Mosquitoes driving you buggy? Me, too.

photo from WebMD.com

photo from WebMD.com

A big advantage of taking up a winter sport is that you don’t have to worry about bugs. To me, this is a real plus. I’m the sort of person who mosquitoes find irresistable (and yes, there’s a scientific basis for this. More on that shortly).

RonZalmeCartoonIt turns out that I’m not the only one. Mosquitoes seem to be causing problems for a lot of people this summer. Take the athletes for the 2016 summer games in Rio. A number have already stated they won’t go because of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Even Lindsey Vonn, who planned to attend as a spectator, is taking a pass.

Zika isn’t the only disease we can get from mosquitoes. There’s malaria, dengue, chikungunya, West Nile, and encephalitis.  According to the World Health Organization, mosquito bites result in more than a million deaths each year. Most of these are caused by malaria. That said, there are more than 2,500 species of mosquito, and different mosquitos spread different things. The Zika virus, for example, is transmitted by an infected mosquito from the the aedes genus.

Here in the US, malaria isn’t a huge problem. Although we still get a few hundred malaria cases per year, most are in travelers returning from a malaria-ridden country. Instead, you’re more likely to suffer from an itchy welt  — annoying, but certainly not dangerous. Unfortunately, if you want to engage in outdoor activities during the summer — as many Ski Divas do — mosquitoes are something you just have to deal with. So what’s to be done? Is there any way to keep from being eaten alive?

As I said before, I seem to get bitten more than my fair share. And I’m not imagining it, either. Scientists have determined that some people are more prone to mosquito bites than others.  One study found that in a controlled setting, mosquitoes landed on people with Type O blood nearly twice as often as those with Type A. (My husband is a Type A, I’m Type O). Another reason can be the bacteria on your skin. To a mosquito, certain combinations of bacteria smell particularly enticing. And there’s also exercise. An increase in body temperature attracts them, too, as does the carbon dioxide we exhale and the lactic acid we produce. And yes, they’re also more attracted to beer drinkers and pregnant women.

Well, yes, there is. Obviously, one way is to cover up as best as you can, and use an insect repellent that contains DEET.  DEET worries me, though. While it’s not a carcinogen, long-term exposure may cause moodiness, insomnia, and impaired cognitive function. Studies have also shown that after high concentrations of continued exposure, DEET can cause hypertrophy of the liver and kidneys as well as stimulation of the central nervous system which can cause tremors and seizures. DEET products also have the potential to damage the water supply. DEET can not only harm aquatic life-forms, but it can also enter the drinking supply as runoff if farmers mishandle the product.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to stay bite free that don’t involve DEET:

• Avoid fragrances and scented soaps and body washes.

• Avoid food that contains high levels of salt and potassium. This will reduce the amount of lactic acid that your body produces, thereby decreasing the likelihood that your scent will attract insects.

• Use natural oils, such as lemon oil, citronella, cinnamon, castor, rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, clove, geranium and peppermint oils. These are natural, effective ways mosquito repellents and are not threatening to the environment.

• Wear light colors. Dark colors stand out to mosquitoes who are looking for food, but light colors appear less attractive, since they look for colors that contrast with the horizon line.

• Use a fan. A light wind makes it harder for mosquitoes to fly. Direct the air flow downward since these pests fly low to the ground as they try to avoid the wind.

• Pray for winter. Mosquitoes hibernate. They are cold-blooded and prefer temperatures over 80°F. At temperatures less than 50°F, they shut down for the winter. The adult females of some species find holes where they wait for warmer weather, while others lay their eggs in freezing water and die. So yet another reason to dream of ski season.

 

 

 

 

 



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Do I mind? Yes, I do. A look at mindfulness.

meditation-courses1Like a lot of Ski Divas, I do my best to stay in shape. I get out on my bike a few times a week, and I spend a fair amount of time in the gym, doing cardio and lifting weights. And though it’s not always easy, I try to eat right, too.

But while the physical stuff is important, there’s more to staying healthy than just nutrition and exercise. Call it spiritual well being, call it mental health, but I think being truly healthy requires a balance between both mind and body. Anyone who’s been depressed  or anxious can attest to this. If you’re unhappy, if you’re stressed, you can end up feeling pretty crappy. There are all sorts of scientific studies that back this up; I’m sure you can find them if you search the web.

