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!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

40-foot jumps and bad backs

OK, so I missed a couple things with that last blog. Like the story of Tim taking us exploring on that clinic day. I told of his "no tree trimming" orders. Well, he also shared with us a secret--one of Heavenly's best jumps. So we were following this switchback-type path down the face called Roundabout. We stopped along the side and we're all looking down about a 10-foot drop with a tree stump and other various objects one would find on a mountain.
"You're not looking at the jump," Tim said. "You're looking at the landing."
To which we all turned around and were looking straight into the side of a gigantic limestone rock with a bit of snow on the top...some 25 feet above us. "You jump...that?" I asked. "Over this entire run we're on and into the chasm about, oh, say 40 feet down?"
"Well," he said, "only when there's a bunch of fresh powder."
Folks, I don't think I'd do it if I was thrown off the rock. I'd kill myself on the way down!
Ziggy and I also have been finding our share of eateries around town, like Fire & Ice (think Mongolian BBQ, Tahoe style!), a Texas BBQ place right across from the gondola (sorry D.B., no Kansas BBQ sightings yet) and a pretty good Mexican restaurant right down the block. We won't mention the we-think-its-gay place right across from the Blue Angel, where I find myself this afternoon typing this new blog.
Why am I not skiing or teaching today, you ask? Well, with our lack of snow of late, I was walking up to work yesterday and slipped on some ice. (They don't believe in salt out here. Everything is "Keep Tahoe Green" so it's all for ecological reasons.) Felt a twinge in my back but didn't think much of it. Then when I was putting my ski boot on, YAZOWIE! That hurt. I've spent most of the past two days keeping my legs elevated and ice on my back. Might be ready to go back to work tomorrow. Otherwise, I'll be off till next Wednesday.
The music scene is sporadic around here. There are good acts playing for the holiday weekends, like this weekend, when Dave Mason and Marc Broussard are in town. Dr. John is here at the end of the month, and Smokey Robinson, Styx, Reverend Horton Heat and Taj Mahal in February. So is Tony Orlando sans Dawn. The sun must've set on those two. Ha! I'm killing myself here. See some of you back in Chicago this weekend.
Lastly is a video I recorded of all the peeps ice skating on Christmas Eve out here. As you can tell but my "spirit," the spirits were flowing early and often that night! Enjoy.

Monday, January 12, 2009

No tree trimming!

Sorry for the long delay between posts but life has been very busy of late. Proofs for my book had to be reviewed and sent back to the publisher last week, and I also had a story to write for the Cubs. Things have slowed down on the mountain, as the holiday rush is over. They've scaled us full-timers down to four days a week and even on some of those days there isn't enough work to go around. As you could imagine, new guys like me are SOL and get cut loose first. At least we get paid for three hours of waiting around for potential students.
A hidden benefit to working here has been skiing with some of the best ski instructors in the country. The down time is perfect time to take clinics, which are free and cover topics ranging from teaching mid-level skiiers (intermediates) and teaching in the assisted skiing program for handicapped. So when there wasn't enough work to go around on Saturday, our supervisor found me and two other rookies standing around with Tim, a 29-year veteran instructor who grew up surfing in San Diego. "How about a clinic?" our supervisor said. "Tim, wanna take these guys up?" And an impromptu gathering of about a half-dozen of us attacked the mountain.
Tim's pretty quiet initially but a funny guy and incredibly knowledgeable about skiing. Two days earlier we followed him down one of his favorite runs, which would have been much more enjoyable were it not for the icy conditions. So there I was steering past him and the rocks and trees and the bushes in my path, when my left ski swerved up onto the low branch of a small tree and SNAP! The branch cracked off and my ski tipped slammed to the icy surface. "No tree trimming!" Tim scolded.
Saturday's venture was much more successful. Getting some awesome tips and relearning how to ski...on the front of those boards!
We've also explored around quite a bit more and have discovered a few local bars, such as Whiskey Dick's and Steamers. Ziggy and I have been taken it to these young kids on the pool tables. After winning one game the losers asked for some quarters for another game. "There's a change machine right over there that takes dollars," I told one of them. "But all I have are half-dollar coins," he replied. So we worked out a trade and I've got me a little souvenir from a victory for the Silverbacks!
New Year's around here was pretty crazy. About 40,000 people (mostly college kids) swarm out into the streets between the casinos and just hoot and holler at midnight. Police were out in riot gear but no violence to report. I couldn't get close enough to a bar in the casino to get a drink, which may have been a good thing. So we stopped for a beer at McP's, our favorite Irish pub, and called it a night.
We are in strong need of a "Zeke," which is our new name for a dumping of snow. Toons regulars can probably imagine where we came up with that name. We haven't had any snow since Christmas day. It's sunny 300 days a year here, which is nice and picturesque. But c'mon, Chicago is getting more snow than we are!
The teaching is going fine. Every day I get a new group of people who've never skied before and try to get them to a point where they can link turns and not kill anybody. There have been some lows--like the seven Pakistani's I had on Jan. 2 and the woman who nearly ran me over when I was adjusting another guest's boot (I barely got out of the way, she crashed over my skis and had to be taken away on a stretcher by ski patrol!) But for the most part it's pretty cool seeing the looks on their faces at the end of the day, when they're skiing down a mountain and taking in the beautiful views. Kinda the same look I saw when taking people on tours of Wrigley Field and they walked through the catacombs from the clubhouse into the dugout...and there was the beauty in their adventure!
Oh, and the photo attached was taken by  Ziggy of yours truly on Christmas night, I believe. Not a creature was stirring...except Zig, who found it funny to decorate me with a lighted Christmas tree, the mechanical snowman his mom sent him for Xmas and a lit candle. (Yes, I moved, and it spilled all over the back of the couch.) An iron and a towel later, the couch was all cleaned up (and slightly burned).
I'll be in Chicago for a few days this weekend. Come to Toons on Thursday night for the splashdown night. Then it's off to the Cubs Convention and promoting my book over the weekend.