Taking Care of

(Photo notes: This was from high school state championships when my parents hosted the Steamboat Springs High School team for a tuning party in our garage. I would absolutely not recommend tuning barefoot; metal filings in your foot aren’t fun!)

Ski racers spend hours and hours and hours and hours taking care of their skis. This is called tuning. We sharpen the edges, but that’s the easy part. The part that takes forever is waxing and brushing. I spent a significant portion of my racing career picking wax, melting it onto my skis, letting it cool, scraping it back off, and brushing my skis until they gleamed.

A lot of people are fairly confused by this whole process. Sharpening the edges is fairly intuitive; the snow is hard and a sharp edge holds better. But waxing and scraping and brushing? The trick is not to compare ski wax to car wax, which protects the paint and should be left on. Ski wax is more like conditioner for your hair. Without wax, ski bases get dry and the material of the base can start to fray and add friction. However, if you never rinsed your hair after you conditioned it, it would get sticky and gloopy and awful. The same is true for skis.

Ski wax is also special because there are different waxes formulated for different temperatures of snow. Cold wax is typically harder because cold snow crystals can strip a soft wax of a ski in a single run. Warm wax is softer and helps repel the water in the snow so the skis aren’t fighting adhesion. Some waxes had fluorocarbons in them, which made the ski really fast but also dried out the base like crazy.

Waxing is the easiest part of the whole process; it involves using an iron to melt the wax onto the ski base and get it all smooth. Then you have to leave the ski to cool. The longer you leave a ski, the more the wax soaks in and the better it is. Once the wax is cool, you can start to scrape it off. Scraping removes the visible wax. The better job you do scraping, the easier brushing is.

Brushing is the long process. When I traveled, I had three brushes; a brass brush, a horsehair brush, and a soft nylon brush. The brass pulled the most wax out of the ski, the horsehair pulled out a little more, and the nylon brush polished it. When I was in high school, I had a callous on my palm from how I held the brush. Done properly, brushing can take up to an hour for both skis.

I certainly had my moments of getting annoyed with brushing, especially on nights mid-series. It was hard to race all day, get off the hill and stretch, get dinner, do homework, and still be motivated to brush. Plus there’s all the other gear to take care off; wet mittens and bandanas to lay out to dry, boot liners to pull out of the shells…the list goes on. There were definitely days all these things didn’t happen.

But in general, I loved brushing and taking care of all my gear. It made me feel like the real deal. It made me feel capable. It made me feel like I was doing the right thing. And dry boots and mittens are a beautiful thing!

I don’t ski race anymore, but I still have plenty of gear to take care of. There are hiking boots to be rinsed off, a lot of the same gear for free skiing, bike chains to lube, and swimsuits to hang up to dry. I love taking care of my stuff. It serves me longer that way, but it also just feels good to do it.

This doesn’t stop with sports stuff though. I love washing dishes and wiping down counters and I’ve even gotten to the point where I appreciate sweeping the kitchen floor. I love the warm water and the smell of the soap, and I love seeing the kitchen all clean. But this is another form of taking care of my stuff. Is it easier to wash dishes right after I’ve used them and before everything has dried on to them? Absolutely. But that doesn’t change the fact that I truly enjoy cleaning my kitchen.

Again, I will put in the caveat that this is mostly true. My dirty dinner dishes are currently sitting in the sink waiting for me.

Laundry falls into this category too, as does putting things away. It’s really satisfying to have a place for everything and to have a neat space. The other thing that falls into this category, for me, is getting ready for the next day. This semester, one of my goals has been to have more relaxed mornings. To this end, I’ve been packing my lunch the night before, which generally involves spooning left-overs into a smaller container. I’ve also started packing my gym bag the night before. (I would like to point out that my gym bag is a fabric bag printed with the spines of the seven Harry Potter books. Mom got it for me for Christmas and I LOVE IT.) This is doubly-great; not only do I not have to scramble to do it in the morning, but I don’t forget socks anymore! (There was also one memorable time I forgot a shirt. I went swimming that day.)

