Old Friends

Well today couldn’t have been a better day to ski, with some fresh snow a couple days ago and sunny skies. My teammate for many years is in town on a “girl’s weekend. “Lucky for her, she gets to come ski with friends and is free of family duties for a few days.

Today was one of those days you realize the kind of relationship you have after 10 years of competing with someone. We haven’t skied together since 1994 and as we discussed the word “skiing together” we realized the definition had changed since then. We were not at the same place skiing and working together, we weren’t trying to be on the training course first, trying to have the fastest training time or trying to make sure you get one of the spots for the next race.

It was relaxing and full of laughs reminiscing about times on the road. I think her girlfriends thought we were crazy (at least me, since I did crash their party). As I reflect what it means to ski with Diann for a day I couldn’t help but think this is a lifetime friendship where we have shared so much.

I remember when I scored my first World Cup points, she was there to reinforce that if I kept going I could have a successful career. I witnessed her winning her SG gold medal in Lillehammer; she made it look so easy (It didn’t work out the same way for me, ha!)We shared our disappointments of injury and battling back and our highs when good results came our way. She even asked me for parental advice for her three year old. Now that’s a bond!

You can share so much and never realize until you’re out of the elements. A highlight of the day was our last run skiing down Big Stick. She began skiing the face and I jumped in after her. Unfortunately she didn’t get to see this, but it was as if we were the only two on the hill. Her movement into the next turn was the same movement forward I made; her next turn was the same time I began and so on… her girlfriends came down and said how cool that was to watch. The funny thing was we didn’t plan it! 

The best part of the day was when we met each other and saw we both had a yellow coat on and white warm-ups! My fault as she is traveling and I have a closet to choose from. I guess once a teammate in the same uniform, always a teammate!

 

 

First Turns

Ah, that first time!

I rolled out of bed earlier than usual for a Saturday, had a hearty breakfast with my wife, loaded our gear into the car, almost forgot to grab a pair of “very cool” ski boots (mine, that had stayed by accident inside our rather cold mud room,) got the rest of our equipment and drove to Deer Valley Resort for the first skiing day of the season.

Time does fly! This will be the 58th time I’m back on skis in my lifetime, not counting two full winter seasons in the southern hemisphere. This certainly dates me, but few will pay attention! At my age, I’m less in a hurry to “click them on” than I used to. It’s not that I lack the youthful enthusiasm of kids and teenagers, but like most people my age; I tend to become naturally apprehensive as time goes by. We might have some legitimate reasons for being more tentative, but most often than not, this early-season hesitancy is totally unwarranted.

Today happens to be my first ski day of the season and my wife offered to accompany me, as a way to lend me some moral support. It’s not that I have been off my skis for a long time either. My last day on the snow was less than five month ago, on July 4th to be precise, as I skied Snowbird on its late, late closing day. The hardest thing to do, perhaps, is to get into my good old (and cold) ski boots; will they recognize my feet? The two have led separate lives for a few months now and might not be like “peas in a pod” anymore? The fear wasn’t worth it. In spite of their temporary “cold nature,” the boots still hug my feet closely and yes, if those don’t feel the freedom that comes with flip-flops, they are held tightly, but quite comfortably. Walking in boots seems to be the only awkward issue there is…

Now, I click back into my bindings, skate towards the chairlift and board without thinking twice. As I ride up the hill, I observe the other skiers; all seem reasonably assured and appear to ski if they had not missed a beat since last season. Perhaps, they just want to psych me out and make me realize I have some serious catching up to do! I finally get to the top, point my tips down, my skis carve slightly to the left, I continue gliding a bit before getting into the main ski run, I feel my edge, let go, it’s there! I haven’t forgotten, I ski slowly and as seconds pass, gently let the speed be my guide and the momentum my engine. Turns follow and link one another, I let go of my tension. It’s all coming back now!

Early December, the sun is not quite as strong as it can get later on into the season, but I feel quite comfortable. All has been just perfect, until my wife asked me to check the vents on her ski helmet while we were riding up the chairlift. Hers were shut closed as they should have been in December. I asked her to reciprocate and tell me what the status of my helmet venting was. Not surprisingly, it was wide-open, letting the cold winter air in, in spite of my recent minimalist haircut. I must be close to brain-dead or in heat, because I didn’t feel anything. Once this major failing was discovered, my spouse asked me to raise my arms enough for her to discover that both vents, under each arm, were fully unzipped. My climate control settings obviously demonstrated adjustments made back last spring when temperatures were vastly different than today. What would I do without my better half?

