Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Non-Skiing Post - Perspectives on Japan from three classmates

Tonight I'm posting a column I've just submitted for my grad school class' quarterly newsletter.  It features the experience and thoughts of three friends who live in Japan. Rather than have everyone have to wait for the issue to be printed by the school, I'll put it up here for folks to read while events in Japan are still unfolding.

It’s March 31 in the snowy Sierra Nevada. This week I had the pleasure of skiing with Erik and Alissa Christoffersen’s children; Skylar (5.5) and Theo (3.5). We shared a family dinner last night, talking skiing and catching up. Life is peaceful and good.

But, we all know that on March 11th at 2:46pm, a 9.0 earthquake occurred near the northeastern coast of Japan, followed shortly by a devastating tsunami.  After a tense 72 hours, Masato Iino, Seiji Mitsushi and Takeo Yamada had all reported they and their families safe and sound.  I’ll thank them here for taking time to let us know this good news.

Mairin Macaluso suggested I ask each to share their experience and post-quake perspective. A great idea, I thought, and all three took the time to respond.

Seiji wrote:

“As an individual, I feel that I have no power to turnaround this situation. I am not a doctor, do not have special survival skills, but have to face this reality with my family and friends.  Although it is very tough, I think, the recovery of Japan should be led mainly by us, Japanese, with some support from others.

I would suggest that HBS Club of Japan and the HBS Japan Research Center open special donation accounts for alumni wishing to support Japan and Japanese students. Considering the nature of Harvard, funds could be directed to assist educational institutions with their recovery. Scholarship could be provided for students who’ve lost family but maintain a strong motivation to study. My university, Miyagi U. is a small school in Sendai, and a number of our students lost their homes in the tsunami. Harvard's annual tuition would allow eight of these students to continue their studies for a full year.

However, since the disaster's impact is so huge and spread across so many aspects of life, donors should focus on whatever area speaks to them.

Takeo wrote:

“As I was in Tokyo on Friday, it seemed like just an unusually big earthquake.  On the 15th floor, our building was swinging wildly and some people got seasick.

I have noticed how the situation at the nuclear reactors has been reported differently in Japan from the rest of the world, or at least the US. Initial reports in Japan were lot more optimistic about possibility of containing the situation. Meanwhile, non-Japanese speaking people, especially expats, were
worrying a lot about the fate of the reactors. Some already left Tokyo, not because of possibility of aftershock, but because of concern about radioactive materials.”

Masato wrote:

“I was at the 10th floor of the Shin-Marunouchi Building in Tokyo, one of the newest (and thus assumed safest) skyscrapers in Japan. I knew the building sat on solid bedrock. Nonetheless, the shake was so terrible that a woman started vomiting next to me. I was horrified as I saw neighboring skyscrapers shaking as if made of rubber. Scenes from 911 flashed back and I did consider that I might die. I missed my family.

But none were killed nor injured in central Tokyo. No buildings were damaged. Yes, 3G cell phones were useless, but most of people in Tokyo managed to confirm the safety of family and friends in just a few hours. There were no utility outages and television broadcasts were up and running. People talked later that they found packet communication and SNS’s like Facebook/Twitter far more reliable than 3G voice communications. Trains stopped for a while and some people gave up on returning home until the following day.

I stayed at the office overnight and picked up my daughter who also stayed overnight at school, got back home by 8:30am. My daughter was fine, no psychological scarring. I've lost none from my family, my relatives, or from my friends. By morning, I’d confirmed the safety of nearly all management teams from portfolio companies. The quake happened on Friday and I was back in my normal routine by Monday.

The quake itself barely affected our lives in Tokyo. Compared to what the quake and tsunami caused in Tohoku, it was nothing. I kept asking to myself “what can I personally do?”, but felt helpless beyond donating money.

Through the experience I've realized the power of the internet. Whilst mass media were confused, experts actively communicated openly via blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to help people determine appropriate actions. There were, of course, misleading rumors, but surprisingly, people showed an ability to choose valuable information. Thanks to cloud computing, Facebook and Twitter never went down in Tokyo.

I was surprised by how those directly hit by the disaster were so strong, patient, selfless, and brave. These people made me proud to be Japanese. But at the same time, many people outside of the disaster area, mostly misled by provocative reports, rushed to buy things up, and some were trying to escape from “dangerous” Tokyo.

This “escape” started small, with senior level expatriates leaving, which caused some panic among na├»ve people suspecting access to “mysterious” special information.  I cannot blame non-Japanese speakers rushing out of Japan, as I would do the same if I found myself in China. English media reported more seriously on the risk of nuclear contamination than did the Japanese government and local language media.

I was disappointed by how some people trusted foreign media over local providers. Yes, Japan has long suffered from poor politics, but we have to trust our own ability to rebuild our nation. We have no time to be uncertain or skeptical about our policy makers during this national crisis.