There was a side-benefit to this that I didn’t anticipate. I stop working on school stuff at 8 pm in order to start doing dishes, packing lunch, packing my gym bag, and picking up anything that wandered out. (Seeing that I spend about four conscious hours in my house, I don’t know how this happens. But it does. Every single day. I blame mail.) This means that I’m not thinking about school and being stressed for the hour before I go to bed. And it means that I’m not sitting and staring at a screen, which I appreciate. I like the gentle movement of walking around my house and the calm that I get from putting my life physically in order.

I tried this out one other place in my life; I start my teaching day by getting my classroom totally ready for the day. The first thing I do is put my lunch in the fridge and turn on the heater in the office. Then I take care of writing the objective, agenda, and warm up on the whiteboard. After the whiteboard, I take a moment to sort papers and make tea. Only at this point do I take out my laptop. I love it because I start with something that’s guaranteed to be productive before I deal with not getting sucked into any of the distractions that come with the internet.

Just like brushing my skis, taking care of my things and my spaces make me feel good about being in them and with them. It makes me feel capable and productive and like I’m doing a good job with this whole adulting thing. Sometimes, at least!

Your homework: What do you enjoy taking care of? Why?

Hej dá,

Jamie

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Backcountry Skiing is the Best Skiing!

Well, I can say spring break was a complete success! I got 100% caught up on my grading, which feels amazing. Jonathan and I bought a washer and a dryer, which felt incredibly adult. We painted the hall three different colors (and didn’t like any of them) and I accidentally scrubbed the varnish off the wooden cabinets in the upstairs bathroom. Whoops…but they needed refinishing anyhow. As much fun as all that was (and I’m really not even being sarcastic about that!), it was definitely not even close to the best part.

On Thursday morning, Jonathan and I packed up the car and drove to Jackson, Wyoming. It’s only a four-hour drive! We hiked a bit in Grand Teton National Park, admiring the incredible mountains in the sunshine. We could also see the famous tram at Jackson Hole, and Jonathan pointed out the couloir that so many people try and fail to ski. It’s a twenty-foot drop into a chute, and it’s completely visible from the aforementioned tram! Then we stopped in town and rented me backcountry gear.

For those of you unfamiliar, like I was about a week ago, backcountry gear uses skis that are most similar to alpine skis but are designed to be lighter. It’s the boots and the bindings that are really different. The bindings lock your toe in place like an alpine binding but allow your heel to lift so you can walk more easily. The boots have divots for the pin lock on the toe and don’t have the lip that alpine boots do. The boots also have walk mode, which allows the cuff of the boot to rotate to make walking easier. You just have to remember to lock it back to ski mode before you try to ski!

The last piece of backcountry gear is the skins. They stick to the bottom of the ski with an intense glue, and the side facing the snow is sort of fuzzy. All the hairs go one direction so you can pet it one direction and it feels smooth, but the other direction feels rough. It’s a bit like shark skin if you’ve ever had the privilege of feeling that. Skins allow you to stick to the snow as you’re walking uphill.

Actually, that wasn’t the last piece of gear we borrowed. Even though the avalanche danger was super low due to the warm winter, I absolutely carried a beacon, probe, and shovel. It was worth the twenty bucks to rent it, carry it, and not need it.

Jonathan rented us a tiny house to stay in while we were there! It was called Fireside Resort, and it was amazing!

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On Friday, it was time for the grand adventure. We drove partway up Teton Pass and skied from Phillips Ridge Trailhead. I definitely had some moments of flailing as I tried to figure out how to use my new gear…

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And I had some moments where I felt like I was getting better at what I was doing!

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Unfortunately, this picture is taken at the moment when we took the left fork before the left fork happened. We followed some snowmobile tracks up this hill and then realized there were no more tracks!

As we curved around the side of the ridge, we found the trail near the bottom of the valley below us. We decided not to lose all our hard-won elevation by skiing back down, so we traversed across the hill through some lovely open spots and past big pines.

Well, the open spots were lovely until they made our skins all warm and wet and the colder drier snow next to the trees started sticking to the skins. This is called glomping, my friends, and it is terrible. Absolutely terrible. It can be six inches of snow along the entire ski, and it’s heavy and sticky and awful!

We crested the ridge and took the skins off our skis for a while to let them dry out and to eat a snack. We hadn’t made it very far, but we’d been working pretty hard!

