Thursday, March 12, 2009

Big news today! I got my first official copy of "Living the Dream: An Inside Account of the 2008 Cubs season," written by yours truly. That's how the day started, by picking it up at the post office. I now am an officially published author. I must admit, a few tears rolled down my cheeks as I flipped through it. They're shipping me a case and I'm going to begin selling them next week to some of my instructor friends at Heavenly, who seem genuinely interested.
So what else is new? Well, I forgot to include the story in my last blog of sitting in the hot tub in our community center at our place when Scott Aspen and Sky McAlpine were in town. Chip was staring intently off into the dark when he said, "Woof!" I thought he was looking at a dog. When I turned, I saw a coyote about 10 feet way from the deck of our tub, staring right back at Chip, who literally was the boy who cried wolf! There were two of the coyotes, in fact, no doubt hoping to scoop up one of the condominium caretakers three little yappy dogs.
The next day, when Ziggy, Jeff and Chip went on a hike near the shores of Lake Tahoe, Jeff spotted an Alaskan huskie trotting out of the woods. "Wolf!" he exclaimed. So he was the second boy who cried wolf. We also played games of Jenga in which we integrated about a 4-foot wooden door stop into the game. 
OK, so this week has been one of sharpening our skis. No, that's not to say peeing all the time. I worked Monday and skied with Zig and our buddy Eric the other two days. Conditions quickly changed since the big dump and it's not so good off the groomed paths. So we've been working on our form, getting ready for our Level 1 exam, which will be in a couple of weeks, right before I take off for Mesa.
We did a lot of skiing in Milky Way Bowl and I took my first run down Mott's Canyon, a double-black diamond canyon that is about as difficult terrain as there is out here. I did some mogul runs down Waterfall, which used to be the windshield to my bug when I first got here. Now I'm the windshield! Same with West Bowl, a mogul run near the Cal base.
Today we had our Level 1 clinic with Weavin' Steven. We took turns doing teaching drills and worked on our demos (straight run, wedge stop, gliding wedge, wedge turns, wedge christies). He is ready to sign off on us for most everything; then all that's left is to take the test.
We haven't been going out as much, except for last night, when we visited the casinos to try to get tickets for G. Love this weekend and then stopped by Mott Canyon Bar on the Nevada side--I won $9 on the slots! Saw an impressive home pot-growing production by a friend who will remain nameless. (He's got "the card" from California that allows him to grow I think it's 10 plants for medicinal purposes.)
That's about all. Just a quick update. Attached are a couple films of Ziggy and I skiing. You be the judges. How do we look?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pow Pow Wow Wow!

Hey gang!
Hope you are all well. It has been an interesting week of skiing, needless to say. I skied in more powder on Wednesday than I've ever skied in my life! Overnight, we got about 2-4 feet of snow, depending where you were on the mountain. There was so much snow that Heavenly didn't open on time (9 a.m.) because they were blasting for avalanche control. So there was a huge line (several hundred people) waiting to go up Gunbarrel lift. I was actually talking to my sister Judy on the phone when they started the lift and everyone started hooting and hollering. "What's going on," she asked. "Gotta go!" I replied. "Powder calling."
While we waited, we watched the first to go up on the lift as they blazed trails down the Face and Gunbarrel, finishing with huge smiles on their faces. Ziggy, our ski school friend Eric and I went straight to Powderbowl and skied the black diamond run right under the lift. (You HAD to ski steeper terrain; otherwise you'd get stuck in the very heavy powder.)
We did that run a couple times. I had a couple nasty spills but c'mon, it's four feet of powder you're landing in. On one, I was trying to follow Eric into a section of trees but couldn't turn in the thick stuff. So I twisted and went down back first between two tree trunks that were about 5 feet apart. Yikes! I had my straps on my poles, so my hands were pinned. I went down back first and sunk way into the snow, trying to blow it off my face so I could take a breath. If this sounds scary, it was. I had a panic moment before I figured out how to free my hands and dig myself out.
You saw a lot of that as you went up the chairlifts...half the folks either skiing or boarding and the other half trying to dig themselves out of a situation, and in some cases searching for skis that had released. Not fun.
So about 11:00 we went over to see if  Sky or Canyon chair were running. They weren't. There were about 150 people waiting at the top of a short run leading to those chairlifts, which access the top of the California side of the mountain. Ziggy and I were ready to leave, go eat lunch and check back when.....the lifts started running! It was like the running of the bulls as all those folks went charging down the run.
Ziggy and I went up Sky and were among the first 25 people to ski down Ellie's, a black diamond run on top. I had another spill there and I think I landed on a tree trunk or a big rock, because this was no soft landing and I was shaken up a bit. The front muscles on my neck still hurt from that one!
