Vail and Beaver Creek Welcome Ski Racing’s Best

Vail-Hero

Vail and Beaver Creek Welcome Ski Racing's Best Athletes

February 11, 2019

Keep an eye out for Bode Miller or Lindsey Vonn today. Or maybe slalom wunderkind Mikaela Shiffrin. And we don’t mean on television. Over the first two weeks of February, these Olympic gold medalists—two of whom, Lindsey and Mikaela, call the Vail Valley home—will be among the 700 athletes from 70 countries racing at Vail/Beaver Creek in the biennial FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. It’s the first time alpine skiing’s biggest race (outside of the Olympics) has been in North America since 1999.

Other U.S. resorts might try to compete with Vail and neighboring Beaver Creek in grooming, views or terrain, but, neither Jackson Hole nor Telluride or Tahoe can claim the only U.S. stop on skiing’s annual World Cup racing circuit, but Beaver Creek can.

“At all levels, Vail is in many ways the center of the ski racing universe today,” says Aldo Radamus, a former U.S. Ski Team coach and 1990 USSA Domestic Coach of the Year and, for the last 13 years, the Executive Director of the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV), which counts Shiffrin, Vonn and at least eight other Olympians among its alumni. “Ski racing seems to be ingrained in this community’s DNA, and we’ve got two resorts that have the terrain and willingness to make it happen on the highest level.”

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And that’s why you’re here, to watch the best alpine skiers in the world race on some of the world’s most challenging courses. The only other North American resort to ever host an Alpine World Championships is Aspen. And that was back in 1950. 2015 is Vail and Beaver Creek’s third world championships (they previously hosted in 1989 and 1999).

Why does the international circuit come back? To race among some of the country’s most rabid skiing families, families much like Sounia Chaney’s. “This is the chance of a lifetime,” she says about the upcoming World Championships. Chaney, who, with husband Michael and kids Skylar, 18, Cameron, 15, Roxy, 13 and Dylan, 9, all skiers or snowboarders, moved to Vail in 2010 from Reston, Virginia. Roxy, herself an alpine racer, says, “Here I get to see pros skiing a lot, sometimes next to me, and it always makes me feel inspired that I can achieve my goals. I can’t even imagine how inspiring it will be to have all of the world’s best racers here.”

“When our kids started outgrowing the mountain closest to our home, Vail was a no brainer,” Chaney says. “We didn’t think twice about selling our house, our ski boat, our RV—everything. Vail offers the best training and the best coaches and challenging academics, and it has 300 days of sunshine. It’s not just our kids who ski. It’s a dream come true for all of us.”

Get back to your own racing dreams on Vonn’s namesake run, Lindsey’s. A groomed ribbon of ice on the front side of Vail Mountain, Vonn has described it as, “definitely the most challenging run on the mountain.” As you look down from the top of the run, its pitch elevating your pulse and slowing your breathing, you won’t be surprised to learn it was the site of the women’s speed events during the 1989 and 1999 World Championships, when it was still named International.

As a teen, Vonn skied the run that would one day bear her name, but, more often, like SSCV racers today do, she did laps on Vail’s Golden Peak. “That’s where we did so much of our training and raced for girls and boys Nor-Am,” says Paula Moltzan, who moved to Vail from Minnesota to train during her junior year of high school and now, at 20, is on the World Cup tech team.

Abby Ghent, a SSCV racer who was 6 the last time the valley hosted the World Championships and this season has a World Cup spot for Super G suggests you try Centennial at Beaver Creek. “We’d have Nor-Am downhills there. It’s a classic course,” she says.

And then, of course, there’s Beaver Creek’s famed Birds of Prey course and its new women’s course, Raptor. (Before the World Championships, the former hosts its annual World Cup race, The Audi Birds of Prey Men’s World Cup, December 6-8.) The pros own both during the World Championships, but, at other times in the season, the public can ski them. Fair warning, “Birds of Prey is terrifying,” says Moltzan. “I just can’t imagine flying off any of those jumps at the speeds the guys are going. But watching it is something else.”

Skiers to Watch

“The Norwegians have always done well here,” says Radamus, who coached for the U.S. Men’s and Women’s ski teams, and was named USSA Domestic Coach of the Year in 1990, before taking over as executive director at the SSCV. “I’ll be watching for Aksel Svindal, Kjetil Jansrud and their new young technical threat Henrik Kristoffersen, who exploded onto the scene last year.” “Past world and Olympic downhill champion Lindsey Vonn, working toward a return to competition following two years of injury, is undoubtedly looking to add to her World Championship medal tally,” Radamus says. At the last FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, at Schladming, Austria in February 2013, Vonn tore her ACL/MCL and fractured her tibial plateau in a horrific crash. By August, a month and a half ahead of schedule, she was back on the snow. But then in mid-November, she crashed during a downhill training run at Copper Mountain in Colorado and reinjured herself. “Lindsey has something to prove and she’ll be racing at home,” Radamus says.

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“Among the Americans, our six Olympic medalists are medal threats at Worlds. Any one of them could win,” Radamus says. “Julia Mancuso because she always steps up when it counts. Ted Ligety owns this hill (he has won four straight giant slalom events on Birds of Prey) and is working hard to become a threat in [slalom] again; the snow suits him here in Colorado. Bode Miller for his last hurrah. Mikaela Shiffrin to defend her title. Keep an eye on (two-time Olympic Super G medalist) Andrew Weibrecht too. He loves the hill and has done well here.”

Designated Speeding Zones

Unlike pretty much every other resort in North America, Vail and Beaver Creek have runs where going as fast as you dare is the whole point. Vail Resort’s social media/ski tracker app, EpicMix Racing, partnered with four-time World Cup Champion and Olympic gold-medalist Lindsey Vonn, who, after moving to Vail at age 12 to train with the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail has become the most successful American skier in history, to design a course at Vail and a second at Beaver Creek. Vonn practiced on both until she had them dialed. Then the geeks at EpicMix timed her.

Now anyone with the EpicMix app open can race down either course—the Black Forest Race Area just east of the Avanti Express Li at Vail or beneath Beaver Creek’s new high-speed combination li that just opened at the beginning of this season—and measure themselves against Vonn’s time.

Good luck catching her; few skiers on the international stage can come close to her. EpicMix claims that the average racer is about 5-7 seconds slower than Vonn on either course and that it’s a rare skier that comes within three seconds of her.

Experience Florida Through the Eyes of Novelist Carl Hiaasen

Florida-Hero

Experience Florida Through the Eyes of Novelist Carl Hiaasen

February 8, 2019

The real Carl Hiaasen doesn’t seem like he could be the novelist Carl Hiaasen. He has bleach-white teeth and Gulf of Mexico-blue eyes. His cheeks are dimpled, and his voice is soft, measured. He wears polos and button- downs, almost always in neutral tones. His silver hair, parted to the side, could exist on the head of a banker. Friends, who sometimes compare his look to that of a choir boy, say he is polite, seldom swears and drinks like a Baptist—so, almost never.

He is known to never be more thrilled than on the bow of a boat, with a fly rod in his hand, overlooking the still, emerald waters off the islands of Islamorada in the Florida Keys—possibly his favorite place on earth. The sight of a tarpon’s shadow makes him happy. The squeal of a reel’s drag makes him blissful. Hiaasen knows those waters so well that, if he wanted to, he could make a living quietly guiding other fishermen through them.

This is not the image of a hardened newspaper columnist who has described politicians in the following ways: “bum,” “cockroach,” “head clown,” “worthless blowhard,” “pernicious little ferret” and “affable, back-slapping, ribbon-snipping blob.” Nor is it the image of a fiction writer who, in his latest work, begins chapter one with a severed arm on the end of a fishhook, later highlights a spell-casting voodoo witch named the “Dragon Queen” and eventually introduces a bad monkey (for which the best seller is named) that bites a man, well, in a bad place.

Take a moment to cringe, then consider that the innocuous image of Carl Hiaasen described above might also not seem fitting for one of Florida’s—real Florida’s—greatest crusaders…but it is.

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Though Hiaasen, 61, has been a journalist at the Miami Herald since the mid-1970s, he is best known for his zany, swift-moving novels, packed with sex and laugh-out-loud one-liners and detestable characters getting their comeuppance in all sorts of cruel, entertaining ways. Despite selling close to 14 million books in North America alone, he has never won a National Book Award, and he doesn’t seem to be trying. “His books are built of [flimsy] balsa wood, but they are beautifully constructed all the same,” said New York Times literary critic Janet Maslin. “And if they call for more comic distraction than honest emotion? Forget it, Jake; it’s South Florida. The truth is always stranger than fiction.”

But don’t be fooled by the parade of strange. The themes of his work, nonfiction or fiction, are profoundly serious. He is and has always been on a mission for which he cares deeply. Hiaasen wants to protect Florida—its Everglades, its beaches, its mangroves, its wildlife, its natural beauty—and for decades he has employed a sardonic wit to relentlessly fight on the state’s behalf.

“When you don’t speak up and when you don’t fight back and when you don’t raise hell, that’s the ultimate act of cynicism, and it’s effectively surrender,” he said in the introduction to Kick Ass: Selected Columns of Carl Hiaasen. “It’s saying, ‘Things are so bad that it’s now acceptable.’ It’s not acceptable, it can’t be acceptable.”

In 1953, Hiaasen was born in a place that, in many ways, no longer exists. Plantation, Florida, is 30 miles north of Miami, sandwiched between the Atlantic coast and the Everglades. The city was incorporated the year of Hiaasen’s birth with a population of less than 500. Now, it’s home to almost 90,000.

Back then, that area of the state was a wild, swampy place; ideal for a child with an affinity for things that creep and crawl. “He represents a dying breed of the people who were born and raised there,” said William McKeen, a historian of literary journalism and chairman of the Department of Journalism at Boston University. McKeen, who also spent time growing up in Florida, described Hiaasen’s youth as a “Huck Finn” childhood.

But much of that wild didn’t last. Hiaasen watched as the dirt-bike path that once led him into the swamp where he and his friends caught water moccasins was turned into a road lined with shopping malls. He watched the Everglades shrink as development boomed. He watched animal species go extinct as their habitats were paved over. “It was just rampant destruction,” said Tim Chapman, a photographer whom Hiaasen met years later at the Herald.

Hiaasen, however, couldn’t just watch. In perhaps a first effort to protect his beloved home, he and friends would pull surveyor’s stakes out of the ground. “We were kids,” he said in Kick Ass. “We didn’t know what else to do. We were little and the bulldozers were big.”

He compared their rumble to the sound of greed, “the engine that has run Florida ever since there was a Florida.” Chapman shared in his youthful frustration. He used to cut down billboards with a chain saw and, once, even filled a developer’s storm drain with a cement plug to prevent pollutants from seeping into Biscayne Bay. “I realized I was going to be arrested and go to jail, so I picked up a camera,” Chapman said. “Carl, of course, wielded the sword of the pen.”