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We decided at this point that it would be worth it to drop back down to the trail, despite the fact that we knew we’d have to climb the ridge again. So we put our skins in our backpacks and skied down! It was only ten turns or so, and the snow was baked and crusty, and I laughed the whole way down in delight!

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This is me at the bottom. I’m clearly not excited at all.

We made much better progress once we were back on the trail, and we did eventually make it to our destination of Ski Lake. There were some snowmobilers buzzing around the basin, so we skied back a little way to a knoll overlooking the whole Teton valley.

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Then Jonathan gave me this. And I said yes. Approximately fifty-three times.

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I could write a lot of words here, and they would all feel trite. I am deliriously, outrageously happy. I’m just going to leave it at that.

We skied back out; it is a glorious feeling to have earned your turns! We dropped off the trail back down to the highway and skied through the trees. The snow was still crusty and baked and it was still amazing.

And what better way to celebrate than with chicken tacos and a warm fire?

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There are a million questions I don’t have an answer to right now about such things like, you know, weddings. And that’s ok for right now. I have a school year to finish out and a job to find and a move to make. And I’m still kind of in awe and disbelief that something so magical could happen in real life, to be totally honest.

Your homework (yes, you get homework, my students in class today did too, even after they pulled the “but you’re engaged and really happy and won’t really make us do homework, right?” card): What’s something you’ve always longed to do but haven’t been brave enough to do? I’ve watched people ski off Berthoud Pass here in Colorado my whole life, and I’d never been backcountry before.

Also, this seems like a good time to tell you to go find someone awesome and tell them you love them. Share the happiness!

Hej då,

Jamie

TDing: Chocolate and Opportunities

Last year, I told you a story about becoming a Technical Delegate, one of the lead officials on the hill at a ski race. The super short summary is this: the TD is the representative of the governing body and generally they make sure all the rules are followed. There are many other officials on the hill; I gave you a much better explanation last year in the other post.

This year I was back at Eldora, but rather than a TD shadow I was a fully-fledged TD! Eldora was my very first race, and I got to draw upon every single piece of advice I was ever given.

Last year, Jeff Westcott told me you need three things to run a race: snow, gates/protection, and timing. Everything else is ancillary. My dad has always told me that being a TD means anticipating problems before they happen and looking for opportunities to teach new people things about running a race. Weeks before the race, I was talking with Matt, the Chief of Race, to figure out B-net, gates, snow, timing, volunteers, schedules, medical plans, and everything else you need to run a race. Matt is awesome to work with and had lots of good plans in place.

The thing about a race is that you’re always forgetting something. That might be to notch the 2×2 poles that hold the finish timing. That might be to pack an extra 9-volt battery for the timing at the top. That might be to remind your referee to use bib numbers on the disqualification list instead of start numbers. But whatever it is, there’s always something.

My backup plan: a 12 oz bag of Hershey’s kisses in the pocket of my jacket. And boy, did I ever need them!

Eldora is notorious for being a wind tunnel. And on Saturday, it was windy. Windy enough that the mountain had to close the lift that went to our race course at 9:15, which of course was after all the kids and coaches had left their gear at the start. Windy enough that they didn’t reopen the lift until 2 pm. All of Matt’s carefully laid plans got shredded.

So what’s a TD to do? We waited until 10 for an update from the mountain on the status of the lift, and while we waited we planned.

Eldora has two hills that are homologated (certified) to race on. La Belle was the run we wanted to use and couldn’t get to. Chute is a cute little run (it has a whole 74 meters of vertical drop, as opposed to La Belle which has 120 meters of vertical drop) that is serviced by a poma. A poma that, magically, was still running. And Chute had B-net on it. And timing. And we had several extra sets of gates sitting at the bottom, just begging to go in the snow.

As we planned, coaches and parents would come up to us and ask us what the plan was. Every time I said we were waiting until ten to make a call, chocolate. Every time a worried kid asked about their skis at the top of the course on La Belle, chocolate. And when we announced our plans and coaches questioned the shortness of the hill, more chocolate got passed out. Course crew got chocolate for hauling gates and fence and setting up an entire race area in a half hour. Coaches got chocolate for hiking the hill so the kids could use the lift. Lift operators got chocolate for dealing with 160 kids when they expected twenty. Ski patrol got chocolate for taking snowmobiles up to the race start with sleds and hauling down all the skis and backpacks. My timers got chocolate for running a race with timing equipment that hadn’t been checked and gave us a couple of fits.