So this past January, I thought I’d give meditation a try. Like a lot of people, I’d heard a lot about something called mindfulness — how it helps with everything from depression and anxiety to lack of focus and sleeplessness. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure I’d be a good fit. All I’d heard about meditation was that you were required to empty your mind, and to me, that seemed like an impossible task. I’m the sort of person who when someone says, ‘Don’t think about an elephant,’ well, that’s all I’ll think about. On the other hand, committing to meditation seemed pretty low risk. I’t’s not like I had to ingest any special pills or foods or train to run a marathon. I didn’t think I had anything to lose. Besides, how could it hurt?

So what exactly is mindfulness, and what does it involve? Basically, mindfulness means paying attention to your thoughts and feelings without making any judgements. The idea is to focus your awareness on the moment while accepting and acknowledging your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings as if from a distance, without judging them to be either good or bad. Instead of letting life pass you by, you live in the moment. According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness offers a whole host of benefits: everything from stress reduction to improved focus and less emotional reactivity. You can read more about them here. Take a look; it doesn’t sound bad.

So did I light incense, sit in the lotus position, and chant a mantra like Ommmmmm? Did I travel to an ashram in Nepal, seeking a guru who could provide me with extra special guidance?

Umm……no.

This is a new world. I did what any self-respecting individual does these days: I downloaded an app, or in my case, Headspace.com.

Headspace has a pretty good gimmick: it offers 10 free sessions to get you started, after which you pay by the month. For me, paying works; it gives me the incentive I need to stay committed. Once you subscribe, there are a  number of series that address a variety of topics like depression, anxiety, focus, creativity, and more. You can choose the length of time you want your sessions to last; mine are 15 minutes. Throughout, you’re guided by British mindfulness expert (and former Buddhist monk) Andy Puddicombe. Andy has a genial way and a calm, friendly voice that makes him easy to listen to. He also provides a lot of tips and advice not only on meditating, but on how to apply what you’ve learned throughout the day. I haven’t completed all the series but I have found some repetition, from one to another — which really doesn’t bother me. As they say, practice makes perfect.

For those who are particularly goal oriented, there’s also a way to track your mediation stats. For example, Headspace tells me I’ve completed 254 sessions for a total of 58 hours of mediation time, with an average duration of 14 minutes. This seems kind of OCD for something that’s supposed to be pretty laid back, but that’s okay. It’s interesting to see how the time adds up.

So what do you think, Ski Diva?
Has it helped? I think so. I don’t suffer from depression and I’m not particularly stressed, so I can’t speak to that. But I actually enjoy the quiet space it creates for me each day. And I think it helps me be a bit calmer and provides me with the tools I need to see things a bit differently, too. I also think it’s made me a bit more patient, which is a huge plus for me, and I think I’m a better listener, too.

I’m hoping the benefits will transfer over to skiing. I do suffer a fair amount of height anxiety and yeah, sometimes I get a little scared, when I really shouldn’t. So stay tuned; I’ll keep you posted,.

 



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Close Encounters of the Wildlife Kind

moose_infographic

Part of what makes a ski diva a Ski Diva is our love of the outdoors. Now that the weather’s warm, you can often find us hiking, biking, camping, rock climbing — doing all sorts of things to stay active and have fun while we wait for the snow to fly.

It’s precisely this that brings us into close proximity with wildlife: Moose, bear, mountain lions, coyotes, snakes, and more. Face it, we’re in their territory. And though it’s cool to see animals up close, it’s important to remember that these are not the happy, friendly creatures you’ll find in a Disney animation. Animals have their own rules for behavior, and they don’t necessarily coincide with ours. That said, I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea: lethal attacks by wildlife are extremely rare. (To put it in perspective, see the infographic at the end of this piece. And keep in mind that according to the Center for Disease Control, motor vehicles account for 33,000 deaths per year.) However, animals are defensive of their homes, and are much more likely to attack if they feel threatened.

Nonetheless, every year you hear about people who are injured by animals thanks to their own stupid actions, such as trying to take photos with bison in Yellowstone. According to the CDC, bison injured five people in the park last summer. Of those five, three were trying to take photos within 3-6 feet of the bison, two turned their backs on the bison while taking photos, and one just outright admitted he was taking a selfie.