Another challenge is the overwhelming mood of “save consumption.” Eating out, drinking out and even rock concerts are canceled due to political sensitivity. I personally feel people should spend more, and cheer more. Cindi Lauper was the exception and performed a show on 16th in Tokyo. Applause!

What does the future hold for Japan? The number of dead and missing exceeds 20,000 and still counting. The financial loss is estimated at $150B+. Surely there will be a dispute on further nuclear power development even as Japan has committed to significant CO2 cuts. We were in economic crisis before this disaster struck.

Nonetheless, I am optimistic on the nation’s future. Japan has experience with devastation. My grandfather’s generation lost the war and rebuilt from nothing but ash in 10 years. We will have to examine our priorities, and for my business (venture investment), more investment will be made in sustainable technologies. Let’s build a sustainable energy showcase in Tohoku.

I do not expect or ask any special assistance for our country from my section mates, in the short term.

But from a long-term perspective, I would ask leaders to pay more than their usual attention to Japan. Investors could choose to focus on how China’s economy has surpassed Japan’s and on Japan’s aging and shrinking population. But Japan will soon come back with a series of technological innovations and business models that are cost efficient, safe, environmentally friendly, and durable against disasters. Pay attention to our nation’s recovery potential and invest accordingly.

Lastly, I cannot speak for the people suffering from the disaster. Listen to Seiji for that. Don't overreact on reports with shocking photos. Calm the people around you who are reacting on the basis of poor information. We Japanese will be back!

Ted Holden also responded:

“These are the times which bring people together. I touched base with Takeo and learned he and his family were safe, and was glad the same is true of Seiji and Masato. As my wife Mari is from Japan, we struggled to get through to family and friends. All turned out fine, though they found it hard to relax given the recurring tremors.  Our attention turned to the horror unfolding up north. It is all too easy for Mari and me to imagine the sorts of people who lived in those towns and villages -- friendly, modest, devoted and hard-working people -- and we just cannot believe the suffering they have experienced."

Turning back to happier topics stateside, Eric Gleason shared an exciting update:

“The sale of Allegheny Energy closed and I’ve packed my bags and headed to lovely Juno Beach, FL. My new role is president of US Transmission Holdings, a start-up electricity transmission company with national aspirations. USTH is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, a leader in the US and a global leader in renewable energy production. I am thrilled to be here, tempered only by the fact that Pippa and our three kids will not move down until the school year. Meanwhile the triathlon training is going OK, I've lost 30lbs but am still pretty slow.”

I’ll close by returning to last night’s dinner with Erik, Alissa, Skylar and Theo Christoffersen. The Christoffersens come up to Tahoe most every weekend and are thrilled that their kids love to ski.  Skylar and Theo also love soccer, gymnastics and swimming. Both speak Norwegian as well as English.

Erik and Alissa are currently reveling in quality family time. Alissa recently left her roles as Associate General Counsel at Google and is writing a spy thriller about Somalian pirates while getting into master-level alpine racing. Erik stepped down as Executive Director of the Mint Project / San Francisco Museum and Historical Society and occupies non-family time with angel investing.

The Christoffersens extend an invitation to any section mates wishing to visit them in Tahoe. I’d suggest coming during the winter months, as long as you don’t mind their five year old skiing rings around you!

To end the blog posting on a happy note, I'm inserting a picture of the Christoffersen family, which should also appear in the printed newsletter.



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Saftey Tips for Skiing or Riding in Deep Snow

This is a quick post today for friends heading up to Northstar or anywhere in the Sierras this weekend.

Deep powder is awesome, but it presents challenges and risks for both skiers and riders.  Here are links to a few online articles which can help.

The first, Deep Snow Safety, is from the Northstar-at-Tahoe website.  The major takeaway?  Skiing with a partner is not meeting at the bottom of the lift.  It's riding within sight, and at a distance where you can get to each other quickly if help is needed.

That lesson is hammered home, especially for snowboarders, in Tom Stienstra's article "Find safety in numbers when off trail," which talks about how to avoid or survive encounters with tree wells.  When published in February, tree wells had claimed the lives of 15 snowboarders in the western US since Christmas.

Now on a lighter note, I highly recommend Mike Doyle's About.com article about how to find a ski in deep snow. There's nothing more frustrating than searching for one of your boards when your gang is waiting for you and there's untracked powder to shred. Knowing Mike's technique can help, and this overview of powder cords at E-how will show how a $10 investment can save the day.

Enjoy the snow this weekend... but as the captain used to say on Hill Street Blues... "Let's be careful out there."

Monday, March 21, 2011

6 feet of snow in the last 7 days. Is it really spring?

Nice to have Aussie housemates who like to shovel!
The snow just keeps coming.... check out how buried my Subaru was after this past week's storm! The forecast for this first week of spring looks equally moisture-laden, and I'll quote the Tahoe Weather Geek.

