Twelve Life Lessons From Skiing

The XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi have wrapped up, and those of us who relish the hours watching downhill ski racing must wait another four years for that level of competition.

However, that doesn’t mean we should wait to adopt life lessons from the sport.

I feel fortunate to come from a “ski family” and to be raising one of my own. None of us race, none of us have dreams of World Cup glory and none of us look particularly skilled on double-black-diamond runs. Nevertheless, we all learned important life tools from our time on the slopes. Following are a dozen of my favorite ski tips:

  1. Listen. Skiing is by nature a quiet sport; the din is only interrupted by the whistle of wind through the evergreens, the hum of ski lifts and occasional rattle of chairs crossing posts. After every run down a slope, skiers and boarders are afforded several minutes of quiet and calm, when they can regroup, think deeply and learn about the conditions below. Subtle changes in sounds indicate where a run contains ice, where it has been over-groomed, where bare patches expose rocks (nothing irks a skier more than the dreaded sound of scratch decimating a smooth ski bottom) and where the best powder lies. This tip works anywhere: talk less and listen more.
  2. Keep your eyes open. Skiers know to always remain alert to their surroundings. They must be ever cognizant of who is ahead/downhill on a slope (that person has the right of way), and conscious of that person’s next move: will he or she turn into your path? Are they likely to fall? Is a snowboarder advancing too quickly near you? Could rocks or a steep cliff lie ahead? This extra sense of alertness comes in handy in other realms, as well. While single in New York City, I knew to always take note of my environment: Was that person following me on a dark street? Could that cab turn into the cross walk after I enter it? Is my purse safe at my side?
  3. Be prepared. Seasoned skiers know that the weather can turn on a dime. What starts as a frigid, overcast day can end in a wash of sun and melting snow, and vice-versa. Removable layers, ski masks and spare goggle lenses are all part of a skiers repertoire. And, of course, in any  activity we must prepared for changes in weather, latitudes and attitudes (with a nod to Jimmy Buffett).
  4. Absorb the bumps.  Moguls – large “bumps” of snow — make ski runs more interesting as well as challenging. Many of us enjoy the exhilaration of attacking and mastering a mogul-filled run, and the resulting thigh-burn that reminds us we have worked our bodies.  The best Olympic skiers seem to absorb moguls without a flinch or second thought, and I find inspiration in their ability to “go with the flow.” Without bumps on the slopes – or in any aspect of life – we wouldn’t appreciate the easier times.
  5. photoRemember your manners. Skiers are, by and large, a polite bunch. When passing closely, they usually shout “On your left” to warn others not to turn quickly or feel anxious. Most skiers and boarders wait patiently and orderly in long lift lines. (Of course, I am referring to North America here. The definition of “lift lines” in Europe is entirely different. Don’t even ask about the time I called someone a “sale de cochon” for cutting me off from my husband when we honeymooning in the Portes du Soleil.) Good manners make any activity more enjoyable.
  6. Share the road. No matter where you ski, you’ll probably encounter a bottle-neck at the end of the day, as skiers of all abilities follow the same last runs in. You will find young kids racing, almost sitting back on their skis, poles tucked under their arms; tiny kids traversing beginner slopes; and twenty-something snowboarders rushing in for après-ski activities. You all need to share the same slope. Of course, this is true of bike/walk/jogging paths, highways and hiking trails. We are all in this together.
  7. Respect others. When skiing, never judge others according to their age, appearance or equipment. Some of the kindest or most-proficient skiers use 20-year-old skis and thrift-shop jackets. Respect in skiing, as elsewhere, is a two-way street. When you fall and create a yard-sale of skis and poles on a steep slope, you are at the mercy of the skier behind you. As you lie in the snow, wondering how you will retrieve the ski you left 20 yards up-slope, you will be grateful for the skier who carries it down to you. Most skiers have their own Instant Karma stories: if they sped past a skier in need, they fell and needed help shortly thereafter. I have found this true in parking lots, as well: if you let someone take the parking place you were eyeing, another will soon open up. But if you sneak into a spot someone has waited for, the next time you’re at Costco, you will endure a long wait in the lot.
  8. Great equipment doesn’t make for better athletes. New and glitzy equipment is just that. With eight skiers to outfit, my parents certainly couldn’t spring for new equipment every season. We utilized hand-me-downs and ski swaps for our skis, poles and boots. And while, as I said, none of us attained pro-racer skill levels, we all were competent enough to enjoy our time on the mountain. Without a doubt, I do enjoy the technological advances that make boots and coats warmer and skis easier to turn, my own advances have come through hard work and patience. I remind my kids of this when they beg for better (read: new and expensive) equipment in any sport. Practice and dedication trump hefty price tags every time.
  9. Protect your brain – you only get one. Thank goodness skiers and snowboarders have seen the light, and now protect their heads with hard helmets. In fact, a recent New York Times article states that 70 percent of U.S. skiers and snowboarders now wear helmets – three times the amount from 10 years ago. However, while the use of helmets might have spared the lives of Natasha Richardson and Michael Kennedy, Formula One driver Michael Schumacher was actually wearing one when he recently fell in France. As in any sport, it’s important to use your brain in addition to protecting it.
  10. Bright colors can cheer up any gray day. Today’s ski attire is colorful and even whimsical, and the look of a lift-line crowd could make any skier smile. Last week, I spotted a middle-aged Japanese couple with comic-book characters adorning their ski jackets, young men wearing bright yellow and orange pants and kids with stuffed animals on their helmets. Years ago, when I found myself skiing alone in zero-visibility fog at an unfamiliar resort, I was grateful to join a group of young men who were wearing neon-colored coats. If I hadn’t found them, I would probably still be stuck somewhere on that mountain.
  11. Don’t take yourself too seriously. According to Murphy’s Law, if you are shushing down a slope, feeling over proud of your abilities, you will hit a rock and incur an embarrassing face plant. Lesson learned: don’t take yourself too seriously. Even the Olympic skiers hit bumps in the road and know that ski runs aren’t entirely in their control. Those of us who aren’t competing for Gold Medals need to laugh when we fall and cheer on others who are struggling.
  12. Let go and have fun. Skiing consumes considerable time, patience and money. Skiers must balance the sub-zero, low-visibility days with sunny mornings that allow fresh tracks through deep powder. When you happen upon a slope that exceeds your ability level, take a deep breath and stay loose. We all know that when we are tense, the worst outcome often arrives, and when we smile, the world seems a better place.

