Cowabunga! Kiteskiing!

Kite Skiing - Soft Snow

Kite Skiing – Soft Snow (Photo credit: SteveSchwarzPhotography)

Deutsch: Skifahrer startet den Drachen.

Deutsch: Skifahrer startet den Drachen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Snowkiting (also know as Traction Kiting,  Power Kiting, Kite buggyingkite skiing and kite land boarding) is an outdoor winter sport where people use kite power to glide on snow or ice.   It is similar to kite-surfing, except that the skier wear skis (obviously), does it on snow instead of water.  It has been popular for years in Europe where it first became a sport.  Today, it is gaining in popularity elsewhere.   Instead of gravity and hills, power kites or traction kites provide the pull.  In fact, the pull allows you to go uphill!   Just like on skis or a snowboard, you can get air.  Kite skiers perform all sorts of tricks and stunts.

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Just make sure you have wind… and that the kite doesn’t pull you off the edge of a cliff.  Avoiding trees, pylons, rocks, ski-lifts, tow ropes and other skiers is probably a good idea too.

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Chris Cousins kiteboarding in Switerland.

Chris Cousins kiteboarding in Switerland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Snowmaking, Skiers Response To Mother Nature

When Mother Nature doesn’t deliver, man takes things into his own hands.  Usually, it involves some sort of big, noisy machine.  Snowmakers are no exception.  Those are snow cannons in the photo above.

Snowmaking creates snow by dispersing water and air-under-pressure into freezing ambient air. They can even choose whether to make it into light powder or a wet base snow (which lasts better at higher temperatures) by regulating the water content of man made snow.  Still, the lower the temperature, the better for snowmaking.  It usually needs to be below 25 degrees fahrenheit (-3.89 Celsius) for it to work, which is part of the reason it is done at night.  The lower the humidity, the higher the temperature can be.   Aaah… the miracles of modern science….

The Spectacle Of The Tour Caravan

Before the cyclists, the tour caravan sweeps through, showering fans with loads of virtually useless promotional materials.  For the unfamiliar, sponsor vehicles are a significant part of the spectacle that is the Tour de France.  Like Rose Bowl Parade or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the floats astonish.

While the downside is garish commercialism on steroids.  The upside is it is that  entertaining while you wait for the riders and you get tons of free stuff.  The booty we brought home covered the dining room table!

We had to giggle at the brashness and sheer outrageousness of some of the floats.  Our top floats included:

I have a soft spot for anything dog related, but most people loved the giant puppy float (I’m keeping the key chain they threw us with the dog on it).

The Vittel float sprayed the crowds with water.  It was more of a cooling mist than a waterfall, but I still put my camera away when they got close.

Everyone loved the giant rubber duckie.   Forget the Viper I eyed at the Geneva Auto Show, I kind of want the duckie for my next car.  It looks like it would be a pain to park though.

I’m not a gambler, but the PMU horses were pretty cool.
Le Coq Sportif.  How can you not smile at a giant chicken?  If only they had tossed rubber ones instead of keychains…

Some of the floats were aimed at kids.  I’m guessing the cyclists are eating something more nutritious than loads of gummy bears.

To be one of the women (or few men) who toss the loot, you must be attractive, willing to spend a month throwing things out on a vehicle, good at dancing while harnessed into a vehicle (see above), and able to withstand blaring techno music 8 hours a day for three straight weeks.  They looked like they were having a pretty good time and there are worse things than spending a summer tooling  around France.

The vehicles are as large as the small mountain roads permit.  With spectators jumping into the roads, blaring music, bags of gummy bears flying through the air, steep roads and dangerous curves, the drivers must be amazing.  I get a bit nervous driving these roads without having to worry about crowds of people and the ridiculous amount of chaos.

A tow truck accompanies each part of the caravan, ready to immediately remove any breakdown from the road.   We also noticed that they were accompanied by an ambulance, just in case a vehicle hits a spectator (which actually happened on day two of this year’s Tour).

Our Introduction To The European Football Championship 2012

English: 1964 Euro-Cup. Español: Trofeo de la ...

