Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Thoughts on Retirement: A 1 Year Check Up

Just over 1 year ago, on February 24th, 2011, I retired. I wanted to post on my first anniversary about what it's like, and it's kind of fitting that I'm a few days late.

Because one of the gifts of being retired is that I lose track of time and don't care what day it is. So I forgot that last Friday was my anniversary. Retirement rocks. Every day is Saturday. We have gotten into trouble because we promised to do something on a particular day, and didn't know what day it was, so missed it. Karen missed yoga. I missed a days SnowHosting. We actually need to have meetings to plan the week now so we don't miss things. I thought I would remember my last day because it's the same date as my daughter's birthday. I forgot her birthday, too (sort of -- she and I agreed on a deferred present, and I forgot to get a card).

Being in control of your day to day destiny is awesome. Do it, don't do it, and you have no one to answer to but yourself. After retiring last year, I got in 36 days of skiing. Today was day 46 of this season. I lost track of how much hiking we've done. We spent a month in Amsterdam and a month in Maui. We sold our house and moved, partially renovated our new house, and even moved out of our condo. We accomplished lots, but my stress level is somewhere in negative territory.

We love waking up in the morning knowing we can roll over and go back to sleep if we feel like it, or get up and do stuff if we feel motivated. Our energy levels are higher than they have ever been. We are never, ever bored. We have so much to do we sometimes have trouble choosing. Aside from skiing and hiking, there are books to read, trips to plan, music to make, sewing to do, walks to take, animals to watch, little projects to do, big projects to do, photos to take, wine to drink, and all of it -- ALL of it -- under our timeline.

Retirement has been hard on my liver. Wine with dinner? Every day's Saturday, so why not? Cocktails? If you feel like it. More wine with an after dinner movie? Sure, if you feel like it.

I liked working. I like this more. A lot more.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ski day 42: Meeting my other boss

Vert: 7,150 m    YTD cum vert: 253,865 m
Runs: 11    YTD cum runs: 550

I got a note on Facebook from Rob, the owner of Powderwatch.com, the other blog I write for at about 7:30 AM today. He was coming to the hill (I suspect because we got 20 cm in the last 24 hrs and 58 cm in the last 3 days). I've never met the man, so I figured we really should ski together at least once so that he knew what I was writing about. 

We did indeed intercept each other. I offered him a warmup run, but he wanted to get straight at it. First run, in the Scapegoat glades, he faceplanted. In this stuff.

In fact, that was supposed to be a shot of him, but I lost him for a few minutes and he skied by without me noticing, so I took that shot of a snowboarder instead.

I took Rob to the two entrances I describe in this post about how to ski the best part of Goat's Eye. We took the Cleavage Traverse to the Goat's Head Soup area. The South Side Chutes were being bombed for avis at the time, so The Fans were closed. I took pains to point out to Rob the avi closure rope with the Red "Closed" signs, and we saw people poaching it. I don't poach lines, but I know where the rope ends. So we skied down to the rope's end, and took the easy route out along the roads (rather than the flat, uphill route past the weather station). And we got stopped by a ski patroller picking off the poachers. I explained we did NOT poach the rope, and that our route was an OK one that went around and below the closure rope. He didn't believe me. Then his radio squawked "Those two are fine. They went below the rope". and he sent us on our way with a sheepish grin.

I was happy to see patrol picking off the poachers, because they were just plain in danger -- and stupid. Patrol finally got fed up of the actions of the idiots and roped off the Cleavage Traverse access for an hour while they completed work, and good for them. However...

It just so happens I know how you can take the Scapegoat Traverse to the lower Fans. Not that its worth it; the ratio of traverse to run isn't good. But it can be done.

