Monday, January 31, 2011

Geezers and Memoirs

    Geezers often tend to focus on memories of the past.   Conversations among a group of geezers frequently consists of recollections of childhood events, past accomplishments, and other personal or historical recollections.   Recently I have been focusing on living in the now so I have become sensitive to avoiding always dwelling on past events and accomplishments.    I honor the past and relish good memories but by living in the now I find more pleasure in my immediate activities.   Today was an especially delightful day on the slopes with exceptional snow, bright blue sky and comforting sunlight.   The cold weather minimized the number of skiers so it was a beautiful and mostly wind free and silent day of joy.   The two photos below show the difference between the weekend activity and today's activity in the instructional area.
Quiet Weekday - Magic Carpet
    A further comment on memories.    Today I read a commentary from the New York Times entitled The Problem With Memoirs by Neil Genzlinger.   It was a fascinating analysis of the shortcomings of memoirs.   His main criticism is that unless you have had some unique and notable accomplishments,  keep your thoughts and writings to yourself.   In other words, all of us geezers have had many similar experiences, losses, gains, divorces, illnesses etc.   There is no need to publicly air your personal story unless there is some redeeming discovery in that process.   Here is his concluding paragraph about whether one should publish a memoir.
Magic Carpet Crowd - Weekend

" If you didn’t feel you were discovering something as you wrote your memoir, don’t publish it. Instead hit the delete key, and then go congratulate yourself for having lived a perfectly good, undistinguished life. There’s no shame in that."
   I am writing a personal history.   Not necessarily a memoir but a narrative of my life to be passed on to my children and grandchildren if they care to know a bit more about me.   Meanwhile I will keep on living a perfectly good, undistinguished life.   Hopefully living in the now, enjoying my associations and relishing for now the ability to slide on the snow.   No shame at all in being a goof off geezer.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Community and Skiing

     A good life is lived in various types of communities.   Wherever we go and whatever we do our activities take place in community.    Our geezer skiers at Greek Peak make up a community that has a set of rituals and relationships that have grown and changed over the years.    Alliances change and associations vary with the time of day and over the season.   The dynamics of community are fascinating both in the long run and in day to day events.   As individuals enter and leave the community  adjustments take place.   Absorbing a new person into the established community takes time to develop.   And also the greater community is subdivided in smaller communities with their own behaviors.  So as an observer of human kind it is fascinating to participate in community dynamics.

Award Winning Poet
     Perhaps I have become more observant of community dynamics as a result of my wife's participation in the Cortland County Community Arts Challenge.   Artists, musicians and writers of the Cortland area were challenged to create a work that was exemplary of community.  The artistic theme was community.    Last night we were treated to a display of the art and writing submissions and performances of the musical pieces as well.   A delightful evening.  Certainly the most exciting part of the evening for me was the awards ceremony.   I always knew my wife,  Nancy is a great writer but that personal judgment was confirmed by her receiving first prize in the writing category!   Her poem "Ode to Community" was selected as the best of the competition.   If you are ever in the Cortland area, visit the Center for the Arts in Homer, NY to view her poem and the other writings and art.   Here is are brief excerpts of her poem.

"Community binds us and expects things from us:
to volunteer, to lead, to serve to raise funds,
to be firemen, jurors, school board members, city council folk.

Community nurtures us,
through teachers, neighbors, grandmothers.
Educates our children and gathers us into zip codes,  hometowns, teams."


"Not just place, but purpose.
It isn't free. This belonging comes with a price.
It demands that we participate.  It makes us who we are.
Gives us our identity.