I have a long-standing rule called the Don’t Be An Idiot Rule. It’s pretty simple: if there’s something for which you think someone you respect would say, ‘Don’t be an idiot,’ then just don’t do it. And taking a close-up photo of a bison — or any other wild animal, for that matter — certainly fills the bill.

But I digress. My purpose here is to provide some usable advice about what to do if you see a wild animal while you’re enjoying the Great Outdoors. The National Park Service has long recommended that people stay 75 feet away from wild animals that aren’t bears or wolves (300 feet for those). This is certainly valuable to know. But here are some other things you should keep in mind, in case you see one of our wild friends:

Moose:
I’ve only seen a few of these here in Vermont, but believe me, these guys are BIG. As in big-as-my-Subaru big. Moose are among the most dangerous, regularly encountered animals in the world. And though they prefer to leave humans alone, they’re known to be aggressive if they believe they’re being threatened. Cows with calves are particularly protective, especially in early summer when their young are most vulnerable. In the fall, bull moose often act more aggressively as they compete with other males for breeding opportunities. But no matter what the season, the best strategy is to avoid a confrontational situation in the first place.

So what are the signs of aggressive moose behavior?  Walking in your direction, stomping its feet, peeling its ears back, grunting, or throwing its head back and forth. If a moose does any of these things, the people at Glacier National Park recommend the following.

Back away with your palms facing the moose;
Speak softly and reassuringly, like you would to a little child;
If the moose charges, get behind a large tree or rock in order to separate your body from the moose. Most moose charges, like grizzly bear charges, are bluffs;
If the moose attacks you, feign death by curling up in a little ball. Protect your head and neck with your arms. If you are wearing a backpack, your pack can help protect your back.

Bear:
Most attacks by black bears are defensive reactions to a person who is very close, which is an easy situation to avoid. It helps to be on the lookout for active bear signs, such such as fresh tracks or fresh bear scat. If possible, avoid areas such as berry patches and stream banks where bears may be feeding or drinking. Hiking in midday will also reduce the chance of encountering a bear, as they are less active at that time. It also helps to make your presence known by making noise. This will allow them to walk away from the noise to avoid an encounter. And be careful with food, which can act as a bear-magnet. If you’re camping, don’t place your tent near hanging food or a car where food is stored.

If you happen to spot a bear in the distance, simply back away, at least a few hundred yards, and find another route. If another route isn’t available, wait 20 to 30 minutes before heading back down the trail. And while going back down the trail, be sure to make noise to announce your presence. If you see a bear on the trail, make yourself as big as possible and in a stern voice tell it to go away. If the bear continues to come at you, use bear spray when he’s about 20-30 feet away to deter it from coming any closer.

Mountain Lion:
Research has shown that mountain lions go out of their way to avoid other mountain lions and people. They mostly rely on wariness as their first defense and resort to fighting only when necessary to defend a territory or a litter of kittens. The best way to ensure that both you and the lion leave safely is for you to back away slowly while continuing to look as big and intimidating as possible, leaving the lion avenues of escape.

Coyotes:
Coyotes are naturally timid and will usually run away when they encounter a human. If they linger or approach, make yourself as big and as loud as possible to scare them away. Do not run or turn your back. Waving your arms, clapping your hands, or shouting in an authoritative voice are all good. It can also be helpful to carry a noisemaker, squirt gun or pepper spray.

Snakes:
Snakes only strike when they feel like they’re being threatened. As with the other animals, the best way to avoid trouble is to steer clear of them whenever possible. This includes not walking through heavy brush, and never reaching into a dark hole or other place you can’t see — if you must probe, use a tool (this is good advice to protect you from spiders, scorpions, and other burrowing animals too). And since almost all snake strikes are on lower extremities, it’s also a good idea to wear high boots and long pants.  Also, if you’re camping, avoid sleeping near a log or large branch, in tall grass, or next to rocky areas. And make sure to zip up your tent tight.

So which animals are most likely to kill humans in the US? The Washington Post published this handy-dandy graphic last year on human fatalities by wildlife between 2001 and 2013, with info provided by the CDC:

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 6.46.06 AM Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 6.46.26 AM

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 6.46.39 AM

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 6.46.55 AM

The takeaway from this? Wear bug spray.

