Monday, May 31, 2010

Moving Day.......

.......to a new blog address, with a brand new format.

From now on, you can find my blog at http://theskidiva.wordpress.com.

You'll be redirected momentarily.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Memorial Day, ski style

Most people celebrate Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer. Swimming, boating, picnics, you get the picture.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But let's not lose sight of the holiday's original intent: to commemorate those who lost their lives fighting for our country. Those like the men of the Tenth Mountain Division, who served in combat for only four months during World War II, yet who suffered the highest casualty rate of any US division in the Mediterranean.

Started as an experiment to train soldiers to fight in the most difficult, mountainous terrain in Europe, the Tenth trained at Camp Hale, Colorado, 17 miles north of Leadville. The camp, which lay at 9,300 feet, had four trails and the longest T-Bar in the country. Troops were taught to ski, snowshoe, and climb with packs and rifles as well as survive in the most brutal winter conditions. They lived in the mountains for weeks at a time, working in altitudes up to 13,500 feet, in five to six feet of snow and in temperatures that dropped to 20 degrees below zero at night.

All this well before the advent of today's technical fabrics.

After training for two years, the Tenth participated in a series of actions that played a vital role in the liberation of northern Italy. The Division breached the supposedly impregnable Gothic Line in the Apennines and secured the Po River Valley. By the time the Germans surrendered in May 1945, 992 ski troopers had lost their lives and 4,000 were wounded.

After the war, veterans of the Tenth became the backbone of the postwar American ski boom. Monty Atwater, for example, went to Alta, Utah, where he established the first explosive avalanche control system. Friedl Pfeifer designed Aspen Mountain, started Aspen's ski school, and ran the first racing circuit. And Pete Seibert became a member of the 1948 Olympic team and founded Vail.

The sacrifices and contributions of the men of the Tenth can not be denied. So on this Memorial Day, while you're swimming and picnicing and welcoming in the summer season, take a minute to salute the Tenth, along with the many other veterans of our Armed Forces. Remember, they fought for you.

And have a safe and happy Memorial Day.

Be sure to visit TheSkiDiva.com, an internet forum especially for women skiers, where women skiers can connect with one another to talk about everything and anything ski-related.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Make Way for SkiDUCKs!

I'm one of the lucky ones. My Dad started me skiing as a kid. The result was a lifelong passion that's influenced everything from where I live today to how I make my living.

I don't know where I'd be without it.

But for many kids, skiing is as remote as, say, a trip to the moon. And while skiing may not affect everyone as profoundly as it did me, exposure to the sport does have its benefits. It's a way to enjoy the outdoors in the winter, connect with mountains, and stay physically fit. Plus it's just plain fun.

Enter SkiDUCK, a new national non-profit volunteer-based organization that stands for Skiing and snowboarding for Disabled and Underprivileged Children and older Kids. An outreach program that involves establishing partnerships between ski resorts and youth organizations, SkiDUCK is dedicated to exposing kids to the joys of the skiing and/or snowboarding experience.

I recently spoke with Clint Lunde, self proclaimed ski addict and the organization's excecutive director and founder:

Q: What inspired you to create SkiDUCK?
A: I'd left a company and decided to intentionally force myself through a “pseudo mid-life crisis” during my new career search. Fortunately, I was at a point in my life that I was ready for a period of self-reflection and deep soul searching. As part of that process, I kept asking questions like: What is my purpose? How can I make more of a difference? How can I better use my passion and skills for a greater good? If money weren’t an issue, what would I be doing? And, rather than focusing on a job or career, how can I turn my passion into a life-long vocation? SkiDUCK was the ultimate answer to all those questions. It combines my personal passion for skiing and the mountains with helping others in need and sharing the sport that I love.

Q: When did SkiDUCK launch?
A: August 12, 2009.  I'd been contemplating creating an organization to introduce skiing and snowboarding to disadvantaged children. I'd done research online and discovered that unlike other sports, like basketball, baseball, football, and golf, there were almost no programs to help introduce underprivileged children to winter mountain sports. I remember sitting on the deck on a beautiful sunny day in August when I finally made the decision to go for it. Once I committed mentally, I had an immediate surge of energy and sense of purpose; like “YES!! This is what I want to do for the rest of my life!”

Almost everyone I consulted told me it would be impossible to create a brand new organization and get the non-profit status approved and everything else required in place before the end of the ski season. That was the wrong thing to tell me. I’ll admit there were a lot of 16 hour work days, but we received our IRS 501(c)3 non-profit approval October 7. Then we began promoting the concept, coordinating with Youth Service clubs and ski resorts, and developing our programs. It took a while, but our insurance policy went into effect February 1, 2010, and we were on the slopes with our first group of  about 30 kids the following weekend, February 7!

