking out my phone to see what other people are doing on Facebook. Maybe that’s why I’m happy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Last Chair: 12/16/11

I want to bring back Last Chair, but it was such a pain in the ass to compile. Does anyone know how to post my last week in tweets? I've seen it on a lot of blogs, but I have no idea how to do it. Is there a widget or something that will just spit out all my tweets for a specified period of time, which I could then post to this page every Friday? Or, even better, something that would do this automatically every Friday? In the meantime, here's a sweet video from MSP:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

When Did Skiing Become Lame?

What happened? Skiing used to be cool. Athletic. Outdoorsy. Fun. I just bought the 40th anniversary edition of Powder and I almost cried. Not because everything was so much better back in the 70’s (although the moustaches and mogul runs were sick):

NDG11, Hot Dog with Dick Barrymore from Nuit De La Glisse on Vimeo.

I just miss the skiing that I grew up with. The nostalgia brought out some feelings that I didn’t even know I had. All of the newer pictures in the magazine show an activity, all of the older pictures show an experience. Somehow, right around the time that Greg Stump stopped making ski movies, skiing got lame. I used to see people chugging beer on the way up the Triple chairlift at Gore. I used to ski the ridiculously ungroomed and unmaintained trails of Big Tupper Ski Area (alongside Scott Gaffney, according to one article in the mag). I used to look up to the people pounding bumps at the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge (now discontinued?).

Then, sometime between Shane McConkey’s death and now, skiing got really, really, really boring. Look around the lodge now. Where are the partiers? Where are the chicks in stretch pants? Where are the zany antics? Where are the mustaches? All I see now are Transpacks and Ski Totes, corporate ownership of big mountains, contractors doing food service, and lame people doing lame things on lame mountains with lame rules. Did you know that there’s a state law in Vermont that says you can’t drink your own beer on a deck outside of a ski area bar (or the bar loses its license)? WTF? The state where Fred Pabst founded multiple mountains (including Bromley) can’t tolerate a cooler full of PBR on a warm spring day? If the people from 80’s ski movies were subject to these rules, the movies would have been 15 minutes long.

Every time someone comes along to challenge the corporate police state and actually have a little fun, they get shut down hard (see: G.N.A.R., The Movie). Listen, I understand the other side of the argument. Skiing is a family sport now. It’s more important for ski “resorts” to cater to the wealthy clients (who prefer a calm atmosphere of fine dining, posh hotels, and manicured runs). What’s wrong with that? Well, I’ll leave it to Telluride town councilman Rasta Stevie to explain:


Exactly. Telluride is all about funky culture. And when Stevie leaves, and all his brethren leave, there will just be a bunch of rich dweebs saying "Where has everybody gone? I thought this place was funky!" Well, crazy white Rasta guy, I’m looking around my mountain, and I’m not seeing a lot of funky culture either. And don’t tell me that snowboarders are the new heirs to the crazy party throne (which is actually what I call my toilet). A lot of those guys are just as lame as the tight ass skiers.

So what’s the solution? I guess I’ll turn to Gandhi’s advice and “Be the Change” I want to see. I have to switch up my usual mountain experience, and try some new things. Torchlight parade? Yes. Full Moon Backcountry ski session? Yes. Unconventional terrain competition? Overnight Winter camping and ski adventure? Pond Skimming? Yes. Yes. Yes. In the intro to the aforementioned magazine (which I read on the crazy party throne), Neil Stebbins has a lot of tips to help improve your skiing life. Here’s one:
Ask yourself: Do you ski the same places the same way every season? Do you and your friends all look the same? Listen to the same music? Look up to the same people? Look down on the same people? I know, you think that’s why your friends are your friends, but trying new things can be rewarding. Difficult, embarrassing, but nearly always worthwhile. Surprise yourself. And your friends.
I’ve been doing the same things in the same way at the same mountain for too long. It’s time to start making skiing fun again. Who’s with me?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New Format

As you may have noticed, I'm trying to make the blog look a little more professional, so I'm messing with the format a little bit. Check out my cool picture on top. I also made one for mountain biking season:

I still have to put a few more links up on my bar up there (hiking, road biking, etc.), and I might adjust the columns and add more fun stuff on the periphery. So, just know that I'm still trying to improve the blog and also trying to make it as functional as possible.

Gift Guides = Garbage

Around this time of year, ski sites start coming out with “gift guides”, which are really just a bunch of kickbacks to their sponsors. Everything is overpriced, everything is gimmicky, and it’s almost a guarantee that everything you get will make you look stupid (also, the time has come for me to officially come out against Transpack backpacks. They are the Ski-Tote of the new millennium and as easy as they might make things to carry, you generally look like a complete and total gaper when you have one – exceptions can be made for kids, but that’s the only group with immunity). Gift guides as a general concept are so beholden to the “consumer culture”, it’s hard to think of any way that they make people’s lives better. Many years from now, when historians write the book on the decline of the American empire as a result of capitalistic greed, rampant egoism, and uncaring selfishness, the “Holiday Gift Guide” will have its own chapter. It’s so much better to think about gifts like this guy:

The best gift for an adventurer is a great plan in a brand new place and a way to get there (gas $$, plane tickets, whatever).

