Max Gladwell

Entreprenurship and Adventure Sports

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Project Ski Family: Mammoth Mountain

November 12th, 2015 by Max Gladwell· No Comments

Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort is the first stop on our quest to become a skiing family.

A major milestone for Project Skiing Family: Riding Discovery Chair together

You can teach your kids to ski, exposing them to the sport through the occasional ski vacation. Or you can commit to becoming a skiing family. These are fundamentally different propositions. One of my missions as a parent is to achieve the latter.

Becoming a skiing family is as much about your family identity as the activity itself. To become a skiing family is to establish certain preferences and priorities. There are only so many weekends in a given ski season and only so many vacations in a given year. Children can only participate in so many sports. The skiing family views all of this through a snow-frosted lens.

As of this writing, my kids, Charlotte and Georgia, are 5 and 8 years old respectively. And while my motivations are partly selfish, to be sure, becoming a skiing family is truly about them. Unlike most other sports they’ll pursue — soccer, gymnastics, and volleyball to name a few — skiing is something they’ll do for a lifetime. It’s something they’ll pass on to their children. Because skiing is uniquely tied to Nature. It’s about the mountains and the elements and the winter season. It’s about the physical and mental challenge of performing in this environment. It’s about the social experience, on and off the slopes. But young children don’t fully grok all of this, which is why parents that want to become skiing families need to be deliberate. Success is not guaranteed.

The immediate goal is for your kids to love skiing — to love the activity. It’s not enough to merely like it because there is so much else competing for their attention and desire. What’s more, there are plenty of ways for them to have bad experiences. In order for kids to love skiing, they need to be comfortable. This means having the right equipment. You can’t have fun if you’re not warm and dry. It also means strategic planning i.e. where to stay, how to get there, ski conditions, and the overall process. Kids need to progress quickly and become proficient such that (a) it’s fun to do and (b) they want to get better.

We’ve been on the path to becoming a skiing family for the past two seasons. We live in Los Angeles, which makes it more challenging than places like Denver or Salt Lake City. But it also encourages broader exploration of the skiing universe. The first stop on our mission was relatively close to home — Southern California’s premier ski resort, Mammoth Mountain.

View of Mammoth’s volcanic peak with Chair 2 in the foreground

Destination: Mammoth Mountain ranked fourth in last season’s “Top 10 Ski Resorts in North America” for its great terrain and reliable snowfall. The latter has been challenging in recent years due to California’s epic drought. And though we’re hopeful El Niño shows up with 500-plus inches this season, my kids didn’t know any different. It’s not like they were seeking powder days. And thanks to Mammoth’s expansive, top-to-bottom snowmaking and high elevation, the conditions for learning were about as favorable as one could hope for. One of the best qualities of Mammoth: if it’s not snowing, it’s warm and sunny.

View from the Mammoth Mountain Inn

Accommodations: The most convenient lodging is found in the Village at Mammoth, where shops, restaurants, and the Village Gondola are just a short walk from the condos. However, in optimizing for ski-school access, we chose to stay at the Mammoth Mountain Inn. Adjacent to the Main Lodge and Panorama Gondola at 9,000 feet, many of the rooms offer panoramic views of the mountain, complete with the ski school in the foreground. Yes, it’s that close. This minimizes the distance kids need to walk in ski boots. As a basecamp, the Inn is ideal in that you can drop the kids at ski school, take the gondola right up to the peak, and do big laps with periodic check-ins (and photo ops) during the course of an otherwise superb day of adult skiing. And for younger kids, the daycare facility is located on the ground level.

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Mammoth’s mascot, Woolly, is a big hit with the kids. He’s often found skiing on the beginner slopes.

Ski School: We’ve progressed through the Pioneers (ages 3-4) and Explorers (ages 5-7). We’re now on the verge of Adventurers (ages 8-12). Packages include rental gear and lift tickets. Ideally, you want to pick up gear and tickets the night before to avoid the morning mayhem. You’ll also want to book ahead, which require heights, weights, and shoe sizes. The Pioneers do a half day of skiing followed by lunch and a few hours of daycare. Explorers and Adventurers ski the whole day with a break for lunch, which is included. The groups tend to be three or four kids per instructor, but we had a couple semi-private lessons when other kids dropped out. You’ll get a report card at the end of each lesson that tracks mastery of key skills. If you’re doing a multi-day trip, these will help to get the most of each lesson because the instructor will know where to start each successive lesson. A full-day group lesson with rental and lift ticket costs $215, and there are price breaks for consecutive days.


Dining: The Mammoth Mountain Inn offers a free shuttle to and from the Village, which is the next best thing to staying there because you still avoid driving. This gives you access to the best restaurants in town. And in my family’s opinion, Campo is the best of the best. The rustic Italian dining experience from renowned chef Mark Estee is derived from a host of local sources along the 395 corridor, from Bishop to Big Pine, Mammoth Lakes, and Reno. In particular, the meatballs and wood-fired pizzas are exceptional.

Local Knowledge: The Mammoth Mountain Inn also offers strategic access to The Yodler Restaurant & Bar for lunch and après skiing. It’s so close to ski school that you can actually watch your kids take lessons from the sun deck, drink in hand.

Travel: From Los Angeles, Mammoth is a five-hour drive. It doesn’t sound easy, but the Eastern Sierra scenery helps it to fly by for adults. iPads are critical for the kids, who will still ask, “Are we there yet?” at least a couple times per hour. It’s also possible to fly to Mammoth by way of LAX, SFO, SAN, and DEN on Alaska Air and United.

News: Mammoth was the first major resort in North America to open on November 5th for the 2015/2016 season with 33 inches having fallen this month.

