Ski Math

The tiny dot in the middle of the frame is my son hiking up from a yard sale, in a gale, at the top of Pali Chair. FIVE minutes later he said, “Dad, I’m glad you’re as good a skier as me.” I’d kept my skis during the traverse! They have such short memories.

Our family ski experience is like my Pandemic Predictions => I got a lot wrong.

When I was shelling out for childcare/preschool, skiing struck me as a very expensive way to do a lot of driving, without much cardio.

Not interested.

A friend, with four kids (and a jet), made the observation… “you gotta be able to do something as a family.” Given his role, as the smartest guy I know, we decided to give it a try.


My wife didn’t believe me when I said, in advance, “We’re making a million dollar decision here.”

Frankly, I took it easy on her. The math is daunting…

But wait, there’s more.

Add-in the inflationary effect of surrounding yourself with the largest spenders in our society.

And… have a look around the parking area, with the smell of legal weed wafting across the empty beer cans… Is this an environment where I’d like to leave my teenaged kid unsupervised?

Still… “you gotta be able to do something as a family”.



$175,000 worth of opportunity cost later, I can ski any run, with any member of my family. This makes me happy during a time of year I used to dread.

Total immersion (5 million vertical feet, in three seasons) let me achieve my goal quickly… Something outside, at a high level, with any member of my family.

Unexpectedly worth it… but only after I figured out our family’s cash burn.


I cope with the “demographic” by focusing my energy on seeking to ski like an instructor, with the fitness of a ski patroller. These goals provide structure for my athletic year.

Like much of my outdoor life, my participation is conditional and always one major crash away from ending.

Stay variable.

Family Values 2021


Here’s another topic from our Couples Retreat.

How do I know, deep down, that I’m a good person?

Implementing my answer has become a source of strength and satisfaction. The answer has to do with core values. Values I use to guide my interactions, and actions.


Why do we believe all family is optional?

By leaving ourselves free to take no-action, we avoid a habit of manufacturing drama, and victimhood, to justify our opinions.

The habit of victimhood is easiest to see in others, but it lives in me.

Living this value takes the pressure off. It’s a whole lot easier to avoid unhappiness than be happy.

Put plainly => there’s no need to manufacture a “slight” to take a break.

Look beyond the slight.

Look inside and you might find unresolved grief, pain from your childhood or other trauma.

Maybe it’s simply a bad habit, of keeping little bits of pain alive.


By making “all family optional” we create space.

Breathing room spreads across our lives – especially when combined with a habit I wrote about last Friday. Letting other people make mistakes.

This could lead to forgiveness, or not. Perhaps, we start by deciding to stop recycling pain by telling stories about “how we were wronged”. Let it go.

To break the chain, we give everyone the right to opt out.

I’m grateful I gave myself permission to opt out.


We’re out, we are free!

To enjoy our freedom, we need to make positive contributions.

I’m a bit money-centric, so my first stop is personal cash flow. Easy to measure, so always given too much weight!

Pay my own way => helpful, but not sufficient.

I had my cash flow sorted by the time I was 21, yet my personal life remained cluttered.

Eventually, I realized too much freedom was a very bad idea. My choice was to embrace the challenge of creating an enviable marriage and household.

The choice to make continuous contributions is a good one => especially when you consider what is likely to happen with the inverse.

It takes time to see what happens when a spouse opts out of their family. The slow-burn bitterness, building to the point where someone burns the family structure to the ground.

Even if everything seemed fine…. Would opting out be winning?

Remember, I’m seeking to know, deep down, I am a good person.


So this freedom-to-opt-out takes the pressure off and lets me have a look around.

Phew!

I’m not bitter. I’m not filled with resentment.

What do I see?

In my case, I see the wisdom of becoming the sort of person who helps others when he doesn’t need to.

Keep coming back to this.

Shed the drama, talk like everyone is in the room, get back to work.


By not binding ourselves together, all interactions become gifts.

Coaching Anxiety

A desire to achieve can be a powerful incentive to overcome ourselves. My son’s quest for his school’s beep-test record has taught him a lot about human nature in group situations.

Sport is a wonderful place to equip ourselves with skills we can use in our daily lives. I’m going to take another swing at sharing some ideas about anxiety.

First up, the feelings most of us label “anxiety” are useful. They are not a problem to be removed and anxious people aren’t flawed. In my life, these feelings provide little nudges towards better.

When might my emotional state become an issue? When I make quick decisions based on unlikely fears.


I was chatting about this with one of my kids and they stated flatly, “I’m never anxious.” I smiled because this kid has some of the highest baseline anxiety I’ve seen. However, like many of us, they do an excellent job of living with it.

