Saturday, April 30, 2016

The presidential race - my view, part 1 of ???

Although it seems like literally everything that can be said about the 2016 presidential election already has been said, our collective infatuation with what seems to be a culturally-defining election means that there’s literally no end to primary/caucus blabbage.  And since Ash and I talk about it almost incessantly and she asks practically everyone she interacts with what they think and has therefore generated a lot of opinions, now as the polls close on Super Tuesday IV I thought I’d throw down a quick blawg post with my own thoughts as they’ve come together. 

As Bernie Sanders keeps telling me in his daily emails, a year ago when he announced his candidacy he was completely fringe and stood no chance, yet now he is “transforming America”.  Ironically, Bernie’s ascendency really mirrors The Donald’s; Trump’s message (though I don’t get emails from him, so I may not be as sure of this) is that he also represents transformation.  While both are clearly spewing not a little egotistical/political hyperbole, if it’s not true it’s certainly indicative of the fact that there are aspects of our ‘Merican life that need transformation and there are a lot of folks who are hungry for someone – anyone – who could enable some transformation.

However, let’s take quick stock of society, then (Obama’s inauguration) and now.  
·      The Dow Jones industrial average has increased from 8000 to 18,0000 today.  The NASDAQ has nearly tripled.  If you had the good fortune to have had $10,000 in an index fund at that time and reinvested the dividends you would have $15,000 today, adjusted for inflation ($18,000 if not). 
·      According to this website the Dow has performed much better during Obama's term than during W’s, and was commensurate to the growth during Reagan’s term (and less than during Clinton’s term).  
·      Unemployment has fallen from over 10% to under 5%, a historical norm that  -according to CNN  -“many economists consider full employment.“
·      After many almost three years of job losses, there have now been 5 years of continuous monthly job gains. 
·      According to, “corporate profits have soared under Obama,”  (average: 166%), inflation has averaged only 1.9%, (less than half the annual average since WWII), and wages have increased 3.4%, adjusted for inflation. 
·      The number of people without health insurance has decreased from 44M to 28M. 
·      US dependence on foreign oil has dropped by half.  And of course gas is half price. 
·      Wind and solar energy production is 274% higher now than it was in 2008. 
·      Violent crimes have dropped by 16%.
·      Auto fuel efficiency has increased 19%
·      US exports have gone up 31%
·      30 year fixed mortgage rates have gone from 5.5% to 3.6%
·      The number of people filing signing up for unemployment benefits – on a percentage basis - is at it’s lowest point in 40 years

All of this is relevant, that is, if you buy into the concept that the President has anything to do with the economy…..

Some notso good news:
  • ·      Again, according to, the US debt – that the government owes to it’s citizens  -has more than doubled (it also doubled during the Bush administration)
  • ·      Federal spending has gone up 11%
  • ·      The Federal deficit is still around $500B (the same as it was in 2008, but to be fair, it was more in the $200-300B range in the years before 2008).  

Really?  That’s it?  That’s why “we” all hate the establishment, feel the government’s run amok, demand a revolution, and need to transform America? 

I had the good fortune to attend a luncheon last fall with about 30 other lucky folks to hear the esteemed US Representative Jason Chaffetz speak at a country club (of course; I tried to meet with him in his DC office, but ended up with him at a country club!).   In the Q & A session a guy asked a question, that started with this statement:  “IF the United States were a company, we all know it would be bankrupt!”  It was all I could do to not jump and yell in this guys face:  “But it’s NOT a company, it’s a NATION! And companies are not obligated to provide social infrastructure, set fiscal policy, nor print money!”   But I think that’s the root of the problem:  people try to boil down something as complex as a rich, powerful nation full of innumerable goals, ideals, ethnicities, and global/domestic responsibilities into something digestible and understandable, like the insurance company cubicle-ville where they work or their family's finances, and….the US gubment simply ain’t like that. 