Hiaasen had been sharpening that blade almost since birth. The Herald’s sports pages taught him to read. At age 6, his father bought him a typewriter, and he used it to punch out stories about neighborhood kickball games. In high school, he produceda newsletter, More Trash, that, among other things, satirized his teachers and administrators. All the while, Hiaasen was developing his now-distinct world view, and it didn’t just result from the demise of Florida’s innocence, but also from the nation’s.

He grew up in the 1960s and bore witness to John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War and Watergate. “It was a poisonous time to be coming of age,” he said in Kick Ass. “It seemed to me there was so much wrong in the world. I felt such outrage for so many years over those things happening that it wasn’t a hard thing to carry into journalism.”

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Hiaasen arrived at the University of Florida after transferring from Emory University in Atlanta. He had intended to work in broadcasting, but a news reporting class taught by legendary journalism professor Jean Chance helped alter the course of his future. “He was a very special student, no question about that,” said Chance, now retired.

She immediately recognized the gracefulness of his writing and the ease with which he completed assignments. “I would have to stretch to find some nitpicky thing to give him a hard time about,” she said. Chance told Hiaasen that TV journalists tend to focus less on writing and more on presentation. A career in front of a camera, she thought, would be a waste. She pushed him to work at the student newspaper, the Independent Florida Alligator, where he began to write a column. “That,” she said, “was when he saw the light.”

He began his professional career at Cocoa Today, a small paper in Brevard County now known as Florida Today. Every few Saturday nights, Chance said, he would call her to complain about the owner’s rule that any time his wife’s name appeared in the paper—she was a state senator—he be told, so he could change or kill the article on her behalf. He wanted to do something bigger, more meaningful. She told him to be patient. He listened. After two years, in 1976, he got a job at the Herald.

In the late 1970s, Chapman recalled, Hiaasen got a tip that someone was illegally digging out mangroves near Key Largo. The two men hired a fishing guide with a boat to take them down to see for themselves. “They were literally selling properties and digging a huge marina, and conveniently no one who had the power acted against it,” Chapman said. “No permit, no nothing.” Hiaasen wrote a story that forced state officials to kill the development. Such scoops became a staple of his early career.

Years later, Chapman said, Hiaasen learned that a wealthy man in the Keys had hired someone to chop down the mangroves around his house so he could better see the water. “The owner of the house blamed it on some wayward surfers,” Chapman said. Hiaasen didn’t buy it. He wrote the story.

“Various counties in South Florida have always been subject to corruption,” Chapman said, “and it takes people like Carl to stand up to them.”

In 1985, Hiaasen started writing his column for the Herald. It began a nearly 30-year (and ongoing) career of keenly pointing out wrongdoing, those who were responsible and, most memorably, the weird and wacky and plain wrong ideas that make Florida so entertaining. In a March 1988 column, for instance, Hiaasen skewered the city of Miami Beach for its ridiculous plan to host horse races on its beaches.

On the topic of what the animals might leave behind, his biting sense of sarcasm was in top form: “It’s not so big a crisis, really. Tourists on South Florida beaches are used to quick-stepping around all kinds of daunting obstacles, from poisonous jellyfish to gobs of tar, to the occasional human torso. A horse dropping would hardly make them dash for the hotel checkout. Before allowing such a minor drawback to squelch an otherwise brilliant idea, why not try to turn it around and make something positive? One obvious solution is to ask the city commissioners themselves to clean up after the horses. They are, after all, vastly experienced in this area.” The horse races never came.

“I think Carl was probably the most hated man by the chamber of commerce in Miami history,” Chapman said. “They just hated the fact that Carl told the truth.”

Certainly, Hiaasen’s columns had a substantial impact on South Florida, but it was the novels that spread his message to the world.

So, how well does Carl Hiaasen really get South Florida? Consider the evidence in just the first four chapters of his latest sprawling crime novel, Bad Monkey, some of which might seem cliché, but only because the details are so consistently indicative of life in the Sunshine State.

On page 5, Hiaasen’s main character, Andrew Yancy, sits in a plastic lawn chair and drinks rum as he experiences one of the most repeated gripes of long-time residents: “the offensive buzz of wood saws and the metallic pops of a nail gun” on the obnoxious, view- disrupting house being erected next to his own.

On page 7, it’s explained that the local sheriff won election only because his two opponents were in jail on racketeering charges.

On page 8, the aforementioned sheriff orders Yancy to dispose of a severed arm caught by a fisherman for fear of the negative publicity that might befall his community, though Hiaasen quickly notes the greater truth: “Nothing short of a natural disaster discouraged people from going out on (or into) the water.”

On page 18, readers are introduced to a doctor who made his fortune by investing in a series of pain management clinics “that dispensed Percocets and Vicodins by the bucket to a new wave of American redneck junkies.”

On page 23, traffic is jammed on Florida State Road A1A because a gravel truck crashed head-on into a southbound rental car. Typical.

On page 34, Yancy, now a health inspector, gets served a plate of fries and a coffee by the manager of a restaurant: “By Keys standards it could hardly be considered a payoff.”

No doubt, Hiaasen understands that he has tapped into and perhaps even helped create the national perception that his home is an odd place. Type “why is Florida” into Google, and the first completed response ends in “so humid”—the second in “so weird.” That search returns 29.9 million hits. But it could be argued that all the allusions to Florida wackiness (and his novels’ wackiness in general) are merely a means to an end.

Millions of people devour Hiaasen’s novels because they’re fun and entertaining, but buried not so deep within his prose are the ideas he really wants readers to remember. “[St. Petersburg Times columnist] Jeff Klinkenberg once said of Carl’s writing that ‘People respond better to ice cream than to broccoli,” Keen said. “Hiaasen has mastered preachy-less preaching.”

“These are fanciful characters, but there’s an underying truth to what he’s talking about… these are morality plays in many ways,” said Thomas Fiedler, former Herald executive editor and now dean of Boston University’s College of Communication. “They are really rooted in the issues that he believes are important for Floridians to understand.”

Take page 35 in Bad Monkey, for example. Before the wealthy newcomer razed the lot next door, Hiaasen writes, Yancy spent almost every evening watching the white-tailed Key deer pick at hammock scrub and red mangroves. He explains that just a few hundred of the deer remain on the islands, but that motorists, ignoring warning signs, often run them over. He talks of the refuge created for the surviving animals and that Yancy, knowing what’s in their best interest, had left them alone. “He didn’t snap pictures, or whistle, or make up cute names for the fawns. He just sat there sipping rum and watching the deer do their thing.”

Hiaasen spends two-thirds of a page on the plight of white-tailed Key deer, which have exactly nothing to do with the story’s plot, but he still makes certain readers know they matter. “I think,” Fiedler said, “Carl is the voice for what is right in Florida, and he’s particularly the defender of Florida, not just as it used to be, but Florida as it should be.”

In this modern era of storytelling in which anti-heroes are so often celebrated (see: TV’s Breaking Bad or The Sopranos), Hiaasen’s novels offer little room for gray. Characters are either good or evil. They’re either destined to triumph, or they’re destined to die in heinous, hilarious fashion. Those clear outcomes may again well be rooted in the alternate reality of Hiaasen’s own world.

South Florida’s crusader has won his share of the battles, to be sure, but it’s hard to argue that he is winning the war. The state has continued to develop, and swamp-land has continued to disappear. Corruption still thrives. Many animal species and natural resources remain threatened. Recently, Hiaasen argued in his column that state politicians have allowed billions of gallons of toxic water to be dumped into Florida’s rivers because of the money their campaigns are getting from big business.

“Those people are always going to win in real life,” McKeen said. “I think he writes the books as therapy, and I think he wants the good guys to win somewhere.” And perhaps the idea is that, like Hiaasen, his legion of readers will someday want as badly as he does for the good guys—for real Florida—to win. And maybe, just maybe, one day it’ll actually happen and the state’s crusader can put down his sword.

How Chilean Author Isabel Allende Settled in the Bay Area

Author-Hero

How Chilean Author Isabel Allende Settled in the Bay Area

January 23, 2019

Halfway through an hourlong talk to a group of aspiring writers last August, Chilean author Isabel Allende was asked, “If you were a character in an Isabel Allende novel, where would you put yourself ?”

Without missing a beat the petite writer said: “First of all, I would have long legs, I would be beautiful, I would be stunning, and smart, very strong and independent. What was the question?”

“Location—where would you be?”

“In bed with someone,” she shot back. “It doesn’t matter the town.”

Hanging on the beloved author’s every word, the audience in Marin County ( just north of San Francisco) erupted in laughter. And just about everyone who asked her a question that day at Book Passage, a bookstore in Corte Madera, addressed her simply as “Isabel,” as if they were talking to an old friend.

The arc of Allende’s life could be the story of one of her novels. Born into a family of Chilean diplomats, she spent her first years in Peru. As a young child she returned to Chile, grew up in her grandfather’s spectral home, became a journalist, married young and had two kids. Then her world fell apart.

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Her father’s cousin, Salvador Allende, had been elected president of Chile in 1970, but on Sept. 11, 1973, during a brutal right-wing coup, he shot himself, choosing to die rather than be captured. The dictator Augusto Pinochet seized power, and, in 1975, after several people she knew disappeared, Isabel fled Chile with her husband and two young children and settled in Venezuela (most of the rest of her family also left the country; her mother, who is still alive, has since returned to Chile).

Yet Allende’s most difficult days were years ahead. In her immediate future was fantastic success. As her grandfather neared death, she began writing a long letter to him, and kept writing after he died. Allende showed the letter to her mother, and though the matriarch was appalled that her daughter would reveal the family’s secrets, even as fiction, she encouraged her to publish a book.

That letter was the basis for Allende’s first novel, The House of the Spirits, published in 1982. Initially rejected by several Spanish-language publishers, the magically realistic book first came out in Spain and fast became an international bestseller. In 1993, it was made into a film starring Meryl Streep and Antonio Banderas.

“I started a letter for my grandfather almost knowing that he would never be able to read it, a spiritual letter—it was a letter to myself, really,” Allende told David Frost in a 2013 televised interview. “I wanted to tell him that I remembered everything he ever told me, and he could go in peace because it would not be lost. I think The House of the Spirits was like a crazy attempt to recover everything I had lost—my country, my family, my past, my friends—and put everything together in these pages. It was something I could carry with me and show to the world and say, ‘This is what was; this is my world.’ It gave me a voice. Incredibly it was a success from the beginning and allowed me to continue as a writer.”

In 1987, Allende came to the San Francisco Bay Area on a book tour and fell in love at first sight, with the place and with an attorney, William Gordon, who’d attended one of her readings (her first marriage had already ended in divorce). Gordon lived in San Rafael, in the heart of Marin County. Allende married Gordon the following year and made a home in the Bay Area.

“I have been living in Marin County for 27 years, and I love it,” she told me last fall. “Who wouldn’t? There is water, hills, trees and trails everywhere and good weather. This is a place of innovation, diversity, young energy and visionary creativity.”

