Ethics and ambition, 2014
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, skiing, women, Colorado, California (Tuesday November 11, 2014 at 11:05 am)

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Shelf  Road, a favorite winter climbing area
I’ve spoken at Professor Paul Strom’s class, The Ethics of Ambition, for many years. In 2013, I discussed the dilemma of would-be guided Everest climbers, who pass by dying climbers on their way up and down the mountain. I also discussed sponsorship, and climbers who perform death-defying (and in some cases, deadly) stunts to please their sponsors and their audience. One report  by Deutsche Welle “uncovers the background stories of several deaths associated with Red Bull’s publicity stunts”

in 2011, I delved further into sponsorship and the pressure it can place on climbers (and any professional in extreme sports, such as base jumping, surfing, free skiing, and others.)
This year, for the first time since I’ve spoken at this class, we discussed a personal ambition of my own. The first consequence ( for this class, of my ambition):  the students wrote the answer to their homework question, and were ready to post it, before I got around to posting my annual ethics post. And why? Because I was rock climbing at Shelf Road (photo above) in pursuit of my current ambition.

In the past year, I conceived the idea of trying to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan within 24 hours. Many climbers have done this, so it’s nothing that special — but I would be the oldest woman to ever climb it in a day. Perhaps even the oldest person , if it takes me long enough to accomplish!

So why this goal, why now, and what ethical constraints are involved?

As to why climb El Capitan,  I’ve always loved climbing this rock face, since becoming part of the first female team to climb it. I’ve wanted to climb el Capitan since then, and was able to climb it two more times while I was still a student. Since then, I haven’t been able to climb El Capitan due to various constraints - job, career, and then I became a mother. While I continued to rock climb recreationally, I was not able to commit the amount of time and energy necessary to climb it within 24 hours.

Last spring, I was in Yosemite for a month, practicing the first third of El Capitan.  In 2015, I plan to return to Yosemite and work on the route for another month of two. When my son was young, I could not leave home that long. and, even though he’s been in college the past four years, in 2012 and 2013, I was taking care of my extremely ill mother, who lied in the Bay Area. I could climb for the weekend, but not for weeks on end.

So, in the past years, I’d given up my ambition to take care of my son, and then my parents.  The ethical constraint was clear: postpone my goals, or abandon my family. I chose to take care of my family, and climb El Capitan later. Perhaps waiting paid off: this spring, the American alpine Club awarded me a ‘Live Your Dream‘ grant to attempt this climb.

Why now? My son graduated from college in May, 2014; both of my parents have passed away, and my job as a ski instructor at Beaver Creek Resorts allows me to take the summer to climb. For the first timein decades, I have the time to go to Yosemite for a month or so without abandoning other responsibilities.

I’ve asked the students to discuss similar ethical dilemmas that they may have faced in their lives. for instance, perhaps a  high school athlete had to choose between his sport, and academics. Or someone had to choose between attending a college that offered the best education, versus staying closer to home and family.

We all make choices in our life that affect others, and those decisions and  ambitions can cause ethical conflicts.

What gets publicity are the famous athletes (and artists, politicians, and  others in the media) whose decisions affect not only their only lives, but the lives of many.

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El Capitan, Yosemite

Mikaela Shiffrin wins again !
Posted by sibylle in skiing, women, Europe, Colorado (Tuesday January 14, 2014 at 3:28 pm)


Shiffrin demonstrates her winning technique

Photo from Denver Post

Mikaela Shiffrin, 18-year old ski racing phenom from Vail, Colorado, won the Flachau slalom decisively, beating her opponents by almost a second in a race in which hundredths of a second often separate rival skiers.

After her first run, she was ahead by 0.9 seconds, an almost unbeatable advantage. Her second run was not as fast as the first, but she still beat the runner ups, Frida Hansdotter, by 0.83sec, and Maria Pietilae-Holmner by 1.14 seconds.

This leaves Shiffrin, current slalom world champion and winner of last year’s World Cup crystal globe in slalom, in a dominant position for the upcoming Olympics.

Watch the video  of her first run, which the Austrian commentator describes as her skiing with “perfect technique” and ends by saying after her first run, that “the race is really over”.

The Austrian commentator notes her stable upper body,a nd describes her skiing as resembling a “graceful waltz”, but a very fast waltz!