But that’s the beauty of Bernie and Donald:  they have simple, straightforward messages that resonate with people, and they do it from a position relatively unadulterated authenticity.   Authenticity is probably one of the most powerful draws in society; as Malcolm Gladwell pointed out well in The Tipping Point, in an era where so much of what we see and hear is prescribed and carefully fed to us, we yearn for connections to people and entities that are truly authentic.  All the way from the growth of farmer’s markets to outdoor companies sponsoring “real” athletes to the popularity of reality shows, and… politicians who “tell it like it is.”   And for better or worse, The Donald and Da Bern “seem”  - an important caveat - to be indeed “telling it like it is”, as opposed to politicians telling us what they think we want to hear in order to get our votes.

Brother Paul had a great line recently:  “we all want to live in Bernie’s world, but do we want Bernie to be president?”  And I think that there are plenty of Republicans who are saying the same thing about Trump.  And it begs an interesting question:  has the historical perception of what we perceived to be “presidential” changed?   Are we ok with a gruff, antagonistic, rumpled grandfather or a pompous gunslinger being our prime statesman, ready to say and do exactly the right thing in times of crisis? 

Now – 4 days later, as I’m re-visiting this, it appears that the Eastern voters of Tuesday have said that their liberal types prefer a more-statesman-like figure in Hillary and the conservatives are indeed ok with a demagogue.  And Bernie vows to fight, Cruz is clearly getting desperate by bringing Carly Fiorina on board, he and Kasich are essentially colluding against Trump, and  -according to the AP - the GOP is reluctantly realizing that indeed their people have been speaking.  

And in the meantime the Republican Senators – led by our own esteemed Orrin Hatch, who’s verbal wriggling surrounding his support for confirming some judges but not others due to “a particularly-nasty” presidential campaign (really?  That’s the main reason?  As opposed to past, very civil, nice, unadulterated presidential campaigns that had no mudslinging whatsoever?) – further alienates their more-moderate constituents.    As Stephen Colbert points out, the Republican National Committee may be getting worried. 

I’m glad that Bernie’s been around, because he’s made his handful of major elephants-in-the-room points enough that he’s not only emboldened Hillary to take some more aggressive liberal stances but also galvanized an entire movement – that’s also has appeal to fiscal conservatives - and any future elected officials would ignore that movement at their peril, even if some of his broad strokes – like breaking up the banks, as according to Paul Krugman -  may be a bit misguided (though plenty of smart folks sharply criticized Krugman for this).   

As for me, Hilary would likely keep the economic progress noted above going and would indeed be more "presidential", though I do like the Bern of general rabble-rousing.  And  I’d far prefer to have the entertainment of candidate Trump than the smug piousity of Ted Cruz who seems determined to warp his US Constitution into creating a theocracy. 

It’ll be fascinating to watch…..

Monday, April 11, 2016

New and Good ski gear

Although it’s almost mid-April and for many folks it’s nearing the end of ski season (even though the snowpacks are at their zenith for the year, and there will be plenty more good days  - including powder days - left to ski) I thought I’d do a quick summary of some new ski gear that I got a lot of use out of this season that I had high hopes for and they all definitely proved their worth.  Not that anybody besides me cares what I use, but I'm harboring illusions of grandeur....

I was wandering around the Outdoor Retailer trade show in August and saw back in the small brand/small booth/back 40 area a booth for “ThermaCell” that caught my eye, and after ordering a pair of their footbeds I am not sure how I made it so long without them!  I’ve always struggled with cold toes, and while I love winter and skiing I annually go into the season somewhat dreading another prolonged period of  cold toes.  I have tried the Thermic footbeds with the external battery packs that hook to your boot and have the dangly cord going into the shell and through a hole in the liner, but the battery pack is heavy, awkwardly placed on the shell and very vulnerable to getting lost, and difficult to turn on due to it being under the pant legs, but at least they’re expensive.  Enter ThermaCell:

These guys have focused on the huntin' and fishin' markets and have come up with a pretty awesome product for the cold-toes crowd.  The evolution of battery technology has enabled these babies to have all the batteries held inside the footbed itself, they weigh barely more than a regular footbed, are easily plugged into to recharge at night:

give off noticeable heat for >5 hours, and the best part:

The remote-control switch.  Toes getting a little chilly?  Just reach into your pocket, push the button, and within minutes the heat is on.  I usually cycle them on and off as needed (not very often) to keep the charge going for a longer day.  