On that first ski day of the season, the weather was beautiful, albeit a bit cool and we managed to do an impressive number of laps on of the many chairlifts that were opened to the public. I still remembered how to “turn’ em,” even though my first descents were a bit tentative, but now I’ convinced that I can begin another ski season with reasonable confidenc

Opening Weekend

Most people took advantage of the bluebird (and frigid) day on Dec 3 to celebrate opening weekend at Deer Valley. My family waited for the storm.

My chat with a friend at Celebrity Ski Fest the day before, about skiing with kids on warm, sunny days is best, was ringing in my ears. So, too, was a chat with Ski Uncle, on the phone an hour earlier. “I like that you take them out in all kinds of weather—it makes them tough!”

Really, they’re both right. For the very littlest skiers, sunny, warm days are best. It takes the sting out of standing around/falling around on the snow if the sun is shining. However, on a colder day, you, the parent, don’t overheat as easily from all of the bending, lifting and overall schlepping activity that comes along for the ride. Also, if you’re sticking to the bunny hill, visibility isn’t an issue on a stormy day—and without fair-weather skiers on the hill, it’s simply less crowded. Which leads me to the best payoff of all…More fresh snow for those of us willing to “brave it.”

Sure, I wasn’t getting a lot of buy in from my Little Guy as we started layering up at home. But I made a strategically ostentatious stop in the pantry during gear-up. “What’s that??” My kids asked, as I extracted the Ziploc bag of leftover Halloween candy (really!) from the shelf. “Prizes! For the Rothchild Olympics! Who’s gonna win the race on Wide West?!” Suddenly, my too-jaded-for-the-bunny-hill Big Guy was clamoring, and my reluctant Little Guy (who, I suspected, couldn’t remember how much he loved flying down the hill the previous two years) was Ready To Ski.

Once we were booting up in Snow Park, we had a few other challenges to overcome. Ski Dad, for instance, had left his asthma inhaler at home—and miserably resigned himself to the role of Spectator in Chief. My heart broke a little—he looked crestfallen. Then, Little Guy recoiled (loudly, with dramatic screams) from the unfamiliar pain of putting on awkward, tight ski boots. Yes, I should have let him play with them at home. But I got lazy.

My friend Edo, one of Deer Valley’s experienced ski instructors, stopped by the table to offer some words of encouragement, and then whispered to me, “Usually we try four times and then we stop trying.” It turns out, the stopping is the key to success.

“Ok, you can just hang with Daddy, then,” I said, cheerfully. “More prizes for Lance!”

“No, I can put on my boots! I’m ready to ski.” Or eat candy. But who’s counting. It worked. And we were on the hill.

Not without incident. “I am terrible at skiing!!!” Wailed little guy, as he took off at the top of Wide West and promptly fell down. I definitely spend a minute or two cursing myself that we hadn’t taken the conveyor lifts for a warm-up spin. Everyone was just so excited about the chairlift ride, that I got carried away. “I am soooo bad at this!” He complained, as he fell again and again.

A few reminders about using “Superman” arms when skiing forward, and “Airplane” arms to make the turn, and he was off to conquer the race course. By run’s end, he was begging for more. He’d also made a friend in the lodge, and had a blast calling out to little Jack from the chairlift. “Go, Jack, Go!” shouted my boys.

Big Guy, of course, was a little bored on the bunny hill, but managed to be a good sport about the fact that we needed to keep it simple that day. Little Guy had skied so hard by lunch that a meltdown was nearly guaranteed if we left him with Dad in the lodge to go ski on the big hill. Not. Worth. It.

I followed my favorite “quit while I’m ahead” ski-parenting strategy , and home we went.  On the way home, candy prizes were distributed, and compliments were passed out.

“I liked your focus and determination on the hill, Seth!”

“Mom,” he said. “Falling is good learning!”

“Lance, your first run this year was better than your last run last year—because you grew, you’re stonger,” I said.

“Plus, mom, I rode my bike a lot and I think karate is helping me, too,” said Big Guy. “I’ve got much better balance.”