He goes on to do the kind of gift guide that I’m really interested in: the best adventure spots in a variety of states (for New York, he recommends tagging a bunch of peaks in the ADKs on a long hike from Keene Valley to Marcy). That’s the kind of thing I want to know about. Don’t tell me what to buy, tell me what to do. Tell me what to see. Show me a cool place that I’ve never visited. Introduce me to an activity that I’ve never done before. Better yet, come with me! If you’re passionate about Stand Up Paddleboarding, or Canyoneering, or Snowmobiling, or whatever you’re into, show me why you like it. Tell me why it’s awesome, and take me on your favorite trip.

I was recently reading an article about donations to food banks being the most economically inefficient way to deal with feeding the hungry. There are many problems with the “food drive” model: charitable organizations can get cans of food for much less money than you can, handling that many cans are a logistical nightmare, and a lot of food ends up getting wasted (because they’ve received too many cans of beans and not enough cans of tomatoes, for instance). So should we stop giving cans of food? What’s the solution?

In-kind donations still help, of course, and nobody’s turning away boxes of food. But a fundamental issue is that many organizations feel that asking for money—like requesting cash as a gift—seems somewhat gauche. So, let me be rude on their behalf: Find well-managed charities in your community and trust them to know how to do their job. They have access to food at a fraction of the price. They know their clients, and they have better things to do than to sort through your canned goods.

Exactly. When it comes to food banks, the best strategy is to let them handle it. And maybe this is the best strategy for gift giving, too. I can get pretty good discounts on Outdoor equipment. I know a couple of trips next year that I REALLY want to go on. And I don’t really need that 8th pair of ski socks.

I know that this is antithetical to the whole capitalist system (or “spirit of giving” if you please), but the money that people are going to spend on Christmas gifts would do a lot more good if it were in the hands of the people who are in line to receive the gifts. I’m in favor of stipulations (“you have to spend this on something fun and not on bills”), but I’m just not in favor of filling my house with more crap. I’m not about to go minimalist, I just feel like I’ve gotten to the point where I already have enough stuff (besides that avalanche gear I need . . . and that rock climbing equipment . . . Damn. This anti-capitalism thing is harder than I thought).

I really just need to get out and start using the stuff I have.

Come on, Snow.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sedona, Arizona - 11/21/11 & McDowell Mountain Regional Park - 11/24/11

I'm bored tonight, so I thought I'd do a quick report of a couple of mountain bike rides I went on while I was out in Arizona for the Thanksgiving holiday. My brother and I had these great plans to ride all over the place, but he got into a motorcycle accident, broke his collarbone, and was unable to do any kind of physical activity at all. So, I stole his bike and caught a ride up to Sedona.

The weather was pretty nice.

The scenery was decent, too.  I rode around the Bell rock area for a while (nice wide roads, but nothing overly exciting), then I took the Templeton Trail to the Baldwin Loop.  That's where the riding got really good.

After cruising the high desert and rocky switchbacks for a while, I dropped down into a river valley, and suddenly, I felt like I was back in New York.  Roots, grass, and actual trees! Crazy for Arizona.

I was feeling freaking fantastic.  I was ripping technical lines, hopping off of knolls, and pumping banked turns to gain speed (but not too much speed because I wasn't really familiar with the trails and I never really knew what was around the corner).  I was feeling so good, though, that I decided to follow this guy's advice for taking better outdoor photos.

Thankfully, I avoided that cactus.  I continued on the Baldwin loop, and got to some more stellar scenery:

Then, I finished up by riding on the HT path, and some more stuff closer to Sedona proper.  In fact, my route was similar to this route (probably what a lot of first timers do, as it was recommended by the guys at Sedona Bike & Bean, the first bike shop on the road in). 

I cruised into town for a while for some lunch with my parents.  The town was a little hokey with all the typical tourist shops. Apparently there's a big new-age hippy dippy contingent in town that hawks tarot card readings, fortune telling, and "magic" crystals.  I guess there are several "vortexes" in the area that supposedly harness some kind of cosmic energy.  I just rode right past them, but I saw some people who appeared to be deep in meditation (I tried not to disturb their chi).    

After lunch, I headed out on the Deadman's pass trail:

After a couple of miles of riding, though, I realized that I just did not have the leg power I wanted for the climbs.  I did a little more riding and turned around.  I was starting to think that maybe the mystics were punishing me for doubting their power.  But then I looked to the southwest, and I realized that at least someone was shining on me.

On Thanksgiving day, I thought I'd try something a little closer to my brother's house in Scottsdale.  A 30 minute drive in his ridiculous Jeep brought me to the McDowell Mountain Regional Park.  I asked the guy at the Gate where the best mountain biking was, and he pointed me to the Pemberton Trail.  While the views of mountains and Cacti were good, the trail was super boring.  No hills, few turns, and no challenge at all.

I noticed on the map that there was a "Competitive Area" in the southwest corner of the park.  This is where I should have been all along!  Because I was a little tired from the 10 miles of boring riding I had just done, I opted for the "Sport Loop" (I would have done the Long Loop if I had gone to this area first).  It was a little boring at the beginning, but then I saw this sign:

After that, it got good.  Fast, flowy, not really technical, but just what I needed before I laced into some Turkey.  The other cool thing is that all the trails were one way, so you didn't have to worry about anyone coming up on you when you're banking turns down a desert ravine.  Very Cool.

Mountain Biking in Arizona is pretty damn fun (and I really just scratched the surface - mostly sticking to the "tourist" spots).  Next time I go out there, I'll be sure to dive deeper into the scene and really see if I can find some more technical stuff, some cooler scenery, and some crazy lines.  Maybe then, I'll be able to go with my brother too - might have to hire a mystic healer for him, though.