There was a time when Allende, 73, never thought she’d find a place that felt like home. “I have always been a foreigner,” she said, “first as a daughter of diplomats living briefly in different countries, then as a political refugee and now as an immigrant.” In her 2003 memoir, My Invented Country, she writes: “Until only a short time ago, if someone had asked me where I’m from, I would have answered, without much thought, ‘Nowhere.’ ”

But that’s changed. In our recent interview, she said: “I came here as an immigrant with a sense that I didn’t belong anywhere and somehow here I found space, privacy; I feel very safe. There is nothing extraordinary about being an immigrant here.”

Allende is now an American citizen. “My roots are in Chile, but I have found my home in the Bay Area, where my son, my daughter-in-law, my grandchildren and most of my friends live, and where I have written 18 books,” she said. “I hope to spend the rest of my life in this wonderful place.”

Her time in Marin, however, hasn’t been all sunsets and chardonnay. In the early 1990s, her daughter, Paula, was struck by a rare disease and spent a year in a coma before dying in her mother’s arms at age 29. Allende says her memoir about that year, titled Paula, is her most deeply felt book and has had the greatest resonance with readers.

“It forced me to go inside,” Allende told me years ago when I interviewed her for my book, A Sense of Place, a collection of interviews with writers. “I’m a very out-there person; I’m into the story,” she said. “The whole experience of the death of my daughter and writing a book forced me to go on a journey into myself, which in a way was a threshold for me. I left behind my youth with that experience. That was the year that I turned 50. It was like throwing everything overboard in very deep ways.”

Paula was “an exercise in memory and love” and cathartic to write, Allende said. “That’s the book that was written with tears. It was so raw that people connect to it as a form of honesty.” Though she cried while writing every page, Paula wasn’t painful to write, she said. “It was so healing; it was wonderful.”

In an on-stage conversation last November in San Rafael, Allende said: “It seems as though Paula is still touching people throughout the world. She is still present and will always be present, which adds beauty and richness to my life.”

Elaine Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage, said Allende’s presence, in the store and throughout Marin, has been transformational. “Isabel first came to speak at Book Passage almost 25 years ago. That night, something profound changed in my life and in the life of our store,” Petrocelli said. “By example she teaches kindness, forthrightness, commitment, giving and laughter. Each book she writes is so elegantly crafted that the reader is unaware of the work that brought the story to life. Her characters are so real that they remain with us long after we close the book.”

Allende’s most recent novel, The Japanese Lover, is set in the San Francisco Bay Area and was published in the U.S. last fall. It started with a conversation during which Allende’s friend said her 81-year-old mother had been close to a Japanese gardener for four decades. “I said, ‘Ya, they were probably lovers,’” Allende recalled. Her friend was aghast, but the idea stayed with Allende. It became the tale of a woman displaced by the Holocaust and her relationship with a California-born, Japanese-American man—a U.S. citizen whose life had been upended by forced relocation to an internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

For Allende, who has sold about 65 million books worldwide and whose work has been translated into more than 30 languages, writing has often been challenging, but she said this book came easily. “It should cost less,” she joked.

She starts all her books on Jan. 8—“It was superstition at the beginning, but now I need to organize my life”—and often puts in 10-hour days at her computer. She can become so immersed in the story that she loses track of time. “Writing is like falling in love: full commitment,” Allende said during last August’s conversation at Book Passage. “Having a day to begin gives me that chunk of time that I need. I show up every day and I try to work, but sometimes nothing happens. For two, three weeks I throw away everything because it doesn’t have the tone.”

She recalled shopping one day with another best-selling author, her friend Amy Tan. “We were trying hats, and she was putting on a hat and said, ‘It’s all about the tone.’ And I thought, wow, she’s speaking about literature. There’s a rhythm, there’s a tone, and then you start galloping—then you are in. And then things happen. The characters talk to you, the story develops, you get ideas. You start dreaming about the story. You can’t get it out of your head. You wake up in the middle of the night and take notes because it’s obsessing you. That’s why I say it’s like falling in love. So beware.”

Allende is enjoying writing in ways she never has before. “I’ve learned that I can relax,” she said. “That I can trust that I have the skill now, finally, after all these years and all these books, and it can be just joy. I don’t have to be whipping myself to do it. I always hear in my head the voice of my superego, the voice of my grandfather, that is always demanding more effort, more work [and saying], ‘You could be better.’”

Writing The Japanese Lover provided solace for Allende last year as her 27-year relationship with Gordon dissolved. “I think that what happened with this book, because it was written at such a painful time for me, I could ignore the voice,” she said, “and just enjoy the process. Let it be, let it flow. If I could write all my future books like that, it would be wonderful.”

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After the two world wars, Spain’s entry into the European Union 
in 1986 challenged Italian lemon producers with a flood of cheap citrus. But that same year, the Slow Food movement was founded in the Piedmont town of Bra; it helped Amalfi lemons. With Slow Food came an appreciation for geographically specific, traditionally farmed Italian produce, especially lemons bearing an Amalfi Coast I.G.P. (Indicazione Geografica Protetta), a label that legally attests to their authenticity as having been grown there.

The book explores the theme of love and passion among the elderly. “Can you have passion at any age? Yes, you can,” Allende said as the San Rafael audience, many of them seniors, cheered. “I was exploring aging also because I am over 70. I look good,” said the impeccably coiffed and stylishly dressed author, “but it’s from a distance.”

Becoming more serious, Allende spoke last November about the pain of her recent divorce: “When my daughter died years ago, my mother said, ‘This grief, this sorrow, is like a long, dark tunnel, and you have to go alone with a certainty that there is light at the end. Just keep walking, one day at a time, step after step, tear after tear.’ And I walked the tunnel, writing for a year, and really at the end there is light. So when this awful year started to unravel, I thought, OK, this [divorce] is a minor tunnel compared to the other one [Paula’s death]. It’s a shorter tunnel. Let’s walk, one day at a time. Suddenly I was on the other side, and I feel great. So I think that I am facing a luminous time in my life.”

Don George, the book review columnist for National Geographic Traveler magazine, calls Allende “a lusty saint who makes the world a better place with her personality and her prose.” Although she’s a “best-selling author and global icon, Isabel remains astonishingly, inspiringly grounded, humble, open-hearted and empathetic,” he said.

Allende has long had an irreverent streak: In a 2007 TED Talk she said, “By age 5 I was a raging feminist—although the term had not reached Chile yet, so nobody knew what the heck was wrong with me.” When she was a teenager she asked her astonished family why her brothers could have sex with the maids but she couldn’t have sex with the gardener. And not long ago she met an oral surgeon at a party who said that when he retires he’s going to write novels. Allende shot back, “And when I retire, I’m going to do root canals!”

Though Allende has written several memoirs, including The Sum of Our Days and My Invented Country, most of her books are fiction. “When I write memoirs, my family gets very angry,” she said. “So it’s much easier to write fiction. Fiction gives me a freedom that nonfiction doesn’t. With nonfiction you have to be as objective and realistic as possible. I’m not objective in my life as a person; how could I be in my writing?

She sees her openness and honesty as strengths. “When I wrote my first memoir, my mother was horrified. She said, ‘You tell everything, you expose yourself completely, you are so vulnerable.’ And I said, ‘Mom, it’s not the truth I tell that makes me vulnerable, but the secrets I keep.’ By sharing, we all participate in the same experience of life and that’s what storytelling is all about. It’s the oldest, oldest art. So that’s why I love my job. I feel that I can say anything; I can share anything; I can grab any story. Words are free. I can use them all.”

Allende’s passion extends far beyond her writing; her commitment to justice infuses her life. After Paula died, she was traveling in India when a young mother thrust her baby into Allende’s arms, imploring her to keep the infant. Her driver returned the baby and the shaken Allende asked why the mother would do that. “It’s a girl,” said the driver. “Who wants a girl?”

At that point, Allende said, “I knew what my mission would be: to empower women and girls” worldwide. She created the Isabel Allende Foundation because she wanted to invest the proceeds from Paula in an endeavor that would have made her daughter proud.

Though she has strong beliefs, Allende doesn’t use her books to preach. “I’m trying to just tell a story,” she said. “When I read a book and see that the author is trying to teach me something or give me a message, I get angry. Let me find between the lines what is useful for me.”

The Japanese Lover examines the right to die on one’s own terms. “The right to be helped to die with dignity should be an option for everybody,” she said in her November talk. “Fortunately it’s starting to be legalized in the United States and by the time I need it, it will be legal everywhere, I hope.”

She doesn’t fear death, only dying without dignity. Allende once had a vision: She saw herself as an eagle in a white space with a single dark dot that she viewed as death. “I went through it like a bullet,” she said, “with no fear and with such curiosity. Then there was nothing. There was no whiteness, no darkness. There was a void, and I was the void, and absolutely no connection with anything that we know. I think maybe that’s death. And it’s not bad at all.”

Allende has received numerous honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to her by President Obama in 2014, and Chile’s highest literary prize. She was one of eight women to carry the Olympic flag in 2006 in Turin, Italy (she jokes that no one saw her because she walked behind the statuesque Sophia Loren), but what matters most to her is weaving a compelling tale.

Asked why she writes, she said: “It’s automatic. I can’t imagine my life without writing. Without writing to my mother [they’ve been mailing letters daily to one another for most of their lives], without writing what I see, what is important to me, to explore, the only way I can do it is writing. How do you exorcise pain? How do you find out who you are? How do you fight against bad memory to preserve what you want to preserve in life? Memory blurs everything if you don’t write it down.”

But Allende doesn’t keep a journal. “I cannot write to myself—I need to communicate. That’s what writing is all about: telling someone, one reader, ‘This is what I believe; this is who I am. Let’s share the story.’ ”

The Cutting Edge Golf Robot Created to Improve Your Swing

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The Cutting Edge Golf Robot Created to Improve Your Swing

January 15, 2019

“Hit another one,” says Blake Isakson, the director of golf at Boccieri Golf in Arizona. I oblige by rolling a ball onto a turf mat and thwacking another 7-iron into the screen in front of me. A red line traces the continuing arc of the shot as calculated by sensors in the mat and the screen, and I watch as the animated ball drifts right and winds up in a sand trap some 10 yards from the electronic green.

Isakson approaches with an iPad and shows me on video where my hands and arms were during the swing. Then he uses a finger to plot an arc where my hands and arms should have been. He explains that with a flatter swing plane I could get more distance. Armed with this knowledge, we step into an adjacent hitting booth and I get my first good look at the RoboGolfPro swing trainer, one of two at Boccieri Golf ’s North Scottsdale headquarters.

The contraption in front of me is like a 9-foot-tall robot, with two screens and four long metal arms holding a golf club. I take my stance and grip the club as Isakson moves the arms into position and programs the robot based on the data recorded about my swing in the other hitting bay.