Q: Why do you think it's important to expose disadvantaged or challenged kids to skiing?
A: Just giving them the chance to experience the sheer joy and exhilaration of skiing and snowboarding are reason enough for me. I’ve taught many kids to ski, and I know first-hand how much fun it is for them. But more importantly, as many of us have experienced, the mountains and outdoors -- and more specifically for some, skiing and snowboarding -- have the power to change people’s lives. Seriously. Some hardly recognize it, since they can only ride for a few weekends a season and then go back to their usual weekday grind. But for others, the mountains become a retreat – where they can rejuvenate their mind, body and soul. More than any other sport or recreation, skiing and snowboarding combine the beauty, peace and serenity of the mountains with the rush of excitement and exhaustion of pushing yourself to your physical limits. I’m so excited to present this new world to kids who otherwise may never have discovered it. And let’s face it, if you don’t learn to ski or snowboard as a child… you’re not very likely to endure the long learning curve necessary to really fall in love with it as an adult.

Q: What are SkiDUCK’s goals?
A: The primary goal of SkiDUCK is quite simple: to introduce skiing and snowboarding to as many disadvantaged children as possible -- those who otherwise may never have a chance to get up to the mountains. Besides being a fun and healthy activity for kids, we know there will be many other benefits as well: like developing movement and coordination skills, enhancing interpersonal skills and positive relationships, building a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence, the list could go on and on. But for now, those are all additional benefits, not specific goals of the organization. However, as we grow and mature over time, I fully expect we’ll incorporate other goals to have a much deeper and more significant impact in at least some of these kids’ lives.

Q:  How does SkiDUCK work to accomplish this goal? I understand it's a collaborative effort. Can you explain how this works?
A: Absolutely. Our motto is to “Partner, Partner, Partner”. The success of SkiDUCK is based upon the foundation of collaboration with both youth service organizations and participating ski resorts. Our model is primarily as a facilitator to connect existing organizations each already doing what they do best. For example, our partnering ski resorts’ ski and snowboard schools are already teaching kids to ski and snowboard. And our partnering youth service organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, are already serving underprivileged and at-risk children in many ways. But they can’t afford to buy lift tickets, rentals and lessons. Oh, did I mention yet that these are all completely free for the kids and youth clubs? It’s important to point out that the ski resorts are providing free lift tickets, rentals and lessons for the kids. So along with a wonderful group of volunteers, SkiDUCK brings these organizations together to provide opportunities these children may never otherwise have. And if they want, they can come back several times a season and year after year, all the way through high school! Pretty cool, huh? There’s a really good 2-minute video on our website (www.SkiDUCK.org) that shows a typical SkiDUCK day and how this partnership works.

Q: Where does SkiDUCK operate? How many resorts and kids are involved?
A: We launched SkiDUCK in the Lake Tahoe area our first season, as there are quite a few resorts within relatively close distance to small, medium, and large cities -- Reno, Sacramento, and San Francisco. Rather than expanding too quickly, we wanted to stay focused and build a really solid model before reaching out to other ski communities. We held events at four resorts -- Squaw Valley, Kirkwood, Tahoe Donner and Sugar Bowl -- and from our start in February through April, we took nearly 130 kids up for their first-ever day of skiing or snowboarding. Some kids made two or three trips, for a total of over 200 days on the slopes! We’re pretty happy with that, given the short timeframe left in the season. If all goes well, we could potentially bring 10 times as many kids up next year, in our first “full” season. Each of the four resorts has asked us to come back next season and also increased the number of events and free lift tickets/lessons offered. I also expect that we’ll add at least a few more resorts in Lake Tahoe as well as branch out to a few other areas/states. Although, not too quickly;  we still want to focus on quality versus quantity and make sure that we’re creating sustainable programs that will succeed in the long-run.

Q: What's the response been so far? 
A: The response has been fantastic; from the resorts, from the youth service clubs and especially from the kids and their families. A letter we received from one of the parents says it better than I ever could:

Dear SkiDUCK,

I just wanted to thank everyone that was involved in the trip to Squaw Valley. When my kids came home they were so happy. They said that "they came home from the top of the world". They told me the sun was shining and the snow was so amazing. I asked them what was the best part of their trip? They said that it was the people that they were surrounded by. Especially the instructors and volunteers. That took me by surprise; that they went to one of the most beautiful places in the world and that was what they said they liked best. A tribute to everyone.

I was born here in Reno and have never been skiing or snowboarding. I think that to give kids a memory that they can take with them their whole life is so awesome. I think that the organization SKIDUCK is the best! I want to wish everyone the best and thanks again for making kids and parents so happy! 