At the end of the day, we had gates, and snow, and timing, and the kids had a fair, fun race. And I was out of chocolate!

I learned a lot about how to change plans on the go and how Matt inspired his team to pull off an entire event ON A DIFFERENT HILL that we originally planned. And after all of that, Sunday’s races ran beautifully.

Next weekend I’ll be Vail with the Vail Devo Team, running a kombi. It’s a style of racing I never raced and have never officiated so there will be more opportunities to learn. And trust me, there will be a lot more chocolate.

Your homework: What do you do when your plan is suddenly completely wrecked?

Hej då,

Jamie

 

 

Understimulation in the Woods

We talk a lot these days about overstimulation. Mostly we talk about this in the context of the ever-present screens in our lives: the notifications, the messenger apps, SnapChat (which despite what my students think, I do vaguely know how to use), the constant barrage of news and pictures and the necessary responses.

I know sometimes living in a city (if you call Boulder a city) gets overwhelming to me. There are always people, lights, things to do; something is going on. This is less true than say, downtown Denver, but it’s still a lot more than somewhere like Steamboat.

But for me, being a teacher is also wildly overstimulating. There are usually over twenty-five people in the room with me, and they’re all looking at me. I’m making a million decisions, evaluating their emotional and cognitive abilities, trying to listen to the goofball behind me while helping the student in front of me, while tuning out the twelve other conversations happening in the room, watching for the phones to sneak out, and oh yeah, somewhere in there, I’m trying to remember the subtle beautiful nuances of a complex and intertwined story that is biology and convey that to other human beings.

My mom once sent me a Facebook post that said, “Teaching seems to require the sort of skills that would be required to pilot a bus full of live chickens backwards, with no breaks, down a rocky road through the Andes, while providing colorful and informative commentary on the scenery.” The quote is by Franklin Habit and while I find it hilarious, I also find it almost painfully accurate.

Yeah. Teaching.

But one of the things I’ve been working on this year is going outside more. And I’ve realized something about going outside.

It’s incredibly, beautifully, wonderfully, understimulating.

There are fewer people. Even better, they usually don’t want to talk to me as much as I don’t want to talk to them. There aren’t a million conversations, and usually there’s no music. There aren’t the overpowering smells of the crazy processed artificial snacks my kids bring to class, and I don’t have to think. I just have to move my legs, whether I’m on foot or on my bike.

When I go outside, I have time to focus on the feeling of the sun on my face, listen to the wind in the needles of the pine trees, the smell of warm ponderosa bark as I lean against a tree. I love hearing the rush of blood behind my eardrums and feeling my pulse against my fingers, my throat, my cheeks.

When I get the glorious opportunity to go backpacking, it’s even better. Time stretches out so all I care about is when to eat and when to crawl in my warm sleeping bag. I absolutely love staring out over whatever scenery I’ve gotten myself back into.

This past weekend I wasn’t backpacking, but I got to go for a nine mile mountain bike ride in Golden Gate state park. The aspens were golden and rustled in the wind, when I could hear them over the rattling of my derailleur. The trail was rocky in places and hero dirt in others, and I was grinning like a crazy person the whole way. My brother Jeff and Jonathan came with me, and we spent as much time leaning on our handlebars appreciating the beauty around us as we did pedaling.

I love flying through a grove of aspens and watching the leaves swirl around my brother’s back tire. I love weaving through pines and climbing up around switchbacks and just generally being out in the forests. After being out there for five hours, coming back into a city seems colorful and noisy and fast-paced. It’s good to slow down.

To be fair, this particular definition of slowing down includes spiking my heart rate through the roof trying to keep up with two boys who are way stronger than I am. By the end of the ride my legs were tired and I was flailing around some corners. Jeff laughed very hard at my stupid clipless moment. (I have pedals that my shoes clip into, and if I don’t manage to unclip my foot before I stop, I fall over. Just…slow motion fall over.) But that’s also it’s own kind of fun.