I think I will send a note to Patrol and compliment them on their work today.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Ski Day 41: Once a SnowHost, always a SnowHost

Vert: 5,940 m    YTD cum vert: 246, 715 m
Runs: 10    YTD cum runs: 539

I got off the gondola at Sunshine today at Goat's Eye at 10:30, and as I was walking down the ramp, I saw two guys with a trail map out. Now, to a SnowHost, folks with trail maps are folks you talk to to offer advice. So I walked up and asked what they were looking for. They wanted "deep fresh powder" and were wondering where you found it on the upper mountain, because they couldn't find it on Goat's Eye.

From Toronto. Figures.

So I convinced them to come back up the chair with me, and we did a bit of powder running till we got to the top of Wildside, where I described to them the delights awaiting in my favourite part of the mountain. I basically took them through the post I wrote on my other blog here, pointing out the good stuff.

Then, because I wasn't working, and thus can go anywhere, I took them there via the Cleavage Traverse entrance.
Me and one of them
What we skied
One guy's board needed a wax job, and he was sticking in the snow. I told him to ride down to the Creekside for lunch, and drop his board off at the repair desk to get a wax while he ate lunch. They liked my advice and where I took them so much that one said he was going to name his first born after me.

We, too, ended up at Creekside for lunch, and while there, a young man in obvious pain hobbled in with his family. SnowHosts who see this take care of the people, so I got him to the infirmary and called ski patrol to come check him out.

And I wasn't even working today. But it explains the low vert on a big powder day that you can read about on my other blog here.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Ski days 38-40: Rest in bed, drink plenty of fluids...

Day 38 vert:       7,565 m    Day 38 runs:     14
Day 39 vert:       6,855 m    Day 39 runs:     13
Day 40 vert:       4,550 m    Day 40 runs:     10
YTD cum vert: 240,775 m    YTD cum runs: 529

We were skiing Wednesday (Day 38) on the second of two consecutive great powder days (which you can read about here and here) and ran into one of my SnowHost bosses around 1 PM. He was looking for someone to cover a Friday shift (Day 39), so I said sure.

By 3 PM, my nose was running, but this is pretty normal when I ski, so I took no notice. We went to a wildlife tracking talk that evening, and it started running seriously. We grabbed a pizza afterwards, and by 10 PM, I felt like I was hit by a truck. I spent Thursday in bed feeling like crap with an awful cold, getting up for exactly 45 minutes to have dinner. At 6:30 PM, I had a slight fever of 99.5°. But I had made a commitment, so at 6:45 AM Friday (Day 39) was up, heavily medicated and dressed to go SnowHost for the day.

It was an excellent day as you can read on my other blog here, and I almost enjoyed it, though I felt terrible most of the day. So far, so good. At least I got some "rest in bed". But we had a friend drop by for the night, so I cooked dinner, and following the advice noted above "drank plenty of fluids". Observation: wine and Sudafed are one heck of a combo. On the bright side, I managed to get into bed by midnight (unlike KC, who stayed up chatting until 3 AM...)

Back up today at 6:45 AM (Day 40) and even more heavily medicated for my regular duties as a SnowHost, on what we all figured was going to be one of the busiest days of the year (it's a long weekend here). I begged my boss for light duty and he graciously complied, right up to the point where he asked me to lead an afternoon tour that I talk about in this post here -- which totally drained whatever little energy I had left. I barely made it home, and crashed asleep for almost 2 hrs without even getting undressed from my ski clothes.

Rest in bed... drink plenty of fluids... I'm not sure I'm good at following those instructions.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Newspapers are my Life

I used to be a loyal newspaper reader, and by what I read in the paper, one of the few. Around the dinner hour every night, I used to read my Calgary Herald cover to cover, and it was a very peaceful half hour of my day. One of my favourite things is to lay in bed on Saturday morning (heck, any morning) and spend an hour with the paper and a good cup of coffee. For me, it has always been so. I started reading the Toronto Star everyday when I was about 8, and until I moved to the mountains where I have to drive into town to get a daily paper, I was still going strong reading my paper every day. I was even strange enough to collect every paper if I was away, and read them in order, 2 and 3 weeks at a sitting.