 –       Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 24 Feb. 2014
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Olympic Sized Emotions

Would you invest four years of your life to put it all on the line for four minutes? Most of the Sochi Olympic athletes would undoubtedly answer “yes” to that question. The athletes are certainly all-in and it shows in their facial expressions regardless of whether their efforts lead to the podium or last place.

Perhaps it is the feelings of shared sacrifice that binds these athletes together, not simply their astounding athleticism.

The pent-up toll of sacrifice shows up when we see snowboarders from different nations puppy-pile on each other at the finish line with screams of joy.

It is on display in U.S. skier Bode Miller’s soulful eyes as he stares back at a mountain that was once a friend but now may seem more like a foe.

It is seen in the despaired visage of Russian cross-country skier Anton Gafarov. After breaking a ski and receiving a replacement mid-race from Team Canada, Gafarov merely finished a race he was once favored to win.

These years of sacrifice are chronicled in many of the human interest stories that run during the Olympics broadcasts. The video vignettes offer insight into what occurs during the four years the athletes are out of public view. One of the most memorable narratives concerns the relationship between Canadian mogul skier Alex Bilodeau and his brother Frederic, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Bilodeau eloquently stated after his gold medal win, “Whatever I do in life, my brother is my real inspiration. Just like you and I, he has dreams and most of them are not realizable to him. But he never complains…Every step is so hard for him in life and I have an easy path and I need to go after and do the best I can just out of respect to him.”

Finally, let’s talk about the mom’s emotional ride on the sacrificial see-saw. Yes, I know Procter and Gamble staged its “Thanks, Mom” commercials to make me cry and remember the company name – but I still love them.

I can relate as I want to gag in tense moments of my own kid’s high school sporting events and our family has only given up a few social outings and family vacations. Imagine the tornado spinning in the stomach of Tina Oshie, mother of U.S. men’s hockey player T.J. Oshie, as T.J. went four for six goals in a 3-2 shootout victory for the U.S. team over Russia. Tina said in an interview with the Today show, “I was on the edge of my seat the whole game.”

These athletes — and their moms — have earned permission to fully release their emotions at the games and we thank them for sharing their roller-coaster rides with us.

Carol Lewis Gullstad February 17, 2014

Should Barbie Grace Sports Illustrated’s Cover?

Should Barbie Grace Sports Illustrated’s Cover?.

Should Barbie Grace Sports Illustrated’s Cover?

Our post on Monday suggested that Barbie gets a bad rap, and Disney Princesses are much more harmful to girls’ self esteem. (If you missed the post, click here).