Yours,
Thomas Kuykendall

Q: What's the future hold for SkiDUCK?
A: I know I’m wearing rose-colored glasses at times when looking to the future of SkiDUCK. But in my mind's eye, I foresee programs either founded or partially funded by SkiDUCK at literally hundreds of ski resorts across the entire country, serving thousands of underprivileged and minority children every year! I envision a national network of local community chapters providing opportunities to children who may never otherwise be exposed to the beauty and life-changing force of the mountains. Eventually, we’ll grow beyond U.S. borders to other mountain countries around the world. And I’m certain that someday a child who first stepped into bindings through a SkiDUCK program will also step onto an Olympic, Paralympic, World Cup, or X Games Gold medal podium.

But setting all the grand designs aside, the truest measure of SkiDUCK’s success will be years from now when someone who first fell in love with skiing or snowboarding through SkiDUCK takes their own son or daughter to the mountain for their first day on the slopes. That’s the dream that still chokes me up.



To find out more about SkDUCK or to make a donation, visit their website at Skiduck.org.

Be sure to visit TheSkiDiva.com, an internet forum especially for women skiers, where women skiers can connect with one another to talk about everything and anything ski-related.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A conversation with Olympian Sarah Schleper

Competing in one Winter Olympics is pretty big stuff. But Sarah Schleper, member of the US Ski Team, has competed in not just one, or two, or even three Olympic games. Vancouver was her  fourth Winter Olympics. And that's not all. She was also the only mom on the US Ski Team in Vancouver, and the only one born in the 1970's.

A Colorado native, Sarah started with Ski Club Vail at age 11 and made her World Cup debut just five years later. In between, she won five Junior Olympics gold medals and was the Whistler Cup slalom champ in 1994. She also won a Junior Worlds silver medal and a World Cup race, and is a four-time US slalom champion. Skiing magazine dubbed her as "the great blonde hope ... part Rasta, part Harpo, part Medusa, all Sarah."

I recently asked this remarkable skier some questions:

Q: What's your life been like since the Olympics?
A: Life is life. I keep on living, being a mother, a wife, and a ski racer. I finished out the World Cup season over in Garmisch, and the US Nationals at Lake Placid, New York. When Vail closed for the season, my family and I headed south for our favorite pastime, surfing. I would be in the water all day if it wasn't for giving my husband a chance to surf while Lasse [her son] and I build castles in the sand.

Q: What was the Olympic experience like for you? Did you do as well as you expected?
A: All four of my Olympic experiences have been some of the most memorable competitions of my life. I always go to the Olympics gunning to win a medal, and for this I maintain a focus that is determined and blinded to a lot of the commotion surrounding an event as big as the Olympics. I enjoyed the Whistler venue and being at a mountain comparable to Vail in skiable acreage. The entertainment in Whistler was unbelievable. Junior Gong, one of my favorites, played a free concert that I saw with my brothers and my pa.

As for the races, I was disappointed in my second run in the GS. I put myself in a great position to attack for a medal after the first run. I just didn't let it run on the second run, which happened on the following day, because the weather was foggy and the visibility was zero. In the slalom, I opened my chin with a gate on my way down my first run. I think this actually relaxed any anxiety I had for the race. My face hurt and I had to concentrate on getting it patched. I made a super fast first run. In the course report for the second run, it was radioed up the hill that there was a hole on this hairpin on the last pitch. I really blew it because I hesitated going into that hole and just lost all my speed and moved from what could have been a medal position to 17th place. Of course, we always dream of gold medals and if we didn't we wouldn't be going to the lengths to train hard and go faster everyday. I tasted my dream, and I can live with the experience of racing as a mother, and being proud of myself for undertaking a comeback, with my family always a fast first ahead of my agenda to be number one.

Q: What was your favorite Olympic moment? 
A: Team processing with teammates Hailey [Duke] and Megan [McJames]. The three of us have really become close. Sharing the experience with them was incredible -- from team processing through the opening ceremonies, training, and races; in fact, all the way to the White House. It was great to share this part of my life with some great people.

Q:  You let out this sort of roar when you come out of the gate. Can you explain how that started and why you do it? 
A: It's the inherent nature of a lioness about to attack, and when I race my lioness comes out to play. It started a long time ago. At times I have felt too reserved to actually do it, but in the end if you can let out a roar before you go it releases the tension of the race and allows for a fluid mentality going through the gates.

Q:  I know you were the only one on the team born in the 70's. What was it like being the "old lady" of the team? Are challenges different for you now than when you were younger? 
A: I wouldn't go as far to say I am an old lady. Sure, I've been around that block a few times, but I am as young as they get, really. Age is a number and my age comes from the seventies, but in reality I am infinite and I just like to go fast. My teammates are my closest friends and I hope I can help create a team that can charge in Europe. I am proud to be teammates with Lindsey Vonn who has achieved the unachievable. I have seen her grow from an innocent 7 year old little racergirl into a very well spoken champion and that has been an experience that changes lives; not only her's but those around her, including inspiring teammates and anotehr generation of racers. I hope I have also inspired kids to go fast and maybe some mothers, as well.