Once everything is ready, the RoboGolfPro swings the club for me, forcing my hands to move back on a flatter plane for the backswing and then dropping my right elbow more steeply into the hitting zone as I swing down. It’s an odd sensation having my arms moved for me, but I have to admit it’s a swing that would indeed add distance to my shots, if I would take the time to learn it.

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This swing-teaching robot might seem a little over the top to nongolfers, but to golfers looking for any way they can find to shave strokes, the RoboGolfPro is part of the never-ending war for lower scores. Technology rules in golf, and as a spring trip to Scottsdale—with visits to Boccieri Golf and a couple of other cutting-edge companies— shows, robot golf instructors are far from the industry’s only high-tech weapon.

A Fit to be Tried

Not far from Boccieri Golf, in another part of North Scottsdale, the global headquarters of Cool Clubs is like nothing I’ve ever seen; it’s equal parts tech startup, driving range and Lego factory. Founded in 2007, and now one of the world leaders in the burgeoning field of custom club fitting, Cool Clubs has hitting bays outfitted with an array of computers, monitors and video gear, and bins filled with thousands of interchangeable pieces, including clubheads, shafts and grips from all the top manufacturers in golf. It’s a tinkerer’s dream come true.

A walk around the place reveals cubbyholes labeled with some of the biggest names on the PGA, LPGA and Champions tours. I’m told over 100 of them have their specifications on file at Cool Clubs. This plays into the reputation custom clubs have as being a luxury used only by tour pros and low-handicappers, but bespoke clubs are growing in popularity for average golfers. “The reality,” according to Cool Clubs founder and CEO Mark Timms, “is that the higher the handicap, the bigger the change. Give me a 25 handicap and we can probably drop him five shots immediately. It’s very easy to do.”

The reasons for getting custom clubs are fairly self-evident— certainly, a golfer who is 5-foot-4 and one who’s 6-foot-3 should use different sets—but, even after you focus in on clubs for your height, the array of choices and the brainpower that goes into finding the right ones for each golfer are astounding.

During fittings, Cool Clubs’ proprietary software and TrackMan—a radar tracking system that gathers data about things like clubhead speed, ball speed, launch angle and spin rate—analyze swings. Using this information, Cool Clubs pinpoints the best combinations of clubheads and shafts at a variety of price points. Decide on clubs and then they’re assembled right there in Scottsdale. For an additional fee, they can be picked up or shipped later that same day.

Vito Berlingeri, a former Bell Labs engineer who retired and is now Cool Clubs’ marketing director, shows me around the facility. In the back of the building, where the clubs are tested and built, I’m introduced to Simon Grondin, a young man who Berlingeri says was one of Canada’s top engineering students before coming to Scottsdale to head Cool Clubs’ research and development.

At the moment, Grondin is working on a machine he designed and built with Timms. It tests the flex of club shafts down to the nth degree. Each shaft test is recorded and analyzed by software that Grondin wrote himself. Behind him, a 3D printer spits out a new part he designed. It will be added to the machine.

It’s clear these people operate on a much higher intellectual level than I’m used to, and it’s enough to make me wonder why they’re not curing cancer or helping send someone to Mars. They love the game of golf so much they’ve devoted their professional lives to helping people play better. And the fitting process—which can start off feeling like a doctor’s visit, with a look at existing equipment and questions about hitting history—is a big part of this.

“We’ll first measure all the clubs they’ve got and see what they all are,” Timms says. “That gives us a lot of insight into what’s going on. Where are the big problems in their swing? What’s the big miss, and which club is it?”

If it turns out a player’s swing is the problem, Timms might recommend lessons instead of trying to sell them something they don’t need. But if the clubs’ fit is off, and Timms thinks a player would benefit from custom clubs, the fitting begins in earnest, inside one of Cool Clubs’ hitting bays. (It can also be done outside at nearby Grayhawk Golf Club or at one of Cool Clubs’ 20 fitting centers in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, England, Korea and Japan.)

Getting the Shaft

Given all the clubheads at a place like Cool Clubs—drivers, hybrids, cavity-backs, musclebacks, blades and wedges—I assumed clubheads were the key element of clubs, but no. “We are firm believers in finding the shaft first,” says Hot Stix general manager Chris Marsh. “We may have a golfer try seven or eight shafts from different manufacturers, both steel and graphite. Once we find that shaft, we’re able to try it with multiple heads until we find the right combination.”

Headquartered a few miles away in another part of Scottsdale, Hot Stix shares a philosophy and parentage with Cool Clubs. Timms started his first golf company, Custom Golf of Connecticut, in 1990. A decade later, Timms moved to Arizona to escape the cold and launch a new company: Hot Stix. Rapid expansion prompted Timms to bring on partners, but later, when they didn’t see eye to eye, Timms left. He took a year off and then opened Cool Clubs.

In Timms’ absence, Hot Stix soldiered on and now has four fitting centers across the country. The Scottsdale facility is indoors, but Hot Stix has a fully wired fitting center at SunRidge Canyon Golf Club in nearby Fountain Hills and hopes to move all its Arizona operations there in April 2016.

At SunRidge Canyon, golfers hit off the driving range while Hot Stix software analyzes everything about their swing. Marsh says there are numerous shafts that can fit a client’s swing, but, after neutrally testing these, one will emerge with the greatest consistency and feel. To that end, Hot Stix fittings often allow golfers to keep their expensive clubheads but recommend replacing shafts. This will still lead to an improvement in a player’s game. “We’re crazy passionate about golf,” Marsh says. “Our fitters are, in my mind, the best in the world.”

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Cool Clubs may dispute that last point, but Hot Stix’s passion and approach have caught the notice of Golf magazine, which named Hot Stix as its official research partner for its annual ClubTest in Florida. About 40 testers are charged with evaluating the new equipment coming out. Hot Stix is there “as an independent testing company to provide data to the testers and Golf magazine,” Marsh says.

Heavy on the Innovation

Back at Boccieri Golf, a young woman who is there for a lesson has stepped into a bay, donned a training device called a K-VEST and is having her arms swung by RoboGolfPro. My session over, I putt around the putting-green floor with Stephen Boccieri, inventor of the Heavy Putter and the Secret Grip.

A structural engineer and 1-handicap, Boccieri transitioned into the golf business after starting a company called Engineered Golf in upstate New York in 1994. The company provided research and design services to the industry. “What I was doing was like forensic analysis on golfing equipment,” Boccieri says. “I was buying golf clubs and tearing them apart and trying to understand what kind of engineering was going into these things.”

Crunching all that data led Boccieri to start tinkering with putters on his own. He found that adding weight to the head of a putter helped him make more short putts but didn’t work very well for long putts. Looking for a solution, he added a weight to the grip end of the shaft as a counterbalance and was astonished at the results. “That was the ‘a-ha’ moment,” says Boccieri, who was on the phone when he first tested this idea. “I told my friend, ‘You’re not gonna believe this. I’m putting one-handed, and I’m sinking 10 putts in a row from 14 feet into the little cup in my office.’” That was 2003. Soon after, Boccieri refined the design into the Heavy Putter and launched Boccieri Golf. The putter received rave reviews and sold like crazy, prompting him to apply the same counterbalancing principles to other clubs. The Heavy Wedge and Heavy Driver followed shortly. Next, seeking to help golfers with their existing clubs, Boccieri came up with the Secret Grip, a weighted golf grip. It made waves when Jack Nicklaus endorsed it. In 2011, Boccieri Golf relocated from the East Coast to the more golf-conducive climate of Scottsdale.

I try out several Heavy Putters of various head shapes and shaft lengths while Boccieri shows me “the Stork.” This is a method of putting he invented. I split my hands wide on the shaft and place one foot in front of the other. “I have converts who cannot believe how well they’re putting with it,” Boccieri says.

The Heavy Putter and the other heavy clubs put Boccieri Golf on the map, but what has the engineer really excited is the potential teaching abilities of the RoboGolfPro. It can model an ideal swing to teach golfers’ muscles the right mechanics. “People get on it, they feel it, then they hit balls,” he says. “We do a before-and-after comparison, and they just are dumbfounded with the results.” Lessons on the RoboGolfPro are so popular that the company added a second one last October, making it one of only three facilities in the country with two of the machines, Boccieri says. “The RoboGolfPro is a whole new possibility,” he says. “It’s hope. It’s a possibility that this new technology is going to provide them with a feeling of what a golf swing is supposed to be.”

Racecar Driver Townsend Bell Owes His Passion to the Indy 500

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Racecar Driver Townsend Bell Owes His Passion to the Indy 500

January 3, 2019

For one week a year, 40-year-old racecar driver Townsend Bell gets to pursue his childhood dream. That’s when he returns to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana, climbs into the Robert Graham Special Indy car and works to qualify for and then race the Indianapolis 500. Bell saw his first Indy 500 at age 10, and the sights and sounds and smells of that race sparked his desire to race cars. He started with go-kart racing near his home in San Luis Obispo, California, and worked his way into open-wheel racing in Europe before returning to the States to race in the IndyCar series. Currently he has a full-time seat in the WeatherTech United SportsCar series, where he started racing Porsches, then Ferraris and now Lamborghinis on road courses from Daytona, Florida, to Le Mans, France, competing in endurance events where he swaps turns with two other drivers that can last as long as 24 hours.

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Driving sports cars—heavily modified vehicles that bear some resemblance to the versions one can drive on the street—keeps Bell’s racing synapses honed and sharp, but it’s Indy that marks his favorite week on the racing calendar. “Le Mans may be the biggest sports car race in the world in terms of spectators, but you’d never know it,” Bell says. “The crowd is spread out over 10 miles. Indy is an amphitheater of speed with 300,000 spectators and the fastest cars and bravest drivers. It’s so much more electric.”

It’s not an easy transition, though. Bell likens it to going from ground combat to air combat. “In sports car racing, 130 mph is about as fast as I take a turn, depending on the track,” he says. “At Indy, I’m doing 210-220 mph at a minimum through each corner. It takes magnitudes more finesse to do it well once, but I have to keep doing it well 800 times over the course of a 500-mile race.”

Racing at 200-plus mph gets to the heart of what makes Indy unique among the world’s great races. The 650-hp cars are purpose-built to do one thing: go as fast as possible for as long as possible. Unlike road circuits, braking in the turns is not a critical skill at Indy; there’s only a 20 mph difference in speed between the straightaways, where the car is going full speed, and the corners, where all Bell has to do to slow down is lift his foot off the gas.

After nine years of racing at Indy—his best finish was 4th place in 2009—Bell has learned to soak up the specialness of the competition, as well as appreciate the unique situation afforded him by his sponsor, upscale clothier Robert Graham, and the Dreyer & Reinbold racing team behind the Chevy- powered car. “I’m very fortunate to work with a strong team of known people and assets,” he says. Indeed, Indy is the only open-wheeled race the team enters all year, but it’s the most visible, and to make sure they stand out, Robert Graham’s designer is involved in every detail of Bell’s racing suit, the crew’s uniforms and the car’s graphics. The unveiling of the car’s paint job attracts almost as much ink as the car’s top speed reached during qualifying.