Along those lines, they also make rechargeable hand warmers.  

I know, those little cotton-covered chemical pack handwarmer things are fine, but again I usually just need a heat blast, not an all-day warm pack, and half the time it seems like I kept them too long jiggling around in my pack so they went bad - that I only discover when I really need them - and I feel like an idiot having carried them around all season, but at least I gotta then throw them away.  The ThermaCell handwarmers are a little big and they really only work with mittens or trigger-fingered “glittens” (or is that “mives”?) but again, the convenience of being able to turn them on as needed as opposed to having the disposable styles be “on” all day and then throwing them away is great.

I got the Voile V6’s late last season and only got a few days on them, so this was the first “real” season I’ve skied on them.

 and as such I’ve had them in all sorts of conditions, everywhere from hard/icy/steep to perfect corn to deep blower powder, and I’ve been amazed at how well they handle it all, from Wasatch Wiggle turns to 60 mph railing.   With a mild rocker and at 100mm underfoot they are plenty of ski for as deep a snow as we get.   I skied the bigger V8 in deep powder and realized that anything bigger is really just overkill, but at least it’s more specialized; I think 100 underfoot is about as big as I like to go for making quicker turns and climbing challenging, off-camber skin tracks.    And while the V6 isn’t “light” compared to something like the comparably-sized Sportiva Vapor Nano or DSP Wailer 99, it’s also half the price of those. 

I’ve also had the chance to try Voile’s newest rig, the Objective. 
the graphics will change a bit for production 
Voile  -true to their Wasatch roots  -have always been a bit oriented towards powder skiing, starting with the original – and much-beloved – Mountain Surf, but they are recognizing that companies like Movement and Dynafit are getting a lot of play with a narrower-waisted, bigger-sidecutted ski in a really light package for, well….objectives!  Ie longer approaches and steeper lines.  I personally think that their Wasatch Speed Project skimo skis are surprisingly versatile given their diminutive size, but The Market thinks they are only appropriate for the spandex skimo crowd, so having a really light but very skiable ski as an option for days when weight feels like it’ll be an issue is a very logical solution.  The light swing weight of the Objectives makes them flip around skinner switchbacks really easily and enables easy 180 hop turns on steep lines, and the stiffness profile and sidecut generates confidence that the skis will “stick” on said 180 turns above cliffs and rocks.  It's likely a quiver ski for most folks, but a valuable one, and realistically they also ski just fine in all but the deepest days.  And again they'll likely be cheaper than most of their competitors, despite being made in SLC by Wasatch backcountry skiers!  

The Quiver, for size reference.
Voile was a little reluctant to put a tip notch in the Objectives for the Euro-style tip-elastic'd skins, fearing that the visual might pigeonhole it as spandex-only tool.  But the production model will indeed have a tip notch.  Once you start using tip-notch skins and realize the ease of bending down to grab and pull the skin from the tip you’ll wonder why the industry moved away from that in the first place and has been making us awkwardly grab the tail piece and rip forwards.   But at least that “elastic” plastic tail piece falls off a couple of times a day and breaks at least twice a season! 

For what it’s worth, I have also realized that most tech bindings  -including the majority of Dynafit’s selection - are a bit overkill; the lightweight race bindings work just fine despite their anemic look, and though I haven’t used them, I think the bindings that will allay skeptics’ fears are the Dynafit Superlights. is probably the best site and best resource for cool, lighter weight ski gear.  

I have also been using the new Atomic Backland boots: 

The Dynafit TLT 5 and then the TLT 6 seemed to have created the standard for lightweight, big range-of-motion, but very skiable boots, but Atomic did a great job of making a viable competitor, especially considering that Atomic is basically an alpine brand and their first couple of AT models were on the big/burly side.   The boots walk almost as well as my Scarpa Aliens, are not much heavier, and ski pretty much just as well as my Black Diamond Quadrants.  They are a little finicky:  the removeable plastic tongue is a bit more awkward to get into place than the Dynafit version (but I just stopped using it, and it’s fine; brother Paul has taken to just leaving the tongue in place and they still walk ok), the cuff overlap has a tendency to overlap incorrectly (Paul addressed this with some pop bottle plastic and some epoxy), the buckles got a bit overthought and are a little too hard to get them to pull over-center, but it’s easy to get past these issues.  Theoretically the shell itself is thermomoldable so it should fit a wider range of people, though our buddy Colin – with a low-volume, wide foot  - took full advantage (and then some) of’s great customer service trying to get the fit right and was unsuccessful. But their last should accommodate most feet pretty well.