For me, reading the paper is a tactile thing. Newspapers deliver me more than just what I want. Every time I read one I am drawn to read something I had no idea I would be interested in. Sometimes it’s fashion, sometimes it’s about a happening somewhere in the world. But I read it because I stumble across it in the paper.

This is why I am astounded when I read that increasingly, people are getting their news from the internet, and newspaper readership is down. Don’t get me wrong – I use the ‘net to find news on interests I have that are so esoteric that no newspaper in their right mind would carry it (Formula 1 Racing. Canadian University Basketball, goings on at Apple, the oil and gas industry). But you can skim Yahoo or Reuters, or Google all the news you want and not get the newspaper “experience”.

I am getting increasingly puzzled by the newspaper business. On the one hand, I read that conventional readership of newspapers in general is on decline. Then on every street corner, more newspapers appear, and seem to do so weekly. At last check in Calgary, there’s the Calgary Herald, the Calgary Sun, the Globe & Mail, the National Post, 24, Metro, Dose and FFW. Do we need 7 papers? Competition is generally good, but it seems we have a burning desire to deforest British Columbia in the process. Walking through downtown Calgary, every day I saw the free ones (Metro, 24 and Dose) blowing in the breeze. I guess folks figure they’re free, so chucking them isn’t a problem.

Worse, these free papers are just scaled down versions of their parents. Take 24 for instance. It’s owned by the Sun. I haven’t figured out why if you read the Sun you want to read 24, and if you don’t like the Sun (as I don’t) why you would like 24. The content is the same, just shorter. Isn’t two of the same thing just a waste of paper? Metro is the world’s largest paper; we even looked at Metro in Amsterdam (thought it was written in some foreign language there). It’s amazing how little content they can pack into a free 20-page paper.

I subscribed to the Financial Post for a while. Then they got rid of the Saturday only subscription (for the same price, they were willing to give me 6 papers a week, which I didn’t want). I would try to pick a Saturday Post on the newsstand or in a local box, but it was typically sold out. When I called and complained, they told me they were printing fewer papers because circulation was dwindling. I told them their circulation was dwindling because they were printing fewer papers.

Then the folks who own the Herald bought the Financial Post, renamed it the National Post, and got rid of most of the financial news that I wanted. It became the “National Herald,” so I stopped reading it entirely. It feels like 80% of the content is the same, and the extra 20% is about Toronto. Like I care. I also don’t read the Globe & Mail, which I affectionately refer to as “Toronto’s National Newspaper.” Nothing quite like reading about galleries and theatre openings, getting excited to go see them, then discovering they’re in my old home town. My brother happens to write for the Globe, and even he always wonders why anyone outside of metro Toronto wants to read it.

When I’m traveling, I always read the local paper, and by local, I mean the paper of the city I’m in. USA Today has had a huge influence on the way newspapers are designed and written (for instance, check out the “Five Minute Herald.” Does it strike you as being strange that they’re trying to convince you that you just need to read one page to get everything in the whole paper? Isn’t this self defeating?). Personally, I think USA Today is vacuous, content-free fluff, and I only read it if it’s free (and even then, it’s only worthy of 5 minutes). When I lived in Houston, I used to be amused at how the Sunday Chronicle was available as early as Friday, and was over 2” thick.

My favourite “local” paper is The Maui News. It’s only about 5 pages long on a Monday, and it grows to 30 pages by Sunday, then shrinks again. They publish every Letter to the Editor they get, and many are hilarious, if for no other reason that how badly written they are. They report the local news, and just enough out of state news to remind you that you came to Maui to avoid the news.