English: 1964 Euro-Cup. Español: Trofeo de la Eurocopa disputada en el año 1964. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most Americans know football (the American kind and the other known to us as soccer), many are unfamiliar with the European Football Championship (also known as the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, Euro 2012, the European Championship or Euro Cup).  Here, football/futball/soccer is huge.  People here are excited.  We see flags decorating balconies, viewing parties at bars, people wearing jerseys, etc. Even if people aren’t huge fans, they absorb a lot of football knowledge and culture by osmosis.  We’re enthusiastically embracing Euro 2012 as a chance to learn and are watching games.  Although I don’t think we are as enthusiastic as some fans who have been driving through Switzerland’s streets honking their horns for the past hour.

Meilleurs résultats Euro

Meilleurs résultats Euro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s how it works.  The top two teams from each of the 4 groups (referred to as pots) move on for a single elimination tournament.  Group “B” with Germany, Holland, Portugal and Denmark, is the toughest section.  Many argue that it is the hardest group ever assembled in international tournament history.  The top two teams in each group advance to a single-elimination tournament.

According to our friends, the Euro Cup is one of the most important soccer tournaments to Europeans.  Although Americans might not be familiar with it, it is one of the world’s preeminent tournaments.    To Europeans, it is second only to the World Cup and to some, it is bigger than the World Cup.  They argue that the World Cup has some weak teams while the Euro Cup only has strong teams.   It is more important than the Olympics and the European Championships.  The Euro Cup occurs every four years, alternating cycles with the World Cup’s so that a major tournament occurs every two years.

Like the Superbowl or the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, gambling pools abound.  Most offices have several pools.  Friends make informal bets.  It’s crazy.

In Geneva, an area with many immigrants and foreigners.  Euro Cup is a chance to embrace your heritage.   Everyone supports their home country and foreign nationals here get together to watch their home country’s games.  Our friend who lives next door to a Portuguese bar reports that it is packed, loud and, um, very festive on game days.

English: UEFA European Football Championship a...

English: UEFA European Football Championship appearances by country. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neighboring countries seem to rival each other more than non-neighboring countries.  History also may play a role.  We know more about European history than football/soccer history, so there could other explanations for rivalries.   Here are some of the rivalries:

This European  Cup has had a few controversies:

  • They had to post some of the games in Ukraine because some Polish cities (I’m looking at you Krakow) didn’t want to invest in the infrastructure and stadiums.
  • Several government officials are boycotting Euro 2012 to protest former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko‘s mistreatment in a Ukrainian prison.
  • BBC’s Panorama did an exposé on race-related soccer hooliganism in Poland and the Ukraine.  It showed disturbing images of racist taunts, violent attacks of minority students, as well as scenes of fans making Nazi salutes and chanting anti-Semitic epithets.
  • Authorities struggled to contain violence after the Russia – Poland game.

If you want to watch it in the US, a DVR is handy.  Most tournament games air in the morning in America.

Top Ten Reasons Why We Aren’t Going To The Olympics

Citizens can compete as athletes for the Unite...

We like to watch the Olympics.  When my sister and I were kids, we used to pretend to be Mary Lou Retton.  She (my sister, not Mary Lou) asked me if we were going to the Olympics and was surprised when I told her we weren’t.  Here’s why:

1. Crowds.  I hate them.  I can’t see anything.  Being short, my face is usually in someone’s armpit.  If someone is going to be trampled, it will probably be me.  The more personal space I have, the better.  Plus, London is such a great city that I want to experience it.  I don’t want to spend it waiting in line.

Olympic Games Message

Olympic Games Message (Photo credit: chooyutshing)

2. The marketing.  Brands pay tens of millions of dollars to be associated with the Olympics and use its values to burnish their own.  While not a reason to avoid the games, it isn’t exactly a selling point for me.  I guess I can’t blame them though.  Ask Greece if they would have liked to have had more corporate money?

3. I’m turned off by news stories about the greed that surrounds it.  For example, landlords are evicting tenants in east London from their homes in trying to cash in on the Olympics.

4. HDTV.

5. The prices.  London isn’t cheap.  When they jack up their prices higher than Swiss prices…

Cropped transparent version of Image:Olympic f...

