Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fog ruins Lindsey's chance for Alpine World Cup title

The battle for the Alpine World Cup title between Lindsey Vonn and Germany's Maria Riesch is over. In the end, weather determined the winner: Riesch by three points.

The much-anticipated finale that would have given Vonn her fourth straight overall World Cup title was canceled by officials due to fog and soft snow in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. She never even got on course.

"Win or lose, I just wanted the chance," said Vonn. "I feel devastated. But I'm extremely proud to have been in the fight in what was one of the most exciting seasons in ski racing history."

Such a shame! But anyone who has skied in Europe knows that weather is a huge factor. Fog, clouds, rain can deteriorate snow conditions in an instant. As I write this from my beautiful Colorado where fog and rain are virtually non-existent in our winter mountains, I wonder why the FIS stages most of the races in Europe. Well, I know why—Europeans support ski racing like we worship football. In the U.S., ski racing is a niche sport, and it's too bad. Because we offer the best playing fields in the world!


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Women and Alaska's Iditarod

In 1985, Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. A year later, Susan Butcher won the race and became the second four-time winner in 1990 and the first woman to ever place in the top 10. Soon after, the motto going around Alaska was: "Alaska - where men are men and women win the Iditarod."

Sadly, Susan Butcher died of leukemia in 2006. Two years later, then Governor Sarah Palin declared the first Saturday of every March—the traditional start of the Iditarod—as Susan Butcher Day.

With no special concessions for gender, the playing field is equal in this grueling race over 1,150 miles across jagged mountain ranges, frozen rivers, dense forests, desolate tundra and miles of windswept coast between Anchorage and Nome. Temps dip way below zero, winds can interfere with visibility, and there are long hours of darkness.
"The number of women in the race has definitely increased," said Carolyn Muegge-Vaughan, who was the 49th woman to run in the 49th state in 1987, and her bib number was—49! "I always think women have more stamina, maybe it's the extra fat we carry around; but women always place in the top 20." Carolyn raced in three Iditarods, having moved to Alaska to be a dog handler for Col. Norman Vaughan in 1986 whom she later married. 

As of this writing, DeeDee Jonrowe, 57, is in the top 10 for the 2011 "Last Great Race." A cancer survivor and crowd favorite, DeeDee, her dogs and their handlers were decked out in pink at the ceremonial start in Anchorage on March 5. "The volunteers and residents of rural Alaska are an important element of the experience, and I am blessed to continue participating in this race."

DeeDee is just behind Jessie Royer, 34, from Fairbanks running 9th. Jessie got her first sled dogs at age 15; she won Montana's Race to the Sky when she was just 17.

Good luck, DeeDee and Jessie! To see how they and the 13 other women fared this year, go to for all updates.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Kim Kircher: Using ski patrol skills to deal with personal crisis

The hardest challenges Kim Kircher has dealt with in her 21-year career as a ski patroller at Washington's Crystal Mountain have helped her get through the toughest time in her personal life.
Photo by Chris Morin
With her mostly male mates on ski patrol, Kim, 40, is required to do three important tasks: Snow Safety, Skier Safety and Rescue.

Snow safety involves avalanche control. On days following a storm, she's up at 4:30 a.m., on the lift by 6, and throwing bombs by first light. When all avies have slid, the mountain is safe to open. Here she attaches a bomb to a piece of bamboo for an air shot.

Skier safety means she does everything possible to make the mountain safe, such as putting up signs and rope lines, padding lift towers, marking hazards and controlling speed of skiers and snowboarders.  

Photo by Chris Morin
Finally, in her job of rescue, she aids injured skiers and riders as an EMT, helps those who are stuck on a cliff or otherwise can't get down the mountain, and "sweeps" the mountain at the end of the day for lost or missing people.

Needless to say, she puts in long days under stressful situations. She must stay strong and tough in the face of crisis. "The hardest part is not crying when things get hard," says Kim. "I've learned to toughen myself up; be strong when I have a patient who's not breathing, come across a bloody scene or find someone who is dead." Kim is also a diabetic, a condition that makes her physical demands even greater. She's won awards from the National Ski Patrol for her life-saving efforts.

When Kim's husband John (a member of the Kircher skiing family dynasty that owns and operates 10 ski areas in the U.S. and British Columbia ) became ill and needed a liver transplant, Kim drew upon her experiences as a patroller to help them both get through the ordeal together. "I kept saying 'I've done hard things before, I can do this,'" she says. "I knew the health issues, but beyond that, I knew I could get through it."

Today, John is cancer-free and the two are enjoying their active lifestyle. You can read about Kim's life and work in her memoir The Next Fifteen Minutes to be released in November. Check it out at I had the privilege of meeting Kim at a North American Snowsports Journalists Association annual conference at Alyeska Resort. I can tell you she is one inspiring woman—all 6 feet of her!
John and Kim Kircher of Boyne Resorts