Your homework this week: Go outside! Take a moment and see what you notice, and if your mind slows down a little bit.

Hej då,

Jamie

Creativity and Constraints

In the last month, I’ve had three individual people in my life (some of whom don’t know each other AT ALL) mention creativity as a crucial part of their life. Stephen, who is an applied mathematician at Cambridge, mentioned he’d started composing violin music again. Matt, who is a Knowles Fellow teaching math in Washington, noted that he used to play music and missed it. My mom and I had a conversation about how lesson planning is satisfying because of the creativity.

Because of this, I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity and how it is a thread that runs through lots of parts of my life. So this month of May I’m going to focus on creativity, and how it plays out through being an adventurer, a nerd, and an old-lady-hobbit.

Most of my own creative outlets (that come immediately to mind) are firmly in the nerd or hobbit category. I write short stories and fan-fiction. I plan lessons. I play (infrequently, now) the flute and piano. I knit. Baking and cooking can be creative. But there is also creativity in being an adventurer, and an adventurous spirit can lend itself to creativity in really important ways.

Start talking with any back country skier and you’ll open a vault of stories about good lines and bad lines and choosing lines and dreaming about lines. They’re obsessed. (A line is a path you choose down a slope, for non-skiers). There is huge creativity in designing a line for maximum thrill and at least a modicum of safety, whether that means dropping a cliff or avoiding an avalanche (the lead picture is the Wikipedia definition of avalanche…looks like a bad time). Even though I ski almost entirely in-bounds of a designated ski area, I love to take new interesting lines between trees, especially aspens that no one else has tried yet. So in this way, there is a lot of creativity in skiing.

Now, most of my time on skis wasn’t in the trees. I spent most of my time on a race course. And in a race course there are gates that tell you where to turn. Miss a gate, and you get disqualified. This seems like a huge limit on creativity.

But here’s the thing. I think in a lot of cases, creativity flows best under constraints. A race course has a set of gates everyone has to ski, true. But at the end of the run, there will be a huge variety of lines carved into the snow. I usually tried to make my turn as much above the gate as I could. Some racers pin it at the gate and make a lot of the turn below it. Really good racers can hold the entire course in their head and figure out where to go straight and where to set up a big turn in order to carry momentum. The ability to find the fastest line through a set of constraints (plus the ability to then actually ski that line) is what makes a truly great ski racer fast.

Mountain biking is very much the same way. One way to look at a trail is as a limit; riders have to stay on the single track. However, I love riding a trail where I know exactly how to take on obstacles and where to shift up and where to give a little more power, where to be precise and where to let it flow a little bit. The creativity is not in the trail, but in the approach to the trail.

Constraints lead to innovation. They require the creator to be thoughtful about how to navigate what already exists in a new way. Without constraints, there is no challenge to really be creative. Most modern technologies were invented in the midst of and because of constraints.

It requires bravery and a certain fortitude to look at constraints as a good thing instead of hardships. I struggle with this in every single part of my life. It’s easy to wish for more time or resources, for better weather or more strength. But there’s no challenge in that. I think part of the joy of creating comes from overcoming some sort of challenge. I’ve learned the most from situations where what I was trying to do seemed impossible and I had to be creative to figure out how to make it possible.

Doesn’t that just sound like an adventurer? “What I was trying to do seemed impossible, and I had to figure out how to make it possible.” This could be a quote from any pioneer who skied a new line, climbed a new mountain, or traveled to a new place.

Your homework: Where do you get to be creative in your life? How do you think constraints influence your creativity?

Hej då,

Jamie

Seeking the Summit

In my life thus far, I’ve had quite a bit of experience with goal setting. I had meetings with my ski coaches every fall  (and bike coaches every spring) to set goals. I had strength and agility standards to meet. I had race series I wanted to qualify for and top speed records to break. In school, I had sporadic G-T (gifted and talented) meetings to talk about my academic potential. I wanted to be good enough for top scholarships and universities.

When I went to college and learned a bit about writing grants, I encountered a whole different way to think about goals and measuring progress. I learned about SMART goals – goals that were Specific, Measurable, Attainable (or Action-oriented), Realistic (or Relevant), and Time-bound. I learned to laugh at the girl who had eagerly told her coaches she wanted to ski in the Olympics. That wasn’t a realistic goal. I had no benchmarks between where I was and that end point.