We were on a chair lift. About four towers out they started to get twitchy about raising the bar. This rapidly progressed to mild hysteria, “we are going to get caught and hurt!!!” After we got off, safely, it gave me a chance to introduce the concept of being worried about a future that might never materialize.

The feared future can be adaptive => better behavior nudged by a fear of getting caught.

It can make us miserable => fear of loss, resulting in never taking a chance on improving one’s life.

It can cost us money => fear-based selling in the face of price-volatility

Body composition, friendships, portfolios, marriage, business relationships… all are damaged when we train rapid action based on our fears.


How might we use sport to build useful emotional skills?

Don’t train the startle reflex => endurance sport is filled with opportunities to notice, rather than act on, our instincts. ALL our deepest habits come to the surface in the face of competition and fatigue.

With my athletes, we’d start with bike pacing, and using their powermeter to give them visual feedback (when they had lost their minds!).

We’d progress to getting bumped while swimming, holding personal pace in groups and, finally, letting other people make mistakes.

Letting other people make mistakes => letting others deal with the consequences of their actions

…this habit leads naturally towards “let it go.”

On the bike, in a race, on a zoom call, at the meal table… notice when the startle reflex is triggered and pause.


As a father and husband, my victories are invisible.

Conflicts not triggered, confidence not damaged, relationships strengthened by not-acting on my fears.

Notice, then let it go.

Vacation Property 2021


One of the topics from our recent Couples Retreat was vacation property. I needed some time to show-my-work for why I’ve decided to stay variable.

The question, in the context of both buying and not-buying, was…

Will it make a difference?


The question gives me an opening to share some things I’ve learned from 25 years of real estate investing.

1/. I have yet to regret not-buying a vacation property. When vacation markets appreciate, so do investment markets.

2/. The ones-that-got-away have three main attributes: well located, easy to find tenants and decent cash yield. Vacation properties usually only have one attribute… well located.


I’ll share insights about capital allocation:

=> No one in the company is likely to care more about capital allocation than the boss – the CEO sets a cap on how much people will care about capital, and everything else for that matter.

Extend into your marriage, and family….

=> No one will care more about spending and capital allocation than the individual responsible for earning the income/capital in the first place.

Similar to work ethic… the actions of leadership set a ceiling on what to expect. No amount of legal documentation, and pontificating, can overcome this reality.

Don’t waste energy fretting about the way things are.

Be grateful when you’ve been able to create a team that, largely, follows your lead.


Now the math!

I’ve updated my #s for the two markets I follow most closely.

  • A vacation market with an effective yield of -3% (cost to own). I avoid fooling myself that I’ll be able to short-term rental myself to breakeven.
  • An investment market that is generating net cash flow of 2% per annum.

To “get my money back” in the vacation market, the value of the asset needs to grow by 2.5% per annum.

Money back does not mean purchasing power back. The “same” dollars in 15 years time will buy less due to inflation – just look backwards to 2005 in your home real estate market and see what your current place was worth.


We have no idea about what the future holds and 2.5% market growth is probably looking tiny when compared to what you’ve seen over the last year (+30% in my zip code).

You could be right.

I do, however, know markets that are just getting back to their 2008 peaks. In a negative cash flow scenario, that’s a painfully long time to hold.


My goal isn’t to predict an unknowable future. My goal is to answer the question “will it make a difference?”

In the get-your-money-back scenario (2.5% market growth):

  • Take time to calculate your true cost to hold.
  • Make sure you’re OK with permanently increasing your burn-rate, especially if there’s debt service.
  • Know your alternative use of funds => the investment property returns $1.75 for each $1 invested & Vanguard’s VTSAX is currently yielding 1.4%.
  • The vacation property requires an extra $0.45 for each $1 invested. This is before you decide to renovate and burn $$$s on rugs, curtains and furniture!

For that vacation property, here’s what I do…

  • Take the purchase cost
  • Make sure I’m OK with annually spending 5% of purchase cost, forever
  • Consider if I am OK with writing-off the equivalent of 50% for customization, the cost of ownership and agent’s fees

Then remember:

  1. My personal utilization of past destinations has been 15-45 days per annum.
  2. The future risk to my family is we are priced out of our home market (not that my spouse and kids might have to unpack/pack up from a rental).
  3. I tend to change my mind.

Feelings!

One of the challenges with new deals is my feelings are dominated by the expectation of the asset making things better.

I also enjoy the feelings associated with being able to provide for my spouse and kids.

Making things better & doing right for my family => it’s difficult to feel the benefit of doing nothing.

Once I have a good-enough position, the only person who can screw it up is me.