Now, the internet is all a-twitter over Barbie’s “modeling job” for Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. See the New York Times debate by clicking the following link:

What do you think?

-Linda Williams Rorem, PermissionSlips, 14 Feb. 2104

Don’t Blame Barbie – It’s Disney’s Fault

Like many modern-day moms, I wanted to shield my daughter from Barbie – you know, that lovely teenage-ish doll with Pretty Woman legs, Scarlett O’Hara’s waistline and Dolly Parton’s boobs?

I thought that if I banned that 11.9-inch doll, along with her designer duds, metrosexual boyfriend, convertible car and lavish dream house, I would help my daughter grow up with a more realistic body image and set of expectations for life, wealth and happiness.

What I didn’t realize was that the enemy isn’t Barbie; it’s Disney.

True, researchers have found that Barbie does negatively impact girls’ body image,and a study by the American Psychological Association determined that “early exposure to dolls epitomizing an unrealistically thin body ideal may damage girls’ body image, which would contribute to an increased risk of disordered eating and weight cycling.”

However, Barbie isn’t all bad.

In a 2009 Psychology Today article, psychiatrist Susan Albers noted that “in some ways, [Barbie] may have actually helped women to start practicing other roles, besides being a mother, earlier in their life. Barbie could do anything—travel, work, or play. Girls were not trapped into one role as a mother, as was the case when they played with baby dolls.”

I believe the damage from Disney Princesses runs much deeper.

princess dollsIn a recent study, researcher Lauren Gissell determined that “Disney Princess films are, in fact, harmful to women well after they have experienced a childhood immersed in the movies…Women far beyond childhood still cling to finding a prince, having self-esteem problems, wanting a glamorous life and feeling that they are only worthy when their bodies are given attention.

“It could be a reason why women have identity issues since they have plastic surgery, go to tanning beds, wear an immense amount of makeup, constantly go on diets, date younger men, dress provocatively, date guys only with money and have trouble settling with their idea of a prince,” Gissell continues. “Instead of looking at Disney Princesses as role models, women must learn to become comfortable with who they are without comparing themselves to cartoon characters that do not exist or depict what a real woman should be like.”

In her 2006 article “What’s Wrong With Cinderella,” New York Times columnist Peggy Orenstein noted that Disney films promote a quest for “perfection,” which leads to unrealistic expectations, and therefore feelings of failure.

Women like me, from the pre-VCR, pre-10,000-TV-channels age, didn’t grow up with the ubiquitous images of Cinderella, Snow White and Aurora/Sleeping Beauty. Sure, we had fairy tale books and occasionally saw Disney films in the theaters or on TV.  And although the first Disney “princess” film (Snow White) debuted in 1937, it wasn’t until the late 1990s that Disney officially took over little girls’ psyches.

That’s when Andy Mooney, head of the Walt Disney Company’s Consumer Products division, envisioned the Disney Princess franchise, which is now  (according to Forbes) valued at some $3 billion worldwide.

princess carWalk through any Wal-Mart, Target, Toys ‘R’ Us or Disney Store, and you’ll see the effects of Mooney’s mission. Shelves upon shelves of pink-themed Disney Princess merchandise call out to kids, including dolls, dress-up clothes, books, DVDs, bicycles, roller skates and even helmets.

This mass marketing appeals to my daughter’s generation, and the impact is obvious.

When Pea was three, I attended the Halloween party at her Montessori school, and saw no less than seven princesses in her small classroom. The fact that these young ladies were of African-American, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian and Eastern-European descent was testament to the power of the princess.

So, what’s wrong with wanting to emulate a princess?

The Disney Princess stories seem harmless enough, and many of them are sanitized versions of more gruesome Brothers Grimm tales. However, I think the messaging is detrimenetal to young girls’ self-esteem:

–       If you’re in a jam, wait for a handsome prince to rescue you

–       If you’re a girl, you probably can’t solve problems on your own

–       If you marry a handsome prince, your life will be complete

–       Don’t rely on your family or girlfriends; you need a man in your life

And, the values are off center:

–       If you are beautiful, you need to downplay your looks until it’s time to lure that handsome prince

–       If your parents are strict, it’s okay to sneak out and attend the ball anyway (let me just note, most high-school girls who sneak out at night aren’t hooking up with princes)

But even more disturbing are the messages about family:

–       If your mother dies, be wary of anyone your dad might marry

–       Your stepmother and your step-sisters will most certainly be vengeful and jealous

And what about their girlfiends? Honestly, if I was in a bind, I would call a good friend. Even if they can’t help, they can provide support, encouragement or, when needed, a good shoulder to cry on or a reason to have a few too many cosmos.