And then I became a teacher. Teaching is FULL of goals. Standardized test score goals. Building-wide goals, department goals, individual goals. Goals driven by data, by current trends, by whoever your evaluator might be. Goals born out of professional development and dreams of what my classroom could (should) look like.

This is the first weekend of my spring break and I’m finding myself looking back at a lot of goals I made in September, shaking my head, and laughing ruefully. Maybe it’s because it’s March and I’m exhausted, but those goals seem completely ridiculous to me right now. I feel a bit like I’m looking at the girl who wanted to go to the Olympics. You wanted to have every assessment planned before you started the unit? Yeah right. You wanted to call parents once a week, ha ha. You wanted to incorporate formative assessment into your classroom on a regular basis and put learning in the hands of the students; what a sweet thought.

For this first weekend I packed up and came home to Steamboat. I’ve written a bit before about how absolutely wonderful it is to come home; Mom cooks, Jeffrey teases the life out of me, I play my piano and laze around in my Hufflepuff sweatpants. (What, you don’t have Hufflepuff sweatpants?) And I knit. Mom and I sit on the couches across from each other and duel with our knitting needles. And while we do this, we spend hours talking about anything and everything.

Last night we talked about my dream classroom. We were talking about all those goals at I had in September – students being meta-cognitive about their learning, awesome leveled assessments, and about differentiation. Especially in Anatomy and Physiology, I have students with completely different purposes for learning in my room. Some kids need another science credit to graduate or had too many free blocks. Some kids want to be neurosurgeons and are applying for pre-med programs. Some want to be personal trainers or dieticians, and some are just curious about why they get hiccups.

So we started building this dream-classroom, with strong class culture and student choice and opportunities for everyone to learn and grow. But instead of being inspiring, this felt crushing. How on earth was I supposed to create something like this?

For one thing, I trained to be a MOLECULAR biologist. I can tell you a bit about proteins and biochemistry. I can’t name even half the bones in the body. I don’t know what most hormones do. I reread the textbook before every unit so I know what on earth I’m talking about. For another thing, I’m already overwhelmed just trying to make sure I have a lesson every day for them, let alone an awesome lesson or a creative project or multiple options for them to explore. If I’m struggling to meet the normal expectations of a teacher, how do I ask myself to do more?

I know a lot of this feeling is because it’s March, and like I mentioned earlier, I’m fried. In my rant, I snapped out that I don’t need to be looking at a dream classroom. I need to be figuring out something that’s realistic for me to do for the rest of the year. Mom came back with equally valid logic; in order to move forward I need something to shoot for. It was past my bedtime and I was cranky (and I knew it), so I subsided with a grumble and took myself to bed.

This morning, we got up early and snowshoed up to the top of the gondola. It’s not an easy hike; it’s only just about two miles but over 2000 feet of elevation gain. This morning it started warm – about 36o F – and spitting corn snow. We hit the cloud ceiling about a third of the way up and it started snowing harder, with a gentle wind. My right eyelashes kept collecting ice crystals and my ponytail was completely stiff. The trees, lift towers, and other hikers were ghost-like in the fog.

I was delighted at the return of nearly-proper winter! It’s fun to pit myself against the elements and see how far I can go. I love the feeling of my hamstrings and quads contracting and releasing, moving me one step higher. I love the stingy feeling of blood pumping through my cold hands and cheeks. I think it’s hilarious how my hair turns into a demented Christmas ornament, all twisted and frosted.

One thing we definitely couldn’t see was the summit. Normally the lodge that also houses the top of the gondola looms over Heavenly Daze, the ski run we climb up. It can be a bit daunting, looking up at it and knowing exactly how far away I am. I tend to take tiny steps when I’m hiking up something steep, so it’s A LOT of steps for me to get to the top.

As Mom and I paused to catch our breaths, a woman on skins came up behind us. She stopped for a moment too, and looked over at us. “Crazy weather,” she announced. “It’s way harder to do this when I don’t know how far up I am!”

“We’re on the last steep pitch,” I offered. I’ve basically lived on this hill my whole life, so I was certain I was right. The other lady nodded and continued on with a cheery farewell. Mom and I started trudging up behind her.

