I’ve interviewed Mike Douglas a couple of times (for Skier and IF3 publications), and more recently, I’ve worked with Mike and his amazing crew at Switchback Entertainment as a partner in crime on several Origin Design + Communications projects for Whistler Blackcomb (Embedded, The Wonder Reels, The Beyond Series).
So when our Origin team went en masse on Sunday night to see the World Premiere of his debut feature film, Snowman, at the Closing Gala of the Whistler Film Festival, I wasn’t going as a film critic, or a cultural commentator, or any kind of kinda-journalist that I’ve played at being over the past decade.
I was going as a creator, cheering on a fellow creative who had stepped beyond his comfort zone, who was putting himself out there to attempt the next level. I was in awe and a little bit jealous of his cojones.
I’d also forgotten the full extent of the biography by which he’d earned the moniker of Godfather of Skiing (ie he didn’t give birth to skiing, but he sure as fuck ensured it got its spiritual education.)
Here’s what I discovered in the semi-dark, inhaling popcorn by the handful, as I watched a deeply personal debut film about growing up far from snow, dreaming of a bigger life, and learning the price of risk-tasking:
The single most important step in your evolution as a creative person is owning your high school years. (Cheers to Lena Dunham, David Sedaris, and now, Mike Douglas. I can say that i’m light years away from sharing pictures of my high school year book as a way of connecting with an audience. Guess it’s time to call a therapist.)
There’s so much talk in marketing these days about being soulful and authentic, but it doesn’t get much more legit that reconnecting with your high school best friend, 20 years later, after you both sold out on each other and (spoiler alert) became neighbours and ski buddies once again.
If you want to be a craftsperson, you have to be willing to blow up your ultra-cool persona. Douglas has cred – his Salomon Freeski TV is not only groundbreaking, it’s mindmelting content for snowfiends. Shane McConkey was one of his bros. He practically reinvented skiing when it was at its most uninspiring.
But in Snowman, he completely owns his vulnerability: he was adopted, he didn’t finish University, he is sometimes scared of the stuff he has to do as a pro skier. And his best friend in the world is a geek. A really really endearing, but in no way a leading man, weather geek. Who almost died in a terrifying helicopter crash in the biggest mountains imaginable.
When I lost Shane he was the first really close friend that I lost and we had kids the same age and we had so much in common, and I can’t even imagine if I would have lost Kevin that day. That would have probably changed my life even more dramatically. But I think stepping behind the camera and focusing on storytelling as opposed to just doing the coolest, latest trick – there’s risk involved in that, in just putting yourself out there and making things that people are going to see and judge. But at the same time that physical risk has been reduced now that I focus much more of my time on filmmaking. And that has been a product of what’s happened to my friends.
Because, for a bit of an epilogue here, Shane’s death was just the first domino. I’ve lost so many friends in the last five years, it’s absurd. I’ve become a pro at doing media eulogies for my friends. I just lost two – JP Auclair and Andreas Fransson back in the end of September, and Sarah Burke was like my little sister. JP was one of my dearest friends; he was at my wedding and has been through all these milestones in life with me. Andreas was the subject of my last film. So it’s been incredibly difficult. As my kids grow up, it definitely weighs on you for sure and focusing on the filmmaking side has been a little safer, but also therapeutic in a way. As a filmmaker and as a writer, you actually can take positive things out of the roller coaster of life. This is what life is and it’s not always going to be perfect, and sometimes it’s messy and sometimes there’s beauty in that as well.
~Mike Douglas talks to Marsha Lederman of the Globe and Mail
So he told Kevin Fogolin’s story. And there were no rock stars to lead the charge. On the contrary – just a reluctant, intensely private, kid from Campbell River. And a former pro skier turned filmmaker digging into the beautiful mess of it all.
I love watching Abma or Petersen or Backstrom slay a line as much as the next person. But maybe the ski world needs more stories like this… of regular folk, who love snow, and who realise, at some point in their lives, that sharing little moments on snow with your family might, ultimately, be the most important measure of things.