So, I would suggest we tell our daughters, or the young women in our lives, to stop waiting for handsome princes to rescue them. Instead, let’s give permission to follow these ideas proposed on WikiHow (and I quote…):

–       Create your own joy and source of fulfillment

–       Quit waiting, start participating

–       Enjoy your friendships

–       Look after your own resources and needs before all else

–       Map out what you really want out of a relationship

–       Remember that Prince Charming comes…after everything else

– Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 10 Feb. 2014
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The 12th Man – Seattle Seahawks


king5 sea to shining seaWhy not us?

That was the mantra Seattle Seahawks wunderkind quarterback Russell Wilson espoused to his teammates all season. Even the casual sports fan surely knows by now that the Seahawks, lead by 25-year-old undersized and underappreciated quarterback Russell Wilson, answered the question with a statement 43-8 Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos.champs

“Why not us,” applies to not only the team but the fans. I’ve lived in a lot of great sports towns across the USA during the peak of fan frenzy. I resided in Minneapolis during the Minnesota Twins winning campaign for the 1991 World Series.  I was in Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympics. However, I have never lived in a town that was so united in support of a team until this year in Seattle. This Espirit de corps is known here as the “12th Man,” the spirit added to the eleven players on the field.  Never has the word fan been a more appropriate short-form meaning of “fanatic.”

Seattle fans believe they are a part of the team and play a role in team victories.  And why shouldn’t they? They have set world records for crowd noise. Opposing teams have more false starts in the Seahawk’s stadium than anywhere else in the league. Players and coaches alike always thank the 12th man fans in media interviews. The fans turnout whether the team wins or loses. Last year the team plane arrived on a Monday morning at 3 a.m. after losing a playoff game, yet the players were greeted by thousands of cheering fans. Need I say more?12 needle

Cynics may dismiss 12th fan enthusiasm as a construct created by the clever marketers of an NFL team, but the 12th man would never buy it. Seahawks followers and ticket holders span a geographic range from Alaska to Western Canada to Portland – the part of North America that is low-key and a little aw-shucks but fiercely loyal and intense.

Seattle skyscrapers have been bathed in lights of Seahawk blue and green for the past several weeks. Flags with the number twelve have flown from thousands of homes and offices, car windows and the Space Needle. Strangers passed each other on the street with,” Go Hawks!” as an all-purpose coming or going gesture. Our very own Northwest version of “Mahalo” or “Shalom.”

super hawks“Go Hawks” even permeated the theater scene in Seattle. The cast of Seattle Opera’s Rigoletto production apparently came out for their curtain call wearing Seahawks T-shirts and lowered a 12th Man banner. In a Seattle production of Spamalot the Knights of Ni had one more thing to say after Graham Chapman’s oft quoted line,  “We are no longer the knights who say Ni! We are now the knights who say ekki-ekkie-ekkie-pitang-zoom-boing!” Knight One turned to the audience and said,”SEA” to which the entire audience enthusiastically shouted in unison, “HAWKS!” The 12th Man was everywhere.

Outsiders, especially those who disdain sports, might wonder how the entire region could go so crazy for grown men running around a field in shiny helmets and tight Capri length pants. Well, the team is just so us; a perfect fit for the independent spirit of the Northwest where saying you can’t climb a mountain and survive in the woods plays perfectly into the local psyche.

The relationship between the fans and the team was further cemented as the national media supported the Broncos. We were an outpost of outcasts, our own Island of Misfit Toys of unwanted and undrafted players.  We wore a collective chip together. Us against the world, but we believed. Coach Pete Carroll said to after the game, “And I feel so humbled about bringing this championship back to Seattle. There’s no fan base that deserves this more, one that has supported this team with more passion and love and spirit.”

Nike ran a full-page advertisement in the Seattle Times this morning that summed up this sentiment:

“An undersized QB shouldn’t play so big.

Running backs shouldn’t look for contact.

Fifth-round corners shouldn’t be shutdown corners.

The defense shouldn’t be the star of the show.

Head coaches shouldn’t coach like they’re still in college.

Teams shouldn’t wear uniforms that make them stand out.

Fans shouldn’t set records for noise.

A team with no rings, from the Pacific Northwest, shouldn’t win.

What shouldn’t they do next?

Just do it.”

The 12th man is “loud and proud” and doesn’t seek permission. Why not us?

Carol Lewis Gullstad February 3, 2014

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