I was wrong, in case you were curious. I thought we were a pitch higher than we were. Don’t be overconfident in low visibility, friends. My dad can tell an awesome story about how he got 180turned around in a snowstorm while hunting one time. He thought his compass was broken!

The symbolism of all of this was not lost on me. I told Mom wryly that this sounded an awful lot like a conversation we’d had last night. She laughed at me and just continued hiking.

I like reading mountaineering stories, of climbers on Everest and K2 (that’s the picture at the top this time) and other famous peaks. It’s interesting to see how the summit captures their whole focus, how that goal can become consuming. Mountaineers are incredible because they allow their desire to get to that goal to carry them through huge difficulties, sometimes past when it would be smart to turn back. Often the writers or the people who watch them climb wonder what it is about the summit that drives the climbers to try superhuman feats.

Now, the top of the gondola is in no way comparable to the summit of K2, but it is still  satisfying to get up there. It is much easier to sit around in my aforementioned sweatpants and drink tea. (Trust me, that’s what I’m currently doing, and I’m deeply enjoying it.) But I also enjoyed pushing myself past physical discomfort in order to reach that summit.

Mom (and the lady skinning up) is right – it’s easier when we can see the top. Just the same as it’s easier to practice a piano piece when I know what it’s supposed to sound like. It’s easier to attempt a new bread recipe when I know what it’s supposed to taste like. And it is easier to become a better teacher when I know what good teaching looks like.

So what I’m left with is a lot of questions. Why are goals sometimes motivating and sometimes not? When are expectations something to rise to and when are they a burden to carry? Where is the line between challenge and struggle? Is there a difference between a goal and a dream?

That’s your homework and mine, this time.

Hej då,

Jamie

The Technical Delegate

Happy February! We finally made it to February! Since I started back to school on January 2nd, this month has felt long. Very, very long. But it is in fact February, so it’s time for an adventure post!

Today I’m going to give you a window into the world of ski racing, and especially ski race officiating. I ski raced for fifteen of my twenty-five years, and I’ve been a ski race official for nearly eight years now. Many of the life skills I can claim now I learned from ski racing. But that’s another story.

For those who are not winter sports enthusiasts, I was an alpine ski racer. There are different kinds of alpine racing, depending on how big the turns are. The smallest turns are in an event called slalom. The next biggest turns are in an event called GS (giant slalom), then the next biggest even is called super G (which stands for super giant slalom!). The biggest turns of all, and the highest speeds, create a downhill.

(Even if you knew all of that, click on the videos anyway. I spent way too much time trying to pick out my favorite racers and courses and such. Every single one of those racers is one of my heroes!)

Ski racing was amazing, but while I was racing I never gave a lot of thought to the people who were running the race. It actually takes A LOT of people to make a race happen! At absolute minimum, you need nine certified officials, plus twenty-five-ish volunteers, to make a race happen. So let me walk you through exactly what it takes to put on a ski race.

I’ll start with the volunteers. These are usually the parents helping out, and they’re super awesome! Gate keepers stand on the side of the hill and make sure all the racers go around all the gates. Course crew is in charge of keeping the course from getting too rutty (bumpy) and replacing broken gates.

And then there are the certified officials. The Race Administrator handles all the paperwork required for the race: the athlete entries, the start orders, the official results. The Chief of Timing is in charge of running the clocks and the computer; usually that person has an assistant also. The Chief of Course is the leader of the course crew, and is responsible for all the shovels, extra gates, and protective fencing. Two of my favorite positions are the Start Referee and the Finish Referee. They stand at the start and finish, respectively, and are responsible for ensuring the correct athlete goes out of the start or through the finish at the right time. I love working at the start because I like getting to interact with the racers. Everyone is excited at the start!

Then there are the three jury members: the referee, the chief of race, and the technical delegate. These are the people responsible for making any race-day decisions. The referee is usually also a coach because their job is to represent the athlete. The chief of race is the local hill’s representative and has one of the hardest jobs because they do all of the pre-race work to get everything organized. And the technical delegate, or TD, is the representative of the governing body, either USSA (United States Ski and Snowboard Association, and yes I know there is an S missing) or FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski, for higher-level races that qualify for international rankings).