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“Robert Graham designs area favorite among race fans,” Bell says. “They love how we go bigger, creatively, every year.”

This year’s car and uniform will remain under wraps until late March, but Bell expects something special for what he hopes will be his 10th year racing the Indy 500. And while a win is always the goal, Bell has already enjoyed the cumulative dividends of his weeks in Indiana. One year, he and his teammates Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal won the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and placed third in the most famous endurance race of them all, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, on their first attempt.

“Road racing rewards being aggressive, but Indy rewards finesse,” says Bell. “And the finesse that I pick up at Indy helps me be a more successful sports car driver, pure and simple.”

The 19th Century English Tradition That’s Still Alive and Well

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The 19th Century English Tradition That's Still Alive and Well

December 28, 2018

They say in England that they won the Second World War because of the cup of tea. Even today, whenever there is a crisis—from the family pet passing away to affairs of national security—someone usually pipes up and says, “I think I’ll put the kettle on.” “Crisis tea” is served very strong in a heavy mug with milk and a spoonful of sugar.

Of course there is another more refined tea that the English also do rather well. The delightful, delicious tradition of afternoon tea takes place sometime between midday and early evening, and usually consists of several tiers of finger sandwiches, petite pastries and scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Tea leaves are brewed in a bone china teapot and strained into equally delicate teacups.

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With endless leisure time, fine crockery and meaningless tittle-tattle, it may be no surprise that the privileged classes invented afternoon tea. In the mid-19th century, Anna Maria Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, found herself becoming moody during the long afternoons between meals. To stave off hunger pangs she created a late-afternoon refreshment. At first, the duchess allegedly secreted herself away in her bedroom with a tray of tea and cakes but in time invited friends to join her. Eventually, afternoon tea became a London fashion. Now it is a national institution.

Sanderson London

The Mad Hatter’s tea party in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland inspires the most fun and frivolous afternoon tea of all. Menus hide in vintage books. Paper crowns top teapots. Want sugar with your tea? Open a musical box to find a pirouetting ballerina as well as sugar cubes.

Guests here are encouraged to first try teas by smell: sniff five little glass decanters of loose-leaf tea, all named after characters in the book, before choosing. Blends include Cheshire Cat and White Rabbit. The signature Alice Blend is a black tea with blackcurrant, vanilla, caramel, citrus, bergamot, blue cornflowers and blue mallow flowers. Detailed descriptions of each tea are on a set of playing cards.

Dainty savories include a smoked salmon, quail egg and caviar Scotch egg; a ham and smoked applewood croque monsieur; a Cornish crab and herb éclair; and a cucumber and cream cheese finger sandwich on fresh lime bread. Sweets include a chocolate log shaped like a blue caterpillar; coffee macaroons modeled on the white rabbit’s pocket watch; marshmallows resembling toadstools; a red velvet ladybird cake; and a potion of passion fruit and coconut panna cotta in a bottle tagged “Drink Me.” Tall grass growing in a teacup disguises carrot-shaped meringues. It all becomes “curiouser and curiouser.”

The setting is alfresco in the heart of Fitzrovia, served in the hotel’s inner courtyard even in winter, when they pitch a marquee and fire up the stoves. Overall, it’s a tumble-down-the-rabbit-hole treat.

The Berkeley

Here the fickle, fashion-forward Prêt-à-Portea changes every six months, inspired by the new season’s collections at London Fashion Week. The cover of the menu reads “WORK IT” in fluorescent-pink capital letters, and you almost feel like strutting around the Caramel Room with its Art Deco mirrored walls and bold graphic styling.

The pastry chefs create fabulous little cakes: Dolce & Gabbana’s pink rose dress from their “Viva La Mama” collection becomes a lychee and almond mousse upon pink pâte sablée with rose detailing; Valentino’s Rockstud striped bag is made of Victoria sponge with cranberry compote; Alice Temperley’s flutura skirt becomes a gianduja chocolate supreme on sablé Breton glazed with chocolate miroir and a bright blue chocolate flower; Moschino’s quirky nu-rave dress is a cream and orange financier and coconut savarin; and there is Fendi’s double-breasted chocolate biscuit coat with red icing. The waiter brings photographs of the runway shows to explain the interpretation from catwalk to cake stand. Sweet, loose-leaf tea pairings include jasmine silver needle, and blackcurrant and hibiscus. The savory treats ooze originality, too, and, when it’s time for those, some guests request an equally savory tea flavor such as Monkey Picked Iron Buddha or Phoenix Honey Orchid.

Tea is served in the cozy Caramel Room immediately opposite The Blue Bar, one of London’s coolest addresses for cocktails. Stay long enough, finish your last cup of tea, then walk across the lobby and order your first glass of Champagne.

Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard

This is the one to top, in more ways than one. Up on the 35th floor of The Shard, one of Europe’s tallest buildings, the contemporary TĪNG Lounge serves afternoon tea overlooking some of London’s most beloved landmarks: St Paul’s Cathedral, The Monument to the Great Fire of London, the River Thames and Tower Bridge.

It is a clever team whose tea can match the peerless panorama. An Asian-inspired menu replaces finger sandwiches with plump prawn dumplings; steamed gyoza; Scottish salmon with wasabi and ginger; and a Cornish crab brioche with a curry zing. Don’t fret—there are still some classics, but a double cheesecake is steeped in citric yuzu juice, and instead of strawberry jam with the scones, it is tropical mango jam.

Traditionalists may prefer the English afternoon tea, which also has some inventive creative touches like raspberry, lychee and rose macaroons, and a peanut, salted caramel and chocolate tart. There are black, green, oolong, white and fruit teas, as well as the light aromatic Signature Afternoon Blend. Book a table for shortly before sunset so you can see the view in daylight and then watch the city’s lights turn on as darkness descends.

The Lanesborough

The talk of the town, this grand dame has recently reopened after an 18-month renovation by late interiors maestro Alberto Pinto. Located between Knightsbridge’s seductive stores, Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park, afternoon tea is served at the Lanesborough’s restaurant, Céleste. A tea sommelier is on hand. The classic Regency-style room comes with ceiling roses, English crystal chandeliers, fresco paintings and layers of gold leaf.

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Upon being seated, three tiers of delicacies swiftly arrive, including finger sandwiches that are simple but spot-on: egg mayonnaise and cress; smoked salmon and cream cheese; and ham and cheddar. With a light touch, pastry chef Nicolas Rouzaud makes a madeleine with fresh ginger; a hazelnut truffle with praline crémeux and Jivara mousse; and an éclair with almond cream Chantilly, strawberry and fig. There are plain and fruit scones served with jam or lemon curd, and the rich, clotted Devonshire cream is accented with gold leaf. Bespoke tea blends include a Darjeeling first flush and a rare unprocessed white tea, although many opt for the Lanesborough Afternoon Tea, a blend of black and green leaves.

Tea time here may seem exceedingly English, but the poised service is decidedly more French and piano tunes are of the Great American Songbook, from George Gershwin to Cole Porter, which somewhat relaxes the formality. Pianist Brian Morris, a longtime Lanesborough loyal, has played here for more than 20 years entertaining royalty and celebrities. He delights in requests; ask for “When You Wish Upon a Star,” one of his favorites.

Fortnum & Mason

This is the perfect pairing of pedigree afternoon tea with souvenir shopping. Food emporium Fortnum & Mason has blended tea and imported loose-leafs for more than 300 years. These combine in a bewildering array of fine teas sold in Fortnum’s elegant tin caddies and a similarly extensive menu served in the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, reopened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2012 to commemorate her 60 years on the throne. On Fortnum’s fourth floor, this old-fashioned afternoon tea is how the properly posh do it: quietly, without pretension and just a little bit shabbily (think prep school common room rather than penthouse). The menu does not veer from the traditional. Finger sandwiches include smoked salmon; coronation chicken; cucumber with mint and cream cheese; and Wiltshire roast ham with honey mustard. Scones are served with Somerset clotted cream and fruit preserve.

Fortnum’s also serves high tea, which focuses more on savory than sweet, and a tea with vegetarian treats. In the second-floor parlor, children can have a tea of their own with jammy dodger biscuits, ice cream, floats and cakes. But other than the unwavering tradition, the real reason to come here is for the food halls on the lower floors. Pick up Fortnum’s Royal Blend Tea of low-grown Flowery Pekoe from Sri Lanka or the Royal Blend created for King Edward VII in 1902. With the last season of Downton Abbey upon us, this old-school, gimmick-free tea is the perfect way to live out our Downton dreams with a final flourish.

Why Surfing Is the Hobby You Didn’t Know You Needed​

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Why Surfing Is the Hobby You Didn't Know You Needed

December 18, 2018

When people are drawn to the ocean, it’s typically to the edge where water meets the shore. Most ocean lovers are actually beach lovers, enamored by the border zone between the solid and liquid worlds — waves tossing themselves onto sandy expanses, seagulls cawing and calling as they wheel in the air, sunlight glinting off the water. For some reason, gazing at that flat expanse of water is fulfilling in a way that staring at the flats of Kansas can never be.

The lure of the ocean is indescribable, and for many it’s enough to merely approach its shores. Even standing neck deep in the water, it’s comforting to realize the shore is close at hand. But others long for a more intimate interaction with the sea. Wave riding is one of the simplest forms of recreation. With as little as a swimsuit and a board, you can catch a wave standing up, kneeling or lying prone. The simplicity is part of the attraction. There’s not a lot of gear to contend with; it’s just you and the wave, period.

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Body surfing is arguably the most basic and harmonious interaction we can engage in with a force of nature. Stand-up surfing is “The Sport of Kings” for reasons both historical, per the ancient Hawaiian royalty, and visceral, because that’s how you feel when you’re up and riding. “Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world,” —the Beach Boys weren’t lying. 

To surf is to be engaged with your environment. Whether it’s your first time out or you’ve been surfing for years, when you are in the water you are aware of your surroundings. It’s an invigorating sensation to feel the surge of water, the salt on your skin, to shake the water from your hair. 

To surf is to return to the rawest element of nature; to dance delicately upon the power of the sea. Motion, sound, the feel of water sliding through your toes, the glare of the sun … birds, fish, constant movement – watching, waiting. You banter with your friends, your kids, your spouse, whoever’s in the water with you, all the while keeping your eye on what’s coming. Then the right bump appears on the horizon and it’s time to fly. Carving turns on top of moving water is an adrenaline rush. Finding yourself wrapped in that water, being propelled by the wave’s own intensity, is like nothing else.

For many sports-minded individuals, surfing holds a special place, partly because the highs are so elusive. The surfing experience is incredibly dependent on the vagaries of swell direction and strength, wind, crowds, beach contours — the list goes on. For all of the variables to come together in the right combination is something rare and wonderful. And yet it happens. And it keeps happening.