We made it till about 2:30, then treated ourselves to a nice lunch at the Gunbarrel grill, skied down the face and called it a day. (Powder wears you out, man!)
The next day we had our clinic for Level 1 certification. Our instructor, Weavin' Steven, played our group like a musical instrument. First he worked on our skiing, then we worked on the demos we will have to perform in a few weeks when we go through our examinations. Then he complimented us on how far we have come this season, and finally, took us down some real challenging "secret" runs in the trees off the side of other runs. There was still lots of unskied powder from the previous day's storm. We all agreed it was perhaps our best day on the mountain. Except for Sherry, the chatty Aussie girl who banged up her shoulder going down the Hogs Back.
So Chip and Jeff (aka Scott Aspen and Sky McAlpine) were out here for a week, leaving the morning of the powder day. Actually, the storm had started on Monday, so we got our best day of skiing on Tuesday. Sky lift was closed so we were limited to the Cal side, but found some great tree runs to the skier's right of Canyon lift in about a foot of fresh powder, taking turns leading the way. There was "Chip's Run," "Jim's Run," "Jeff's Run." You get the idea.
Monday we drove out to Kirkwood but the conditions were so bad that they only had a few lifts open. We decided not to spend the money, and drove back to Heavenly, where Jeff and I did a few hours of afternoon skiing.
The weekend wore us out and we skipped skiing Sunday in favor of movies and pizza at home. The night before we had a big night at the Casinos, checking out the Taj Mahal show at Harrah's and getting into shenanigans at the Cougar Bar and at Cabo Wabo.
Those guys arrived on Wednesday and we partied at home that night. Took them to Blue Angel for dinner on Thursday (dollar slider night) and to the Naked Fish for sushi on Friday. I'd been getting beaten up by the mountain, even before the big "Zeke." First off, I tweaked my famously bad back skiing bumps two weeks ago and took a couple days off to rest it up.
On the first day Chip and Jeff were here, they began closing all the lifts because of high winds. So there we were, skiing down to the Stagecoach base in Nevada with every other yahoo on the mountain. Crowded. Needless to say, what happened was my fault because Rule No. 2 of the "skiiers responsibility code" is that skiers and boarders in front of you have the right of way. Well, my ski intersected with the back side of another guy's ski and wiped us both out. I took the brunt of the impact, slamming hard face forward on the ground. My back pain was back, albeit a little bit higher up on the vertebrae.
That's about all I've got. Long-winded blog, I know. No video this time, sorry! I will try to shoot some more soon....hopefully, not a wipeout!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Back online!

Hey gang, sorry for the lax writing....but I really didn't think anyone was reading anymore.
Plus, I've been busy again. I worked all six days last week and had a story to work on for the Cubs magazine on the 1969 team. Things have slowed a little, due in large part to me tweaking my famously bad back while going down Waterfall, a mogul run, with Ziggy on Sunday. I didn't fall--at least not from the bad twist. I went down shortly after that, though, and slid down the mountain about 25 yards headfirst on my back. I laughed about it, though, and attribute the injury to hiking 15 minutes UP the mountain (see video below) earlier that day so that we could ski the Nevada side of Heavenly.
We've had our share of visitors the last few weeks--Suzy Gunbarrel, Wedge Kristy and Terry's brother,  Tom, and family among them. Scott Aspen and Sky McAlpine are scheduled to arrive today. After that, we get no love. Isn't anyone gonna come visit in March? I tested out Ziggy's air mattress when his family was here and it's comfy cozy!
So what else is new? We continue to train toward our Level 1 certification. I think by now our $65 mugs we purchased at the Bear Bar at the bottom of Cal Base have paid themselves off. (We get two ounces more of beer for $1 less than the regular cups.) Not to mention the fact our generous tipping and gregarious personalities have made fast friends of the bar staff there.
Getting better at the skiing and working on my form. I've started understanding how to ski moguls and have made a few trips down the vaunted double black-diamond "face" of Cal base. It's still quite a challenge but not quite as intimidating. In April they have what's called the "Gunbarrel 25." The "Face" forks into two runs at the bottom, "Gunbarrel" and "East Bowl." The race is to see how many times you can go down Face/Gunbarrel in a day. Those that make it up and down 25 times make this exclusive club. Ziggy has done one trip in about 13-15 minutes, so you can see it takes a busy day of skiing to qualify.