By Nancy Rehkugler

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Advising and Skiing

    Recently I have been having a lot of communications from my student advisees.   As a part of giving back to Cornell and my department I have been a volunteer adviser to about a dozen students for the last several years.   It is an enjoyable and I hope useful service to the students.   I first advised college students in my initial appointment as Assistant Professor in 1958.   Now that I am a geezer I can claim over 50 years of advising young people.   An extremely rewarding activity  where I now have alumni  friends throughout the world who on occasion thank me for the guidance I have given.
    How does this connect with skiing?   Most of the time I am able to assist my advisees with e-mail and phone calls.  However, nothing works better than face to face meetings in dealing with the knottier problems.   Also the initial relationship needs to be built with one on one conversations in my office.   This week I will need to forego some of my skiing time to meet with my students.   I am grateful for their flexibility so that we can schedule our meetings around my passion for hitting the slopes.   So Friday I am looking forward to a shortened ski day (or perhaps no skiing at all) to connect with a couple of new advisees and some continuing students.   The amazing thing about advancing age is that one gains a greater appreciation of the value of relationships.   Frequently acts of service are so rewarding that it really isn't any sacrifice at all.   I say hurray for all the young people who still have respect for the "wisdom" of their elders.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


   Yesterday was a great day of skiing even if the temperature started off at minus 6 degrees F.   The sun was out, the snow was sparkling and there were few waits for the lifts on the weekend.   Truly a gorgeous day.   The previous day we were blessed with 10 inches of new powder snow so the  base has been built up and the grooming was exceptional.   However, since all the trails were open, there were opportunities to find some stashes of snow in the trees and along the edges of some trails.
    In my geezerhood I have learned to be more cautious through the trees and bopping along the edge of the trails,    However, yesterday had such good lighting and conditions, that I chose to venture briefly into the trails with some trees.   I had a couple of conservative runs in the trees, enjoying the deep snow and some slow turns.   After my tree runs I decided to have a go at the edge on one long intermediate trail.    There was some deep snow with only a few tracks so it was fun to sink in halfway to the knee and go wedeling along at a reasonable speed.     This great run, however, was interrupted with a surprising crash.   In the middle of this run one ski took a dive into an unseen obstacle and before I could react the ski popped off and I is in a classic full length slide forward on my left shoulder.     I was thankful for the forgiving deep snow!   This was a reminder that one can never anticipate the unexpected.   My ski and poles were only a few feet away and collecting myself I headed  down to the lift to take a few more runs.   The lift attendant remarked on the snow still clinging to my coat and helmet saying someone must have been throwing snow balls at me.
    The only after effect of my fall that I feel today is slightly sore shoulder.   I guess we geezers should learn to be a little more conservative in our skiing.   As I have often said, "Be ready for the surprises and know your limits".

Friday, January 21, 2011

Seduced By Powder Snow

   I started off to ski today with a bit of guilt.   My driveway had about six inches of new snow and I probably should have run the snow blower.   Especially since my wife was planning to go out to play tennis this morning.   I determined if I could get out of the driveway she should  be able to make it too.   The new powder that that came down over night was beckoning me to get to the slopes to get  first tracks on hill.    I was delighted to arrive at Greek Peak to find about 10 to 12 inches powder was available all over the area.
    Many of the Tough Old Geezer Skiers were there and all of us were jockeying to get the first runs on the pristine snow.   The first runs were classic.   Pat Ryan and I started down a slope together and I managed to stay ahead of him for part of the run.   On the gentle slope it was hard to get much momentum so Pat railed into my tracks, got extra momentum, and passed me into Christies Run.    He began throwing up  contrails of powder in my face!   A beautiful run with great style.   I would have liked to have taken a photo, but I was too busy enjoying my own fresh tracks.
Early Tracks on Iliad
     The early day skiing was especially fun making new tracks on each run.   Even later in the day there were untracked areas and stashes of natural snow.   Friend Roger Pellerin joined me after coffee break.  Like many of my geezer friends he finds the deep snow challenging.   Most of the time we are skiing groomers so we don't get much practice in the powder.
     I would have liked to stayed on the hill longer than I did but I resisted the powder seduction and stopped at an appropriate time.   I am thankful the powder didn't happen yesterday.   Following a tooth extraction on Thursday I was in no condition to handle any kind of skiing.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


     Ski conditions and the ski experiences are studies in contrasts.   This Monday January 17 was a day of squeaky snow.  The temperature was below zero at the start of the day and never rose beyond 10 F .   If my photo had sound with it you would hear the squeak of boots and skis on the frigid surface.  The next day was entirely different.  Within 24 hours the temperature rose above freezing and produced freezing rain. The next ski day, Tuesday, brought temperatures in the 30's F.   Ski conditions were also seriously different with a thin coat of snow with a crusted surface.   As the skis broke through the crust they acted as if they were on a rail.   It was a challenge to adapt to these conditions especially until the trails had been skied.   Contrasts in ski conditions!