Q: What are the challenges of being a ski racer and a mom? How do you balance the two?
A:  Thanks be to fate, my husband has been the key to our balance. Both Federico [her husband] and Lasse come on the road. We base out of Innsbruck, Austria, in the winter and live the circus lifestyle. Parenting has come very natural to both my husband and me. We are so proud of our son, and he is the most important part of our lives in every way. It's hard to get going and get to the gym and things like that, but I have always had a strong will. When I set my mind to something I go at it with all my heart until it's done. Being a mother has made me a stronger athlete in the end, the balance of life.

Q: You've had an incredible career. What would you say has been the highlight so far and why? 
A: Highlights and lowlights, as long as we spread the light and share our insight.

Q: Have you started your son skiing yet? Any advice for moms getting their kids started? 
A: My brother, Hunter, had Lasse in ski boots and outside Buzz's [her dad's shop in Vail] on skis at 14 months. He's had over 30 days of skiing this winter, both with reins and in between my and my husband's legs. We never push him to ski. If he wants to go in after one run, we take him in. And when he wants to stay out, we let him rip. I found when we ski with other kids he's inspired to ski by himself. He loves being with kids so he wants to ski in ski school. I told him he has to be able to stop by himself before he can start ski school. He practices stopping in his shoes. I used the reins, but in the end I found it easier just to have him in between my legs and then when we hit catwalks or places where he can go by himself, I can let go but just stay around him to catch him.

Q: How do you keep in shape during the off season? What' s your favorite activity?
A:  I would surf every day, every hour, if I could. It's my passion and I have a love affair with the ocean. I also like riding mountain bikes, water skiing, dirt bikes, swimming, basketball, weightlifting, runnning, doing quickness excersises, circuits, core every morning before I ski, volleyball. I love it all. I am very competitive and very focused.

Q: How would you compare surfing to skiing? 
A: My skiing is very jealous of the piece of my heart I give to surfing. They are both spiritual. Being outside with nature and being a piece of the bigger planet and universe has me captivated for life.

Q: What's next for you?
A:  I won't be sure if I'm going to continue as a ski racer until later in the summer. I gave this last year everything I had and I am still decompressing and thinking about where I want to be in ten years. I feel I could go on to Sochi, but I want my body to agree.

Q:  For the gear heads out there: what do you ski on, when you're not racing? And when you are? 
A: I race on 158 Rossignol Slaloms and 182 Rossignol GS skis. I like the S7's for deep powder days, and S5's for an all mountain day. I love running my GS skis for cruising Vail.

Q:  You have this amazing hair. Do you do anything special to keep it that way? 
A: Au natural, I guess. I never brush it. and I like it when it's a little frizzy.

I also asked Sarah to complete the following thoughts:

 My favorite guilty pleasure is: dancing.
 If I wasn't a ski racer, I'd be: lost.
 My favorite after ski meal is: Pasta when in Italy. knoedel when in Austria, my pa's elk stew when I am at home.
Don't ask me to: stop.

Don't worry, Sarah -- we won't!

If you'd like to find out more about Sarah, be sure to visit her website here.

Be sure to visit TheSkiDiva.com, an internet forum especially for women skiers, where women skiers can connect with one another to talk about everything and anything ski-related.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Here's to you, ski moms......

.......for all you do. Making sure everyone has the hats, goggles, ski pants, boots, etc. etc. they need on the slopes. Dressing and undressing the kids. Assembling the lunches. Hauling the equipment. Harboring a secret stash of tissues/sun block/chap stick/energy bars for that unavoidable emergency. Accomodating multiple bathroom breaks and all the dressing and undressing that go with 'em. Providing encouraging words after a fall. Driving to and from the ski slopes. Attending ski races. Wiping noses. Wiping tears. Administering first aid. Putting on and removing boots/jackets/gloves/helmets. Making sure nothing gets left behind. Arranging ski lessons. Making sure the kids wear helmets.

For all you do, ski moms, for all your unwavering love, devotion, and support -- we salute you!

And to my own mom, who doesn't ski and never did, here's to you, too. Thanks for supporting my skiing when I was growing up, and for continuing to support it -- without ever asking 'why' -- now that I'm an adult.

Happy Mother's Day!

Be sure to visit TheSkiDiva.com, an internet forum especially for women skiers, where women skiers can connect with one another to talk about everything and anything ski-related.