 

 

Celebrity Ski Fest

Whoever wins the actual ski race during Celebrity Ski Fest is, of course, the title holder. And it’s pretty easy to argue that the real winner of the day is the Waterkeepers Alliance, which works to protect waterways across the country.

But I decided there were a few award-winners that may have been overlooked.

Cutest Hat Wearers:


Meet Hannah, 1

Her sister Elise, age 3

These Los Angeles natives were enjoying lunch in the VIP tent in extremely cute (and warm looking) winter hats. Hannah’s Paul Frank Monkey, and Sophie’s Oscar the Grouch brought a smile to everyone who met the girls—including my friends Josh, Debbie and me.

But a cute hat is only as cute as the child wearing it—and these girls are title holders.

“Hannah’s not skiing,” said her mom, Maureen. “She hasn’t quite mastered walking.” Which, of course, struck my ear as a total non-sequitor. Don’t you teach your kids to walk by skiing? I’m kidding, Maureen! No one recommends rushing the process.

Favorite Long-Lost College Friend

Neal, whom I love to torture with the fact of how awesome my life in Utah is—we reconnected at SkiFest last year (he’s a TV executive in New York…his life ain’t too shabby, for the record).

Favorite fly-by skier.

Neal introduced me to a NY friend, Scott, who owns a second home in Deer Valley, and who uses business trips to LA as a vehicle for more skiing. He rattled off his  typical one-nighter ski trip schedule thusly: “I land here after my meetings and I’m at No Name Saloon by 9pm, on the first chair at 9am, and back at the airport at 7pm to fly home.”  Way to be dedicated to the Pow!

 

While at Ski Fest, I had the chance to chat with actor Scott Wolf (he and I have met a number of times, usually in the context of his work as a Hollywood actor, and my work as an entertainment journalist), but we never talk shop for long. Our bond is over the fact that we’re Park City locals—and parents.

On this day, though, Scott told me how lucky he felt to be able to participate in a fun event for a great cause in his backyard. “Everyone else here had to fly in from all over to be here,” he said. “But I didn’t drive more than 10 minutes.” Still, as he spoke to me about why he supports Waterkeepers, I got the distinct impression he would have traveled to be here, both for the fun of the competition and to support the work of Waterkeepers Alliance, which was founded by Robert Kennedy, Jr. to TK.

I ran into a bit of a buzz saw in Dylan [Bruno] on race day, but being out here to support Waterkeepers is something I’m always proud to be a part of,” he said. “And I have a son, so the importance of our water and our air and our food is completely heightened for me.”—I got the distinct impression that he certainly would have traveled to be here.

Quickly, the chatter turned to whether his young son will ski this season.

“He’s just now 2 ½, and he’s already so strong, that he’s already hucking front flips off our couch! I think he’ll love it ,,” said the proud papa. “His legs are super-strong, he’s got these stocky little legs like his dad, so yeah, he’ll get on this year, but I’ll just follow our friends’ advice and do warm days and short bouts.”

I shared the virtue of the SunKid conveyor lifts on Wide West, of course—and my secret weapon: Swedish fish. “My kid will, like, speak Portugese for a Swedish fish,” said Scott. “So skiing should be easy!”

We’ll check back with you, Scott!

Celebrities, NASTAR and Holiday Fun

Well our season started almost a week ago. It’s probably a good time to recap opening weekend and of course the skiing. It was a great time racing in the Celebrity Skifest and for a great foundation, The Waterkeeper Alliance.  It started Friday night with opening reception at Empire Canyon Lodge where I loaded up on raclette cheese, at Fireside Dining, and caught up with the competitors.

Saturday morning came and it was time to race. I must say I had a great team and it was proven by us winning the 20th annual event. We won beautiful Bulova watches and great necklaces. It was definitely the year to win. One of the highlights was meeting and sharing the “captain” spot with Terrell Owens. He didn’t ski but coached and cheered us on from the finish. We tried to ski as fast as he runs!

I had to race against Tommy Moe the first round. The announcer introduced us as ambassadors of skiing at our designated resorts. At that moment I reflected what it means to be Ambassador of Skiing at Deer Valley. It is an honor to be part of the #1 ski area in North America for the fifth time in a row! I feel so lucky that I can work for a resort that has continued to strive to be the best. I’m proud to work with all the employees and staff and most importantly show our guests what we are all about and the great skiing we have.