Be careful out there, friends. And remember, don’t be an idiot.

 

 

 

 



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Celebrating the Fourth, Ski Town Style.

July 4th Celebration, Steamboat Springs, CO

July 4th Celebration, Steamboat Springs, CO

The biggest weekend of the summer is almost here, and I know what you’re thinking: I’d like to celebrate the Fourth of July in my favorite ski town, Ski Diva, but I’m not sure what’s going on there. Can you help?

Absolutely! Here’s a sampling of the festivities in some of our favorite ski towns across the country:

Okemo, Vermont
Celebrate freedom and the holiday weekend with the best party of the summer. Okemo’s Jackson Gore Courtyard will be transformed into an all-American backyard barbecue with live music, games, a hot-dog-eating contest, frosty-cold beverages and fresh-from-the-grill burgers, hot dogs plus lots more. New activities this year include an inflatable water slide, a 65-foot inflatable challenge course and a combo bouncy house/slide. Saturday, July 2, 11AM – 6PM

Stowe, Vermont (Stowe Mountain Resort):
Enjoy a multi-dimensional day-long extravaganza of food, music, entertainers, fireworks and more! Starting with the Moscow parade and ending with Stowe’s incredible annual fireworks display, this is a great day to spend in Stowe.

Lake Placid, New York (Whiteface):
The ever popular I Love BBQ and Music Festival will run this year from July 2 – 5. Come out and watch some of the best BBQ competitors in the country, taste their creations, and listen to some live music at this popular annual event. On July 4th there’ll be a parade and the blockbuster “Set the Night to Music” fireworks extravaganza.

Bethel, Maine (Sunday River):
The Fourth of July features a Community Picnic at Bethel Historical Society, plus an outdoor concert by the fabulous Portland Brass Quintet.

Vail, Colorado
A true summer celebration featuring exceptional entertainment including Vail’s celebrated 4th of July parade and fireworks. The parade will begin at Golden Peak at 10:00 AM on July 4 and will wind its way through the villages, ending in Lionshead. This year’s parade theme is Celebrate the USA! Great Moments in American History.

Aspen, Colorado:
Approximately 20,000 local residents and visitors come together to honor the nation’s birthday in true American style. Festivities include a parade, the 16th annual “America’s Birthday” carnival, a community picnic, a concert, and spectacular fireworks over Aspen Mountain at 9:15.

Breckenridge, Colorado:
Celebrate Independence Day with lively entertainment, free activities, and dynamic family fun. Breck’s Independence Day celebration kicks off with a 10K trail run and continues throughout the day with the Firecracker 50 bike race leading the Fourth of July Parade on Main Street, July Arts Festival, live music, kids’ activities, concerts and much more. End the night with the National Repertory Orchestra performing a patriotic concert at the Riverwalk Center followed by fireworks at 9:45PM.

Steamboat, Colorado:
Steamboat’s Fourth of July celebration runs from July 1 through July 4. There’s everything from a hometown parade and pancake breakfast to a rodeo, block party, and fireworks.

Lake Tahoe, California:
NBC’s Today show recognizes Tahoe South’s Lights on the Lake Fireworks display as one of the country’s top Fourth of July weekend Celebrations. The fireworks are launched from offshore barges and can be seen from all corners of town. South Shore offers convenient access to viewing areas via public transportation, paved bike trails, and nearby park and walk venues.

Sun Valley, Idaho:
The festivities begin with a parade at 10AM, and continue with a bike race, a kids’ carnival on the Main Street, a rodeo, and of course, fireworks at dusk.

Park City, Utah: 
Kick the day off with a pancake breakfast in the City Park then head up to Historic Main Street for the Annual 4th of July Parade. Spend the rest of the day with a full day of activities in the City Park with live music, rugby games, beer gardens and plenty of family fun.  Fireworks go off at Park City Mountain Resort at dusk!

Big Sky, Montana
Here you’ll find lots of community booths, children’s activities, lots of food, beverages, and live music capped by a firework finale.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming:
The day-long celebration includes a pancake breakfast, a 10K run, a parade, music, and fireworks.

