Saturday, August 22, 2009

see lake wakatipu

greetings from kiwiland.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

glory box

Eleven years ago today, the English singer and guitarist John Martyn and his band performed a live set in the studios of KCRW, the influential public radio station in Santa Monica, California, for Nic Harcourt's legendary show Morning Becomes Eclectic. Martyn, who died earlier this year at the age of 60, was described in his London Times obit as "an electrifying guitarist and singer whose music blurred the boundaries between folk, jazz, rock and blues," but I really can't say I'm familiar with his body of work.

In fact, the only reason I know about him is that one song he recorded that day in 1998, a cover of Portishead's "Glory Box," made it onto a live-in-studio compilation KCRW issued the next year. The CD found its way into my hands sometime during college, probably through my stint as a student-radio DJ at Dartmouth, and the track somehow quickly became etched into my consciousness. At the time I had no more than a passing familiarity with Portishead's original recording, and Martyn's soulful (I hate that word, but there really is no other word) rendition of a heartrendingly written song ("I'm so tired of playing with this bow and arrow...") became the soundtrack to every breakup I've endured since.

Here it is:
John Martyn - Glory Box

And here is the equally stunning Portishead original, in case you've never heard it:
Portishead - Glory Box

Monday, April 13, 2009

justed listed

I received this postcard the other day in the mail, from a local Realtor looking to drum up business from people like me who own condos in the same development:

116 Waterside, Building B, Unit 206
Two bedroom, two baths and two outdoor living spaces on the pond!!!

I have to admit that, as absurd as "justed listed" sounds, it wasn't until the third or fourth time I looked at it that the headline looked wrong. A Google search confirms that "justed" for "just" is rare but not unheard of in phrases like "justed listed" (390 hits), "justed married" (522) and "justed sold" (56).

It's not hard to explain why: when we write such a phrase, our brains are thinking "past participle tense!" (whether or not we know that it's called that). We might be so anxious to mark the phrase as being in that tense that we accidentally inflect the wrong word and tag the -ed onto the adverb just in addition to the verb list.

N.B. — I suspect that some of these Google hits are from items written by non-native English speakers, but the Realtor's postcard is not.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

of andy murray, blancmanges, and ties

I really enjoy my free time.

Now that our racing season is over, I can sit in my living room while the snow continues to pile up outside and watch a tennis match, as I did last night, between the Scot Andy Murray and the Argentine Juan Martín del Potro. I can revel in the euphemisms employed by the commentators when del Potro gets hit in the balls, and I can let my mind drift, during the injury timeout, to the topic of Scotsmen In Tennis.

I can recall how, in one of the more bizarre episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus, itself a pretty bizarre TV show, "The Science Fiction Sketch" imagines England overrun by blancmange-shaped aliens from the planet Skyron. The blancmanges seem to have the power to turn everyone in England into red-bearded, kilt-wearing Scotsmen. It emerges that the blancmanges' end goal is to win Wimbledon, which will be an easy feat for them since their only opponents will be Scotsmen and (the sketch keeps reminding us) "it's well known that Scotland is the worst tennis-playing nation in the world." It is only after a dessert-hungry couple, Mr. and Mrs. Brainsample, eat the blancmange which is playing in the Wimbledon final, that one Angus Podgorny, Scotsman, is able to do the unthinkable and win the tournament.

Having re-watched this sublime bit of oddness, I can then start wondering whether I can be the only one to notice that the top British tennis player in the world today is, in fact, Mr. Murray, a Scotsman. A quick Google search confirms that I am not the first; among others, Mark Hodgkinson, a writer for The Telegraph has also noticed it.

Reading the article, which is about Britain's lack of success in the Davis Cup without its star layer, Murray, I become very confused when I read the following sentence:

[T]his defeat to Ukraine, played in Murray's absence, meant that Britain are still yet to win a tie north of Hadrian's Wall.