Not everyone can move to Whistler. (Or any other awesome ski town. But Whistler is, you know, extra creamy.)
But there’s something beautiful in the stories of all the people who have. Because it required a great leap. And I’m super grateful to Mike Douglas for reminding me of that. That, at some point, we were all goofy-looking kids writing “Go skiing” in our high school year books. And, for better and worse, some of us actually did.
The first time I wrote for lululemon, my poem on happiness was scribbled in the store window.
(I never did get a photo. But the best moments are like fresh snowfall…. they vanish fast and are better lived than overly documented.)
More recently, a fast-talking idea-zinging uber-talented-writer-type friend of mine, who’s currently at the helm of the lululemon blog, asked if I could profile a couple of their ambassadors who are about to compete for the second time in the World Championships Ultraman in Hawaii. Here’s the bit that got me hooked:
More people have gone into space than have done this race. Actual fact.
So, I interviewed Kevin and Kat Calder-Becker, a pair of 50 year olds who have raised an apparently well-adjusted daughter (I interviewed her too), work full-time jobs, and train an additional 26 hours a week (leaving me to wonder what the frack I do with my time and if I really needed to inhale that entire peppermint Ritter Sports bar to sustain my typing.)
Check out the profile, here.
I was prepared to hate them. I was looking for the mental chink in the armour – the streak of narcissism, OCD, whatever – that would make their superhuman achievements (or my underachievements) make sense.
And here’s what I found.
A pretty simple recipe for how to be awesome. Love, whole foods and a bit (okay, probably quite a bit) of tenacity.
Don’t ever let not knowing how to do something hold you back.
Their journey to Ultraman started with Kevin quitting the fags and packing on the pounds.
Says Kat, “For us, this was a fearful journey to begin. We were not athletes. I was an artist. I went to art school. I didn’t know how to run.” Kevin had to learn to swim laps without stopping.
It’s not about crazy. It’s about commitment.
“For us, it’s about commitment,” said Kat. “We’re committed to our jobs, our sports, our run club and we don’t start anything and not follow it through. We try and support other people and help them… And the sense of accomplishment was so profound for both of us. Facing fear and turning that fear into courage. Setting a goal. Crossing the finish line. We were in love with the sport and the lifestyle, so I signed us up for two the next year.”
There aren’t shortcuts or supplements to get your there.
I read this in Outside magazine a while ago – a round up of fitness trends. They’d combed the most influential sports science journals for the top-cited articles over the past 5 years, and that revealed that, in general, we’re obsessed with shortcuts. Beet juice. Hydrolysate. Everyone’s looking for a fitness shortcut.
“No weird supplements. We found out what we needed. We knew it was whole food. Supplements basically provide what you can get in whole food. We don’t take multivtamins. We use a Vitamix for smoothies. I wish they’d make whole foods a little more accessible to everyone. A head of lettuce for 99cents and 2 L of Coke up to $4.”
He doesn’t even use gadgets.
“I don’t have a placebo or a gadget. I race on feel. Everything has to go on feeling. If I’m tired, I stop. I raced Ironman with no watch. It’s how I feel. I like racing like that, without constantly looking at your time, what’s my pace. I look around. Oh look, the ocean, what temperature is that water I wonder. There’s no magic talisman. Just me and my mind.”
Why do they seem indefatigable? Well, there is the fact that 18 years in, they still believe they’re one another’s soul mates. More. Twin flames. So they literally energize each other. Don’t bicker. Don’t wear each other down.
Kat: “When we race, we race. But when we train, we have fun. We’re never gotten mad at each other in training, I’m always trying to hold on to his back wheel and in swimming, I try and put the hurt on him and it makes us better. We’re really in alignment in our objectives.
Overcome fear one step at a time.