As special as surfing is, period, it’s exponentially better with someone else. Not only is it safer to surf with friends or family (always a good idea to have someone in the water who will notice if you’re not there) but when you catch that wave and take a ride, it’s good to have an audience who understands what you just did and how it felt. And if you feel compelled to brag, well, that’s good, too. 

Big waves get all the press — those perfect tubes of turquoise water, the famous competitors who so often ride them. But the truth is, even the little ones are worth paddling out to meet. And, especially for beginners, the rush of riding a knee-high wave can be a mind-blowing experience. It only takes one ride to get hooked. 

There’s a reason they say a bad day surfing is better than a good day doing anything else. They say it because it’s true. Inspirato destinations are ideally situated in some of the prime surf spots all the world over.

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Though surfing was invented in Hawaii, surf culture came directly out of Southern California. There are a variety of breaks ranging from beginner to advanced within 30 minutes of Newport Coast. Water temperatures in the summer range from mid-60s to mid-70s; in the winter they drop to mid-50s to mid-60s.

Blackie’s, on the north side of Newport Pier, is great for beginners. It’s named for Blackie’s Bar, which has been there for ages. It’s generally a very forgiving wave, so it’s not only softer but also there’s a long window in which to catch it. It’s a popular spot for longboarders, too, both beginning and advanced. 

Trestles requires a 15-minute hike from the car, so it’s a bit of a commitment for boardtoting surfers. There’s a river that becomes an estuary, and it’s one of the few places on the Southern California coast that is not surrounded by a lot of development. Thanks to the cobblestone reef, it’s a classic break for advanced surfers with clean, solid waves. Several pro contests are held at Trestles, which, because of the hike, is sometimes less crowded than other spots. 

San Onofre is a state park that draws longboarders attracted to its consistent, mellow waves. Like many surf spots, there’s a wave called Old Man’s. Recently, locals have begun referring to it as Old Woman’s, as female surfers are almost beginning to outnumber male. 

Surrounded by jungle, Punta de Mita is known for rights — meaning waves that break to the surfer’s right. Rights are best for regular footers, or those who surf with their left foot in front. Various peaks jut along the rock reef, which stretches for miles and miles down the coast. Because of the various resorts on the coastline, it may be easier to hire a guide and boat to take you to some solid, less-crowded waves. Water temperatures are in the 80s year-round.

Punta Burros draws both locals and visitors. With peaks for both shortboarders and longboarders, it’s also one of the easier breaks to access. The waves are better at high tide.  Sayulita is 25 miles to the north, and is an excellent beginner spot with primarily beach breaks. It’s a draw for longboarders and shortboarders, and seems made-to-order for goofy footers, or people who surf with their right foot forward. Sayulita feels like a traditional Mexican town with lots of old buildings, churches and history. It’s quaint with a relaxed vibe, and a fun destination for surfers and non-surfers alike. 

The Cove and El Faro at Punta Mita Point are found in the southernmost bay. Though you can walk there in about 40 minutes, it’s easiest to hire a ponga. It’s a consistent break, but is better before the off-shore winds kick in. Los Cabos is at the southern end of Baja California. It has several world-famous point breaks, as well as a variety of beach breaks. It’s a special place with secluded beaches balanced by abundant nightlife. Water temperatures fluctuate from the 70s to the 80s year round.

The south-facing East Cape is designed for the adventurous soul, but is best in the summer months during south-swell season. The area lies just past the town of San Juan del Cabo, on the Sea of Cortez, and seems almost mystical. The desert runs right to the shore, and is both beautiful and uncrowded.

The West Cape, which is just northwest of Cabo San Lucas, has surf year round. With both beach and reef breaks, it has several consistent waves. In addition to breaks that can be accessed on foot, there are several breaks that can be accessed via sea kayak.

Todos Santos on the Pacific side is not just a fun surf spot, but it’s a draw in its own right. A funky art community, Todos Santos is loaded with galleries, artist studios and artists. It’s about an hour’s drive from Cabo San Lucas.

Poker Player Antonio Esfandiari Explains the Magic of Las Vegas

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Poker Player Antonio Esfandiari Explains the Magic of Las Vegas

November 28, 2018

Taiko drummers in feathered headdresses from Cirque du Soleil’s Mystère pound colossal drums so loudly the Amazon Room at Las Vegas’ Rio hotel vibrates. One of poker’s most charismatic players, Antonio Esfandiari, half dances and half skips in. He has paid $1 million to play in the richest poker tournament ever, The Big One for One Drop, which is raising funds for water development globally. Forty-eight players entered—eight are at the final table. Esfandiari is one of the eight.

ESPN’s Kara Scott pulls Esfandiari aside for a quick interview. “A million dollars to play in a poker tournament is insane,” says Esfandiari. “To be at the final table is really a dream come true.” A dream because one of the eight people at the final table will win poker’s largest prize ever: $18.3 million. Then Scott asks: “If you win…?” Esfandiari breaks in: “I have to correct you. There’s no ‘if ’— there’s ‘when’—so I’ll let you rephrase the question if you like.”

“When you win,” Scott obliges. “When I win,” Esfandiari says with conviction, “I’m just going to take care of my family, travel a little bit more and take it easy.”

That was 2012. When Esfandiari, intensely focused and brashly confident, fulfilled his own prophecy and won The Big One for One Drop, his father Bejan and brother Pasha rushed to embrace him. As confetti rained down from the rafters, Esfandiari gave his dad the $350,000 Richard Mille platinum bracelet that was part of the winner’s prize. Friends, including many pro poker players, hoisted the barefoot champion onto their shoulders as the crowd cheered.

That was the moment Esfandiari became the King of Las Vegas. He was already a celebrity in his adopted town, but winning poker’s richest prize made him Vegas’ poker superstar. Which is somewhat ironic because Esfandiari didn’t plan on living in Sin City. Or even the United States.

“I grew up in Iran in the 1980s in a time of war,” he says. Two months after he was born the Shah was overthrown and the country became an Islamic republic; before
his first birthday more than 50 Americans were taken hostage in Iran and held for more than a year.

During the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, “my dad told me that when the planes would come my little brother and I would say, ‘Bomb, bomb, bomb’ and then we’d go look
for place to hide. One time a building four or five houses away was blown up. I thought: that could have been our house. I was 6 years old—it was pretty scary. That’s when my dad decided to get us out.”

Esfandiari, now 36, says he didn’t know much about
the U.S. before coming to live near relatives in San Jose, Calif. He just knew it was “this big wonderful place that you only dreamt of, so I felt very fortunate and lucky.” Enterprising from a young age, he became a paperboy
 at age 9, and though he didn’t speak English well when
 he arrived, the student quickly mastered
the language. But his first year in San Jose wasn’t easy: “Third grade was really tough for me. There I am, a Middle Eastern kid, and Iran wasn’t exactly the USA’s favorite country. I got picked on more than my fair share.”

Making things harder: His mother returned to Iran shortly after the family arrived in the U.S., so Esfandiari was raised mainly by his father Bejan who worked incessantly. “I didn’t have a very happy childhood,” Antonio recalls, “but I made the best of it.”

He focused his energy on helping his family. “At 11, I was a newspaper salesman over the phone for the San Francisco Chronicle. It was a little office with a bunch of telemarketers. I was No. 1 in the area—I crushed it. When they found out I was 11, they let me work under my mother’s name to keep my job.”

In his late teens, Esfandiari took up magic. “As soon as I did a couple of tricks, all of a sudden I went from being the most unpopular kid to a very popular kid. Magic helped me feel like The Guy,” he says. Esfandiari’s given first name is Amir, but he changed it then because “Antonio the Magician” sounded better. He practiced relentlessly and says he wanted to be the next David Copperfield—until he discovered poker at age 20. By the time he was 22, he says he was making “pretty good money” playing the game.

A couple of years after he started playing, Esfandiari asked his father to come to a casino and watch. “That day I was so on point: I told him what people had before they flipped their cards over. I was right 90 percent of the time. And my dad—I will never forget—he was sitting behind me and he said, ‘Son, how in the world do you know what they have?’ I don’t know how I know, I told him—it’s just a process. I can sense when someone is strong or weak or lying or honest. It comes pretty natural to me.”

Esfandiari says his father looked over at him and said, “I believe—you have my support.” This meant the world to Antonio. “My dad is my hero, so it was really important when he said he’d support me.”

By 2004, Esfandiari says he was “hungry, very hungry, to make a name for myself.” He’d finished as high as third in
a World Poker Tour tournament but had never won one. “I knew that (to gain recognition) in poker you had to win a major tournament.” Playing poker the night before the L.A. Poker Classic, he’d lost $30,000, about half his bankroll, but that didn’t stop him from playing the next day. “It just felt like my time. I outplayed and outlasted and outhustled hundreds of players. And I won it,” he says. At the time, he was the youngest player, 25, to win a WPT event.

Esfandiari drove home, “I didn’t want him (his father) to hear about my victory from anyone but me. I showed up at his doorstep just after dawn with a backpack filled with $1.4 million—cash! ‘Dad, there’s something I really need to tell you,’ ” Esfandiari told his dad when Bejan groggily answered the door and squinted into the rising sun. “I could sense he was worried. I really like to mess with people. I just showed him the backpack. Then I opened it and said, “Dad, I won.”

He looked down in shock and said, “What did you win?” “This big tournament in L.A.”
“How much did you win?”
“Over a million bucks.”

“I wish I would have filmed it—he almost melted,” Esfandiari says. “He almost fell to the ground in shock he was so happy. He laughed, he cried, he hugged me. It took time for reality to sink
in. But when he looked back down and saw my bag stuffed with packets of hundred-dollar bills, he got it. He believed, and he knew that finally our family’s American dream was coming true.”

After winning this tournament, Esfandiari found himself traveling from his home in San Jose to Las Vegas “all the time,” he says. “I never wanted to live [in Vegas], but I bought a home here to not spend so much money living in the Bellagio, and I ended up moving here. It just kind of happened that way.”

With his black-rimmed glasses, slender physique and casual style, Esfandiari has GQ panache—he’s not a grizzled, hard-drinking, cigar-chomping poker player. “Despite his outward suave, gamblin’ man appearance, in some ways I see Antonio as the antithesis of Las Vegas,” says World Series of Poker broadcaster Lon McEachern. “To the people he knows, Antonio is warm, caring, genuine, vulnerable and a family man.” Bejan is frequently on the rail at poker events, cheering on his son. And when Antonio goes out to celebrate, he insists dad come clubbing with him and his friends.
World Poker Tour broadcaster Mike Sexton, who was there for Esfandiari’s 2004 win, says Esfandiari now treats success differently than in his youthful years. “He was a very Vegas guy early in his career. He was partying in every club in town every night. He got the best tables, and they would welcome him with open arms. He was single, having a big time, living a big life.”