"Win a tie"? Is Britain really so bad at tennis that to them a tie would qualify as a "win"? Is it even possible for a tennis match to end in a tie? I know that something's up when the noun "tie" appears four more times in the article, apparently not meaning what I think it should mean.

That's when I go to one of my favorite lexicographical resources,, where I start examining different dictionaries' entries for "tie." My go-to dictionary, American Heritage, doesn't seem to list this meaning. Nor do Merriam-Webster's, Encarta, Webster's New World, or a dozen others — although they do list as many as 14 noun senses for the word! Of course, I should have begun my search with a British source: Sure enough, sense 4 in the Concise Oxford Dictionary of English is "[Brit.] a sports match in which the winners proceed to the next round of the competition." That's the sense I was looking for, the one Mr. Hodgkinson emplyed so liberally.

Instead of going to OneLook, I guess I could have gone straight to the website that is fast becoming a more comprehensive resource than even the venerable OED: Wiktonary. The lexicographical partner to Wikipedia, the site can be remarkably comprehensive and up-to-date in ways print dictionaries (and their online versions) can't, thanks to its anyone-can-edit-anytime format. Just look how beautiful its entry for "tie" is. Right there in the list of noun senses we find: "(sports, British) A meeting between two players or teams in a competition" — and we even get a usage example: "The FA Cup third round tie between Liverpool and Cardiff was their first meeting in the competition since 1957." Perhaps the amateur (and professional?) lexicographers of Wiktionary have missed one subtlety, though, that Oxford's editors caught: a tie is not just any sporting match, but one "in which the winners proceed to the next round of the competition," as they do in both the Davis Cup and in the Wiktonary example. Score one for the experts.

I could follow my mind's wanderings like this all day, thanks to the time-suck of the Internet. Like I said, I really enjoy my free time.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Yesterday we wrapped up the World Cup Finals in Whistler, B.C. This was our test event for the Vancouver Paralympics next year; we were racing on the same hill we'll be on then. I'm writing from the Vancouver airport on the way back to Colorado and don't much feel like writing prose right now — kinda sleepy after a late night out with all the teams. So instead I'll write some bullet points to update you on the pertinent facts, and I'll keep going until I get sick of writing more or it's time to board our flight, whichever comes first. Ready? OK, let's do this:
  • In yesterday's slalom, my U.S. teammate Gerald Hayden landed on his first World Cup podium, taking the bronze behind Suzuki (JPN) and Egle (AUT) and ahead of a lot of really, really good skiers. In the finish I gave him a fist bump and a "Booyakasha!"
  • I seem to have caught a bad case of the DNFs lately. I didn't finish the downhill, GS or slalom. Despite that, I'm pretty happy with how I'm skiing and I think that when I do break out of this rut next season, I'll be racing on a higher level. I haven't trained as much this winter as usual because we've been so busy racing, and I think it's hurt me in the technical events.
  • If you haven't seen them yet, the Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic mascots are AWESOME. Quatchi is a friendly sasquatch and Miga is an adorable little anime-ish bear or something, while the Paralympic mascot Sumi (who was in the finish area of our races most days) is a weird hybrid of a sea turtle, an eagle and a bear — kind of messed up but functional in his own little happy way, much like most of us Paralympic athletes.
  • The Sea To Sky Highway, from Vancouver to Whistler, is breathtakingly cool and scenic.
  • I did finish the super combined race, in 10th place (14th in the super G portion and 5th in the slalom — who would've guessed I'd be turning into a slalom specialist?). I managed to finish all three super-combis this season, meaning I finished in a respectable 8th place in the final standings in that discipline.
  • The downhill course is truly badass. Like the Sestriere course from 2006, it has everything a disabled downhill should: speed, steeps, flats, a big banked turn, and even some air. This is probably the fastest course I've ever raced; I was clocked at 111 km/h (69 mph) during a training run, although in the race run I slid out before I got to the speed trap. Despite the DNF, it was valuable experience to run the Paralympic course three days in a row.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

world championships, days 2 through 4

Here's the rundown of my races so far:

GS (Feb. 21): About the worst possible result: I fell on the fourth gate of the course and slid past the next gate, and my whole race day was over by mid-morning.

