Tuesday, January 31, 2006

shiga kogen GS #2

Talk about boneheaded moves... today was high on the list. My first run was OK but not aggressive enough; I finished 9th. I resolved to ski the second run with more gusto, and I did — until the second-to-last gate. I was running a little late and had to make a big move to make the last gate. But somehow my balance was off-kilter when I went to make that move. I fell on my side and slid through the inside panel of the last gate and across the finish line. Unfortunately, my body and ski were on the wrong side of the gate, so I knew immediately that I'd be disqualified. It was a huge bummer; even with a fall and the ensuing slow slide, I ran a 1:03, within three seconds of the winning time for the run. I would've run one of the three or four fastest second runs, for sure. Woulda, coulda, shoulda... (Full results here.)

Last day of racing is tomorrow — slalom. I'm looking forward to it after missing the slalom race in Korea.

Monday, January 30, 2006

shiga kogen GS #1

Our first race day here in Japan went very much according to plan for me. I skied aggressively (if not always cleanly) and made no major mistakes on a soft-snow surface that's a lot more like what I'm used to skiing in Colorado than Korea was. I ended up 6th out of something like 29 starters in the monoski class. Tyler had a great first run and a not-so-great second run but hung on for second place behind Harry Eder of Austria. As is becoming the norm these days, I was the second-best American finisher in the class. (Full results here.)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

live monkey cam!

Here is a link to a live webcam that shows the hot springs here in Shiga Kogen where the snow monkeys hang out.

shiga kogen

Arrived in Japan last night after a long travel day. Yesterday my roommate, Brad, and I overslept and almost missed our 3 a.m. (!) bus ride from our hotel in Korea to the Seoul airport. The bus ride that was projected to take 6 hours only took about 3, so we had a lot of time to kill in the airport. Ate some breakfast and wrote some postcards, then hopped a plane to Tokyo where we loaded our gear into a huge cargo truck. You should really see what it's like to travel with our team. We each have five or six bags; for me that includes one huge duffel with all my skiwear and street clothes, one huge bag containing my monoski, one backpack full of helmets, goggles, gloves and the like, and two ski bags each containing two pairs of skis. Imagine that times twenty or so people, plus two waxing benches, a massage table, half a dozen large plastic boxes of team equipment, and sometimes even a couple bundles of gates, and you have some idea of how much crap we haul around with us. Let me tell you, trying to push around one of those little airport baggage carts loaded up with all five of my bags is no easy feat.

From Narita Airport in Tokyo it was a six-hour trip across Honshu to Shiga Kogen (map), in Nagano Prefecture. This ski area was the host for the Olympic GS and slalom and all the Paralympic alpine events for the 1998 winter games. I spent most of the ride talking with Cho, our team's volunteer interpreter for the duration of these races. She's a Chinese girl from Shanghai who's now attending university in Tokyo; her English is good and her Japanese is excellent, or so I'm told. We had a great conversation about disabilities, movies, Chinese democracy — the whole gamut.

Our hotel is right at the base of several ski lifts; there are ski racks literally right outside the front door. In fact, the only way in and out of the hotel for us monoskiers is by ski or by snowmobile. Tomorrow we race slalom, but today is an off day, so while some people are out skiing I've decided to just chill here in the hotel lobby/dining room with its yummy food, hot coffee, and free wireless Internet access. The hotel probably dates from the 1960s or '70s, and it's a great mix of traditional and modern. Most of the rooms have futons and tatami mats for sleeping, although the one I'm sharing with Nick and Tyler has Western-style beds.

In case you were wondering how Friday's second super G race turned out, it was a bit of a disappointment after Thursday. I had a sweet run going two-thirds of the way down the course, but tried to start going too straight too early on the lower flats and had to throw in a huge evasive maneuver to make a gate. I pretty much dumped all my speed and any chance at a podium; I ended up eighth and Chris won again. At least I was still second among the Americans in my class. (full results)

Thursday, January 26, 2006


If you know me well, you may know I'm not a big believer in karma. But those who are believers could've probably pointed to my miserable showing over the past two days and predict that my pendulum would soon swing back the other way. As it turned out, I finished fourth in today's super G at Yongpyong — my best World Cup result yet, 0.18 seconds off the podium. Chris won in very convincing fashion, decimating the field by over four and a half seconds; Robert was second, continuing to make a very earnest bid for the overall World Cup title. And the U.S. continued its remarkable streak: all four days here so far, we've had at least one athlete on the podium of every class we have skiers entered in. Click here for full results.)

Granted, there were only 16 starters in my class, fewer than in your typical race. And it was a very lame super G, more like a GS really in terms of the speeds involved. But it still felt like a damn good bit of vindication. After the race I was congratulated by some of the European stars like Martin Braxenthaler. Even the normally taciturn Austrian monoskiers called me over into their little circle in the ski room after the race and told me "Nice job." That was a great feeling that could only be improved on by making the podium tomorrow, which is what I'm shooting for.