Can You Hear the Snow Squeak?
     Today was a day of comparisons as well.   A couple of weeks ago I visited Toggenburg Ski Area.  It was a gorgeous day of sunshine and deep powder snow.    A memorable time of skiing at Toggenburg.  Today my friend Roger and I ventured to Toggenburg for a change of pace from our usual ski area.  A far different day from my visit a couple of weeks ago.   We had a firm groomed surface but the visibility was limited for most of the day.   The combination of flat light and grey low clouds dominated the skiing for most of the day.  Quite disorienting.   Roger is a pilot  and stated that the conditions caused a disorientation similar to flying a plane into a cloud.   Up and down are hard to sense so one has to rely on instruments.   I guess that was what we were doing this morning.   We were looking for trees and other cues to sense where we were on the slopes.
Roger at Tog - Pilot on Instruments
     Non-skiers have asked me from time to time, "Don't you get bored with skiing all the time?"   No I don't because every day brings a change of conditions,  lighting,  and scenery.   Contrasts!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weekend Geezers

Many Skiers on the Novice Trail
     Most of the geezer population skis during the week days and avoid the weekends.   I still like to spend one weekend day on the slopes to mix with the younger crowd and the occasional skiers.  Since I usually ski solo on the weekends I get to meet a broad spectrum of people from different locations and  personal  backgrounds.   There is a certain bustle on the slope on the weekends that you don't get during the week.  (Note the density of the people on the easy slope.  Also the NASTAR races attract the adventuresome skiers.)
    Some of my week day geezer friends show up on the weekend as well.   Often they have friends that are weekend skiers so it is a chance to socialize with them.   Likewise I have enjoyed those connections and a chance to hear their stories.   Often the geezers have visits of the their grandchildren.  Those are special times for both the grandchildren and the geezer.   See the photo of Cliff and Caleb.   Cliff's grandson Caleb is the adventuresome one!   He likes to pop off into the trees and explore the off trail scene.  In the photo he is proposing to go over the edge to check what is down there.
Grandpa Cliff and Grandson Caleb
    Many current day  geezers are blessed with health and vigor to enable them to have fun with skiing grand children.   Increased longevity can be quite a blessing if one is healthy.  I note that the oldest African-American  woman passed away yesterday at age 113.   Something to aim for?   Recently I received a report of minimum distribution from one of my retirement funds.   The calculating factor for my account has for me a life expectancy of 22.7 years beyond my current age.  By that calculation I ought to make 97 years of living.    Maybe I will get to ski with my great-grandchildren and celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary if that happens.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pseudo Powder and Real Powder

   My skiing today was on slopes covered with what I would call pseudo powder.   Several inches of new snow had fallen and as much as six or more inches of untracked snow was available.   At first glance the fresh snow had the look of powdery material.  However, the snow had sufficient density to lose the definition of real powder.   In spite of the heavier nature of the snow It was a glorious day.   Following many days of skiing hard pack and groomers the respite of deeper and soft snow was a pleasure.
   Perhaps I shouldn't be so critical of the conditions.   Probably my attitude was influenced by the pictures my son sent me from Salt Lake City and the slopes of Alta and Snowbird.   Powder there was so deep and light that face shots were the norm.   See one of the pictures from son Colin below.   I am looking forward to a Utah trip in February.   I am hoping for real powder!   Go to Colin Rehkugler's Facebook site for  more pictures of his recent romp in the powder.
Utah Powder