Saturday evening, following the race, we celebrated at the Montage Deer Valley with dinner and a live auction. I think it was a great success! We wrapped up Sunday with a Pro-Am event. Similar style as Saturday races but a little more laid back and no title on the line.

My next fun adventure is next week when the NASTAR season begins. What this means is I travel to the western pacesetting trials to get a handicap for the year. I set the pace at Deer Valley on Saturdays and then handicap the PCMR staff for their race arena. It’s always fun because the pacesetter is AJ Kitt whom I grew up with. He is still fast but maybe this will be the year I can beat him. Just saying? I’ll let you know.

As I return from the pacesetting trials it will soon be Christmas. My sons are counting down the days till Santa arrives. Lucas wants a phone, Eskimo hat and a Go-Pro. Stefan wants a Star Wars Lego (big one), Star Wars movies and a Go-Pro. We’ll see what Santa can do. We have in the past years skied Deer Valley when Santa makes his visit on Christmas Eve (Santa visits Deer Valley each year on Christmas Eve. You can find more information on Deer Valley Events Calendar) . The boys make sure and tell him one last time their wish list. Then when we are done with Christmas morning we gear up to ski a few runs. Maybe this year the boys will make ski movie of their day skiing before we settle into dinner and say thanks.

The skiing is great. Come ski the slopes, we are opening more terrain each day. The cold temperatures are allowing the awesome snow makers to cover the slopes with our signature snow! See you on the mountain and wishing everyone a great holiday season.

Thanksgiving Means Skiing

Well its official, I have had my first day of skiing for the 2011-2012 season today, Nov. 19. I can’t tell you where it was… Ok I guess I can, our friendly neighbors next door PCMR.  The conditions were perfect for early skiing so I know when we open the skiing will be great! However, I had a panic attack while on the chair. It registered with me that when PCMR opens it’s usually around Thanksgiving. I realized its only five days away, a week out from our opening which means Celebrity Ski classic and trying to beat the boys.

Excitement and anxiety came across me all at the same time. I’m excited to get the season rolling again but a bit scared because when it starts rolling it’s the end of the season before I know it. Am I organized enough at this point?

Hmmm time will tell.

So as I thought about Thanksgiving and trying to get organized what are my plans? This year we are celebrating with our good friends and children the Lacobelli’s. If you don’t know them take a look at deervalley.com. They are the poster family all over the site.

Their name, Lacobelli, should be a giveaway as to how our Thanksgiving will be mapped out. It should be a blast. I’ve been told to be prepared for an Italian Thanksgiving.

“There’s Italian and then there are those who want to be Italian!” I guess I qualify as “I want to be Italian for a day”. So I guess weight loss isn’t an option before I try and fit into my ski pants DV opening day Dec. 3.

So following my Italian Thanksgiving experience I can turn my thoughts to opening day.

I anticipate opening day will be much of the same as I take part in the Celebrity Ski Fest. Phil, Steve, Tommy and I will be trash talking each other trying to psyche each other out and trying to be the one with the fastest time. I need to make sure my starts are strong. There is nothing like coming out of the gates of competition opening day. The weekend as a whole is so much fun. The skiing, competition, teammates, friends, and the evening receptions equal a great time and celebration to the beginning of 2011/12 season.

I’m grateful for this time of season. The energy in the air for the upcoming season and holidays can be cut with an edge! That is a sharp ski edge! See you on the slopes.

 

Cheers,

Gear Mania

As I was wondering if I should get some new skis this season, I saw a full ski rack inside my garage and the first order of business would be to make some room for a new pair. Since I can’t decide which pair I should get rid of, this becomes an easy decision to make. For a while, I had considered embarking on the rocker-ski adventure, but as I have shared before on this blog, I’m still hesitating about that design and while I can appreciate these skis might help me greatly in bottomless powder, I still have a few unresolved issues with them.

First, and as I’ve also said before, the longer rocker design won’t fit my car ski-box! The other part of my dilemma is that I have fallen in love with Deer Valley’s tree skiing and not just its nicely gladed runs, but the more challenging, tight turning skiing like the one found in Centennial trees. Rocker skis are a bit longer than regular boards, and when the turning radius gets tighter, every extra inch that stick in the front or in the back might be just enough to grab the next spruce or aspen that happens to be in the way.