Kat: “These things are scary. When I look at the start of a race, it’s a fear of the unknown. A lot will come up and I’m going to have to make a lot of decisions on the fly, that will result in success or failure, and it’s completely on your shoulders if you fail. But for me…it’s been a great therapy. If you can face the ocean for 10km or run across the Grand Canyon which we did in April (15 hours of straight running, one of the hardest things we’ve ever done), and turn that fear into courage… I used to be afraid of walking into a room of people.”
Kev: “How do I overcome the fear? I live in the moment. So until it happens, I won’t react. I try not to think about it. I’m on the task at hand. When I’m swimming, I’m just swimming. In 20 minutes my paddlers going to feed me. Is my stroke good? Am I moving forward? I’m not thinking about what’s in the water. One square meter. That’s all you can control. One stroke at a time.”
Ultraman is underway this weekend with updates on twitter at #ultramanlive.
In 2012, I got the chance to write about snow-artist, Simon Beck, for a piece for Kootenay Mountain Culture magazine.
Passionate and quirky, he was hoping to secure some form of sponsorship, so he could keep leaving his marks in snow, improve his camera equipment and work on a book. Well, it looks like his tenacity has paid off. His self-published book was released this week. He’s been invited to present at TEDx events around the world, on topics ranging from ethics to creativity.
Icebreaker collaborated with him to debut their Art of Nature series, producing twenty garments featuring his snow-shoe-stomped designs with proceeds going to Protect Our Winters (POW). It’s a media-marketing win for the brand… but I think what makes it so successful is that perfect alignment of brand values – all the more reason for brands to be really clear in knowing what they stand for.
Here’s the 2012 article:
Tracked Out: Artist Simon Beck Has a Message and He’s Writing It In Snow For All the World To Read
Most people I know love fresh snow and want to leave their mark in it – usually in the form of a figure eight, a figure 11 or a big arcing S. Simon Beck watches the powder forecast with as much fanaticism, but a different outcome in mind.
He wants to make mandalas, crop circles and other ephemeral art, on the 1.3 hectare expanse of a frozen lake in the French Alps, by spending 6-10 hours going round and round in circles in his snowshoes.
The British artist and retired mapmaker has been making his art, and name, at Les Arcs, since 2004, when the then 45 year old, a competitive orienteer, wanted to skive off his usual evening training hike. Instead, in an inspired fit of procrastination, he took his compass, plotted 5 points on the frozen lake behind his apartment, and tramped out a pentangle. Augmenting it with little triangles and circles, he realized how beautiful his giant snow doodle was when he looked at it from the chairlift nearby.
When he subsequently quit orienteering, he decided to take snow art seriously and make it his main form of winter exercise.
Using snowshoes, an old school handheld orienteering compass, a clothes line (to make the curves, just like your elementary school protractor), and counting out his paces, he tramps out famous geometric designs like the Koch curve, Mandelbrot set and Sierpinksi triangle, without the aid of GPS, mostly by eye-balling aiming points. Beethoven and a ridiculous level of physical fitness also help him complete the designs, which often disappear by the following day. “God makes the rules. Mankind will never be above the laws of nature,” he says philosophically.
Increasingly famous on the interweb, Beck says that his current focus is to “maintain my position as world leader in my field and work towards the goal of producing a coffee table book that I hope will sell a million.” He fantasizes about acquiring a remote controlled aircraft to take aerial photographs of his art. Aside from avalanches, hypothermia, and wayward dogs messing up his tracks, getting a photo is the biggest hurdle he faces. He estimates that he has remade at least a quarter of his designs from scratch because of a failure to get a photo.
Like all true iconoclasts, he hopes to use his fame ultimately for good: “Most skiers think I am mad.. But I hope to spread the message that there are better things in life than spending time doing things you don’t want so you can spend money you don’t have to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.”
It’s the point of powder, after all. Revelling in its fleeting perfection and leaving a momentary mark. Simon Beck’s mark just happens to be art.
Turkey hangover, ColdFront and opening day on the mountain got you thinking about starting a new fitness program?