In the mountains where I live, we have three local free weekly papers: The Rocky Mountain Outlook, The Canmore Leader and the Banff Crag and Canyon. Okay, it’s more like 2½ papers, because the Leader and the Crag and Canyon are the same paper with a different cover. The Outlook is a well written, full of interesting things, and well edited. The Leader’s a pile of badly written, badly edited, content-free crap, but I would expect that since it’s owned by The Sun which is the same. The Leader even contains the Calgary Sun’s Sunday Homes section (because of all the Canmore and Banff folks who really have a secret desire to move to a condo in Airdrie). Neither paper reports on anything that isn’t specifically related to Banff & Canmore. It’s as if the outside world doesn’t exist here.

But I miss my daily Herald. When I moved out to the mountains, I asked if they did home delivery out here. It took them a month (and 3 calls from me) to come back with the answer that they were unsure. They transferred my subscription to my new address, then told me to call them if the paper didn’t show up. It never did. So occasionally, I try to buy one in town. I can’t because it’s normally sold out (especially the Friday & Saturday issues).

Perhaps that’s why the newspaper business is in trouble.

Ski Day 35: Vintage pricing, vintage skis

Vert: 6,775 m    YTD cum vert: 204,585 m
Runs: 21    YTD cum runs: 460

Mt. Norquay was having Tooney Thursday again, where lift prices are a measly $2 (one person I talked to was sure it was a typo -- they though it was going to be $2 per run). They started doing this last year to celebrate their 85th anniversary, and were charging just 85¢ at that time. Even though it's 135% of the price from last year, two bucks is a deal no matter how you slice it.

It brought out a fair crowd, many of whom I spoke with that don't get skiing that often. I get it. Skiing's not cheap. Norquay's regular daily lift prices are $59 (plus GST), Sunshine and Lake Louise are $83.95 (including GST). A couple of areas in the US (Vail and Deer Valley) are over $100. And sure, you can get discounts with cards and multi day passes, but skiing is still pretty expensive.

Perhaps that's why Tooney Thursday brought out the biggest collection of vintage skis I have seen in one day. You can tell "vintage" skis. They're long and straight. "Modern" skis are shorter, fatter and have shape to them. This link gives a bit of info about the differences and how they came about. Vintage skis are ones owned by people who ski perhaps once a year and have done for 30 years. Their skis are 25 years old or more (modern shaped skis emerged in 1992). Given the cost of skis, some of the folks who can only afford to come skiing on Tooney Thursday can only afford to use their 25 year old gear.

The downside with 25 year old ski gear is IT'S NOT SAFE. The problem is the bindings, which only have a useful life of 10 years. Bindings have springs in them to hold you in, and screws to adjust the tension of those to specific DIN settings. The setting is based on your height & weight, plus your skiing ability. The right setting insures your skis release when you fall, and don't release when they shouldn't. The springs on bindings that are 10 years old or more don't work right. Being an engineer, I know it's because metal fatigue changes the spring constant. In short, the spring "remembers" it is shorter than it should be. So 10+ year old bindings don't release in predictable ways. They may pop off. Or more likely, they won't release at all. Ski technicians in shops aren't allowed to fix, change, adjust or reinstall bindings more than 10 years old for this reason. On a binding more than 10 years old, the DIN setting is meaningless.

Now, when I tell this to folks on skis that look like they came from a museum (because that's where they belong), they typically answer:
  • "Well, I never fall, so it doesn't matter". Sure. When the skis come off because the binding let them, you'll fall, it will be unexpected, and it will hurt.
  • "I fell recently. They came off just like they're supposed to". Or "I test release them periodically by kicking my foot out. They're fine". Neither one of those is a valid test. Neither proves they'll release when you need them to. All they prove is that the spring still works. Given that it's metal, it will keep working for about 500 years. Just not very predictably.
  • "I unscrew the springs every summer, and re-tighten them every winter". Minor problem is that is not enough to insure the spring constant stays the same and the spring works predictably.
  • "I like the way these skis ski". I guarantee you'll like the new ones better. There's a reason they're no longer made. The new ones are easier, for one.
If your bindings are more than 10 years old, chuck them, because skiing injuries tend to be pretty severe and can be debilitating. If your skis are more than 20 years old, throw them away. If you're not sure their age, take them to a shop and ask the tech. If you can't afford new skis, rent.