"Our respite will be brief, as another series of storms is lining up in the Gulf of Alaska and taking aim at Tahoe. We could see another 3 to 4 feet of snow this week, possibly more at the higher elevations around the region."

Not surprisingly, Northstar has announced that the season will be extended by a week, so there are five rather than four more weekends to enjoy.  With the way the weather has been, it's hard to predict if we'll be skiing powder, crud or lovely spring corn, but each offers it's own type of fun.

Now I've switched to teaching primarily on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, but will come in during the week for guest requests.  The switch is due to needing to get cracking on planning events for Group Experiential Learning, the sailboat-based team building and leadership development business which allows me to winter in Tahoe.  Any sailors or team leaders needing a fun way to get a corporate group gelling should give me a shout.

And for those families who've asked about late season ski lessons, I'm currently only booked with requests on the following mornings:

March 25th
March 26th
April 8th and
April 9th

Drop me a line or telephone if you'd like help with a reservation.
 
skiwithjay@gmail.com
(415)601-1325

Cheers,

Jay

Friday, March 18, 2011

A lesson through a mother's eyes

That all-important introduction!
I started blogging regularly just this past November, and I'm learning a ton in the process. I'm also experiencing some surprises which stem from the power of the internet.

The latest surprise? Getting to see a ski lesson through the eyes of a mom. On March 5th, I taught a 3 year old boy named Luke and his father, Mike, in a lesson we call a "Teach your Tot."

Julie, Luke's mom, was there too, but I had no idea she was documenting the lesson with her digital camera.

A few days later she blogged all about Luke's day on the slopes using her photos to tell much of the story. Some aspects are funny, others are heart warming. The photos are great, although many of them capture a side of me I don't normally see and wouldn't post on the internet.

I especially like how she describes panicking when she couldn't find us on the bunny slope. We had gone up the chairlift about 40 minutes into the lesson (as soon as Luke was able to form his wedge and stop). I'll refrain from extolling the speed at which kids learn during private lessons here, because Julie's story has that covered.

So without further adieu, here's a link to Julie's entry.  It's titled "Ski Bum," and believe me, she's referring to Luke, not to my derriere, despite it's prominence in a couple of the photos.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Northstar 2011/2012 Season Passes and May 30th deadline

I don't have a season pass related photo!
Skiing Friends and Parents,

Your kids don't care about this stuff, but Northstar has come out with pricing for the 2011/2012 season's passes.

As a service to those of you who like to save money, I'm going to pass on some links which you may find helpful.

With the acquisition by Vail, some prices have gone up, others down, and many passes have increased benefits like access to Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Heavenly and Arapahoe Basin. 

The changes have generated some positive and negative reactions from customers. If you follow Northstar on Facebook, you'll see what I'm talking about.

Here are the links:

2011/2012 Passes

Price Comparison Chart

Facebook Letter from Bill Rock (Northstar's GM, who responds to some customer concerns)

The current pricing is guaranteed only until May 30th of this year.  But it looks like you only need to put $49 dollars down to hold your pass.  And if I'm reading it right, if you buy now, you get two free tickets to Heavenly or Northstar good in April of this year.

As a reminder, when I'm blogging, I'm not a representative of Northstar or its parent company,Vail Resorts. Vail has a very clear policy that employees need to make this disclaimer when we're sharing thoughts on our blogs.

Happy St. Paddy's Day,

Jay

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Northstar visits Heavenly, 5 year old skis backwards

Today I journeyed to Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe to teach two five year olds, Kaiden and Zach.  It was the first time on skis for both of them, and the energy they show in the photo to the left never dissipated over the course of the day.

The video below is my favorite, although there are seven or eight more clips posted in this lesson album. The embedded video shows young Zach mastering skiing backwards and getting very excited about it. I think his quote is "Oh, Baby!"

So how is it that I got to teach at Heavenly, when I work at Northstar? Simple. Heavenly and Northstar are both part of the Vail Resorts family which allows instructors to teach, in uniform, at their sister resorts whenever our guest request it, and we can make the scheduling work.

Kaiden, Zach and their respective dads, Kareem and Bruce, chose to meet me at Boulder Lodge, one of three ski school locations at Heavenly. Boulder is about 10 minutes out of town and has a great kids ski school with a magic carpet, rental shop, restaurant and very convenient free parking all within a 100 yard radius.

video


The mountain team at Heavenly was awesome and just as friendly as the gang at Northstar. The team at the kids ski school made me feel especially welcome when I arrived and throughout the day.  I checked in with Ron Blum, the children's supervisor and Scott Dickey, the Boulder Ski School Director.  Out on the hill, Rachel Richards (a great Heavenly instructor) and Travis (The magician helping kids on and off the magic carpet) made me feel right at home.  Everyone treated Kaiden and Zach just like they were Heavenly students, rather than guests who'd imported an instructor from another resort.

So a big thank you goes out to everyone at Heavenly, and to Kaiden, Zach, Kareem and Bruce.  What a great day!