I tried to make the best of it — had some lunch and then took the gondola early back to the hotel, where I ran into Kim Joines from the Canadian team, whose day had also come to an early end. She told me about the Korean-style spa inside our hotel; I hadn't even known it existed. Sure enough, below the lobby was a pretty opulent tiled set of rooms. One was a locker room and one a sort of powder room just like you'd find in a posh American health club. The third room had showers on each side — regular Western stand-up showers on the right, and traditional Korean sit-down showers on the left, with a small wooden stool to sit on and a wooden bucket to lather up with. You have to take a shower first and take all your clothes off before proceeding to the middle of the room, where there is a big hot tub with a fountain of vertical jets in the middle. I had a nice soak and then moved to the back wall, where there were two more tubs without jets: one with even hotter water and one quite cold. (The thermometer said 19 degrees C, which works out to about 66 Fahrenheit.) (10 minutes later: I just got into a conversation with Erik Leirfallom and Marcel Kuonen about why 66 degrees feels so much colder in water than in air. The short version of the answer we came up with is "specific heat capacity.") Anyway, I took my cue from the Korean guy who came in while I was in the "warm" tub and tried plunging from the hot to the cold and back again. It was pretty exhilarating, and I went back to my room refreshed.

Feb. 22 was a day off. I did some super G training in the morning and then a few of us had lunch at the Top of the Top, the revolving restaurant at the top of the ski area.

Super combined (Feb. 23): Actually, this might have been worse than the GS. I finished the super G portion with no major mistakes, but my run was absolutely terrible. I wasn't looking for speed anywhere, didn't take any chances, and just generally skied like a wuss the whole way down. Resolved to make amends, I skied a somewhat decent slalom run and finished the race in 16th place.

Super-G: This was a lot better, despite the 20th place finish. I really went for it, skied great all the way up to a point about three quarters of the way down the course, where I misjudged the entry to a crucial turn and got so incredibly late that I barely made about four consecutive gates. I'm sure I lost two or three seconds here, but only finished five seconds out of the lead, meaning I skied well most of the way down. This was a tight race in my class, won by Shannon Dallas of Australia.

Friday, February 20, 2009

world championships, day one

We are at High1 Resort in Gangwon-do, South Korea, for the biennial alpine disabled World Championships [official site]. It's now Saturday evening, Korea time, and we've finished the first day of racing. At the awards ceremony in a few minutes, the new world champions will be crowned in slalom. They are:

Women's visually impaired: Sabine Gasteiger (AUT)
Women's standing: Lauren Woolstencroft (CAN)
Women's sitting: Stephani Victor (USA)
Men's visually impaired: Jakub Krakow (SVK)
Men's standing: Cameron Rahles-Rabula (AUS)
Men's sitting: Jürgen Egle (AUT)

My day was pretty disappointing. I never quite found my rhythm out of the start and went out of the course at the first hairpin. I had to hike to make a gate, and although I skied the rest of the course fairly well I finished too far behind to qualify for a second run. I spent the afternoon watching my teammates and competitors race. Tyler had a good second run and moved up from 16th place after a mediocre first run to finish 12th overall, but that was the best result any of the male monoskiers on our team could manage. Fortunately our team did have some good news in the first-place finish by Stephani and a close second by Alison Jones in the women's standing category — she won the first run and seemed to have the race in the bag when she broke an outrigger near during the second run and had to ski the last few gates with a floppy rigger.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

kimberley wrap-up

M and I are packing up in Kimberley, B.C. this morning and getting ready for the long, long drive to Colorado. She accompanied me up here (I flew up to Boise, then we drove from there) for some Nor-Am races, two downhills and two super G's. In a few days there are slalom and GS races in Park City, Utah but I'm skipping them — I need a little time off before we head to Korea for the World Championships on the 18th. Instead, we are taking our time getting back to my house in Winter Park, perhaps stopping in Yellowstone or Jackson Hole for a day or two.