Better Cycling Through Data: Power Meters

October 23rd, 2015 by Max Gladwell· No Comments

Improving power output is one of the few ways to go faster on the bike. Power meters from Pioneer, SRM, Garmin, and Wahoo Fitness are your methods of measurement. 

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Pioneer’s Cyclo-Sphere software interface showing 12 points of directional force and pedaling efficiency for each leg

More power is mo betta. It’s a self-evident truth of cycling: when you add more wattage to the equation, it gets better. You go faster and farther with less effort. You drop your buddies and bag personal records (PRs) on Strava. Ultimately, you have more fun. In order to produce more power, though, you need to do two things: train and measure. I’ll cover the training part in a future post. For now, we’ll focus on measurement.

A new category of training technology, including both hardware and software, has emerged around the measurement and optimization of power output. Quite simply, this is how much wattage your legs send to the pedals at any given moment. This value, combined with the weight of your body and bike, largely determines how fast you go. However, power output can be measured at the pedal, the crank, the bottom bracket, and the rear wheel. It can be measured as a total value or for each individual leg. So there is a lot to consider in making the right choice for your goals.

Following are three power meter systems I’ve been evaluating for the past six to 12 months, along with their corresponding computer head units and software:

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Cheating Death: Essential Mountain Bike Safety Gear

October 5th, 2015 by Max Gladwell· No Comments

The brave new world of mountain biking is more burly than ever. Protect yourself before…well, you know.

The universe of possibility on a mountain bike has doubled or even tripled over the past decade. The combination of highly capable bike designs and equally aggressive trail building are conspiring to push the envelope of possibility. As riders, we have to accept the erosion of our relative ability level if we don’t keep pace. In other words, an advanced rider 10 years ago would hardly be intermediate by today’s standards — standards being set in places like British Columbia, Canada, and Park City, Utah.

For example, getting air is now par for the course…when said course is rated black diamond or above. Whether through mandatory drop-offs or kicker jumps, launching is an integral part of advanced mountain biking these days. And this carries greater risk.

Thankfully, there is also new level of protective gear including helmets, body armor, spine pads, goggles, and gloves to mitigate that risk. I took this bag of protective gear on trips to the Whistler Bike Park in B.C., and then to the Deer Valley Bike Park and Canyons Bike Park in Utah, on a mission to prop up my ability level. Here’s what I found…

A photo posted by Max Gladwell (@maxgladwell) on

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Park City Point 2 Point: Endurance Racing at Level 10

September 28th, 2015 by Max Gladwell· No Comments

Testing physical limits and a purpose-built Santa Cruz mountain bike in the world’s toughest one-day mountain bike race

“How many more miles do we have?” I ask.

I’m at the final aid station of the 2015 Park City Point-2-Point (PCP2P) mountain bike race, an off-road cycling epic unlike any other in the world.

Photo by Selective Vision

“Does 10 miles sound like a lot?” the race volunteer inquires as a response.

I think about it for a moment. This means I have about an hour to go given my pace. That is, for the past eight hours, I’ve been averaging about 9 mph. Indeed, since the race began at 7 a.m., I’ve covered 70 miles of Park City, Utah’s, finest singletrack trails, climbing and descending more than 10,000 vertical feet at elevations ranging from 7,000 to 9,100 feet above sea level.

All I have left is 10 miles, I tell myself. Just 10 more miles. You can do this, I tell myself.

The PCP2P is perhaps the most technical and physically demanding one-day mountain bike race in the world. According to race organizer Jay Burke, “The difficulty level is pushing a 10. The Leadville 100 [in Colorado] is maybe a six, but that’s only due to the high elevation.” I later confirm this comparison with riders who’ve done both.

Unlike Leadville and other events in this category, the PCP2P course is more than 90 percent singletrack trail. I can’t actually recall riding anything but singletrack, other than to cross a road from one trail to the other. Which means there are no breaks, no rest for body or mind, no sitting in the pack to recover. You are constantly on, constantly focused on the trail and its various obstacles, from roots and rocks to switchbacks and aspen trees. Descending is every bit as taxing on the body as climbing, and a hail storm while traversing Park City Ski Resort at 9,000 feet didn’t make it any easier. Then there’s the atmospheric pressure.

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The Ultimate Bike Commuting System

August 25th, 2015 by Max Gladwell· No Comments

Everyday commuting on electric-hybrid bikes is all about the system of gear in support of the program

Bike commuting is inherently good. It’s good for the environment by reducing traffic congestion and pollution. It’s good for the body by way of exercise and good for the mind by pumping more oxygen to the brain in preparation for the workday. According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. Nevertheless, bike commuting can be a chore. It’s not something you necessarily look forward to, especially after a hard day at work (or a hard night, as the case may be). Unless, that is, you pilot a human-electric hybrid bike, such as the Specialized Turbo I reviewed last year.

Since then, I’ve surveyed a number of people who commute on bikes like these — bikes that give you superhuman power — and the feeling is unanimous: riding to and from work is the best part of the day.

With an extra 250 watts of power in the form of a silent electric motor, the chore of bike commuting is transformed into an urban joy ride. Hills and headwinds are completely neutralized, and traffic becomes more of a feature than an obstacle. You still have to pedal. You still have to exert energy, but you can dial the effort to your liking as opposed to being at the mercy of terrain, weather, or your individual limits.

In order to fully adopt an electric-hybrid bike commuting program, though, you need a system. You need the proper gear and apparel that make it safe, sustainable, comfortable, and even fashionable. In addition to the bike itself, the following gear is my system for five-days-a-week bike commuting on the West Side of L.A.

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