Before I sign off, it's time for a few amusing sidenotes on my Korean experience:
  • Yesterday I ate something called "Braised Lotus Root." I didn't eat the baby octopi.
  • In the English-language yellow pages in my hotel room, there are some interesting categories. My favorites "Catapults" (nearly a full column of listings!) and "Restaurants—Fresh Water Eel."
  • On our way from the hotel to the ski area every day, we pass a farm that's home to something designated as a "Potato Breeding Station."
  • At the base of the Yongpyong ski area, there is a video arcade, a shopping mall, and a pirate ship ride.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

In the four runs of GS racing we've had over the past two days, I've fallen over eight times, although I've finished all four runs. That has to be some kind of record. These have been two of the most frustrating days of my ski racing career. The race hill here at Yongpyong is long, steep, and icy, and all manmade snow, like back East. It reminds me a lot of my high school days training back in Maine, only it's been six years since I've trained on that stuff. It's not exactly blue ice — you can get an edge into it, but it's very slippery, bumpy, and formed into artificial ridges by the grooming machines. Your technique really has to be on point if you want to hold an edge; lean in or twist your shoulders too much and you'll slide out before you knew what hit you. Skiing here has made me realize how much I've been getting by with sloppy technique in the Colorado snow; I really need to go back to basics.

With all my sliding around on the course (including a hike yesterday to make a gate), I ended up 15th yesterday and 16th today, ahead of only a few rookie Koreans and Japanese. I'm really hoping to make up for it over the next couple days in the super Gs, or at least next week in Japan, where the snow should be much more forgiving.

The U.S. has a remarkable streak going: for three days straight, we have had at least one skier on the podium of every class we have athletes competing in (i.e. men's sitting, men's standing, women's sitting, and women's standing) — a total of 16 out of the 36 medals that have been awarded in those classes. In my class, Tyler has been skiing like a champ, winning yesterday and taking third today despite a severe mistake. And Robert Fröehle of Austria, one of the truly nice guys on the circuit and a longtime up-and-comer, got his first World Cup win today, a well-deserved victory. (Full race results are here and here.)

Monday, January 23, 2006

when in korea...

eat as the Koreans do, I suppose, but I'm having trouble following that advice. The food in our hotel just plain sucks.

When we finally arrived from Tokyo last night around 1:00 am, some of us found that our bags had not arrived with us. This was especially unpleasant news for me and Tyler, who were missing our monoskis. As a result, we had to sit out today's slalom race. (Full results here.) Despite our team's racing on literally no sleep (we arrived at our hotel around 5 am, and the lift opened at 7:30), we did pretty well: Chris was second in my class, Jonezy won the women's stand-ups, Stephani was second in the women's monos, and Monte was third in the women's stand-ups.

I'm anticipating the arrival of my monoski sometime in the next few hours and hoping to race in tomorrow's GS.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Narita refugees

(10:53 AM Saturday MST)

I am lying down across three seats in Tokyo's Narita Airport. I have been in this airport for the past nine and a half hours, except for a two-hour interlude during which I sat in a snow-covered plane, and I expect to be here for at least five or six more.

Let me back up. I'm on my way to Yongpyong Ski Resort in South Korea for the opening World Cup races of the season. I woke up at 3:30 AM Friday in Winter Park, drove through a snowstorm to Denver, flew from Denver to Seattle and then Seattle to Tokyo. I have been traveling for over 30 hours. My final leg, Tokyo to Seoul, is only a two-hour flight, but it is snowing hard here at Narita and many flights were delayed all afternoon. Ours was pushed back again and again until we were finally allowed to board the plane. Of course, it wasn't meant to be. We weren't early enough in line for de-icing, and we missed the 2 AM departure curfew. Our flight is cancelled. All the nearby hotels are full (or so United claims), so there are hundreds, maybe thousands of people camped out all over the airport: jowly American businessmen, demure Japanese mothers and their children, surly American servicemen, Koreans on vacation, even the occasional bewildered European. We are all clutching the standard blue United blankets and pillows, and we are all hungry: the cardboard box lunches they gave some people weren't much, and some of us didn't get them at all.

A man is making a long, detailed announcement in Japanese over the loudspeaker. The only words I can make out are "sandwichu" and "overnighto."

At least six other iTunes users near me have their laptops on, and I can listen to their music over the airport's wireless connection. God bless Steve Jobs. Too bad actually accessing the Internet over the Narita wireless network requires a password, or I could post this now. As it is, I think I'm going to put both my PowerBook and myself to sleep for a few hours and continue this update in the morning.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

and the award for total awesomeness in translation goes to...

the TrenItalia.com website's timetable search engine, which asks you two very important questions:
  1. Where are you departing from?
  2. Where do you wish to alight?