The TD is the person responsible for making sure the race is safe and fair and the rules are followed. Normally the chief of race and referee do most of the work, but the TD can step in if the other two jury members miss something or don’t agree. In short, the TD is the top official on the hill.

I’ve been spending some of my time this winter getting certified to be a USSA-level TD. I took a written test in November about the rules of ski racing, and then I’ve completed two shadow-TD assignments. In these, I get to follow the TD around and learn from everything they’re doing on the hill. If you’re an educator, it’s like a classroom observation. I did my first shadow at home in Steamboat at one of my favorite annual races. The Holiday Classic is a series of slalom events at Howelsen Hill (that’s the picture at the top). One of the races is a night race, and the whole town turns out for the party! I did my second shadow at Beaver Creek and got to watch a top-notch race organization do what they did best. It was a very easy assignment in some ways, but it was also really good for me to see how a good race should look.

I’m currently in the middle of my third and final shadow, which is like a practical exam (or student teaching). I have a real certified TD with me, but I’m the acting TD and doing all of the normal TD things. I’m doing this one at Eldora, which is very close to where I live in Boulder. Hooray for getting to sleep in my own bed!

Being a TD is fun because you get to consider all of the things that ALMOST never happen. What do you do if a moose/fox/squirrel/raccoon/elk runs onto the course and interferes with a racer? What do you do if the timing doesn’t work correctly? (The variations on exactly how the timing can fail and what you do to fix it are ENDLESS.) What do you do if an athlete misses their assigned start position? What do you do if it starts snowing half way through the race and you get two feet in two hours? How and why do you disqualify an athlete? What requirements for the spacing between gates? (Every event and age group has their own set of rules, just to keep it exciting!) What equipment are athletes permitted to use? The list of questions goes on. And on. And on. (And yes, all of these are real situations. Including the moose.)

For a different sports analogy, and in honor of the fact that some of you will be watching a game of it tomorrow afternoon, let’s take football. The 2012 Super Bowl was the Giants-Patriots rematch, and the very first points scored in that game went to the Giants. They scored a safety because Tom Brady got called for an intentional grounding penalty in his own end zone. Yeah. Consider that for a moment. These weird things do happen, and the officials have to know it all.

(And then, for a laugh, consider the fact that I remember this vividly only because that was the spring I spent living in Sweden. I was trying to teach football rules to my new friends from Germany and France. We were still trying to figure out what a yard was. It was a very fun night, but it was a little confusing for them!)

I love being around ski racing, and talking about ski racing, and listening to the crack-thwack of hitting slalom gates. I love the first run of the day; we get to go up very early to set the course and I’ve watched sunrises from the tops of many Colorado mountains that way. I love being outside all day and hanging out with the other officials and coaches.

But there is nothing I love more than sharing a race  course with my dad. He’s taught me everything I know about being a good official, and we spend hours on the phone swapping stories about crazy situations so if we ever see something similar we have some idea of what to do. I’m really lucky because I’ve spent years listening to my dad tell stories. He became a ski race official when I was racing in middle school. This gives me a lot of second-hand experience to draw on when something weird happens. Because, inevitably, something weird WILL happen.

At the moment I’m sitting here writing this knowing that my face is an interesting combination sunburned and windburned (I swear I put on sunscreen, but at 10,000 some feet it doesn’t matter much), my backpack is full of wet gear and old start lists, and the road up the canyon is windy and icy. Tomorrow I get to go back on the hill for eight hours of standing in ski boots in winter weather conditions, watch over 100 athletes come down the hill, and fill out paperwork at the end. For some people, this makes me completely insane. But ski people will understand when I say I couldn’t be more excited.

Tomorrow’s my last day of TD shadowing; once all the paperwork gets turned in from this race I’ll officially be a certified TD. It’s a wonderful way to give back to a sport I love, to meet new people who also love the mountains, to go outside, and to nerd out about ski racing rules with my dad. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Your homework: What’s one really obscure body of knowledge you know A LOT about? (Like, for example, alpine ski racing rules…) How did you learn about it? How do you maintain ties to the things you loved as a child?

Happy adventuring this February!

Hej då,

Jamie