Socially, we've done a few fun things in the last few weeks. We saw the Reverend Horton Heat one night and the comedy of Dana Carvey another--both at Mount Bleu Casino. Taj Mahal is here this Saturday at Harrah's, so might be catching some more music. Other than that, been laying somewhat low. Money has been getting tight, as I took home a grand total of $8.20 in my last two paychecks (covering four weeks). That should change, hopefully starting tomorrow.
My book has been printed and will be shipped within a week to the printer. They're going to send me a couple copies out here and I'm making plans to be at HoHoKam Park in Mesa for the Cubs' last four Cactus League home games. Come down and visit!
Promise to try to update more often but you gotta show the love and drop a comment now and then, people. I'm hearing crickets out there!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Real quick because I gotta get to the mountain for our Level 1 clinic. Ziggy and I are both battling the same nasty cold. Came down with it the day after whooping it up for the Super Bowl. What a great game, huh? I was rooting for the Steelers and came very close to putting $20 down and giving seven points to the Cards. (Glad I didn't do that.)
We checked out the casinos as an option to watch the game, but most of them still allow smoking and that just wasn't working for us. Not to mention the expensive beer prices. So we went to a sports bar called Mo's but found no spots at the bar and a crowd of mostly guys. It was on to Steamer's, which had two empty stools at the bar in front of a big plasma TV, and $1 nachos and 25 cent wings. Sold!
Like most, we were enthralled with the game and Arizona's comeback. But my Steelers took the prize. (Most of us 40-somethings sided with either the Cowboys or Steelers back in the day when they met in two Super Bowls. I went with the Steel Curtain and Terrible Towel.) After the game, we stopped back at Mo's for a nightcap and enjoyed a celebratory beer with the Super Bowl's winning QB, Big Ben Roethlisberger (pictured at top).
OK, it wasn't really Big Ben, but a strong likeness, eh? He was actually our height, so Ziggy and I bent at the knees to give the illusion we were standing next to the 6-5 two-time Super Bowl champion! Actually, the next day the real Tony Siragusa was at Heavenly, taking ski lessons with his wife from my buddy Hollywood, who officially certified Ziggy and I as adaptive ski school instructors yesterday. Hooray! That means I might actually get some more work.
Speaking of which, it's gotten a little busier in spite of the lack of snow. I had lessons on Saturday and Monday and hope that continues with President's Day weekend ahead. They had a big party for all Heavenly employees last night. There must've been about 500 people in this giant banquet hall on the second floor of Harrah's! Zig and I probably shouldn't have gone, with our colds, but we were home and relaxing while watching "Lost" by 8:30.
That's all. Said it'd be quick. Is anyone still reading this blog anyway?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Itchy and Scratchy Show

First off, I must explain the title of my last post, "Never Stor Exploring," which I'd intended to do in the text. Too much to cover, I guess. So a few years back I got a free North Face ski jacket from my buddy from Toons, Benny (we call him "Mr. Whoopie" because he seems to know something about everything). His friend had picked a few of them up when he was in China. They're either knockoffs or mistakes because the slogan stitched onto the zipper lining was mispelled to read "Never Stor Exploring." I think it's better than Never Stop Exploring. Don't you agree?
Since my last writing, I made a few 11th-hour changes to my book (long and frustrating story but I think I'm at last out from under the rather large and bureaucratic thumb of MLB). I think it's off to the printer and I hopefully should see the first copy in the coming weeks!
So Ziggy and I had our second week of training in the adaptive ski program. This time we were working with the monoski, which is very similar to the bi-ski we worked with a week earlier, only there's one ski instead of two. It's much easier to knock over. Zig lucked out and didn't have to be the "dummy in a bucket" this week, as our instructor's buddy, Tom, had that distinction. Tom is a Chicago guy--grew up in Schaumburg and actually injured himself in a five-story fall in I think Arlington Heights while working as a window washer.
We each took turns steering the monoski from in front and behind with Tom in it. I twisted too much from behind one time and Tom fell over. My skis got tangled up with him and we were a tangled mess. Ouch! My knees were locked up and with a little more speed I think I'd have blown one or both out.  I preferred steering from the front, but then you're skiing backward. You can see how dangerous this is, and I'm wondering if it's for me.
The second half of the lesson we just skied, and I tell you, Tom can flat-out rip it up on that thing. He was virtually impossible for any of us to keep up with on the groomed trails. Once we got into the trees, though (yes, a partially paralyzed guy was skiing around trees), we had the advantage. He and our instructor, "Hollywood" we call him, were pretty funny together. Hollywood treats Tom like anybody else, insulting him, teasing and even laughing after Tom wiped out. Hollywood wiped out second later. "Right back at cha!" Tom shouted.