It was a pretty enjoyable week of racing for most of us here in Kimberley. There was a big field consisting mainly of Americans from the Winter Park and Aspen programs, including four or five of us current U.S. World Cup team members. In my class in particular the competition was stiff, with five top speed skiers in attendance: my teammates Chris Devlin-Young and Tyler Walker, the UK's Sean Rose, KJ van der Klooster of the Netherlands, and me. The race hill here is quite rolling, with lots of varied terrain (made even more pronounced this year by a dearth of snow in this part of Canada), and the course was fairly fast and open. We battled it out for the top three spots every race, and in the end I won just one medal (bronze in the second downhill) but was generally pretty pleased with the way I skied. Complete results can be found here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

weather day (again)

No racing today — high winds and moderately heavy snowfall last night and all day forced the organizers to cancel today's super-G/slalom super-combi. We got as far as inspecting the course, which looked great, before the decision was made. We will try to hold a super G race tomorrow, but the forecast doesn't look good, so it appears we may be done racing here in Sestriere. We are scheduled to drive to Marseille on Sunday and depart on Monday morning. We'll have perhaps an afternoon and an evening to sightsee in Marseille — leave any local restaurant recommendations in the comments section!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

4th in sestriere super combi

In a "super combi" race today I had the sixth-fastest downhill run and the third-fastest slalom run and finished in fourth place overall, equalling my previous best World Cup finish, from a super G in Korea three years ago. But first let me back up.

I made such a boneheaded mistake in yesterday's downhill. After a solid training run with only one section that could've stood major improvement, you'd think I would have made damn sure I knew what my plan was for that section of the course when it came time for the first race run that same afternoon. But the entrance to that section was still a question mark in my mind, and sure enough I blew it there, skiing too straight into a two-gate left-hand turn and finding myself unable to stay in the course at that speed. The result: Did Not Finish.

Today was the second consecutive beautiful, cold, bluebird day, and it was decided at the meetings last night that we would be running a "super combi" race today. The super combined is a relatively new race format that combines one run of either downhill or super G with a single run of slalom, all in one day. It favors the strong all-around skier. I'm not sure if I'm that, exactly, but I am strong in the two most extreme disciplines, downhill (the fastest) and slalom (the tightest). Consequently I had an inkling that I could do well today — always a dangerous thing. (If you don't believe me, see the cocky and ultimately fruitless predictions I made in my last post.)

From 8:30 to 9:00 this morning we were allotted more time to inspect the downhill course, although it was the same one we ran yesterday. I was able to pick out my line through the the section that gave me trouble yesterday: gates 20 and 21, the entrance to the section known as Acque Minerale, or "Mineral Water," for the way that it requires you to let your skis move fluidly back and forth down a steepish pitch. It basically worked out: I raced that section well, if perhaps a little conservatively. The course ran faster today than yesterday, thanks to a combination of colder temperatures, more firmly packed snow, and our increased confidence on the hill. It was a little bumpy in places, and while it never felt like too wild a ride, it was tough to be perfectly clean all the way down the piste. I ended up sixth in the downhill, a respectable finish and not a bad position to attack the slalom from.

During inspection we all noted that the course (set by a Slovakian coach) was a bit odd and arrhythmical — none of us liked the looks of it much. My approach was to ski the run at a solid 90 percent and make a clean run, and it paid off. My run felt solid, given what the course set.