Couples Retreat April 2021


A couple months ago, I made a prediction… Coming out of the pandemic, it would take very little to improve my life. This past week, we put my expectation to the test by taking a mid-week trip.

We drove 75 miles, stayed in a motel overlooking the interstate, ate mediocre takeaway and had a really good time!

The kids were in school, so we hired two favorite sitters to cover for us. Our kids loved it.

Our lead sitter was duly impressed with how the kids had up-skilled themselves during the pandemic.


“Things change above tree line”

Each morning started with a trip to 12,500 feet.

Our time together was a reminder of the benefits of an athletic spouse, and how learning new skills can benefit a marriage.

Uphill skiing is a skill we learned as we transitioned out of elite sport.



When we met, we spent a lot of time sharing meals in hotel rooms.

Good memories, which reminded me I have something to look forward to… a future life together.

A happy expectation, 10 years away, is a useful antidote to a dark vision that had been appearing around bedtime each night.


Coffee indoors – first time since March 2020

One of last week’s blogs was covered on the drive to the motel. My wife got the long-form version of “using money to opt out of BS“.

The concept is simple but there is a deep human urge to be “proven right” rather than “quietly opt out of drama”.

A effective treatment (for my desire to be proven right) was spending time with preschoolers. A preschooler has no capacity to understand my perspective about what is right & fair!

With little kids, and the child in all of us, it pays to choose peace over drama.

Focus on what works – opting out of drama works.


On Top

One of my 2021 projects is less resistance. I lay things out in my blogs and explain them to my family.

And then…

I follow my own advice and let it go.


Something I let go of last week was a planned trip to ride up Haleakala. It was going to be my June adventure. My wife wanted us to head to Maui as a couple. Fair enough. I’ll probably be able to make the 10,000 foot climb in a few years.


If you want to perform at high altitude then touch 12,000 feet as many times as possible in your training, and do most your sleeping under 6,500 feet. Whatever “high” altitude is for you, just touch it – do your real training (and sleeping) lower down.

With each passing week, it’s looking like Colorado’s summer will be fairly normal. We mapped out the next four months for our kids.

Related, Boulder County has 500 open vaccine appointments for today, as I type this on 4/23. I suspect we’re going to start hearing about vaccine-tourism into the US.

If you are still in the COVID smackdown then take heart. You will see rapid improvement once the weather turns and your local vaccine supply ramps up.

If you’re not vaccinated then be careful. We’ve had a three friends get seriously ill in April.


For me, the money altitude for training is 6,000 to 9,000 feet – high enough to desaturate, not so high I slow down and extend recovery. Once you’re doing a bunch of volume over 9K elevation, it doesn’t translate as well down to where the races happen. Different, however, if you’re preparing for a high altitude event.

Make time for the people who got you through the pandemic.

Thanks, babe.

Freedom 2021


A big motivator in the finance world is the dream of earning “f-u money”.

The universal motivation for this goal is expressed in the Johnny Paycheck song, Take This Job and Shove It.

Trouble is, once you have a goal to tell people to Eff Off, you will never run out of targets for your ire.

You’ve created a habit that can’t be solved by money – and being consistently abrasive will drive good people from your life.


My friend, who changed my view on the UltraRich, demonstrated an alternative approach.

People think the benefit of wealth is f-u money. The benefit isn’t the ability to be rude with impunity. The benefit of financial independence is the opportunity to say no-thank-you to the ever-present drama around us

The goal, to opt out of BS, doesn’t require much money at all.

However, the first $125,000 I saved nudged me in a better direction, eventually, out of finance.

What my younger self found attractive (in wealth accumulation) was a pathway towards serenity. I feel very fortunate that I gave my younger self a chance to look around.

Serenity was found in nature, in connection and in exercise.

Do I want peace or drama?

Immunity and Disclosure

Closing Weekend 2021

A lesson I learned in Private Equity was:

Concession for concession

If I’m going to give something away then I should get something in return.


Because the public sector has different incentives than the private sector, it is possible for corporations to gain valuable concessions in exchange for not much in return.

Name an industry with corporate immunity for losses associated with their product.

The first one that usually comes to mind is guns. Here’s a link to a summary of the law – The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms.

In Colorado we have the Ski Safety Act (link to the law) that grants immunity to ski operators from the inherent risks of skiing. This act provides a huge incentive for resort operators to expand their Colorado operations. Colorado skiing is better because of this act, and I like to ski.


Backcountry Skiing

If you die in an avalanche in Colorado then the CAIC will do their very best to find out as much as possible about your death. They will publish their findings so the community can learn from the price you paid.

