January 14, 2013

Angelika Rainer in action     Photo: Courtesy of UIAA

Rainer, Tomilov Win Ice Climbing World Championships

World Cup kicks off in Korea

Russian Alexey Tomilov and Italian Angelika Rainer won the Ice Climbing World Championships this week, triumphing over a stiff field in Cheongsong, South Korea.

In a close men's final, Tomilov beat out Ukraine's Valentyn Sypavin to secure his place at the top. (Tomilov's brother Maxim, the 2011 world champion, was notably absent from the final after falling in the semi-final round.)

On the women's side of the competition, Rainer squeezed by Russian climber Anna Gallyamova, who topped out the route, but finished 40 seconds slower than her. The victory is the third for Rainier, who also finished on top in 2009 and 2011.

This year's world championships double as the first stage of the Ice Climbing World Cup, a five-stage competition organized by the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA) that pits the world's most technically-skilled ice climbers against one another. The tour's next stop will be in Rabenstein, Italy, on January 26 and 27.


Lance Armstrong     Photo: lev radin/Shutterstock

Lance Apologizes Ahead of Oprah Interview

Reaches out to Landis, Livestrong

Lance Armstrong has reportedly been making the rounds with apologies in advance of his interview with Oprah, which tapes this afternoon.

The Livestrong Foundation told ABC News that he gathered a group of about 100 staffers at their Austin, Texas, headquarters for a special announcement. The disgraced cyclist was reportedly emotional as he addressed the staff, promising that he would attempt to restore the foundation's reputation.

Armstrong's "sincere and heartfelt apology" generated lots of tears, spokeswoman Katherine McLane said, adding that he "took responsibility" for the trouble he has caused the foundation.

McLane declined to say whether Armstrong's comments included an admission of doping, just that the cyclist wanted the staff to hear from him in person rather than rely on second-hand accounts.

Armstrong then took questions from the staff.

Armstrong has resportedly also made overtures to Floyd Landis, which, predictably, haven't gone over terribly well. (In response to Landis' early doping accusations, Lance has called his former teammate "a carton of sour milk" and "a person of zero credibility.") But it would be great for Armstrong if Landis did feel an upswelling of the old bonhomie, as USA Today explains:

If the two reconciled, Landis might drop a federal whistleblower lawsuit he filed against Armstrong under the False Claims Act—a suit the federal government has considered joining. At issue is whether Armstrong and others defrauded the U.S. Postal Service of around $30 million when it sponsored his team.

A person close to Armstrong told the AP that he plans to make a "limited confession" to Oprah about his use of performance-enhancing drugs. The interview, which was originally supposed to be taped at Armstrong's home, will be taped instead at an Austin hotel and airs Thursday night.


    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Yellow Recycled Sewage Snow Prompts Concern

Rusty discoloration at Snowbowl

A northern Arizona ski resort’s effort to use treated sewage effluent to make snow, the first such initiative of its kind, has hit a few snags. After winning a legal battle against environmentalists and Native American tribes who consider the mountain sacred, Arizona Snowbowl began using recycled wastewater in its snow machines for the first time on December 24. Disconcertingly, the snow came out yellow.

While J.R. Murray, Snowbowl’s manager, has said that the problem was caused by rusty residue in the snow-making equipment, discoloration may be the least of the snow's problems. Public health officials are now looking into the possibility that the snow may pose a threat to both the ecology of the mountain, as well as the health of skiers.

According to the New York Times, the reclaimed water used at Snowbowl has been found to contain hormones, pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, and chemicals. The Forest Service approved Snowbowl’s plans in 2005 after a long environmental impact study, but Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity says that new research has rendered the eight-year-old study obsolete and new, more harmful chemicals have since been found in the wastewater.

State officials say an inspector has been sent to Snowbowl and they expect to complete the investigation next week.


Snowboarder shown at several stages mid-flight.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Snowboard Sales, Participation Decline

Skiing on the rise

Good news: snowboarding might once again be an outsider sport. According to trade group SIA, sales of snowboard equipment have dropped 21 percent over the last four years, while ski sales grew three percent. Participation in the sport has declined in proportion to sales.

Some are attributing the shift to the recent changes in ski design, which make it easier for beginners to learn and for more advanced skiers to do things only snowboarders used to do. (See: slopestyle and half-pipe skiing in the 2014 Olympics.)

"It's interesting where the industry is going now," Josh Holm, manager of the ski rental shop at Squaw Valley, told the Los Angeles Times. "You can ski on a half pipe and land backward just like a snowboarder." But others see it just as part of a cycle: "Like anything else," said Nick Castagnoli, a spokesman for Rossignol, "you will see the snowboarding trend wax and wane."

From 1990 to 2004, the number of Americans who participated in snowboarding jumped about 340 percent, from 1.5 million to 6.6 million, according to the National Sporting Goods Assn. In the same period, the number of skiers dropped 48 percent, from 11.4 million to 5.9 million, the trade group said.

Since 2004, however, snowboard participation has dropped 22 percent while skiing has climbed 16 percent, according to the trade group.

Maybe it's time for nordic snowboarding to redeem the board. A true outsider sport of an outsider sport.


Haze hangs heavy over the streets of Beijing.     Photo: DaYang/Flickr

Beijing Air Quality at 'Crazy Bad' Level

Toxicity level "beyond index"

Beijing was covered in a dense toxic haze this past week culminating in an off-the-charts toxicity level reading of 755 on Saturday. The municipal government in Beijing does not record numbers above 500, and some speculated the monitor had broken, but a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, which took the measurement and reported it on its @BeijingAir Twitter account, said that it was operating correctly. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers levels between 301 and 500 “hazardous” and does not have a scale for levels above 500.

The World Health Organization has standards that judge a score above 500 to be more than 20 times the level of particulate matter in the air deemed safe. Beijing residents online described the air as “postapocalyptic,” terrifying,” and “beyond belief.”

Xinhua, the state news agency, reported last month that air quality in Beijing had improved for 14 years straight.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry official told American diplomats to halt the Twitter feed in 2009. He called it “not only confusing but also insulting” and in indicated that the data could lead to “social consequences.”

Via The New York Times