Try this. A 50 Day Wellness Challenge. All you have to do is say yes, and then tell someone.
Yep. I make it sound easy in the columns and blog posts that I’ve been putting out there, as part of a community-wide countdown to the Winds of Change’s 5th annual Wellness Gathering on November 22.
Gym workouts and rainy bike rides, yoga sessions, delicious meals, garden harvests and gratitude journals are just some of the things people are doing. But more than that, they’ve been putting themselves out there to seed a wellness uprising with a little hashtag that delivers a boost of vitality and inspiration when resolve is flagging, and that reminds us that wellness, and the Winds of Change, is essentially just this: each of us looking out for one another.
Of course, despite the noble cause and the inspired prose and the profilerating hashtags, I fell off the wagon.
At the outset, I had considered gaming the entire thing by choosing something that offered wellness without too much challenge, like breathing deeply for five minutes every day, or savouring a poem or visiting my favourite dock, or exploring the proven health benefits of chocolate every single day. But I didn’t want to squander the opportunity to try and be a better version of myself.
With a 40th birthday around the corner and a friend’s #100daysofswimming challenge (which culminated in a five and a half hour open water swim from Europe to Africa) fresh in my memory, I set the clock on Oct. 3 and began counting down.
Fifty days of wellness, for me, at the chin-up bar.
Start. Stall. Start. Stall.
I guess that’s how these things go.
Fall over. Get back up again. Come up short. Ask for help. Feel bad. Forgive yourself.
Who knew a few chin-ups would be so challenging…?
The fifth annual Wellness Gathering is set for Nov. 22. That’s about 30 days away, which means there’s plenty of time to get a personal #50DayWellnessChallenge underway, and be in peak form for both the Wellness Gathering and opening day. Just tag #50DayWellnessChallenge and feel free to share with the Facebook page @WindsofChange, (or on twitter @Winds4Change and Instagram @wellnessalmanac). – See more at: http://www.whistlerquestion.com/opinion/columnists/the-wellness-almanac-50daywellnesschallenge-start-it-now-1.1424795#sthash.DiZNmApA.dpuf
On the news this morning: Canadian beekeepers (who tellingly, refer to themselves as a “community” rather than an “industry”) are launching a class action suit against the makers of neonicotinoid pesticides, for the damage (havoc) their products have caused to bee populations.
I’ve been thinking about the Doomsday Seed Vault lately. Officially known as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, it was started in 2008 and now contains upwards of 1.5 million distinct seed samples, serving as a kind of safety deposit box of plant diversity.
I wonder who it’s beneficiaries will be. Aliens? The handful of survivors of the next Ice Age who’ll be charged with re-wilding the Earth? Given that the highly-secured bombproof Vault was financed by Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Monsanto Corporation and the Syngenta Foundation – the latter parties being deeply invested in the patenting and genetic engineering of plant seeds and the sale of chemicals – I suspect the “benefactors” already have their own Master Plan for the seed stockpile. Sigh.
Cindy Filipenko asked me recently to recount how last weekend’s Slow Food Cycle got started. “Every time I say something these days about Slow Food Cycle, it sounds like it had radically political roots,” I replied. It didn’t. I wasn’t politicized about food and farming 10 years ago. I just wanted to deepen my personal relationship with this place, and maybe become a better cook and gardener, less reliant on frozen pizza for sustenance.
But the more I read about the money behind the Seed Vault, provincial farm legislation, the bee crisis, the pesticide-drenching strategy of non-organic BC blueberry farmers to combat the Spotted Winged Drosophila, the more afraid I am of collapsing in a heap of despair. And the more I appreciate living amongst dry-humoured hard-working organic farmers, community gardeners, seed-swappers and Farmers Market supporters.
This May, at the Women’s Institute Plant Sale, I picked up one of Anna Helmer’s marigold starts. I have managed to keep it alive, despite the toddler’s attempts to eat it, deluge-water it, and dig it up, and it is now a monster of blooms and vigour – nothing like the tragic little marigolds one picks up from any major Canadian retailer to protect the lettuce from slugs. (Note: most of those plants have been treated with neonicotinoids, a systemic insecticide that renders them fatal to bees and other pollinators. Resume foetal position.)