In a post last February on the poker website Bluff Europe, Esfandiari shared his joy: “On January 7th at 8:01 am, I became a father of a beautiful son. It was a moment that truly cannot be explained, only experienced. I am shocked and transformed, and my life has changed forever. The arrival of a child into my world has given birth to an everlasting love, a nurturing love that has weaved itself into the fabric of my being. It happened instantly, and watching my child enter this world was nothing short of a true miracle.” He also recently married but asked the magazine to refrain from sharing further details about his family life.

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Though he never planned on settling in Las Vegas, Esfandiari has come to appreciate its allures beyond gambling. Not that he doesn’t gamble at home: when not traveling the world for tournaments, he can sometimes be found at Aria or Bellagio. “Those are the only two poker rooms where you can really find a big game with a buy-in of more than $10,000,” he says. He also plays at the Rio when it hosts the annual World Series of Poker Tour, between late- May and early-July. Esfandiari is a self-described foodie and appreciates that he can find innovative cuisine, from noodle bowls to Wagyu filet mignon, at almost any hour. For the latter, he goes to Jean Georges Steakhouse at the Aria. For Italian, it’s Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare at Wynn.

“But really, my favorite places are off Strip. There’s a Japanese grill place called Raku that I think is the best restaurant in the world,” he says. “I am a huge ramen guy—I love soup. I go to Jinya for late-night soup, super good. And there’s a sushi place that’s dynamite called Kabuto.” Though Esfandiari doesn’t go out nearly as often as he once did, his go-to club is the Marquee at the Cosmopolitan, with its indigo-lighted dance floor and sleek design.

And, after years of neglect, downtown Vegas is showing signs of life, Esfandiari says. “There’s a really cool little restaurant called Eat, and there are some speakeasy bars downtown; it’s got a little bit of a London vibe going.” Just
a couple of miles north of the Strip, downtown was once
the heart of Vegas. Remnants of its old hotels remain at the downtown Neon Museum, where, among other relics, you can see the sign for Binion’s Horseshoe, where the World Series of Poker was held from its debut in 1970 until 2004.

Though Esfandiari is not a typical Vegas guy, he and Sin City share “a devil-may-care attitude,” says McEachern. “No matter where he goes, Vegas goes with him. Whether it be his slick, quaffed Rat Pack look, his ability to be the center of the party, or his drop-of-the-hat tendency to accept a bet on just about anything, he is one of those rare people whom everyone knows when he is in the room—and everyone wants to be noticed by him.”

For the past couple of years, Esfandiari has joined McEachern in the broadcast booth for WSOP’s Main Event final table. “He has treated me like a friend from the first moment we met and continues to do so,” McEachern said. “He’s always on time, ready to go. Antonio will use his ‘cold read’ on those in a hand, and more often than not, give us a pretty darn good read on the cards they hold. It’s impossible to be spot-on 100 percent of the time, but he’s right enough to drop the jaws of us neophytes around him and those watching on ESPN.”

Esfandiari now has earned more than $26 million in sanctioned tournaments, according to the poker magazine Bluff, and who knows how much more in cash games. “He wants to be best at anything he does,” Bejan said.

Despite his success, Esfandiari remains down-to-earth. “Antonio is just so good with the people,” says Sexton, the WPT broadcaster. “There are very few players who are really fan favorites, and he’s in that elite group. He takes photos with them, he laughs with them, he jokes with them, and he gets along with them.” In 2013 Esfandiari traveled to Central America to meet people benefiting from the water projects the One Drop tournament helped. “I was very touched by this trip. I will never forget those families,” he says.

Esfandiari realizes how lucky he is to be playing a game he’s so passionate about, and to be making a good living from it. “Antonio is one of those guys who gets it,” Sexton says. He’s fortunate to have found his calling, and Vegas is lucky this one-time magician has made this city of illusion his home.

Why Jake Burton Says Vermont is Snowboarding’s Spiritual Birthplace

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Why Jake Burton Says Vermont is Snowboarding's Spiritual Birthplace

November 26, 2018

Jake Burton Carpenter once said Stratton Mountain Resort, its 3,875-foot summit lording over southern Vermont, had probably done more for snowboarding than any other mountain on the planet. Still, in the mid-1970s—when he was an early 20-something freshly escaped from Manhattan’s corporate culture— testing prototypes of snowboards he made in a barn in nearby Londonderry, Carpenter had to sneak onto the mountain in the dark after lifts had closed. “Jake would take each new design up after the lifts closed and hike up Suntanner, which is one of our central runs, to test his boards,” said Myra Foster, Stratton’s director of PR for more than 25 years.

Eventually the resort, which has a 2,003-vertical foot drop, agreed to allow Carpenter to ride his creations during the day. “When he became confident that he or anybody else would be able to turn and stop on a snowboard, he came to our director of operations and said, ‘We’d love to be able to ride these on the mountain.’” Stratton’s answer was, “Why not?” “He seemed to be on to something exciting,” Foster said. “We wanted to be a part of it. We were one of the first resorts in the country to allow snowboarding.”

Stratton was right. Burton, who early on decided his middle name “Burton” made for a better brand name than his last “Carpenter,” was on to something. Forty years later, five different snowboarding disciplines, from half pipe to snowboard cross and freestyle, are Olympic sports. Burton Snowboards, which Burton still owns with his wife Donna, is estimated to be worth more than $100 million (privately held companies don’t have to disclose financials) and employs more than 900 people around the world. Half of everything snowboarding-related sold—from clothing to boots, bags, bindings and boards—bears the Burton name.

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While Burton has stores around the world, its world headquarters remain
in Vermont. Not in the barn—which belonged to Stratton’s ski school director—where Burton first toiled
over prototypes, but on a campus for roughly 400 employees that includes an 84,000-square-foot prototyping facility, a flagship store and a 68,000-square-foot office complex.

Walking into the lobby of the office complex, you’re greeted by a timeline display of wall-mounted snowboards dating back to the company’s founding in 1977 and a simple message: “You need to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going.”

It’s an important reminder for Burton as the brand closes in
on its 40th anniversary. Sliding down mountains sideways on a snowboard may still be a relatively young sport, and progression and innovation are still the name of the game, but four decades of dominance in the industry is also cause for celebrating some deep roots.

Burton would be the first to tell you he didn’t invent snowboarding. He skied as a kid and got his first taste of carving slopes sideways when he was 14, on something called a Snurfer. A rudimentary precursor to the modern snowboard, Snurfers were patented by Sherman Poppen in 1966. Among the many historic items in the Burton collection on display
in the flagship store are a pair of even more rudimentary snowboards patented even earlier—in 1939 by the Bunker Sno-Surf Company.

Despite Bunker and Poppen, it is Burton’s name that has become synonymous with snowboarding. After he first got hooked on the experience of surfing on snow, the self-identified “loser shop class kid” experimented with different materials, shapes and manufacturing processes, trying to figure out how to make snowboarding even more fun. And he’s been at it—“it” being making the sport fun—ever since.

Though Burton, 61, is a New Yorker by birth, briefly went to college in Colorado (he graduated from NYU) and has lived abroad, the Burton Snowboards story is pure Vermont. The first official board he launched his brand with in 1977—after spending a few years making hundreds of prototypes in that Londonderry barn—was dubbed the Burton Backhill, “BB1.” It’s at the beginning of the headquarters’ timeline wall and is also prominently featured in a small museum gallery of the Burton archives that is open to the public by appointment. A limited-edition model based on the company’s early boards, the Throwback, sold out in 2015 and is in wider release this season. After nearly 40 years of innovation, its popularity proves there’s still plenty of fun to be had in stripped-down simplicity, even as the company leads the charge in technical and technological innovation elsewhere in its line.

“Since day one, we’ve charged ahead to innovate and give as much back to snowboarding as we’ve gotten out of it,” reads the manifesto summarizing the company’s goals Burton wrote himself. “We answer to no one but snowboarders, and support everything we do with the quality and service that shops and riders have grown to expect.”

In 1978, after the success of the Backhill, Burton moved the business out of the barn and set up a more proper shop in Manchester, 20-some miles west. In 1992 the company moved again, this time to the Burlington campus it still calls home. Although Burton is sold worldwide and is expanding into new markets like China—according to Bloomberg Business, as much as 10 percent of Burton’s business will be in China by the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing—the company’s home will never be anywhere but Vermont. Nearly all of the company’s first-hand testing with its research and development team still happens on the nearby slopes of Stowe. While Burton and his employees want the company to be profitable, they spend less time thinking about market share and growth strategies than they do thinking about the soul of snowboarding—how to define it, nurture it, protect it.

“Progression on the mountain and innovation really go hand in hand,” said Burton archivist Todd Kohlman while leading a tour of the company archives and the company’s Craig Kelly Prototype Facility. The latter is named after a former, long- time sponsored rider and collaborator who died in 2003
in an avalanche outside Revelstoke, British Columbia. To employees, the prototype facility is simply “Craig’s” and it’s where tomorrow’s designs are born. “Jake always says the riders are in the driver’s seat,” Kohlman said. “They’re the ones directing the way snowboarding will go. They tell us what they need from us in order to do what they want to do.”

Inside Craig ’s, next to a small museum display honoring the first 30-odd years of Burton Snowboards history, Kohlman took us past a crew making boards marking
the 20-year anniversary of rider Terje Håkonsen’s iconic 1995 signature board. The new boards are built with contemporary specs, but the Sprocking Cat design is vintage. Norweigen Håkonsen, who picked up the nickname Sprocking Cat because he always lands on his feet, signed with Burton in 1989, when he was only 15, and has worked with the company, designing boards ever since.

“The boards we’re making right now were designed by Terje, using the trickiest materials and the newest shapes, with
just a nod to the history,” said Chris Doyle, Burton’s head of Prototyping R&D, as he waited for a rapid 3D prototyping machine to mock up a new helmet shape, while a high-tech CNC router in another room shaved and shaped ultra-thin milled wood cores into precise dimensions for a new whimsical-looking asymmetrical board design.

The bulk of Burton’s manufacturing has moved overseas, both to China and Austria, but Craig’s remains the heart and soul of the company. It’s here where all of the new products get their beginning, where special projects like Terje’s anniversary board are produced, and where personal boards for team riders like Olympic gold medalists Shaun White and Kelly Clark are made to spec.

Next up on the facility’s docket are custom boards that team riders like White, Mark McMorris, Clark, Danny Davis and Enni Rukajarvi will use in upcoming competitions. Each rider collaborates and consults throughout the design and production process for their board(s).

Prominently displayed on a wall inside Craig’s is another recently completed project, the very first signature deck designed by and for Jake himself. It’s named “The Stone Hut” after a favorite, 80-year-old backcountry hut of Burton’s near the top of Stowe Mountain Resort’s Mt. Mansfield. Its design is meant for powder and the deck features artwork from Burton’s favorite Jimi Hendrix album “Valleys of Neptune.”