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pain and Snowmakers

     Greek Peak was covered with snow makers today.  Almost every slope had a snow maker spewing new snow in such a way that avoiding passing through the mist was impossible.   Iced up goggles and the poor visibility made traversing the slope a challenge.   Also it was a noisy day as well since many of the snow makers have a high decibel output.   Obviously we need more snow on the slopes so I suppose I shouldn't complain.     Fortunately the conversation of the lift and at coffee break was enjoyable and I got a satisfying quota of runs.  I consciously tried to be more relaxed about the day.   The scenery other than the snow making was beautiful with frost coating most of the trees at a higher elevation.
Heavy Duty Snow Making
   Pain enters the picture in the form of on of my molars that has a failing root canal and crown.   Tylenol has kept the pain in check when I'm not skiing.  The good news is that when I am skiing I forget the pain and/or the cold air reduces it.   Isn't it amazing that skiing is a healing activity?   Meanwhile I am on schedule to have an extraction and implant.  And I expect the snow makers will finish their work tonight so tomorrow will be enjoyable silence and no hazardous snow piles.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sounds of the Ski Slope

Can You Hear It Now?
    Earlier this week I was riding the lift alone several times since I had arrived late and my usual ski partners had left for the day.   It was a day of  calm weather and no wind so there were a variety of sounds impinging on my ear.   In fact I amused myself during the lift ride and later on the slope by trying to list and categorize the various sounds of the ski slope.   On the ride up there was the hum of the cable,  the rattle of a board on one of the towers,  the clunk of the safety bar on the stop,  the squeak, squeak,  squeak of the rubber of the cable pulley, and the bump, bump, bump of the cable riding over the tower pulleys.     Also in the background one would catch murmurs of conversations of riders down the lift.
     On other rides I would notice the characteristic whisper of skis riding through the soft snow and the occasional scraping sound on the exposed hard pack.  Occasionally a snow machine would roar up the slope for a maintenance task.   At other times we have suffered the whooshing roar of the snow guns.  Some snow gun designs have a piercing harsh noise.  Other have a more pleasing whoosh with lower decibels.  At the loading station we will hear the hum of the electric motor drives.
    All of the above are the man made sound of the ski slope.  There are also the natural sounds of wind whistling and whirling during the stormy days.   And on the quiet days there will be the rattle of tree limbs, the cracking of ice on the coated limbs and an occasional  bird song.    Springtime will bring the honks of the returning geese.   Other times I have seen and heard turkeys and foxes sounding off and travelling across the slope.
   Recently I have been introduced to the books of Eckhart Tolle on spiritual enlightenment.   He discusses the matter of living in the now.   i.e. Being aware of the present moment.   My revelation of ski slope sounds probably arose out of my focus on the now as I rode the lift last week.   It was soothing experience.   Next time that you have a lonely ride on the lift I challenge you readers to see how many sounds you can identify.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Powder Day at Toggenburg

   Because I had a dental appointment scheduled in Fayetteville today, I decided to couple my appointment with a breakfast with my geezer friends of the Fayetteville United Methodist Church and a visit to the Toggenburg Ski area later in the day.   This was an excellent schedule for many reasons.  First it was great to banter with old friends and second Toggenburg overnight had about 10 to 12 inches of fresh snow and they did not groom!
Still Some Untracked Snow

Tracked Snow Later in the Day
   I was on the slopes by 11:00 AM which was somewhat late to get a lot of fresh tracks.  However the crowd was small and there was still a lot of untracked terrain available.  What a ball!   The snow was not quite powder but was sufficiently light to give a great ride.  Especially in the untracked areas.   Last night I had read my most recent issue of Ski Magazine which has seven seven tips for skiing the powder.   I put those tips into practice today and found that they were quite helpful.    Although my first run was somewhat tentative, I did have a good ride and the following runs became much easier.   There was a big smile on my face for the rest of the morning until a break for a late lunch.   See photos  for a sense of the conditions.
    The post lunch runs were more difficult with the tired legs and the deep snow now chopped up into  variable mounds on most of the slopes.  Some untracked edges were still available for variety and if one wanted to one slope had been groomed.   Because I have skied groomers for all this season, I never had a desire to go to the groomer.
   I can't help but put in a plug for the Toggenburg management and their employees.   They are the most friendly, helpful and professional  folks that I have encountered at a ski area.   And to give us 70+ year olds free skiing is extremely generous.   Although the lodge is not an upscale environment, the food is great and very reasonably priced.   For example a large coffee for $1.50.  If you are not into the cafeteria fare, the Foggy Goggle restaurant has an excellent menu and quality food.   I have skied there enough to be recognized and welcomed by the regulars and the staff.   In a way today was like a homecoming since I skied there about 30 days a year for several years.
Tom Buckley - Toggenburg Patroller
   I always enjoy meeting and talking with other geezers.  At lunch I got to know Ski Patroller Tom Buckley.   Although we had greeted each other in other years, today I got to hear more of Tom's story.   Tom and his friend Walt Shepard have been patrollers at Toggenburg for many years and are more or less fixtures at the area.   Tom is surely a Tough Old Geezer skier at age 76 with two knee replacements and 48 years as a ski patroller.  See photo.   A great guy and we enjoyed swapping stories of various skiing experiences, including some of the trying situations we have encountered.
   It was a great change of pace day as well as a bonus day with so much great ungroomed powder for the East.   I'll need to make another visit soon and hopefully bring along some of the TOGS from my home ski area.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Lift Ride