Have fun, be safe, and remember, don’t drink and drive!



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Should you work out in the heat?

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 6.11.18 AMThe weather news out of the southwest over the past few days has been positively historic.

On Sunday, Phoenix topped out at 118 F, the fifth highest temperature ever recorded in the city. Blythe, California, set an all-time record high of 124 F on Monday. And these are only a couple of the record-shattering highs that have been popping up all over the region. In Southern California, The National Weather Service reported 17 daily heat records on Sunday alone.

So what do you do when you’re a dedicated runner/cyclist/hiker/outdoor enthusiast, and it’s hot enough to bend railroad tracks? Or melt the tarmac enough to cause a plane to sink? And I’m not exaggerating: Both of these actually happened during previous heat waves.

Heat is nothing to mess around with. According to federal data, it actually causes more deaths annually in the United States — about 130 — than flooding, lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes or cold. In fact, Phoenix fire officials blamed the severe heat for the deaths of four hikers over the weekend,

I don’t mind summer, but these temperatures are crazy. Once it reaches the 80’s, I’ve pretty much had it. And with yesterday the first official day of the season, there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing a lot more really high temps in the next few months.

So what should you do when it’s really, really hot? Should you go outside and work out?  Or should you skip it entirely and feel like a complete slug?

You could sit around and dream about ski season. That’s one alternative, though it won’t do you much good. Or you could work out indoors, where it’s air conditioned, which is probably a lot better. But if you simply have to get outside, make sure to take the  proper precautions:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. And I mean plenty. Dehydration can contribute to fatigue and poor performance. Even worse, it can cause heat stroke. So be sure to drink 2 cups of water 2 hours before you start your exercise routine, and keep it coming — about 8 ounces every 15 minutes.
  • Wear appropriate clothing, preferably light in color and moisture wicking. Cotton stays wet, making clothes cold and uncomfortable, so it’s not the best choice. There are a lot of high tech fabrics that are much better and will keep you feeling better.
  • Exercise during a cooler part of the day. It’s best to go out first thing in the morning, or late in the day, when the sun isn’t directly overhead.
  • If you stop sweating, stop exercising. Or if you feel nauseous or dizzy or especially hot. This is extremely important. You could be suffering from heat stroke, which can require emergency treatment.
  • Swim. This is a great way to exercise and stay cool at the same time. Kind of a no-brainer, don’t you think?

Also, it’d be a good idea to learn to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Here’s a handy-dandy graphic put out by the National Weather Service that can help:

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Keep cool, everyone.  Remember, the earth is turning and winter is coming. Then we’ll complain about the cold. 😉



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Giving Dad His Due.

A few weeks ago I posted a Mother’s Day tribute to all the ski moms out there. Which is only fitting, since TheSkiDiva is geared toward women skiers.

But since Father’s Day is today, I thought it was only appropriate to give the Dads their due.

My Dad, in particular.

See, my Dad is the one who introduced me to skiing way back when I was 13. This was pretty amazing, since no one in my family had ever skied or even expressed any interest in skiing (it was an Olympic year, which might explain the sudden attraction). Maybe it’s because I grew up on the Jersey Shore, which is flat, flat, flat, and where the closest thing to skiing is surfing. Which isn’t really close at all.

But for my 13th birthday, my Dad took us all to a small resort in the Catskills, where there was a small hill served by a rope tow.

It was dreadful.

Rope tows are evil torture devices invented primarily, I think, to encourage people to get off the beginner slope as quickly as possible. If you don’t keep your feet in the exact track of the skier ahead of you, you’re going to go down, baby. Even worse, if you’re like me and fall without letting go of the rope, you end up getting dragged a good distance before it occurs to you to drop the rope, idiot, and roll away so no one skis into you and there’s a nasty pile-up with you on the bottom, crying.

Suffice it to say I fell in both directions: up and down. I hated it. The only thing that kept me going was sibling rivalry. My sister was better than me, and damn it, I couldn’t allow that to continue. I learned the basics, and by the end of the weekend had (sort of) perfected a wobbly snowplow that got me down an incline not much steeper than a parking lot.

And yet I stuck it out.