To top it off, I still can’t picture myself riding these curvaceous boards on corduroy, moguls and hard-pack as I get to, or return from my powder stashes. All these good reasons mean that I’ll continue to use my semi-fat skis (90 mm under the foot) for another season. Hopefully, I’ll be able to eventually get used to the feeling and move to a shorter length as I also get a bit older, but frankly, I’m not ready yet and may have to labor at tiny bit more while in deep powder!

I hope you’ll fully understand my position with regard to double-ski-camber designs: I’m intellectually and practically not ready for them yet! Since I am all set and very happy with my current poles, the only area that is left for me to worry about is that other, all-important piece of equipment, the ski boots. Mine are still okay and I can see another full season in their sort-term future. This year, I will just add to my closet a pair of specialized boots that I’ll use for accomplishing other tasks. That’s right, I want to seriously get into alpine touring this season…
I already own a pair of skis dedicated to that pursuit, complete with skins and special bindings, and the only missing component is the pair of touring boots that I just purchased today. Will I use that “AT gear” – as it’s called – in the middle of winter? Probably not very often, but as April rolls around and Deer Valley Resort closes for the season, I intend to be all over the back-country, exploring ridges, bowls and glades where snow will continue to linger during the following weeks and even months. This will keep me fit and prolong a season that never begins early enough and always ends far too soon!

Vacation Dining

I can’t help it—when my friends are on vacation at Deer Valley, so am I. And thus, all reason eluded me when approaching the menu at Mariposa when our friends were in town.

You know you’re in caloric trouble when the amuse is a strawberry served in what can only be described as balsamic deliciousness. It was as rich as duck fat, without the caloric guilt. And that was, perhaps, the last nod we made toward caloric guilt.

Knowing full well none of us had room for three courses, we ordered them anyway.

Ski Dad has declared that Burrata (that wonderful, creamy-centered handmade mozzarella) at the Mariposa is the best he’s tasted. So, of course, we had some.
A bowl of the special soup didn’t disappoint, either. Nor did my Ahi appetizer. Or Ski Dad’s Ravignocchi.

As I pondered the entrees, I mentioned that the Seared Bison Tenderloin looked tasty. A remark was made that it was a low-fat, and thus sensible choice. “Yes, but the same thing cannot be said for the foie gras that comes on top…” We roared with laughter. Clearly, the caloric guilt had been embraced.

Overheard at our booth toward meal’s end? “I think I might move to the next booth to take a nap.” AND: “Yes, I’d love the rest of my veal wrapped to go—I think I’ll have it for breakfast.” The group determined that since it’s technically a Deer Valley Breakfast, and this is vacation, veal leftovers would be allowed at the morning meal.

Vacation Cooking for Locals (and others)

Sometimes, I feel like my life couldn’t feel any more like I’m on the most excellent working vacation ever. And then I find a way to enhance that feeling. To wit: On a recent day, I had to go to the mountain to fetch my broken-beyond-repair skis from Jans—and spend a few minutes researching the skis I should demo for my next purchase. I had Little Guy with me, which is code for: The conversation sounded absurd. “So, if I want an all-mountain ski—HEY LITTLE GUY, LEAVE THAT DISPLAY ALONE PLEASE—but something that will float nicely in powder, what do you think—GET OUT FROM INSIDE THAT HANGER ROUND.” Yeah, ever-so-productive and not at all frustrating, right?

Naturally, I aborted the mission and we headed back toward town and the rest of our errands. Only, I had one more stop to make—Deer Valley Plaza. Because I realized that it was closing in on dinner time, and I had many other errands to run. Sigh. So, I did what any self-respecting vacationing Mom would do. I stopped at the new Deer Valley Grocery and Deli (for old-timers, its in the space formerly occupied by the Stew Pot) to see what I could score in the way of take-out. And score I did: My family would feast that evening on not one but two different types of ready-to-bake pot pies. Chicken and Potato Leek. And while the Chicken Pot Pie was the bigger hit, in true Deer Valley form, neither disappointed.