It’s a valuable public service, done on a limited budget ($1.6 million of public money in 2020). The accident reports give us a chance to make individual learning, collective. The reports also enable the public to make informed decisions about how they participate in backcountry skiing.

We have the accident investigation infrastructure, outside the resorts, and it doesn’t cost much. The $1.6 million of public money buys much more than accident investigation.


Investments in Public Safety

When I arrived in Boulder, the junction of North Broadway and Highway 36 was governed by a single stop sign. A cyclist turning left (on to to Hwy 36) needed to cross high speed traffic.

This intersection was the scene of fatal accidents and, eventually, the stop sign was replaced by a traffic light.

Before the light was put in, only the locals knew it was a dangerous location. The highway traffic comes around a corner and would catch unsuspecting cyclists while they tried to clip back into their pedals. I worked at a training camp where an out-of-state participant was killed at this intersection, when he turned back early from a group ride.

Colorado counties have the information they need to make informed investments in their road safety infrastructure.

With our in-bounds terrain, the counties and the public are largely skiing blind.


As a community, we’ve made a choice to accept the inherent risks of skiing.

I support this choice.

By taking personal responsibility for the risks of skiing, we save the ski operators tens of millions of dollars. A large multiple of the value of these savings is enjoyed by the owners of the resorts. The cost of better information would be a tiny fraction of gain in capital value

Improved disclosure, while preserving corporate immunity, would provide a positive incentive for the ski operators to improve their “dangerous intersections.”

Colorado can handle the truth


Here’s a link to the ski safety code – It is common sense stuff. The code fails to nudge skiers away from death and permanent injury.

From reading about fatal accidents, I learned some things I’ve passed to my kids:

  1. Trees kill
  2. Look where you want to go
  3. Hit things with your legs
  4. We don’t know why the rope is there
  5. Bar down

With better information, we can improve Colorado for those who follow us.

Let’s iterate towards better.

Developing Child Athletes

Watching their sister compete via Live Feed.

Our oldest (13 soon) started year round swim team at the end of last summer.


In Boulder, it’s not unusual for 8-10 year olds to be doing double workouts, and competing at a high level in multiple sports. We have some very well trained middle schoolers.

My approach is different => we want to leave room so performance will improve all the way from child to adult.

Leave the athlete somewhere to go => improve from 12 to 21 and beyond.

With a motivated kid, this means my role is holding back the pace of progression so the athlete has a better chance to reach their full potential and enjoy the benefits of lifelong exercise.


When To Go Year Round

When the kids were little, we didn’t specialize. Our younger kids still do a wide range of sport. The idea here is to develop a range of skills.

Racing is a skill.

While we didn’t ramp training load, all my kids have been racing fast since they were 5 yo. Summer swim league was the venue.

They love it and are building an invisible edge. Invisible to them but my lack of racing skills was obvious when I started competing as an adult…

  • Intensity tolerance
  • The ability to go way past reasonable, stay there, then go further

This spills into their endurance when it comes to learning capacity.

Summer swim league easily splits into three types of racing… where you’ll crush, about right, where you will be crushed (hopefully not too hard).

Early specialization has the field strength too strong, too early.


Parents

I’m a potted-plant parent and give very little feedback. It helps that I’m clueless when it comes to swimming really fast!

I make no effort to remember their times so I’m genuinely impressed every time they race.

You went so fast!

My main area of input is: (a) encouraging the kids to be nice to the new/slower/different people they come across; and (b) fielding off-the-wall questions about sex and human development. Our daughter is learning a lot (from being tossed in with older kids).

I also make sure we remember every athlete ends up back in the “real world” at the end of their career.


Boys & Men

We were fortunate to replace Uncle Andy with another male swim coach. Having male character models for my son does a lot for his motivation to attend.

JiuJitsu is coming back this week (male coaches) and his swim coach works part-time as a wilderness firefighter.

The cool factor matters to him, and me, when I think back to my own development.

What I Carry in the Backcountry

Three pounds that could make a difference

With the changing of the seasons, I like to remind myself what I’ve been carting around.



My “overnight” bag

  • Huge, thick trash bag
  • Shell overmitts
  • Two-person emergency bag
  • Three different ways to start a fire – I’ve used my stove to light a fire during an unexpected night out. My stove was the difference between a wet, miserable night and an interesting adventure.
  • Lifestraw
  • Length of cord

Add enough clothes/layers to keep me, and my son, alive in the emergency bag for the night. This usually isn’t more than a back up shell, ultralight down pants, spare jacket and some booties.