In fact, when I crossed the finish line after my slalom run, I was in first place. In a two-run race like today, the second run start order reverses the top 15 finishers from the first run, so I was happy that I hadn't let any of those who I beat in the morning's downhill sneak past me in the slalom. But I knew that the fastest five guys were still on their way down and that I probably didn't have a great shot at a podium finish even though a few of them were not strong slalom skiers. So my heart raced as I watched what unfolded:

Harry Eder (AUT), in 5th place after the downhill, beats me, so I'm now in second place.
Shannon Dallas (AUS) beats us both and takes the lead, so I'm now in bronze-medal position. (He is the eventual super combi winner.)
Martin Braxenthaler (GER) makes a mistake on the final pitch, falls and missed gates, but gets up and finishes — a bit of a no-no; you can be fined for doing it in a World Cup. He gets a time, but is obviously disqualified, so I remain third.
Sean Rose (GBR), a better downhiller than he is a slalom skier, finishes with what was clearly a slower run than mine. The digital scoreboard reads, "Place: 4." I assume I am still in third.
Tyler Walker (USA), the leader after the downhill, falls in the same place as Martin, hikes, and finishes well out of contention.

My conclusion, and that of everyone around me, is that I've finished third and have won my first-ever World Cup medal. Right away everyone starts shaking my hand and congratulating me, and I'm beaming. The race is now over, and I can't wait for the coaches to come down so I can tell them about my accomplishment. I reflect on how long I've been racing World Cups — ten years, off and on — without a podium finish, and now the day finally seems to have come.

It's not for another ten or fifteen minutes, as I'm getting out of my monoski and getting ready to go home and change for the awards ceremony, that our head coach Ray's voice comes over another coach's radio: "Unofficial results: Burnett, 4th." I can't believe what I'm hearing. Did some inattentive gatekeeper forget to disqualify Braxenthaler? Was the electronic scoreboard wrong? Or was there some way I could have just miscalculated where I ended up?

Much later this afternoon, after the awards ceremony where the bronze medal is awarded to a surprised Sean Rose, I finally figure out the error in my thinking (and everyone else's, even Sean's). Have you figured it out?

By the way, this morning's run was scored as its own separate downhill race, besides serving as the first run of the super combi. The winner in my class was my teammate Tyler Walker, repeating his surprising feat from yesterday. I say surprising because Tyler has always been stronger in the technical events than in speed, and you may notice that I omitted him completely from my list of pre-race favorites. That was definitely a mistake; after these two days, Tyler is now the #1 ranked downhill sitting skier in the world.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

powder day in sestriere

I have a good feeling about tomorrow. As anticipated, we were unable to train or race today after an overnight storm dumped a foot of snow on the course, wiping out our second scheduled training day. But the weather cleared early this morning and looks like it will stay that way for another couple days — enough time to get in some racing, we hope. Tomorrow's revised schedule calls for us to run a single training run at 10 in the morning, followed by a race at noon. At the risk of tempting fate, I'll say that I think it'll happen more or less as scheduled. I'll even go so far as to predict that three of the following people will be on the podium tomorrow in the sitting men's class: Chris Devlin-Young (USA), Sean Rose (GBR), Yohann Taberlet (FRA), Shannon Dallas (AUS), Reini Sampl (AUT), Luca Maraffio (ITA)... and me.

After the training runs were called off this morning, a small group of us decided to go out powder skiing. Tyler, Brad and I had all brought fat freeskis with us, and we headed out with three of our coaches to explore all that Sestriere has to offer beyond the downhill course. It wouldn't be an understatement to describe the conditions as "truly epic." We had that rare combination of sunny blue skies and a foot of light, dry, utterly rippable Italian powder, and we ate it up. We skied for nearly five hours straight, stopping only once for cappuccino, clocking probably eight or nine runs of over 500 vertical meters each. The craziest part was that we had fresh tracks all day long. Europeans by and large just don't ski off-piste, leaving stash after untouched stash for pow-hungry Americans.

Most of the other teams, not traveling with fat skis, took the day off completely. But we were joined for a run by Emanuele "Meme" Pagnini, Italian monoskier, recent dad, and all-around nicest guy on the World Cup tour. Meme was skiing on a slalom ski, nice and fat at the tip and tail but way too narrow in the waist. I thought he'd have a tougher time than he did, following us down through the trees, clearings and creekbed crossings, but he only augured in a few times.