At the Wasatch Powder Keg I won a sil nylon Camp ski pack; for years I’d thought about getting one of those but was always trying to figure out how to use packs that I had that would enable light/fast touring or skimo racing.  

After getting this pack I’m now of course fully sold; it holds a surprising amount of stuff, rides really well, and of course has almost no weight to it at all when empty. I know, all the other skimo dudes (both of them) who might be reading this are saying:  “No shit! Of course it’s great!” but I guess I’m a slow learner, or at least stubborn enough to keep stumbling along with sub-par products convincing myself that I might be able to make them work.  That said, for me this pack is mostly a spring thing, and I’ll likely still be toting around my heavy BCA Float avy balloon pack for much of the season, since I think it's a pretty viable piece of safety equipment that increases my odds a little.  

Inside that pack I was delighted to find a pair of Camp’s clever gloves with the insulated mitt cover thing that stows away in the wrist. 

Also a common skimo thing that lots of people have already discovered, but I have liked them as much as I anticipated.

I got the Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody early this season, and I have worn this thing more than any other this winter.  

the body and ribs have some thin synthetic insulation so it's quick to warm but the full zip means you can get some good cooling if you zip it all the way down.  I have historically not been a big hood guy because it seems like they are just snow-catchers that dump snow on your head right at the moment that you want the warmth that a hood provides, but this one lies flat on your upper back.  

And last but not least, I got a pair of Truck gloves this winter that have been great. 

For many years I bought into the concept that most of the manufacturers have been espousing  with gloves that more is better and that having a plastic bag (ie a waterproof/”breathable” liner surrounding your hand was a good thing, until I realized that it wasn’t.
brother Paul gave me the idea to give these moves/glitts some surgery; cut that black layer open and you can pull out the sweat-inducing, hand-clammatizing membrane
I also thought that the gauntlet-length was important to keeping my wrists warm, but now with thumbed thermal shirts (and on the Deviator above) and after seeing increasing numbers of folks using simple insulated leather gloves to ski in I decided to give it a go with locally-owned Truck.  They have been surprisingly warm, surprisingly breathable and versatile, and waterproof as long as you treat them with oil/snow seal periodically, and are only $30.  To satisfy those who still "need" the gauntlet and the plastic bag they are doing that version as well, for $65 (half the price of the comparable Black Diamond gloves).  

With a decent snowpack around the West in general and the fact that the spring meltoff only historically gets going around this time there's still plenty of good skiing to be had; guy reminded us that the biggest storm of last season happened on Tax Day.  It may not be a great time to buy gear, but all this stuff will be around come fall when the winter fever starts to set in.....

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Trouble with Trouble

I am back from an emotional few days in Portland for the memorial of the lovely young Ruby Gray and am pondering what  -if anything - to write about that.  But I need to do a bit of processing first to see if I want to/should write about it.  Suffice to say that the loss of anyone young is tragic, but it's particularly acute when someone like Ruby is just blossoming out of the gawkiness of adolescence into the maturity and potential of a fired up young adult.  And clearly the 2000-some people at her memorial felt similarly.

In the meantime, I thought I would go ahead and do a quick cross-post to a column I did recently for Ascent Backcountry Journal (I of course love the fact that a ski magazine is called "Ascent!")   It's sort of the latest installment of my infatuation with the concept of why and how we make decisions, only this time it's how we deal with other people's decisions.  Brother Paul came up with the story name:  The Trouble with Trouble (is that it starts out as fun!) though one that I thought of initially and then forgot was "Third Guessing".   I'd copy and paste it here, but in the efforts of promoting a great rag and driving a bit of traffic to it I'll just include the link to Ascent's website.