Even after that weekend, I continued to ski with my Dad. We’d head to north Jersey (Great Gorge, Vernon Valley, Snow Bowl), New York State (Bellayre), even into Vermont (Mount Snow, Killington, Haystack, Hogback). And ever so gradually, my skiing improved until I was better than my sister — who, by the way, eventually gave up skiing and moved to Florida, where she complains it’s freezing if the thermometer dips below 60. Wimp.

My clearest memory of skiing with my Dad is the way he used to sing when we went up on the lift — corny songs at TOP VOLUME so that everyone, I thought, alllllllllllllll over the mountain could hear, laugh, and point. When you’re a teenager, this is devastatingly embarrassing.

My Dad doesn’t ski anymore. Like my sister, he lives in Florida, and while he’s in excellent health (knock on wood), he’s 93 and his knees aren’t what they used to be. This doesn’t stop him from swimming half a mile three or four times a week, and then playing 18 holes of golf. The man is an absolute machine.

Still, what I wouldn’t give to ride up the lift with him and have him sing to me — even at TOP VOLUME — one more time.

So thanks Dad, for everything. You’re the best.

My Dad at Mount Snow, 1971



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Jen Hudak on the Sexualizing of Women Athletes, Sarah Burke, and More.

I don’t ordinarily repost anyone else’s interviews on my blog. But this one, from Snowsbest.com, aka Miss Snow It All, is so terrific that I got permission to post it here.

Why do I love it? Well, first, Jen Hudak is an amazing skier. At 29, she’s won nearly every skiing competition out there — X-Games, US Open, World Ski Invitational, Dew Tour, US Nationals. So she’s definitely a well-respected, world-class athlete.

But that’s not all. Because besides being a champion skier, Jen also exhibits a tremendous amount of wisdom. For starters, she doesn’t buy into the whole sexualizing-women-to-make-them-marketable crap that much of the ski industry and media helps perpetuate. Yes, this is something I’ve talked about many times before: how women athletes should be acknowledged for their achievements, not for how they look in a bikini. Sure, it’s legal, they’re adults, and they can do whatever they like to pick up a few extra bucks before their moment in the sun expires. But I think it’s sad and a poor commentary on our society. These are women who’ve worked hard to become amazing world-class athletes. Posing half-naked only diminishes their accomplishments and turns them into sexual objects. Truly, they deserve better than this.

This is something that’s been on my mind for a long time; I first did a post about it in 2006, a second in 2007, and a third in 2014. This makes #4 because clearly, things haven’t changed. But right now, let’s listen to what Jen Hudak has to say, because she’s well worth listening to.

 

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When Lightning Strikes.

Photo from Wikipedia

Photo from Wikipedia

Did you know that over the past 30 years, lightning strikes have killed an average of 48 people annually in the US? Okay, in the grand scheme of things, not a huge number (in comparison, there were 38,300 traffic fatalities last year), but if you’ve ever been outdoors during a thunder storm, you know how frightening it can be. Who can forget the incident on Grand Teton in 1985, immortalized in the book Shattered Air: Two hikers were killed and three suffered life altering injuries after being struck by lightning during a climb. More recently, 62 people were killed in powerful storms that ripped across Bangladesh. So yes, even though 90% of lightning strikes are not fatal, they’re not to be taken lightly (no pun intended).

Here are some interesting things you might not know about lightning:
• There are an average of 25,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per year in the US.
• Lightning can reach a temperature of 50,000°F.
• An average of 1,800 thunderstorms are taking place on earth at any given moment.
• Earth is struck by an average of more than a hundred lightning bolts every second.
• The average flash of lightning could power a 100-watt light bulb for more than 3 months.
• When lightning strikes sand or rock, the extreme heat can fuse minerals beneath the surface into a tube called a fulgurite. Though relatively rare, these “lightning fossils” have been found worldwide.
lightninggod• In Indo-European cultures, the thunder god is frequently known as the chief or king of the gods, e.g. Indra in Hinduism, Zeus in Greek mythology, and Perun in ancient Slavic religion; or a close relation thereof, e.g. Thor, son of Odin, in Norse mythology.

Lightning can strike anywhere. And though it’s a lot more common in warmer months, lightning can occur in the colder months, too. When thunder and lightning take place during a snowstorm, it’s called thundersnow, and if you’re on a chairlift during one of these storms, you better get off as quickly as possible.