Cropped transparent version of Image:Olympic flag.svg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. Tickets aren’t easy to get, especially for some of the sports that I’d really want to see.  Heck, you have to buy a ticket just to visit the Olympic Park.  We didn’t apply in the initial balloting process so we would have to get lucky to get some at the general sale.  If we had to resort to other means to get tickets, I would probably gasp at the prices.  Just yesterday, Volodymyr Gerashchenko, the general secretary of the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee, resigned after being filmed offering tickets for sale.  It’s a crime to sell Olympic tickets on the black market.

7. He works… a lot.  He probably couldn’t take the time off.

8. There are so many other wonderful places to visit.  It’s not as though we won’t have anything else cool to do.

9. The London games and their “legacy” has been so hyped that it seems impossible to live up to it.

Marion Jones - September 30th, 2000 at the 200...

10. Doping.  My disappointment was enormous after I learned of Marion Jones‘ steroid use.  I don’t know how the games can stay one step ahead.  Wondering whether the person who is killing it and ends up on the medal stand will later test positive takes some of the excitement out of it.

We’ll be heading back to London…after the Olympics.  We love the city and there’s still tons more to see and do.

Paragliding, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

French, Germans and Swiss are paragliding enthusiasts.  In this adventure vacation paradise, paragliding is huge.  Many weekends (in summer and winter) we see paragliders soaring over valleys… from the (relative) safety of a mountain.

When we were skiing in Chamonix, we saw paragliders jump off the mountain!  They soared over the valley next to Mont Blanc.  We watched them from the cable car all the way down into town.  Someone even landed down there wearing skis!  It was impressive (sorry I couldn’t get a picture).

Paragliding involves a manual launch, in other words, you run off the mountain!  Paragliders have “flown” off almost all the US and Europe’s major peaks.  A couple of paragliders have even launched off Mt. Everest!

The paraglider, also known as the pilot, sits in a harness, manipulating the fabric wing made of rip-stop nylon to soar upwards on currents of air.  They maneuver Kevlar suspension lines and to control the pressure of the air entering the vents to catch air currents to gain height and change direction. They can stay aloft for hours (the record is 11) and travel long distances (the record is 186.4 miles/300 km).

We saw an introductory, tandem launch.  Beginners must learn to launching, turning and landing to fly by themselves.  Paragliders risk their lives by running off a precipice.   As such, pre-flight is of paramount importance.  They research the site, the weather forecast, and carry out pre-flight checks to their gear is in perfect condition and ready to deploy.   The maxim “it is better to be on the ground, wishing you were in the air rather than in the air, wishing you were on the ground” reminds paragliders to abort takeoff if their flight is compromised.

Other popular paragliding spots include:

Bracketology: How To Fill Out A Bracket

Warmup before the 2006 NCAA Men's Division I B...

Warmup before the 2006 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament National Championship Game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Last week, I posted about trying to explain March Madness to non-Americans.  Now, I’ve compiled some suggestions for our non-American friends who are wrestling with their NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament brackets.  Here is their introduction to Bracketology, the art and science of filling out a winning bracket.

 

  • If you are filling out a bracket for a giant pool online, feel free to go nuts and pick crazy upsets. Otherwise, play it safe.  Smaller pools tend to be won by those who do.

 

  • The early rounds are not as important as the later rounds.  It is virtually impossible to win if you haven’t picked some of the teams in the Final Four.  The best way of ensuring this is to look at each region before filling out the bracket and choose the team you think has the best chance to come out of it.

 

  • After picking your Final Four teams, choose the highest of those to win the tournament.

 

  • Pick all of the No. 1 seeds to win against the No. 16 seeds.  The No. 1 seed has always won against the No. 16.

 

  • While you are at it, pick the No. 2 seeds to win.  They have always won the first game.  They don’t always win the second.

 

  • Since you have picked all four No. 1 seeds to win their first game, how far do you have them going?  In theory, your chances are probably better with all four No. 1 seeds the Final Four, but this rarely happens in practice.  A good rule of thumb is to have two No. 1 seeds in the final four.

 

  • It is probably safe to keep them winning through the Elite Eight.  The teams that are left at that point are all good teams and who have beaten other good teams.  At this point teams seeds do not matter as much as the individual matchups.

 

  • While there are occasional upsets, the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds win their first games over 80% of the time.  However, No. 4 seeds don’t win as often as No. 3 seeds in the next few rounds.

