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)

ligety GS1.jpg

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.”

piano practice.jpg

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.

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