My first aid kit:

  • General, backcountry first aid kit – scissors and moleskin are a great way to make new friends…
  • Hot packs for hands and feet – essential for doing anything with kids, always carry in my pocket when I ski
  • Tourniquet with my belt as back up – insurance against having someone bleed out in front of me. I also carry in my car and under my bike saddle.
  • Field dressing and elastic bandage
  • Water purification tablets (back up to the LifeStraw)
  • Pulse oximeter (batteries separate as they corrode if left in the unit)
  • Selection of meds including antihistamine & high dose aspirins – I carry albuterol at the top of my pack

I don’t carry an epipen in Colorado but do carry one when I’m near the ocean. I have a jellyfish allergy that sent me to hospital a few years back.

When I’m on snow, add a high-quality metal shovel.



Knife matched to what I’m going to be doing and the local wildlife. I have a SOG Seal Pup mounted upside down on my left backpack strap, the sheath lets me carry a multitool.

Gloves on, hands out of pockets => family policy as long as my kids can remember. I like leather sailing gloves on rock and mixed terrain.

When I’ll be out of cellphone range add InReach satellite communicator – always tracking me with 10-minute pings when I’m alone. Carried in the top pocket of my pack & backed up with a lanyard and quickdraw.

The InReach is an easy way to send messages home, regardless of location. I took a course from a heart-attack survivor who called in an evac on his unit. Small price to pay for the comfort it gives my family.

Zipped, exterior pockets – I like to wear mountain bike shorts, year round, as the pockets are great for quick access to my phone, which I use for navigation and photos.

This is the gear for when I don’t expect to stay out.

Changing Everything

This picture releases wonderful feelings. I collect favorite pictures of people with whom I want to be effective.

What one thing, if it happened, would change everything?


As a young man, I thought the answer was having a million-dollar net worth.

I was wrong, five-years living expenses was the key point, ~$125,000 in the mid-1990s.

For 15 years, everything beyond that point merely generated lifestyle inflation.


Later, as an elite athlete, I spent five years acting as if the answer was “winning Ironman Canada.”

I was wrong, the choice was switching from mountaineering to triathlon.

September 1998 was the moment of change, or perhaps leaving my house for a walk in the fall of 1993.


1986 => I made a choice to study finance over law or medicine. This was key, and I spent 15 years learning about money.

The lesson here might be to assume, coming out of high school, you are going to work your tail off for ~15 years in whatever field you choose for your major in college. You might not, of course, but it’s a fair assumption.


1999 => I made a choice to exit my marriage and leave Asia.

Career, friends, life structure and geographic location – all different in the space of 18 months. I was working remotely as a financial consultant and learning how to become a triathlon coach.

It’s tempting to tell myself that remote work in an exotic location was useful. It was fun but it didn’t transform me.

Here’s what I got right – incidentally, it paraphrases advice given to me by a happily married woman after my divorce.

Marry someone who lives in a way, and comes from a background, you’d like to emulate.

My marriage contains different reflections of the same principle. The principle is how I choose friends, advisers and coaches.


Field of study, relationships, where I live, how I spend my time… all traditional areas for change.

The birth of our second kid was another key inflection point.

Fathers think our lives are changing with the birth of our first child, and they do, but they don’t REALLY change until the second one arrives and we’re faced with a choice in how we will support our wives and marriages.

My choice was to drop racing to free up time, and energy. It was a big change but it didn’t “change everything.” Roll forward a decade and my life feels similar to how I lived as an athlete, just less training volume and more housework!


For 30 years, I thought powerful changes could only be driven by major adjustments in my external life => Winning, Work, Wife, Wealth and Geographic Location.

Then the Pandemic arrived.

Very interesting!

The hard lockdown of Spring 2020 had me running home school, without tutors and with a lack of experience.

For the first time in my adult life, I was locked into a two-block radius of my home.

Most my discretionary time disappeared in a flash.

Eventually, I made a choice to do whatever was required so I could train before my kids woke up – my choice grew out of a decision to wake up before my kids.

Waking up before my kids was good, but I found I was simply scrolling Instagram and drinking coffee. Certainly, better than drinking beer in the evening (and scrolling) but it didn’t change my life.

The second step, exercising every morning before my kids wake up, proved transformative => self, spouse and kids => one year later we are all in a better place from the cascading impact of one choice. Through my writing the benefits of this change flow into the world.

I wanted to pass the observation along.

Why?

Because my ego taunts that I’m trapped in a never ending Groundhog Day of cleaning toilets, meal prep, dishes and laundry!

It’s easy to talk myself into a mild depression about the grind of fatherhood.

Not true!

Positive, significant, transformation remains possible…

…and I know there’s a lot to be achieved with my internal experience.