The marigold seeds were originally given to Jeanette Helmer at a seed swap she hosted. Jeanette showed Anna how to save the seed and plant it, and now Anna starts a hundred plants to give to friends and the WI Plant Sale.
“I love them,” Anna told me. “They are such a good landscaping solution – with minimal attention they get really big and bushy and block out all kinds of things. At their flowering peak at Slow Food Cycle Sunday, magnificent Taj Mahal Marigold hedges protect broken-down machinery, compost heaps piled high with weeds just pulled in a frenzy of preparation, and maybe my sister who isn’t really a people person.”
Years ago, when I interviewed Lil’wat storyteller Marie Abraham, she said to me, “I’ve listened to stories since I was a child. Our parents didn’t read to us. They told stories. It was our family thing. Both my parents were very good storytellers, as well as my grandmother on my mom’s side. My grandma was our cultural centre. She was a walking talking totem pole!”
That idea, that ordinary people, rather than an edifice or an institution, are the custodians of culture, took deep root in me. And the more I think about the Global Seed Vault, the more I want to pull seeds, untreated unengineered seeds, out of frozen storage and start passing them around, swapping them, saving them, sharing them. PLANTING them. Engineering a different kind of future by growing from swapped seeds, year after year. And this is what keeps me from that curled heap on the floor: a big bushy marigold, some Pemberton potatoes and a dozen tomato plants that were gifted by a friend (thanks Rachel and Derek!) in an experimental garden, that couldn’t feed my family, yet, but that anchors me to this place, this earth, this community, and a future that just might be okay.
People ask. “How’s it going? You know… How’s motherhood?”
I’ve been trying to pin words to this experience for eight months now…
I am continually perplexed by what a slow learner I am. I think I know something, and yet it keeps coming at me, and I’m all “I know, I know,” and the universe is like, “yeah, but Lisa, you don’t really KNOW this yet.” Oh, cellular adoption required. Okay. As you were.
So, this is another one of those. Becoming a family, becoming parents, becoming a mother… all these things for me have been like an immersion program in learning another language.
Like being dropped in the middle of Paris with a 25 year old guide book and an impractical pair of shoes (that seemed “Paris” worthy at the time.)
Yes, I was woefully underprepared.
It has been foreign. Daunting. Dizzying. Brain-melting.
But also, an adventure upon which, I have discovered, I didn’t need anything apart from myself. My Self. Whatever I’ve managed to pick up along the way thus far.
It’s stunning, glorious, mindblowing, unexpectedly romantic.
(And maybe the sleep deprivation contributes. But even Paris at night is wondrous, right? And you know you’re not going to be here for long.)
Now and then, it makes me head hurt. Every now and then, it’s like, holy shit, this is hard, everything being so new and foreign and strange and difficult to translate. Every now and then, I have moments where I’m like, god, could I just go somewhere quiet and safe where everyone speaks English. Where I am fluent. (I miss being fluent.) Instead of grasping for the right word, all the freaking time.
(And there are places like that… I think they’re called mother’s groups. I haven’t hit one up yet. But I suddenly get it. And I also get why new moms always seemed to have the most inane conversations about diapers and feeding and sleep and schedules… because SO FUCKING MUCH has happened to you, so much is swirling, so much is transforming, that you just grab a safe anchor. And poo is safe. Whereas the way your marriage is shifting around, the way your relationship with your own mother or your self or your body is shifting around, is moving and mysterious and hard to put a finger on and changing every day and you suspect it’s deeply different for everyone, but you’re pretty sure it’s all up for grabs, and that all makes them tricky things to talk about. At least, they have been for me. So, diapers and sleep schedules offer a kind of a safe place for conversation…)
I’m also discovering that every now and then, like learning a language, something suddenly clicks and stops being hard. It happens so seamlessly, you don’t even realise that suddenly, you’re able to order meals. Or suddenly, you’re able to read all the street signs. Or suddenly, you’re dreaming in another language. You don’t notice, I think, because you’re onto the next big learning. But every day, you’re becoming fluent, you’re being transformed. It just, for me, takes a while. (I know, I know. No, Lisa, not yet.)