(Cue Nelly Furtado singing "I'm Like A Bird"...)

Monday, January 09, 2006


We've been in Keystone, Colo. since Friday evening for some speed events. We skied super G Saturday and Sunday and trained downhill today; tomorrow is another downhill training day before two days of downhill racing. These are able-bodied junior races, so we're basically here just for training purposes — which is great, because believe it or not, we haven't gotten a single day of speed training in with the U.S. team this season. As it turned out, the super G races the past two days did count for more than that, because our head coach Kevin convinced the Austrian guy who runs the disabled race circuit worldwide to score the races for ASD points. Results from those races (as well as Park City, finally), are available here.

A couple nights ago I was flipping through TV channels and I caught an author named Sam Harris speaking on C-SPAN 2's Book TV. Harris was speaking about the destructive role that faith-based religion (as opposed to meditation-based religion) plays in the world, and his controversial argument about the complicity of religious moderates in the fundamentalist-led Muslim and Christian jihads really gave me pause, because I've had similar thoughts but had trouble articulating them. If you have a fast-ish connection, you can watch the entire program online by clicking here. I was even inspired to order Harris's book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason; you can read the first ten pages of it online here (html) or here (pdf).

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Today's GS was an unmitigated disaster. Nine out of nineteen male monoskiers didn't finish, and I think the other ten all fell at least once — even Roger, who won. The snow was way too soft for racing, there weren't nearly enough course workers to keep the hill in decent condition, and crazy bumps and holes developed right away. I fell twice in my first run and twice in the second before I basically gave up. It's painful to even think about how badly I skied in those conditions. Well, there's always tomorrow, as the saying goes.

Here's a link to a press release about yesterday's slalom.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, etc.

First race day was today — slalom on Picabo's, a race hill that was cut specifically for slalom but named after a famous downhiller. In my class, Tyler won the race with a nearly flawless second run, I took second place, and Ronny was third. (Full race results should be posted here eventually.) In a way it was a result I really needed, not so much for my own self-confidence (I know that what I'm capable of these days), but to show other people (e.g. my coaches and my competitors) the way I've been skiing in training isn't a fluke. One of the hardest parts about a race day as opposed to a training day is the increased expectations; this morning, two of our coaches made sure I overheard them saying that their money was on me to race well today. I guess they meant it to inspire confidence, but really it's tough to live up to something like that in a sport that's so unequivocally about individual performance.

Up in the start before each run, unconstructive thoughts inevitably pop into your head, like: You really have to beat so-and-so today. Don't screw up that one section you looked at in inspection. Will you really be able to hold an edge on that icy spot? Even stupid stuff like: Did I bring the hat with sponsor logo on it in case I make it onto the podium today? All of these things are worthless to think about before your run because they have to do with results, not actions. All you can control is your skiing — not how well anyone else skis — and whether the thoughts floating through your head are positive and specific or negative and vague. My coaches' comments were just another vague, outcome-based worry to distract me from the task at hand.

It's a little like that scene in Ghostbusters where they have to keep their minds blank and anything they think about will actually occur, and one of them accidentally conjures up a giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Except that in athletics, there are no guarantees about which thoughts — negative or positive — will materialize. But once you identify which thoughts are unhelpful to you, you develop strategies for banishing them. As an uncontructive thought materializes, you just kind of briefly acknowledge it and then let your mind drift on to something else, like an observation or a conversation or, most often, the race course. Rarely do I find that thinking too much about the course negatively affects my run — the better you lay out your plan for the race, the better prepared you are to ski it.

Anyway, today I did a pretty good job of keeping my thoughts focused on the task at hand, even when I was in second place after the first run. Rather than worrying to much about whether I'd be able to hold onto a spot on the podium, I just thought about what I had to do to ski well again the next run and went into it relaxed and ready. As it happened, I made a few big mistakes in the first half of that second run, but I was able to put them behind me and have a great second half. Slalom in particular is often more about recovering well from mistakes than about skiing flawlessly (one of my coaches describes slalom as "a series of linked recoveries"), and I did that well today. I'm happy.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Park City, day 4

It's been dumping here on and off for the past few days, and the freeskiing has been fantastic. That's not so great for the races, though. We're supposed to race slalom tomorrow and GS the next two days, but it will take a big effort from the organizers to get the race hill into good shape, especially if it keeps snowing.

I just got back from seeing the Jim Carrey vehicle Fun With Dick & Jane. I'm not sure what to say other than that it was an agreeable way to pass two hours. The title made me start thinking about the original Dick & Jane's dog, Spot, and why it is that I've never met a dog that is named any of the stereotypical dog names: Spot, Rover, or Fido. I think I ever get a dog I will call it by one of those names, just so people will say, "Honestly? He's really named that?"