Because even though skiing isn't cheap, it's really false economy to run the unnecessary risk that old bindings give you. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Lazy Days

We awoke this morning after sleeping badly last night for reasons that escape both of us (but could have to do with visits from the cat at 4 AM, 6 AM and 8 AM). It dawned clear and cold (-15°). Those of you who read my other blog will know from this post that Sunshine had spring-like conditions  this past weekend, and now has re-frozen to some pretty firm conditions that take warm sun (or new snow) to repair. We have had neither, and today wasn't going to help.

So we rolled over. And awoke just before noon.

As I wrote here, one of the joys of retirement is you get to get up when you want, and today we didn't want. So it was a lazy day instead of a ski day. I spent most of the afternoon planning our next vacation (a month long road trip to the South Eastern US). KC spend the afternoon sewing. We watched/played with an incredible National Film Board interactive video on the life of Bear 71, who hung out in my neighborhood for the last 11 years.

Retirement rocks.

Now, if I could just get my cat into "retirement mode".

Monday, 6 February 2012

Ski days 33 & 34: Amy and Gabby

Day 33 vert:       7,085 m    Day 33 runs:     13
Day 34 vert:       8,705 m    Day 34 runs:     17
YTD cum vert: 197,810 m    YTD cum runs: 439

When you become a regular somewhere -- anywhere -- you get to know some of the people who work there, and they get to know you.

Our favourite place to eat lunch at Sunshine is the Chimney Corner in the Sunshine Mountain Lodge. Good food, good service, a lengthy menu, nice views -- it has it all. Please go. And when you go, ask to be seated in the section of one of my friends, Amy or Gabby. The Chimney Corner has lots of good servers, but these two are the "best of the best of the best".

Gabby hails from Australia, Amy from England. Both ladies are drop dead gorgeous, both greet you with huge smiles, both are super friendly, both will take the time to chat if you have time. Both will get you in and out fast if you're in a hurry, or let you take your time if you're not. Both will come by quickly when you arrive, get you something to drink while you study the menu, and both give great advice if you can't decide what to have. Want the cheque? No waiting around with these two.

And did I mention they have great smiles?

As a SnowHost, my job is to help people have the best day possible on the mountain. People (snowboarders in particular) complain about the flats at Sunshine. I can tell them how to avoid every one of them. I get comments about lift lines, and I can tell you how to avoid those, too. On my other blog, I provide advice on how to get the most riding out of the mountain, like this post.

I also hear people complain about some of the service at Sunshine. You want the best service on the mountain? Go see Amy or Gabby, especially if you're there mid week. Tell them I sent you.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Ski days 29-32: Powder and critters

Day 29 vert:       5,270 m    Day 29 runs:     13
Day 30 vert:       8,170 m    Day 30 runs:     15
Day 31 vert:       8,105 m    Day 31 runs:     16
Day 32 vert:       8,350 m    Day 32 runs:     16
YTD cum vert: 182,020 m    YTD cum runs: 409

I am behind in my personal blogging, because mostly, we've been skiing and that means my other blog posts for the 4 days here, here, here and here cover the days.

It's not that "all we do is ski" (though I broke 500,000 vertical feet this week). We have arranged a renter for our condo, which is good, and we continue to make it ready for her. I have almost finished setting up my music room in our new house; the guitars are here, the keyboard's ready but I need to figure a place for my electronic drum kit.

And we have been taking care of the critters in the neighbourhood. This week we had a really good one: a Marten. Normally called Pine Martens around here, they're actually an American Marten. This dude is seriously cute.
In my tree, looking curious
He's a top notch predator, and he puts my squirrels into a tizzy because he eats them. They have a habit in my neighbourhood of building nests inside houses, which is fine up to the point where they bring in the dead squirrel to eat.