We had our Level 1 certification clinic on Thursday and were filmed by our teacher, "Weavin' Steven." Then he critiqued our skiing in the classroom session that night. Needless to say, I've got a lot to work on!
On Friday, Zig's buddy "Itchy" was out from Elmhurst with a few of his snowboarding buddies--two guys from Texas and another from Cali. The Cali guy brought some sort of flu virus with and we were struggling not to catch it after hearing stories of Dallas Greg puking on his way to meet us at Alpine Meadows for a day on the slopes in one of Tahoe's smaller, local ski resorts. We partied that night in Tahoe City, having Mexican food (I know, bad choice when the flu is going around) and shooting some pool at Pete & Peter's.
I drove back yesterday morning because I was scheduled to work. I was back in the red Heavenly uniform for the first time in almost three weeks! In fact, payday was Thursday. I hadn't worked so figured I wouldn't have a check. Well, there was one day in there, so my pay was to be $28. When I opened the check, though, it was for $0. Why would anybody print up a check for $0? That's just assinine. The reason is because we were able to purchase black jackets that are great to wear underneath our unis for a $50 payroll deduction. So essentially I was given a check for two weeks of work and still owe my employer $22! Times are tough, aren't they?
Ziggy skied Squaw Valley with his buddies yesterday and loved it. Can't wait to get out there. Through Heavenly, if we bring a letter from our HR department, we get discounts at these other resorts. We paid $35 to ski Kirkwood last weekend and $25 at Alpine Meadows--both good deals when you owe your boss $22 after two weeks of work!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Never Stor Exploring

It's sunny....again! After a weekend of snow blanketed the area, allowing us to ski where no man has skied before (this year) at Heavenly, the sun is back out again. Another shitty day in paradise! We got a little more than a foot of new snow--mostly at the top of the mountain, meaning tree skiing was open for the first time! So we've been exploring new places. (Skiing around the trees, not into them!) These are the areas of trees between runs and can be a lot of fun swooshing through. The powder slows you down and gives you more control, which you need when there are big, fat trees in your way. At times, you can look around and see nary another skier on the mountain, giving you this tranquil feeling of being alone in a peaceful experience with nature.
So my friend Tony G came out last weekend from Chicago, arriving on Friday night. We spent our first evening at Harrah's Casino, listening to a cover band and catching up. Then it was "the attack of the cougars," and pretty soon 4 a.m. arrived.
Needless to say, we were dragging the next day but got out on the mountain by about 11:00 and skied with our ski instructor friend from New York named Eric. He's your typical New Yorker with the accent and "fookin' jerkoff" attitude (along with a voice that's eerily close in tenor to Kevin Tanaka of Toons). So the four of us bopped all over Heavenly, skiing all sorts of terrain. Still dragging from our late night on Friday, we hot tubbed back at our condo and were done early for the night.
On Sunday, we did our first roadtrip of the winter, traveling about 90 minutes southwest to Kirkwood, known for its high percentage of advanced runs. The "Wood" was getting zeked with about 17 inches of new white stuff. Hooray!!! We had a blast and were all over the mountain. We didn't make it down "the Wall," as our friend Mr. Whoopie recommended, but we'll be back. And we did have a blast on our last run down the Palisades Bowl--although Tony (aka "Yogi") nearly lost a ski in the deep powder.
Speaking of nicknames, I grilled Yoges hard about coming up with his "ski name" so he could join me (Rossignol Smith) and Terry (Hans Volkl) in Team Snark. (Two charter members, "Scott Aspen" and "Sky McAlpine" will be out in a few short weeks.) Well, there's really no right or wrong answer. You have to use ski words (runs on hills, resorts, manufacturers, etc.), and that's the only requirement. Yogi came up with "Tony Tooslow." I pressed him for a better nickname but that's what he stuck with. He came up with it because he was using Terry's rental skis, while Ziggy tried out his brand new Nordica Top Fuels and I was demoing a pair of Volkls one day and those Top Fuels the next. On the flat cat paths, Tony Tooslow was just that. On his final day, he demoed the Top Fuels and blew me away on my Rossignol rentals, so it's all perspective!
Oh, and we did make it out on Tooslow's final night, chowing sushi at the Naked Fish and playing pool at a local bowling alley we discovered. Again, we were up till 3 a.m. and Ziggy tried the old "hand in warm water" trick when I passed out on the couch. Frustrated when that didn't work, he just poured water on my pants and they took a photo. So don't believe any photos they send you of my soiling myself. Deny! Deny! Deny!