For my ski students, note how her upper body faces downhill and is very calm and stable, while her legs turn under her .. very fast!

Shiffrin has won six of the last 10 slalom races, which gives her the  lead  in the World Cup rankings with 402 points ahead of Hansdotter with 258 points - a nice position to be in just before the Sochi  Olympics.

Ethics of Ambition, 2013
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, skiing, ice, women, Switzerland, Europe (Tuesday October 29, 2013 at 11:25 am)

Why would a climber speak to a class on the Ethics of Ambition?  Does climbing pose ethical dilemmas? It may - if you’re a sponsored climber and under pressure by sponsors to perform. Or if you have a very ambitious goal.

Mt. Everest

I’ll describe recent scenarios  of climbers around the world that involve decisions made by climbers, guides, and Sherpas.

First, ambition requires a great deal of egotism and selfishness, as I’ve discussed before in previous year’s classes.

Once our ambition drives us to set goals such as climbing the world’s highest mountain, or being the fastest person to climb El Capitan, then these goals require much time spent training, and in the case of Mt. Everest, a very large sum of money - about $65,000 to $100,000 (per person) for a guided climb.

Today, many of the rich and would-be famous sign on with a guide to climb Mt. Everest, some inspired by the book, Seven Summits, by Dick Bass and Frank Wells.  In the book review, it states that, “For their third and final attempt on Mt. Everest, Wells had to choose between the summit try and his family.”

Driven and ambitious climbers, after paying $65,000 or more for their chance at the summit of the world’s tallest mountain, have walked right by dying men and left them on the side of the trail alone, to die.

In 2006,   German climber, Thomas Weber,  collapsed and died, less than 20 yards from the trail. A British climber, David Sharp,  became seriously ill and died. IN 2006, 40 climbers, intent on the summit, refused to help. Climbers often pass dying climbers on the mountain without stopping to help - either, because they lack the strength and skills … or, because they are intent on reaching the summit.

In 2012, the Guardian posted a blog about “the ethical dilemmas facing climbers” as they describe how one climber found many bodies attached to the fixed lines and had to walk around them. In conclusion, they ask, “has human life come to count for less than the fulfillment of a personal ambition?”

In 2013, Sherpas attacked Swiss climber Ueli Steck and two of his friends  and threatened to kill them.  Steck says that after passing the Sherpas on the climb, when they returned to camp they were met by “a mob of 100 people hitting us with rocks and they threatened to kill us.”

Swiss info asked Steck what his sponsors said, and Steck replied, “they understand but on the other hand … we don’t get anything for free. The sponsors want to benefit from me. And now, all three of us have to deal with financial disaster. We spent a lot of money…  the world keeps on spinning and I have to keep going.”  Steck said he would not return to Everest after this threat on their lives.
In Oct. of 2013, Steck returned to the Himalayas to solo climb the south face of Annapurna, and said that, though he’ll not forget what happened on Everest, that “I think I’m beginning to find the fun in life once again!”

Büchel and Deutsche Welle looks at the dark side of extreme sports and sponsorship in “the Dark Side of Red Bull - the Perils of Extreme Sports.”

In 2009,  three athletes died while doing (paid) stunts for Red Bull: skier Shane McConkey, parachuter Eli Thompson and basejumper Ueli Gegenschatz - who was  filmed when he was killed.

The press asked “who is responsible for deadly maneuvers?”

Büchel said that McConkey was under tremendous pressure: “In order to stay in business, McConkey perceived himself as challenged to perform ever-more reckless acts - like combining extreme skiing and base-jumping.”

Robb Gaffney, a medical doctor,  described Red Bull marketing as unethical.

And last, but not least,  what about kids climbing? In July 2013, 12-year old Tito Traversa was killed in a fall to the ground when his incorrectly-assembled equipment failed. The Italian prosecutors filed manslaughter charges against five people - the gear manufacturer, the store selling the gear, and the manager and instructor of the club the organized the trip on which Tito was killed.

But who’s really responsible? In my opinion, not the store or manufacturer, if the quick draws are sold unassembled, but whoever put the draws together incorrectly. And whoever checked (or failed to) check them.