In testament to its rarity, take a look at Jim Cantorre’s excited reaction during a thundersnow storm in Chicago in  2011:

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There’s a lot of mythology and misinformation about what to do during a lightning storm. And as women who love the outdoors, it’s important for us to separate fact from fiction. So here’s some advice to take with you this summer:

Check the forecast
This seems like a no-brainer. But before you go hiking or boating or whatever, find out if any storms are expected. An understanding of general weather patterns is useful, too. In most cases, thunderstorms arrive in the afternoon, so plan your schedule accordingly.

Gimme shelter
If you’re caught in a storm, the best course is to seek shelter. But that isn’t always possible. Lightning goes for the tallest target, so the best course is to get as low as you can and not be close to anything especially tall. All trees attract lightning because they are tall and contain a lot of moisture, which provides good electrical conduction for the lightning. If you’re in a forest, find some small trees surrounded by taller trees or find a dry, low area like a depression or ravine. Stay away from lone trees and other tall objects as well as rocky outcrops and ledges. If you’re in an open area, find the lowest spot possible and assume the lighting position: Crouch down with your heels touching, head between the knees, and ears covered. Minimize your contact with the ground and do not lie down flat. In all cases, avoid bodies of water.

Ditch the metal
This may not even need to be said, but be sure you’re not in contact with anything metal. If you have a metal-frame backpack, make sure it’s at least 100 feet away from you.

It ain’t over til it’s over
Wait at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder to leave your shelter or to resume hiking or backpacking. Be aware of other thunderstorms that may arise after the initial storm.

What are the deadliest wilderness sports, as far as lightning goes?
According to Backpacker.com, it goes as follows:
Fishing – 25%
Camping – 24%
Swimming -18%
Hiking – 7%

king-kong-plane-swatter-martin-daveyThe chances of your being struck by lightning are a minuscule 1 in 12,000. But beware: Scientists say climate change may increase the chances to about 1 in 8,000 by year 2100. And as for lightning never striking twice? Well, that’s a myth, too. Places like the Empire State Building get struck a hundred times a year. So take precautions, stay safe, and unlike King Kong here, don’t climb the Empire State Building during a thunder storm.

 



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Memorial Day, Ski Style.

10th Mountain Division, WWII, Camp Hale, CO

10th Mountain Division,
WWII, Camp Hale, CO

Most people celebrate Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer. Swimming, boating, picnics, you get the picture. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* This post originaly appeared in May, 2010. But some things are worth re-running. :)



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On Snow Reports: Keeping it Honest at Mad River Glen

How many times have you heard a glowing snow report, only to hustle over to the mountain and find yourself the victim of, well, some generous exaggeration?

What? Ski areas lie? It’s not a shock to anyone that they want to put the best face on things so you’ll buy a lift ticket. But for those of us who have real lives — jobs to take off from, child care to arrange, travel to endure — it can be a costly annoyance.

So imagine how refreshing it was in December — the beginning of one of the east’s worst ski seasons on record — to see this video snow report from Mad River Glen:

Single chair at Mad River Glen. Photo By Jeb Wallace-Brodeur

Single chair at Mad River Glen. Photo By Jeb Wallace-Brodeur

If you don’t know Mad River Glen, you may know its very famous tag line: Ski It If You Can. Mad River is known as an old school Vermont resort without the glitz and glamour you’ll find at other eastern resorts like Killington, Stratton, or Stowe. There are no condos or on-mountain amenities. Just skiing. In fact, Mad River is unique in two ways: It has one of the two operating single chairlifts left in the US (the other is at Mt. Eyak, Alaska), and it’s one of three ski resorts in North America that don’t allow snowboarding (the others are Alta and Deer Valley). What’s more, it’s a fully owned co-op, which means instead of being owned by a large, faceless corporation, it’s owned entirely by shareholders — people like you and me who invest capital toward the ski area’s expenses. Mad River Glen isn’t huge — only 115 acres — but the skiing’s great and it’s got a vibe that’s definitely chill.

So about this snow report: Sure, the news was bad. I mean, look at it! But the telling was so honest, so humorous, so unique in its delivery, that it ended up all over the internet. Which is how I came upon it myself.