Monday, January 19, 2009

weather day

As expected, the snowy/windy weather is playing havoc with our schedule. Today's scheduled training runs were canceled because the snow on course was allegedly too soft to be safe (we Rocky Mountain skiers thought it was fine), although we did get to inspect the course twice. It's a good set on a really fun hill. Now we're just hoping the snow will subside so we can get some training runs and a race or two in. Two training runs are scheduled for tomorrow, at 11 and 1.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

sestriere (ITA), day 2

Another morning of freeskiing on the downhill piste today, followed by live alpine World Cup-watching on TV. It was mostly sunny again this morning, but windy and colder, and by the afternoon a front had rolled in. Now it's snowing pretty hard and the winds outside are high enough to force closure of many lifts.

There's a saying in ski racing: "If you want snow, hold a downhill." Almost without fail the maxim seems to hold: we roll into town for some speed races, maybe get a few days of training in, and then like clockwork the storm clouds roll in and dump meters of snow on top of the course, forcing delays and cancellations as the course crew and coaches frantically try to clear the race line of excess snow so that we can hold a safe, fair race. We're all really hoping the snow doesn't continue as long as it's been forecast to, that we can get in a training run or two over the next two days and then run our races as scheduled, Wednesday through Saturday.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

first day in sestriere (ITA)

We finished up the La Molina World Cups on Wednesday and Thursday with a pair of slaloms. That's been a good event for me lately, but I had no tangible success in Spain. I had a good first run on Wednesday before skiing over a gate on the second run and getting DQ'd. (I had problems later on in the run anyway, so I would've slipped back from 8th to 10th place.) My first run the next day was shaping up to be my best yet in La Molina, but I skied out in a hairpin toward the bottom of the main steep pitch. This same section claimed perhaps half a dozen others in the men's sitting class, and the total number of DNF's in the class was at least half the field, thanks to the combination of a challenging race hill and a challenging, arrhythmical set.

Ultimately, the tech races at La Molina were a somewhat frustrating experience for me, so being out on the 211 cm downhill skis here at Sestriere today was a welcome change. We went freeskiing today on the race hill, the same piste I notched a fifth-place finish on in the 2006 Torino Paralympic downhill. Believe it or not, this is my first downhill since that race three years ago. Not many downhills get scheduled on the disabled circuit in the first place — too much work to put one on and too much hillspace needed for too many days — and they are often cancelled due to adverse weather. (I missed the one downhill our team ran last year, at Soldier Mountain in Idaho, because I was out with a back injury.)

8:45 a.m. this morning and the sun hasn't yet broken over the jagged peaks, but the lifts are running and there's enough light to see what needs to be seen. The Italian and French and British tourists are still sleeping off the wine and grappa from last night, and the other disabled teams have elected to sleep in after the travel day.

We have the mountain to ourselves.

The downhill course is long, immensely long, ribboned by blue safety fencing on either side, all the way from the windswept and open starthouse, through some long flats, down the steep turns called "Acque Minerale," around the doglegs right and back to the left, all the way down the heart-racing final steep straightaway into the finish corral. The first run is cautious, taken in sections. We feel out edges and bases, remembering and relearning their relationship with the snow. Confidence builds, and speed comes so easily. A slight edgeset produces a clean long arc, and time slows, even as plastic and metal rush faster over frozen crystals. Steeper terrain means the arcs become tighter, the forces making themselves known on the internal organs, but the eyes and brain are steady, flat. Nothing is rushed, and the mountain becomes an ally. The undulations underfoot aren't something to resist but to interpret, be massaged by, conform with. Thousands of vertical meters are erased in a minute or two, sucked up into my stomach where they are like nourishment, like food.