Craig’s is a Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for snowboarders. Burton likes to think Kelly would approve. “Craig was an engineer at heart,” Burton said shortly after the center opened in 2010. “It was what made our relationship tick once he got involved with Burton. He was so into board design, and he brought us so far. It seemed only appropriate we would name this place after him. I mean, I owe so much
to that guy for teaching me to listen to riders and just what
he did himself, pushing our board designs. There’s no other name that should be on the door than his.”

On the day I visited, racks of a limited-run tribute model snowboard marking the 25th anniversary of Kelly’s first signature Burton board greeted us. Kelly was one of the sport’s first superstars and one of its most engaging personalities, winning some of the first major snowboarding contests as he led the movement towards freestyle progression with an ear- to-ear grin pasted across his face. Burton was his board.

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But after winning four consecutive World Champion titles (1986–1989) and three consecutive US Open titles (1987–1989), Kelly walked away from competition to pursue big-mountain freeriding and backcountry snowboarding. Common today, such riding was revolutionary at the time. Some of Kelly’s other sponsors balked at this shift. Not only did Burton continue backing him, but they also allowed Kelly to design the gear that would make this new type of riding more fun.

The building, which is available for tours by appointment, is symbolically protected by avalanche fences above the front entrance. Tour groups go into each of the prototyping rooms, but cameras are banned in most of them. During my visit, the engineering team was putting a new boot design to the test in a robotic torture device so classified we were asked to not even describe it here. Other trade secrets, like the process for creating Burton’s trademarked “Channel” binding attachment system, are even more heavily protected.

“I’m a company guy, obviously, but I can honestly say we build the best snowboards and snowboard equipment in the world,” said Doyle. “I respect all of our competitors but I can respectfully say that we’re still the best. Jake is a true believer that last year’s trophies don’t pay this year’s bills,” Doyle said. “He really doesn’t have a whole lot of time for nostalgia and sitting on one’s laurels. This is snowboarding, after all: the whole thing moves very quickly, and you have to stay with it. So when you come in here, what you’re seeing is the future being made.”

“Here’s how I like to look at it: every board being put together is the potential energy for so much fun. Where is that board going to go? Who is it going to take to the top of a podium or somewhere amazing? You can feel that energy when you come through here. We’re not given total carte blanche, but we do have the freedom to try things and to do some weird stuff. We can prototype everything, and it allows us to play in a bunch of different directions. I’m pretty much ruined for working anywhere else.”

Whether a snowboard, boot or jacket, Burton products have one thing in common: the words “Burlington, Vermont.” It’s key to the brand’s DNA. “When I think of Vermont, I think of quality,” Kohlman said. “And when you’re talking about Burton, you’re talking about Vermont: that’s at the core. Jake and Donna are proud Vermonters, and Vermont is really proud of Burton and our culture. It’s a special place, and it ties in heavily to both our history and our future.” And it’s where Burton has always loved to ride.

“I’ve heard him say he’ll ride all over the world, but some
of his best days are still at Stowe,” Kohlman said. “There’s something about your home mountain and your special spots. On any given day at Stowe you could run into Jake out there, trudging up on a splitboard with his dogs in tow, or out testing our latest prototypes, or just riding with Donna and their sons [George, 25, Taylor, 22 and Timi, 19].”

Stowe Mountain Resort is the closest resort to Burton HQ, and Jake and Donna have a home there. “You’d find Jake on the Bruce Trail,” said Doyle. “It’s an old backcountry trail, 
a great, long, fun run. It’s un-groomed, and to get out at the bottom you have to pole out along the cross-country trails, which sends the skiers into fits of apoplexy—we’ve learned to stay out of the groomed cross-country tracks! You better have your board waxed.”

In 2011, Burton was diagnosed with testicular cancer. It is now cured, but last March, just after the Burton US Open in Vail, Colorado, he was diagnosed with Miller Fisher Syndrome, an extremely rare type of Guillain-Barre Syndrome that results in the body’s immune system attacking the nerves.
It temporarily paralyzed him. He was on full life support for two months at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, but is now back at home in Vermont focusing on physical therapy. Burton spokeswoman Abby Young said he’s expected to make a full recovery, but it’s been a trying year.

“What he’s done for the sport, his heart and soul, his enthusiasm, his overall drive, his hands-on approach—you see that in how he beat cancer and how he’s fighting this Miller Fisher Syndrome, too,” said Shawn Johnson, Burton’s global development manager. “When he comes through he always asks, ‘What’s hot today? What are you working on?’ That’s where his heart is, and he’s always receptive to new ideas.”

“It’s always been Jake’s passion to develop snowboarding, 
to keep making it better and better so we can get to wherever we’re heading, and to me that’s the heart of what this company is about,” Kohlman said. “The past is awesome and it’s worth celebrating, but Jake is always focused on ‘What’s next?’ ‘How can we make this better?’ It’s the future he’s interested in.”

Nantucket’s Most Loved Coastal Activity

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Nantucket's Most Loved Coastal Activity

November 6, 2018

In the summer the prevailing winds blow across coastal Massachusetts and Cape Cod from the southwest. The gentle morning sea breeze often builds throughout the day into a stiff wind that wafts across the exposed crescent that is the island of Nantucket. The Wampanoag were the first to ride these winds and settle Nantucket, the “far away land” in their language. European explorers used these winds to sail past the island in the 17th century, and the great whaling ships that once chased sperm whales across the globe called Nantucket harbor their home port. While this glacial remnant that juts out of the ocean 30 miles south of Hyannis is now known for its sandy beaches and stunning vacation homes, sailing—more than anything—defines the Nantucket way of life.

When spending time on the island, it is impossible not to feel the urge to hop aboard a boat and hoist the mainsail. The best place to get a sailing lesson or send the kids to sailing school is Nantucket Community Sailing, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching and providing sailing opportunities. Once you learn how to sail, the waters around the island open up to a whole new world.

Oddly enough, Herman Melville had not set foot on Nantucket before writing Moby Dick in 1851. But he knew the history of the infamous whaling ship the Essex from Nantucket, which was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale in the South Pacific. And his book, hailed by some as the Great American Novel, foisted both sailing and the island of Nantucket into the national consciousness.

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Nantucket was the hub of America’s whaling fleet from 1715 until the eventual demise of commercial whaling 150 years later. (The last whaler reportedly left the harbor in 1869.) At its peak in the mid-19th century, 72 whaling ships listed Nantucket as their home port. The ships had three masts that hoisted square-rigged sails; three-dozen crewmembers would board and set sail from the island on expeditions that lasted as long as three years. That’s quite the contrast from the fleet of recreational day sailors that flit about the harbor or swing with the tide on moorings today.

Nantucket took to its present-day incarnation as a vacation oasis not long after those whaling ships faded into history, with visitors flocking to the island for the same reason as the original settlers—rugged yet picturesque beauty and a large protected harbor.

The island is actually part of a glacial moraine, formed at the forward edge of the Laurentide Ice Sheet that retreated at the end of the last ice age more than 20,000 years ago. It left behind a 50-square-mile chunk of land in the shape of a crescent moon off the coast of Cape Cod. Melville described it in Moby Dick as an “elbow of sand,” but that’s not exactly right. Parts of the island’s sandy shoreline are still littered with boulders and rocks from the leftover glacial till. Much of the island rises up from the beaches in the form of vast bluffs that provide high vantage points for gazing far across the surrounding waters. The opening to Nantucket Harbor sits in the middle of the crescent, facing north into Nantucket Sound and across to the Cape. There is always at least a little wind. 

“Nantucket Sound is just a glorious sailing location,” says Diana Brown, the chief executive of Nantucket Community Sailing. “There are steady breezes every day and the water is clear.” Founded in 1994, Nantucket Community Sailing is dedicated to teaching sailing and making it accessible to people who live in or visit Nantucket. It offers weekly classes for children in season, all taught by instructors certified by US Sailing. Adults and kids alike can sign up for private lessons. “Our primary focus is children,” says Brown. “But we work with sailors from age 5 to 95.”

Youth classes range from absolute beginner all the way up to advanced racing level, and adults can sign up for private lessons at all skill levels. There’s also a woman’s sailing clinic and an adult racing program. Last year, the organization provided sailing opportunities to more than 1,000 kids and 2,000 adults over the season, which lasts mid-June through August, with rentals available through mid-September.

For rentals and lessons, head to Jetties Sailing Center, where Community Sailing keeps its boats. It’s on the beach just off Bathing Beach Road, about a mile from downtown and the docks for the ferries from Oak Bluff and Hyannis. Prospective sailors can rent or take lessons in small one- to two-person boats such as Sunfish and Lasers or larger Rhodes or Marshall Cats or take a trip with a captain aboard a J/105.

All of Jetties Sailing Center’s introductory sailing lessons, as well as rentals, stay inside the protected waters of the harbor. From the center, you can sail past the historic Brant Point Lighthouse, first established as an aid to navigation in 1746. The interior harbor offers protected water where first-timers can learn basic skills such as how to set and trim a sail so that it works to move the boat no matter the wind direction, how to tack and jibe, control the centerboard and how to come about, which is how you change direction. A lesson aboard the 35-foot J/105 can involve leaving the harbor and exploring the waters surrounding Nantucket. And there is no better way to see the island than from the deck of a boat.

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Heading west along the shoreline leads to the smaller Madaket Harbor, which is more exposed to the elements but offers the best view of Nantucket’s sunset. Sailing farther west and to the north provides the best opportunity to see the privately owned summer community on Tuckernuck Island, or sail beyond to the neighboring Muskeget Island to view the largest population of grey seals in the United States. (Don’t try to swim near them; it’s illegal to get within 150 feet of one, and seals attract sharks.) An article from the Cape Cod Times described the seal-viewing experience this way, “On a foggy day you can smell the island before you can actually see it.” But the chance to see roughly 3,000 seals in the wild is worth the olfactory assault.

Heading north and east outside of the harbor entrance leads to the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge, a pristine stretch of grassy sand dunes and marshes that juts north into the ocean, protected at its tip by the Great Point Light, built in 1785 to guide sailors in from Cape Cod. As Ezra G. Perry wrote in his 1898 book A Trip Around Cape Cod, “The long-drawn sandy shores of Great Point are among the first land of the real island sighted on the trip across,” from the Cape. This is another place to watch seals flopping on and off the beaches into the surf, as well as several species of migratory shore birds like American oystercatchers, piping plovers or snowy egrets.

The south shore of Nantucket is exposed to the whims of the Atlantic Ocean, and subject to much larger seas. (It holds great surfing spots, if you want to try that.) But on calm days sailors can cruise along the sandy beaches and observe the famous Nantucket summerhouses perched atop the bluffs.

Sailors with serious experience can venture about 20 miles offshore to the whale feeding grounds, where it’s possible to catch a glimpse of the massive humpback and finback whales that pass through these waters throughout the summer season. And whale watching brings the Nantucket experience back full circle to its days of Captain Ahab and the majestic whaling fleet. As Melville wrote in Moby Dick of the Nantucket sailor, “For the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires.”