Want to learn to ski?
Posted by sibylle in skiing (Tuesday October 15, 2013 at 3:01 pm)

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Ted Ligety in a GS race

Often, in the many years I’ve taught skiing,  a man brings in his children (and sometimes, his wife and children) to a lesson and tells me,

“I’ve booked a lesson for the family with you. Tomorrow, I want to ski the mountain with them.”

On one occasion, the paterfamilias  brought in his family for a half day morning lesson, and informed me he planned to ski down the mountain with them that afternoon.

Usually, when I get the family for a day, I reply that some people learn more quickly, and others not as fast, but that the speed at which they pick up learning will depend on their previous athletic experience.  After teaching former competitive ice skaters, and competitive ice hockey players, I’ve seen that professional athletes  can pick up skiing very quickly. They already know how to balance against a moving edge, and they know how to turn their legs independently of their body.

But not all people learn that quickly.   The paterfamilias who wanted to ski the mountain with his family, I cautioned,

“They may need more than three hours before they are ready to descend the mountain with you. We’ll  progress at the speed of the slowest member of your family, and even if the strongest kids would be ready, I can’t take them on more challenging terrain until they can all go there.”

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Learning to ski well is a little like learning to play a musical instrument   — practice, practice, practice.

Learning to play an instrument is like learning a foreign language“, says Babbage in the blog “Instruments of Mass Delight”.  And continues, “it is easier to learn to play an instrument when a child—while the brain is still plastic enough for extra connections to be built between the auditory, visual and motor regions.”

As in skiing, where we build connections between  visual and motor regions, and build muscle memory.

“Musicians who learned music at an early age reveal accumulations of white matter in the corpus callosum …such people are way above average at synchronising their limbs with cues from their eyes and ears.”

I remind my students - both parents and  their children - that learning to ski is like learning to play an instrument - the more they practice, the more they’ll improve.

Babbage concludes:

“Ultimately .. playing an instrument is more than just tapping, plucking, bowing or blowing the correct sequence of notes.   No amount of … videos  can embed such intimate appreciation into the muscles and memory. Only an insightful teacher with a lifetime’s experience can do that … get on with practicing scales. Tedious as they may seem, they are the key to mastering music.”

Often, in my lessons we do drills, such as skiing without poles. These drills, especially at the beginning of the season, will help us progress as the season unfolds. Even world cup skiers begin their season with drills.

Here are some recommended drills:

USSA programs  - base training, core training

US ski team updates  - stance, progressions, drills

Finding time for drills  - includes Shlopy’s
Right now, I’m doing core training (plus rock climbing, of course!) This winter, we’ll start our ski time with a few drills, and then enjoy the rest of the mountain.

Ted Ligety’s training tips
Posted by sibylle in utah, skiing, Europe (Saturday February 16, 2013 at 8:38 am)

Now that Ted’s won Three gold medals in the 2013 Ski world championships, I’m certainly interested in his summer training program.

Here’s his training, at Park City Utah:

Squat jumps -Ted jumps, with weighted squat bar - I struggle in static squats!

Box jumps - jump onto a box

Glute side band walks   - put an exercise band around your legs, and walk sideways. This is  also a stabilizer exercise.

2 sets of 20 yards

Split squats  - get both strength and a stretch with this exercise

4 sets of 10 reps, with or without weights

Glute- hamstring raises - helps prevent ACL injuries by strengthening the hamstrings. Or do Swiss Ball hamstring curls.

3 sets of five

Back extension holds- for endurance of the back muscles

Overhead medicine ball throws

So, if you’re  serious about skiing better this winter or next, try some of these exercises!

Ligety wins third gold medal
Posted by sibylle in skiing, Europe (Friday February 15, 2013 at 8:25 pm)

Ted Ligety won the GS by a huge margin - a 1.31 second lead in the first run - in a race more usually won by tenths, or even hundredths, of a second.

Ligety, who skied a near-perfect run,  is the first man in 45 years to win three golds in a world championships  since Killy in 1968.

His competitors were impressed with his form and technique - so far, he’s been close to unbeatable in his best event, the giant slalom (GS).
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Ligety’s amazing form, that allowed him to win 3 golds

file photo from

Ligety wins World Championship golds
Posted by sibylle in skiing, Europe (Monday February 11, 2013 at 3:46 pm)

Ted Ligety has already won two gold medals in the skiing world championships - and that’s before competing in his best event, the Giant Slalom.