I wanted to know more about the backstory here, so I spoke to Eric Friedman, Mad River Glen’s marketing director, for some insight.

SD: So just how was it at Mad River this year?
EF: To put it mildly, it wasn’t our best year. We had a total of about 120 inches of snow, which is about half our average. We budget for being open about 110 days a year, based on 50 years’ worth of data. This year we were open a total of 45 days. And of those, the main mountain was open for just 35; for 10 it was just the practice slope. As you can imagine, our financial numbers were down in corresponding amounts.

SD: Isn’t there any snowmaking?
EF: Mad River has a grand total of four guns, and really, we can’t use more than three at a time. We make snow on less than ten percent of our terrain – all of the low elevation, high traffic areas; basically, just the run-outs. Everything else comes from the heavens. People don’t come here for our snowmaking, but it’s important to us, even though it’s limited.

SD: Your snow reports made quite a splash, particularly the one in December. Can you tell me about it?
EF: Sure. The whole idea behind all of our snow reports is immediacy — I want to show people what it’s like here right now. So about this particular report: It was a Saturday, and I wasn’t planning to come to work at all. I was bringing my girlfriend’s daughter to the mountain for junior instructor training. I pulled into the parking lot, and decided to walk over to my office to get something. And that’s when I saw it: this little patch of snow with 40 people doing laps. It was our ski school in training. It was so funny that I decided to do a snow report right then. The majority of people who saw the video thought it was staged, but really, it wasn’t. I did the whole thing in one take, completely off the top of my head. I honestly didn’t think that much of it, but when I posted it, it went nuts.

SD: It was funny and sad and entertaining, but mostly, it was refreshing in its honesty. I think that’s why it connected with so many people.
EF: Well, one of the things about Mad River is that it’s a different kind of a place. It all starts with the fact that we’re owned by the skiers. So we have a little different take on things.

SD: Did you get any blowback from your boss?
EF: Actually, no. We have a good relationship and he trusts me to do my job. I’m also one of the few marketing directors that do the snow report themselves. Most ski areas have a staff of snow reporters, but at Mad River, I’m it. And I never lie; if it’s raining, I say it’s raining.  I’ve been here twenty years, and very early on I took the attitude that I was going to have the most honest snow report in the business. I took a longer view of the relationship with our skiers than many other places do. I’m not going to give a snow report to try to sell you a lift ticket today. I’m trying to develop a relationship of trust with our customers and shareholders. I never exaggerate our snowfall totals, so very often it looks like we have less snow than any other area in the state. I’m not under pressure to inflate it like some areas are. Actually, the biggest criticism I get from our shareholders is that I undersell too much and that it’s better than I said in the report. But really, you’re not doing anyone any favors by lying.

SD: Have you been surprised by all the attention you’ve been getting?
EF: Absolutely. I couldn’t believe it. As a marketing professional, it reinforced how interconnected social media is and how they feed off one another. The amount of PR we got from that video was incredible.

SD: By doing that report, you set a pretty high bar for yourself. You did some others, too. I know you did one after the mountain closed for the season that was pretty funny, too. Was that off the cuff, as well?
EF: Yes. It was totally unscripted. Folks just want to know what’s going on up on their mountain,  so whenever anything interesting — or not so interesting — happens here I try to show it. I do mountain reports all summer long.

SD: Let’s take a look at that one, too.

YouTube Preview Image

There’s a little bit of black humor there, but truly, I can appreciate the honesty behind it. I wish more ski areas would follow Mad River’s lead.

Mad River glenMad River ended its ski season on March 14, more than a month earlier than 2015, with a poignant letter to its shareholders. In it, Mad River Glen’s president, Jamey Wimble, told members that its seasonal staff had been laid off earlier this season and full-time workers would be taking unpaid furloughs in the offseason. “The mountain finds itself in the most challenging financial situation it has seen since the founding of the Co-op in 1995,” the memo stated. “Other regional ski areas are experiencing similar or even worse financial challenges.” The marquee outside the resort reflected its surrender to the dismal weather.

There’s a lot to be said for the honesty exhibited by Mad River Glen. Given the great response they’ve received, other resorts would do well to take a page out of their book.

Here’s hoping for a better season next year for Mad River Glen and all the eastern ski resorts.

 

 



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