“Humanity is going to need a substantially new way of thinking if it is to survive.” –Albert Einstein
I WOULDN’T FOLLOW just anyone down a rabbit hole. I’m a seeker, not a sucker. But when Nassim Haramein went bouncing across my field, I followed. I knew him once, and I couldn’t help but wonder where he’d been. Who hasn’t pondered the fate of the long-haired, pot-smoking ski-bum genius they inevitably meet when they first ride into a ski town? The one who skis like a master, lives in a van, free solo rock climbs (no rope, no partner, no protection), reads the heaviest esoteric books he can borrow from the library, and has stepped so far out of the mainstream you wonder if he’s riding a different set of rapids entirely? “The guy’s uncovered the ultimate secret to everything,” a friend says. “So I hear.” Follow that flash and you’re headed straight to Wonderland.
In 1994, Nassim Haramein was a top-level ski instructor working on Blackcomb. He was living rent-free in a basement apartment owned by tour operator Mike Dempsey, in exchange for keeping an eye on the dozen Australian kids on a ski-improvement course who were living upstairs. To us, Haramein was a bit of a guru; he had both a Level 4 Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance certification and a tolerance for our beer-drinking, weed-smoking ways. And even though Haramein was keen to engage with us about skiing, the mysteries of the pyramids, the recurrence of spirals and circles and patterns in nature, the Coriolis effect and the weird fact that water goes down the drain in one direction in Whistler and the opposite direction Down Under, we couldn’t have known that 15 years on, people would genuinely call him Guru.
He would be also be called woo-woo merchant, nutter, physicist, autodidact, mystic, genius, New Age prophet, and emissary of the Galactic Federation. He would spend more than a decade refining the theories he developed while living in his van after teaching back-to-back ski seasons, following the trail of his curiosity and seeking out partners and patrons who could help him develop them. He would teach himself enough higher mathematics and physics that he could present his theories in a format the scientific establishment could understand. He would present his theories at physics conferences and endure the mockery and disdain of that same establishment. He would be unashamed that he believed ancient civilizations offered insights as valuable as those provided by quantum physics. And finally, in 2008, he would attend a conference in Brussels, Belgium, where his presentation, The Schwarzschild Proton, which set out to prove that every point in space is a black hole containing an infinite amount of energy would, instead of generating the usual heckles, receive the award for Best Paper, a standing ovation and subsequent publication in the American Journal of Physics.
Something had changed.
Was it possible a self-taught “scientist,” high-school dropout, ski instructor and climbing bum, who had lived in his van for 15 years, could conceive the ultimate theory of everything? A unified field theory that would not only explain how the universe works in such a way that any observation can fit into the theory, but would bridge the chasm between the acolytes of Einstein and students of the mystic? To most members of the scientific establishment, tenure-track professors and researchers, it was completely incongruous. What the hell were his qualifications?
But Haramein’s theory didn’t really surprise the ski bums. They had always been bumping up against the structured world of reality. “When you’re living that lifestyle, things are really simple, in general,” says Lee Anne Patterson, a career skier and climber, who shared a house with Haramein during the summer of 1993. “It allows you a lot of time to think about other things. You’re not clouded by all the other little things that go on, as long as you’re getting your fix, and if skiing is your fix and you do it 8 hours a day, you have a lot of other time.”
This story, which appeared in the premiere issue of Coast Mountain Culture magazine, is now available at http://mount.ai/n/articles/free-radicals, where the CMC and KMC folk are housing longform in a beautiful digital container. But be warned. It might make your head explode.