 

  • The odds say that a No. 5 seed will lose.  Almost every year, one does.  The No. 12 team that knocks them off is known as a Cinderella.  This team will likely win one or two games, but is not likely to make it past the Sweet Sixteen and almost never makes it past the Elite Eight.

 

  • You may as well flip a coin when trying to pick the winner between the No. 8 seeds and the No. 9 seeds.

 

  • The seed means  little to nothing with the  No. 7 and No. 10 matchup.  Ignore the seeding and just pick who you think is the strongest.

 

  • The No. 13 and 14 seeds are not expected to go far.

 

  • The No 15 and 16 seeds lose their games.

 

Now that you have some general guidelines, here are some things (in no particular order) to consider when choosing your winners:

 

  • Travel – Do any of the teams have to travel a long ways, which is tiring and time consuming?  If they have to change several time zones, it is even mores.

 

  • Location close to home – the closer a team plays to home, the more fans who will come to support them.

 

 

  • Talent – It is good to have it.  No surprise there.  The more of it, the better.  It’s good to have a deep bench.

 

  • Age of the players – Experience counts.  Teams packed with older players, upperclassmen, are less likely to be thrown off balance, used to the drill and have more leaders.

 

  • Past tournament experience – this is invaluable.

 

  • Coaches – Some coaches have a history of winning in the tournament.  They know how to prepare their teams and are able to get the best out of their teams there.  Teams coached by these guys have an edge.

 

  • Free-throw shooting – Free-throw shooting is important.  Everyone should be good at it, but they aren’t.  Teams that can make free throws have an advantage.

 

  • Offense and defense – Teams need to be able to play both to win the tournament.  Be very wary of any team that can’t and pick winners that do both well.

 

 

 

Being An Expat Makes It A Little Easier To Be A Detroit Lions Fan

I love him.  One of the things that I love about him is his commitment.  When he commits to something, he always follows through.  He is not the kind of guy who switches to something newer, flashier or trendier once he has fallen in love with something (which bodes well for me).  As a small child, before he knew any better, he fell in love with the Detroit Lions.

The Detroit Lions have been one of the, if not the, worst franchise in all of professional sports (other articles about what a poor franchise they aremorethis one with financial info).

  • They have never made it to the Super Bowl.
  • They have only won one playoff game since 1957.
  • In 2008, they set a record by going 0-16.
  • The best running back ever, Barry Sanders, prefered to retire young rather than to continue to play for the team (and did it just short of breaking Walter Payton‘s rushing record).

When we were in North Carolina, he would get the Sunday Ticket just so he could watch the Lions play. He and his friend Steamer would watch every game (usually right at 1:00 p.m. because the Lions aren’t good enough to play later in the day).  In 9 years, I don’t think he missed more than about one game and that was when he was travelling.  He even watched every game in the disastrous 2008 season (see above).

 
Every week, he and Steamer would shout at the TV, complain about the Lions, dream of what should have been and look like someone had just kicked their dog.
In the offseason, they talk (usually with their brothers and other Lions fans) about the possibilities and potential for next season. Despite the abysmal track record, they are excited and hopeful that something will change and the next season will be good. Maybe they will be able to make the playoffs?  Even to them, a Super Bowl seems a bit unrealistic.

Yesterday, about 2:00 a.m. our time*, the Lions played the formidable New Orleans Saints in New Orleans in the playoffs.  If the Lions had won their previous game they would have had an easier game against the New York Giants.  Instead, they had to play the New Orleans Saints who won the Super Bowl in 2010 and still have some of the players from that team.  They are known to be hard to beat at home.  He was not optimistic.

Here, we are not surrounded by American Football.  If we didn’t seek it out, we could go months (or longer) without ever seeing evidence that the sport exists. This morning, the first thing he did when he got up was check the score.   After seeing the Lions lost (45-28), he did not watch the game.  Being over here spared him the game’s frustration, agony and humiliation (or at least it did until I posted this).

*Thank you to those who called at 2:00 a.m. to make sure we were watching the game.  Although we miss you, we’d spent the day falling on our butts (aka skiing).  We were sleeping like rocks and didn’t even hear it ring.  Sorry.