Ted Ligety - file photo

First he won the SuperG in Schladming, Austria, - his first win in any super-G.  France’s De Tessieres  placed second, and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, who won three of the four World Cup super-Gs this season, was in third place.


Ligety in super-G

Next, he won the super combined - an event in which the racer’s times in the downhill and a slalom race (two widely disparate events) are added. Croatia’s  Kostelic  finished second, 1.15 seconds behind, and Austrian Baumann placed third.

Ligety, who won four of the five World Cup races in Giant Slalom s this season, is the  favorite for a third gold medal in Friday’s GS.

Posted by sibylle in skiing, Colorado (Saturday December 1, 2012 at 9:06 pm)

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View of the Beaver Creek finish area

We sat in the first row of bleachers, which gave us a good view of the bottom section of the race course, and of the large-screen video of the races.

The first racer,  Stephan Keppler, crashed and slid  a long distance into the B-net - not the most auspicious  start.

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Keppler’s crash on the screen

Keppler limped away from his crash. The next few racers completed the course, with last year’s overall WC champion, Marcel Hirscher, skiing conservatively after seeing Keppler’s crash.

Then, skiing 10th, Max Franz crashed — and was knocked unconscious, and brought down by ski patrol.

Depsite the two wipeouts, Matteo Marsaglia, skiing 12th, only two runs after Franz’s crash, went all out. He said that “I tried to push  … I had nothing to lose.”

Hirscher, reigning World champion,  whose best event is the GS (to come Sunday) did not ski as aggressively- risking all– and came in over 2 seconds behind Marsaglia.

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close-up of crash - does not look fun

Video of the crash on YouTube - he’s trying to slow down, after he falls, while sliding down the course.
One of my colleagues at Beaver Creek, a race coach, commented that 17 racers out is almost 25% of the field and indicates that something might have been wrong. 

I’m curious to hear if they conclude that there was a problem with the course. Other conditions were ideal –  blue sky, sunshine, good visibility, good surface.

Read more here:
Avalanche-prone snowpack in Colorado and west
Posted by sibylle in skiing, Colorado, Canada and PNW (Tuesday February 21, 2012 at 5:40 pm)


Snowpack during winter 2012 is much less than normal, but avalanche danger is as high, or higher than, ever.

Four skiers recently died in avalanches in the Cascades, a ski patroller from Keystone was killed near Wolf Creek Pass,    and another near Telluride. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center  warns of considerable avalanche danger.

This year has seen the following avalanche deaths:

Colorado - 6

Utah - 3

Montana - 3

Wyoming - 1

Washington - 4

Canada - 4

It’s not quite as bad as in Europe, which has suffered from mega-cold and snow this winter. One avalanche near Kosovo killed 10 people after it buried an entire house.

I survived an avalanche in  Europe when I was little - maybe 6 or 7. My father had taken his family and some friends on a backcountry ski tour. Suddenly, my mother was screaming my name. the next thing I knew, I was buried to my neck, with only my head sticking out of the snow.

I couldn’t move my arms, or legs. I could still breathe, since my head was sticking out above the snow - which saved my life two ways - I  could breathe, and someone found me.

One of our friends was only partially buried, andwas able to free himself. After that he dug out another of our group, and eventually they got us all free. No one died int hat avalanche, but the memory of my mother’s screams, and of being buried int he snow, completely immobilized, has never left me.

I track ski (classic cross country), and ski alpine at resorts, but rarely ski backcountry since moving to Colorado. We used to do lots of ski tours when I lived in California, with its wet, heavy snow  resulting in a  more stable snowpack, but I’ve really reduced the amount of backcountry skiing since moving to Colorado.

This winter, I’ve taken up ski racing (in gates), partly at my son’s urging, and am finding it’s really, really fun. I’m not good at it ( in fact, I’m lousy) - but it keeps my alive.
Perhaps it’s a good winter for finding other thrills,a nd wait on the backcountry until next year. Or wait for the Sierra in spring.


Maple Canyon - changing the Stripes
Posted by sibylle in skiing, women, Colorado (Monday November 28, 2011 at 1:48 pm)

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Megan signing the summit register

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