      I can still remember the feeling of my first ride on the ski lift.    The experience of being suspended high over the snow produced some anxiety about the safety of the ride as well as a feeling of precariousness of hanging in the chair with feet dangling.    However this feeling soon disappeared and now the lift ride provokes little excitement.   However,  when one visits a new area some of the lift and gondola rides can be breathtaking.   The gondola ride at Snowbird is always an exciting ride for me.
     Although there is always some potential risk in riding a ski lift, we are blessed with regulations and inspections that minimize danger to the public.   I would hate to think how much more risky a ski lift ride would be without some agency looking over the shoulder of the ski area operators.   To me there is a good case for all kinds of codes and regulation when there is a risk of injury to the public.   I'm for unnecessary government interference but I am thankful that we have codification and sharing of standards that force the best practices in ski lift operations.   Even with this shared knowledge and regulation failures occur as proven by the recent lift failure in Maine.  Hopefully something will be learned from that event.   Meanwhile the ski industry will continue to look for improvements in lift safety for all.   I have often observed that small children riding without an adult are certainly at risk of falling from the chair.   Tonight I read in Ski magazine about an  innovation of a magnetic vest for kids of ages 3-6 as a means to hold them in the chair during the ride.   Seems like a great idea.
     As an engineer I often try to observe the safety gear on the ski lifts intended to prevent derailment of the cable as well as to stop the lift in the case of malfunction.   I observe that even if there is  a derailment there are guards  to catch the cable to keep it from leaving the tower.   See photo below.  I wonder why that mechanism didn't work in Maine.   Thankfully after over 40 plus years of riding ski lifts I have never had to be evacuated from a failed lift.
Cable Retainers at the Towers


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Thin Cover and Bare Spots

  The slope on this New Year's Day was dotted with signs reading "Thin Cover and Bare Spots".   We have had an unfortunate spate of warmer weather causing a rapid loss of snow.   In some respects the slopes are metaphorically like a mangy dog with patches of bare skin and thinly furred body areas.  Fortunately so far we have missed the rain.   Therefore the first day of skiing in 2011 was not as appealing as the previous two sunshine filled days.   However the camaraderie of those on the slopes was warm and gracious with people giving many comments of Happy New Year.  Many of us chose to forgo late night parties and to be on the thinly populated slopes early in the morning.   I chose to ski with my "rock" skis since some  bare spots were possibly unavoidable.
 Gerry Warns Take Heed of the Conditions
    While taking a picture I was interrupted by Harvey Levine  of Florida with a request to take a picture of him.  He has moved to Florida and this will probably be his only day of skiing this season.  It was 2005 when he last skied at Greek Peak.   It was a joyful occasion for him.   Attendance at a wedding   brought him north once again in the winter.   I am glad my wife tolerates my passion for skiing so I can have the routine pleasure of skiing all winter.   Regardless of the "thin cover and bare spots"  Harvey was having a ball.   Here's wishing for cold weather and more snow.
Harvey Levine -The Pleasure of Skiing Again