It's great to be back out on a downhill ski again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

la molina update

My monoski finally showed up at the hotel mid-morning yesterday — not in time for me to race in the first giant slalom, but at least I was able to take a few warm-up runs in the afternoon and get my bearings.

We had another GS race today, and I had a solid day. Despite a moderate mistake on the second run of a very steep and demanding course, I finished in the middle of the pack in 15th (the top American in my class, surprisingly). Our team has been struggling a bit so far, with our only podium finishes each day coming from Laurie and Stephani, our two ace female sitting skiers.

Tomorrow is the first of two slalom races. On such a steep hill I predict that the race (especially in the sitting classes) will be a bit of a survival-of-the-most-tenacious sort of a scenario, with no one skiing truly cleanly and the winner being the person who makes the best recoveries. Still, I'm excited to race slalom, because that's felt like the stronger of the two technical events for me lately.

Major bummer: my friend Kat Forestell, visually impaired racer from Canada, crashed today and tore her MCL and will be sidelined for at least the next six weeks.

If you're interested in watching any of the races, you can theoretically do that by visiting this website. I say theoretically because there seem to be some technical issues, at least with my setup (Mac running Firefox). Also, today (Tuesday)'s GS is for some reason labeled as Thursday. I was bib 58 today, although as of this writing they haven't posted everyone's run from today's race yet.

Today's results

Sunday, January 11, 2009


My monoski and skis still haven't arrived from Air France, and it's seeming less and less likely that I'll get to race tomorrow here in La Molina.

I'm trying to put this in perspective... I'm in a beautiful place in the Pyrenees with some great people. My bags have made it to Marseille, which means I will get them sometime in the next day or two and be able to race eventually. And the world will go on.

And still, the feeling of frustration at this point is pretty overwhelming. I know that paying $550 in excess baggage charges doesn't guarantee that my luggage will arrive on time, but it's hard not to feel swindled.

Friday, January 09, 2009

le sigh

So here we are, stuck in a crappy roadside hotel near Perpignan, at the eastern edge of the Pyrenees in southwestern France. Seven of us U.S. Adaptive Ski Team racers and six staff members (a nice ratio, that) flew from the States to Paris-Charles de Gaulle last night, and then hopped an hour-and-a-half Air France flight to Marseille. Our destination is La Molina, Spain, close to the borders with France and Andorra, where we'll race in the opening World Cups [PDF] of the 2009 season.

(Why fly to Provence and then drive four or five hours to La Molina when we could more easily fly into nearby Barcelona or Toulouse? Well, after these races are over we head by car to Sestriere, near Turin, Italy [where the alpine events for the 2006 Olympics and Paralympics were held], and Marseille is more or less equidistant between La Molina and Sestriere.)

After waiting around for all of our teammates to arrive — we didn't all make it onto our scheduled flight from Paris because Air France would only allow two wheelchair users per flight! — four of us found ourselves short a total of twelve checked bags, including all of our skis and my monoski (and Jonezy's clothing/gear bag). We spent a good two hours filling out forms and waiting around in the lost luggage office, only to be told that Air France didn't really know where our bags are or when we'd get them.

We made arrangements to have the bags re-routed to Toulouse and then delivered to our hotel, and took off for La Molina in our fleet of three rental vans (two for passengers, one for cargo). But over the past few days, Provence has experienced what one local said is its first snowfall in twenty years, and today it's been pouring rain. As a result, the highway driving conditions are decidedly sub-par. (Actually, isn't being below par a good thing? So "over-par," then.) We made it about two hours out of Marseille before the drivers (our coaches) wisely decided to stop for the night at a roadside hotel and continue the drive in the morning.

So I'll finish my delicious almond-pear tarte (God bless French convenience stores), and wrap up this post by publicly expressing to the cosmos and to Air France that I would really love to get my ski equipment sometime tomorrow so that I can get in one day of free skiing before the races begin at La Molina on Monday. Please? S'il vous plait? ¿Por favor?