Monday, February 4, 2013


I’ve been thinking a lot about winter this winter. We've had fantastic snow and unusual cold in Salt Lake after no winter last year, and I enjoyed the luxury of being able to ski nearly every day for a month. I even read this book:

Gopnik is a fantastic writer, and somehow here he makes five cobbled-together lectures-turned-essays touching on everything from the birth of romantic winter in Europe to arctic exploration to the history of hockey work beautifully. It's worth reading, especially given that embracing winter has practically become a political cause. The atmospheric scientist who writes the Wasatch Weather Weenies blog reports, "Mountain Dell sits in the crosshairs for climate change, but there's enough variability in the system that there will still be some good years ahead. Take advantage when you can." So I intend to.

Ah winter, he waxes poetically in the spirit of Gopnik. A time for freakishly wonderful urban blizzards (like the ones people who grow up on the I-95 megalopolis experience) that lead to skiing in random parks and dorky pictures. And icicles as big as houses.

 And perfect conditions at the ski-club-groomed Nordic area

And man weekends at a cabin in Midway with Jason and John 

[Thankfully no photo provided]

And skiing amidst moose in a timeless wilderness (photo credit: Katie)

And … filthy unhealthy inversions?

Before and After:

And your car stupidly buried in a parking lot at the U for three days because you didn't take the blizzard predictions seriously?

And frostbite?

[Thankfully no photo provided]

Yup, that’s right, frostbite. It seems that all those years living in Minnesota did not in fact make me immune to the cold, and that in fact standing around teaching 5-year-olds to ski in single-digit weather IS cold, and that doing races with start temperatures of 0 degrees is colder still. And to paraphrase Obama, faux-toughness is not wisdom. I’m not exactly sure how it happened -- I’ve had some ill-fitting boots [which indeed contributed, but was it the downhill, skating or classic?; they all seemed to hurt this year] and so I’m not sure what day exactly the red-every-day-from-being-crammed-and-cold toes turned black. But the podiatrist confirmed it about a week ago. He didn’t exactly say “thou shalt not ski again this year” -- and for the most part, the damage is already done -- but he shut me down for now and encouraged me to route for warm weather in the Alps in the coming weeks (of course I refused to tell him that I would be standing in the woods in the snow at the Nordic World Championships for fear of what he would say to that). 

So I guess I should be careful when I ask for unceasing, unadulterated winter. But it was fun while it lasted. Every time I ski with Jeanine I feel incredibly lucky (and I would even if she wasn’t now kicking ass on skate skis), and I loved getting Brian and Katie hooked as well (when she wasn’t too busy chasing moose). I also made some racing progress (skip ahead to next paragraph to avoid boring ski results), or at least learned that I’m a much better classic skier than skater (as it’s much closer to running). This year I moved out of the wonderfully weak 35-39 age group (in which I could flirt with skate-race medals) and entered the 40-44 Group of Death. But whereas in the two skate races I could get in this year I finished 10th out of 13 of 7th out of 11, in a classic race (first since 1992), I finished 4th out of 8. Still, I did improve my skating relative to the Olympians, coming in only 40% slower than Billy Demong as opposed to about my norm of 50% the past couple seasons.

If you’re reading this on the East Coast and imagine that it’s always either snowing or sunny with blue skies in the West, like something out of a Coors commercial, you should Google “Salt Lake City inversions.” Before we moved, we had no idea how bad it can be out here -- really, air quality worse than Beijing’s a couple days? -- and man I wish I could take every anti-environmental lawmaker in the US House who whines about excessive enforcement of the Clean Air Act and force them to spend a couple days breathing our air during an inversion. Which does not make me an environmental angel, needless to say. I wrote the first draft of this post on a plane, and I bet I fly a lot more – and thus leave a larger carbon footprint – than the Verizon Truck guy, who, after 30 minutes idling on a 40-degree day, including sitting down with his latte in the coffee shop where I was working [part of our friend Sheila’s and my ongoing project to find the best SLC coffeehouses], became the first-ever victim of a Hoff citizen’s inversion intervention (a successful one, I might note). Look, all I ask for is a little ironic self-awareness of environmental impact, and perhaps merely an effort to carpool on red-air days, rather than this guy’s remarkable ignorance, given how much the media here covers the inversions, or true scorched-earthism. Why doesn’t some sociologist at the U study the mind-set of people who idle during inversions? 

So what else should I report? Jeanine had a work trip to DC, so I tagged along (we managed to get out the day of the rare Salt Lake ice storm, after a mere three-hour delay). I’m not sure it was worth the small fortune (my that's a lot for parker rolls, not matter how good they are), but the tasting menu at CityZen was a pretty spectacular way to celebrate Mom’s 75th Birthday, with Gene and Dina as well.

Because Jeanine was in grant duress most of January and too busy to look up, Sheila and Jason kindly hosted a going-away party so we could finally see everyone (thanks!). Put another way, I just pressed “post” on this entry from Tubingen, where we have safely arrived and already found the internet in the kitchen area at the Max Plank GuestHouse. We'll talk to you after we sleep a while ... In the meantime, take it from me: don’t skimp on socks or ski boots. Please excuse typos here ... off for our first guided walk of the MPI (and spellcheck is now in German). 

1 comment:

  1. Glad you arrived safely in Germany, and I like your choice of skiing beverage. Looking forward to seeing posts from Germany, but not of frost bitten feet.