What a treat to be able to pick up something that was, frankly, better than homemade. (I’m only a mediocre cook, I can make great soups, but my family are not the biggest soup fans. It’s quite the conundrum.) The crust was perfect—buttery-flaky. And the fillings were seasoned flawlessly. And, I was a big culinary hero just for putting some frozen food in the oven. (And the crowd goes wild….)

I’m a great fan of loading the slow cooker in the morning for a worry-free après ski dinner, but this could be my new go-to plan. It certainly requires less forethought. And much less chopping.

Also, Deer Valley Grocery~Cafe will remain open when the resort closes! You can now enjoy a Deer Valley to-go dinner all year!

Mahre Camp

The first week of February brought a palpable tension to my house. Ski Dad’s anxiety over his impending Three Day Mahre Ski Camp at Deer Valley was ever-present. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that a) Ski Dad’s work-day-to-ski-day ratio has been waaaay out of whack in the last few years. Whereas, I capitalize on any excuse to make turns, it seemed, increasingly, that Ski Dad found any excuse not to. And b) in our house, ski legends and twin brothers Phil and Steve Mahre have only one title that matters: Mel’s Uncles. Mel used to have a job title here—Babysitter Extraordinaire. And while that’s still an apt description of one of her many skill sets, she’s become our honorary daughter. We all take very good care of each other. So, in that spirit, Ski Dad pleaded with Mel (more than once) to reassure him that the uncles would not be too hard on him during the camp.

And where I bounced out the door in anticipation of beginning my three-day Women’s Ski Clinic the previous week, Ski Dad pushed himself out the door on that Friday morning. I had faith—not in the Mahres giving him any sort of special treatment, but in the system—both the Mahre Camp teaching system and that of the overall let’s-have-fun vibe in the Deer Valley Ski School. Still, I worried—just a little–that Ski Dad would not be able to let go and enjoy himself.

Turns out, even just a little bit of worry was, well, overkill. He called at lunchtime with a voice that packed 20 pounds of fun into a five-pound bag.  “Thank you for letting me do this! This is amazing! You can’t believe what I’m doing on the hill! These guys rock! Oh—I have to go! Thank you, Thank you, Thank You!”

Ok, I did not need the thanks—but that tone was all I needed to hear. Over the course of the weekend, he described the setup—50 skiers broken up into ability groups to ski with 16 of instructors trained in the specific discipline that is Mahre skiing. And either Phil or Steve spends half a day skiing with each group.

At the end of day one, Ski Dad said this: “I have been skiing for 30 years. I feel like today, I finally learned how to ski.”

At the end of day two, he said: “I am taking off next Friday to ski with you.” After he picked me up of the floor from a dead faint, he continued. “This camp is not for anyone who can’t check their ego at the door. Sheila (Ski Dad’s group coach) took apart my skiing, bit-by-bit, and put it back together. You have to be willing to do drills again and again, and trust that the outcome is going to be better skiing.”

On the morning of Day 3, Mel and her uncles and aunts joined us for breakfast at Snow Park—with Big Guy and Little Guy serving as the entertainment committee before we delivered them to their final day of ski school, and the adults split off into “Camp” mode. The mood was light, everyone was pumped for a great day—especially Ski Dad. 

At the end of the day, Ski Dad, settled into a corner of our living room couch with a well-earned beer, said this: “I may be sore from all the work I did, but skiing—for the first time in my life—was pain-free. Because, finally, I’m skiing with correct form and technique. Phil said it best—if you’re not skiing properly, in correct form, then you’re just taking your skis out for a ride—doing all the work while they have a fun day. The reality is, they want to take you out for a ride, so you can enjoy the day, and they can work.”

He went on to say that he finally realized why he’d skied less and less with each year we’ve lived in Park City. “When you are on vacation, skiing is just part of the fun you are having—so if it’s somehow painful, you grit your teeth and get through it, and then you go and do all the other fun stuff—eating, going shopping, walking on Main Street, whatever—and it’s worth the pain. But you can’t sustain that for more than five days a year.” And now, thanks to Mel’s Uncles, he doesn’t have to. 

P.S. Ski Dad is never without a camera. But the Mahre Camp was so intense, he found not one opportunity to take a photo of all the work they were doing on the hill. So I guess we’ll all have to take his word for it and sign up for one of the camps next year.  See you then!