Yesterday we had a clinic on balance, and our instructor, Eric, took us down some challenging runs, like the Milky Way Bowl. Our group went their separate ways at the end of the day, but me, Ziggy and Eric went down "The Face." This is the double-black mogul run that is the face of the mountain when looking up from our base in California. I think I sat on my butt once but otherwise navigated the whole thing. Overjoyed at the bottom, I bragged to Eric how I had made it down The Face for the first time! "Yeah, and you've got a little drippy dingleberry hanging from your nose," he replied. Nothing like a ski coach to bring you back down to earth.
After enjoying a beer with Eric in the Bear Bar down at the base, we got caught up in all their excitement to go watch the Hannenkam Rennan at a nearby bar called Murphy's Pub. This is just one of several races on the circuit, but it's considered the "Super Bowl of downhill racing." It's held in Kitzbuhel, a mountain I skied in Austria about five years ago. So I pulled out my souvenir hat I bought out there, and Ziggy and I met up with them.
It was really cool to see these veteran skiers marvel at what these guys were doing. "They're going 85 miles per hour!" one said excitedly. Another once worked as a gatekeeper there and was fearful of his life when having to walk 10 feet across the steep run to get to his gate. "They take a hose and hose down the snow," veteran instructor Michael said. "You'd be hardpressed to stand on it." He knew a lot about the sport's rules, regulations and how the governing body regulates the equipment.
And now it's off to Heavenly for our second week of training in the adaptive training program. Ziggy's turn to go down on the sit ski!

Friday, January 23, 2009

You're sleighing me!

Hi-ho from Tahoe again. I'm back!!!! After a weekend in Chicago, conventioning with the Cubs, I'm back for the long haul at Heavenly. The weather is the story this week. It's been raining at 6,000 feet, the base of the mountain. About halfway up, though, it's turning to snow--big ole fat snow, the kind we need desperately. It's supposed to be like this all weekend, which will be great since our last "zeke" was at Christmastime.
Ziggy and I got back to clinicing on the mountain, in week 3 of our training to become certified at Level 1 by the PSIA (pro ski instructors of America). That was yesterday. Our trainer is called "Weavin' Steven" and is widely considered the best skiier on the mountain. They say the tips of his skis dip in and out of moguls like two porpoises cresting the sea. He's a pretty funny guy, too, with some great stories. Last week, after a few shots last week at what Ziggy and I are calling "the bear bar" (the bar at our work site that has a giant stuffed brown bear standing in the middle of it), Weavin' sat in his car, trying to sober up by drinking a gallon of milk and eating all the groceries he had bought earlier in the day.
Zig and I did our first clinic to become certified to coach in the assisted program, meaning we can take people who are paralyzed, unable to walk or have other physical or cognitive handicaps. That meant riding in a sit ski that looks a lot like a sled. I had a turn at guiding the ski down a run by holding tethers on each side of the seat. Then it was my turn to climb inside and be the "dummy in a bucket." 
Funny, because right before that, I was on a lift with the guy whose turn was before me. He'd done this before and commented how the scaryest thing about it was getting off the lift. Your stapped onto this thing, which has a shock absorber right under the seat. The lifty and I hoisted him onto the seat, so he's raised up about a foot. Joe was the guy's name, and he said he felt like he was going to carwheel forward. When I helped him off the lift, I could see exactly what he meant. Well, I guided him down and it was at that point that the coach asked who wanted to go next. I think Ziggy took a step backward because there I was, climbing aboard two seconds later. And the first task I had was to ride the lift--ugh!
 Miraculously, I did not flip over or even fall getting off. (Ziggy still owes me a beer for that!) He shot a photo of me (above) on my first run. I did two or three and only feel over once! All in all, it was pretty cool. The coach says the reward when you see the look on the faces of people after doing this is unbelievable. We've got two more weeks of training and then we'll be certified in the assisted program.
My weekend in Chicago was worthwhile in terms of getting the ball rolling to promote my book. I've got good leads to sell copies at HoHoKam Park during spring training (I'll be there the final week of camp), and both in and outside of Wrigley Field. My publisher, Triumph Books, printed up some bookmarks and I passed them out to fans who stopped by the Vine Line booth. I also personally was able to pass along copies to guys like Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Lou Piniella, and Randy Hundley. Mr. Cub, Ryno and Lou all took pictures with my little neice, Lucy, too. The photo of her and Piniella was classic--Lou and "Lu". The support I'm getting from my old employer has been great and will be a key to spreading the word once my book is out.
So that's about it. My buddy Tony is coming out today and will be here for the weekend. We call him "Yogi" but he'll have to come up with a ski buddy nickname this weekend. Team Snark is adding to its staff!