Featured post

Spring outdoor adventures


Brief overviews of US family outdoor recreation opportunities are provided, including: national parks; fishing in man-made lakes; scenic drives; cave exploration; and water recreation. Several US government agency tourism phone numbers and addresses are also provided.

Full Text:

Family recreationists can be confident that the hosts of these tremendous tracts and abundant activities–The National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, National Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Bureau of Land Management, which just observed its 50th birthday–will keep the welcome mat spread for this and future generations. Camp under a full moon in Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene quietude, canoe the winding Ozark National Riverways in Missouri or hike the Bayou Trails of Jean LaFitte National Historical Park in Louisiana.

A world of great sites and activities awaits families as they take to the great American outdoors this season.


There is a lot to be said for gathering the family around the dinner table at home, but consider that same group enjoying a meal together amid the spectacular scenery and dramatic vistas of Wyoming’s Teton Range–the national forests at Targhee and Bridget-Teton or the incomparable Grand Teton National Park and its five campgrounds (we recommend Signal Mountain and also some fine boating on Jackson Lake).

Another western National Park, Rocky Mountain in Colorado, is a paradise for backcountry camping. A permit is required. The nearby Arapaho National Recreation Area has some fine camping on the shoreline of Lake Grandby at Cutthroat Bay.

Shift into a camping mode for the rest and recreation of Arizona’s sun country. The Prescott National Forest, home to muledeer, javelina, bald eagles and Gila monsters, is mountainous and flanked by forested plateaus and arid desert. There are 11 campgrounds, most near man-made lakes and surrounded by pines; fishing and horseback riding are great, too, and the Grand Canyon isn’t very far away. BLM’s Parker Strip Recreation area on Arizona’s lower Colorado River is ideal for overnight camping, as well as boating, waterskiing and swimming.

The Department of the Interior also manages some cozy campgrounds in Nevada: Indian Creek Recreation Area, in a mixed conifer forest at 6,000 feet; Pine Forest Recreation Area, a remote site with primitive camping amid splendid scenery; Tabor Creek, on the west slope of the Snake Range. Lush vegetation and solitude (have rainbow and German brown trout for dinner); North Wildhorse Reservoir Recreation Area, with 17 developed campsites in a major western fishery; and Wison Reservoir, where the west shore has 15 campsites and the water is teeming with largemouth bass.

Family campers in the Midwest must try the offerings of the Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin, a 600,000-acre setting of tall trees and a thousand lakes. Nicolet’s “close to nature” camping is available throughout the forest at points such as Lac Vieux Desert at the headwaters of the Wisconsin River; Kentucky Lake, with its abundant walleye and pan fish; Franklin Lake, accessible by the Heritage Drive Secnic Byway; and the Lost Lake, which features a wooded one-mile interpretive trail, perfect for a walk after an outdoor meal. All of Nicolet’s campgrounds are “developed.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommends camping at Almost and East Sydney Lakes in New York, the Kinzua Dam and Shenango, River Lake in Pennsylvania, West Virginia’s Beech Fork and Summersville Lakes, and the John Kerr and John Flannagan Reservoirs in Virginia. The Kerr, which also meanders into North Carolina, provides shoreline camping along with the massive 50,000-acre lake, famous for striped bass.

For up-to-date information on nationwide camping, call the Public Lands Hotline, 1-800-47-SUNNY.



Many of the man-made lakes throughout the country were developed by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers. These sites, often managed with state cooperation, offer a wide range of water-related activities. And fishing tops the preferred list.

Among the Corps’ best fishing holes: Wilson Lake in Kansas; Heyburn Lake in the sandstone hills of Oklahoma; Wappapello Lake in Missouri’s Ozark foothills; Kentucky’s Lake Barkley, adjacent to the popular Land Between the Lake Recreation Area; the winding canoe streams of New Hampshire’s Blackwater Dam; small Black Rock Lake and its large trout in western Connecticut; North Springfield Lake in Vermont; and, for excellent bass fishing, East Brimfield Lake, a short stop from historic Old Sturbridge Village, also in Massachusetts.

In many parts of the Arkansas River, running through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and finally into the Mississippi, brown trout range 1042 inches. Rainbow, brook, cutthroat and lake trout are plentiful.

Two fly-fishing spots are Mill Creek in the Mark Twain National Forest of Missouri and Minnesota’s Superior National Forest. Fish for lake, brook and rainbow trout, and northern pike. Then choose one of 500 campsites for a great evening.

Many fishermen search for those “unsung” holes away from the madding crowd. These three in the National Park System fit the bill: * Devils Postpile National Monument, California. The middle fork of the San Joaquin River is home to brook, brown and rainbow trout.

* Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas. Largemouth and spotted bass, trappie, white bass and catfish year-round in this 85,000-acre plant and animal hideaway. * New River Gorge, West Virginia. Largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, walleye, channel catfish and muskellunge abound here.

June 2-8 is National Fishing Week and a good time to remind anglers and boaters that the Sport Fish Restoration Act is up for congressional reauthorization. This successful and important funding program gave more than $300 million to the states last year alone from a modest excise tax on sport-fishing equipment and boat fuel. It’s a great fund from which the states can spend on beneficial fishing, boating and fisheries–related projects.


Scenic driving is a pleasurable way to see the natural and historical wonders of America, with stops for an array of recreational opportunities along some choice routes on public lands. There’s the truly memorable ride in the sparkling Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona, featuring ruins of ancient Indian villages at the base of sheer red cliffs and in caves in canyon walls. End the day with an incomparable camping experience.

After a visit to the nation’s capital, head into Virginia’s Jefferson National Forest on the Big Walker Mountain Scenic Byway. Rich in history and recreation, the Byway also hosts the Big Bend Picnic Area, a lush landscape where travelers get tremendous vistas of the valley below.

BLM asks tourists to take the “roads less traveled” for a different scenic drive. There are more than 60 of these Backcountry Byways, covering 3,000 miles, from narrow graded roads to two4ane highways. Among the best are Nevada’s Bitter Springs and Gold Butte, and California Trail Back country Byways, the latter not only offering panoramic vistas, but also excellent picnicking, primitive camping, and wildlife watching.

Waterfalls, wildlife, rivers, woods and lakes–and breathtaking overlooks–are standard along North Carolina’s Mountain Waters Scenic Byway, much of which runs through Nantahala National Forest Nantahala and other national forests in North Carolina also provide outstanding mountain-bike and horse trails. Of the nearly 100 bike trails, we suggest these for family groups: Grass Ridge, Laurel River, Bear Branch and Thrift Cove in the Pisgah National Forest; and the three-mile Round Mountain in Nantahala. These two national forests, and also the Uwharrie, provide myriad horseback experiences for all levels of riders. Call 704-257-4203 for details.

Farther down south are high-quality trails for hikers in Alabama national forests: Talladega National Forest, Pinhoti Trail, rugged pines, rock bluffs, hollows, clear streams, abundant plant and wildlife; Tuskeegee National Forest, Bartram Trail, eight miles long and 50 miles from Montgomery–wildflowers and flowering trees; Conecub National Forest, Conecuh Trail, canebreaks, picturesque cypress ponds, and 20 miles of coastal plain.

If time permits, folks should plan to walk the famous national scenic trails. Here’s three:

* Appalachian National Scenic Trail. This greenway traverses 2,000 miles from Maine to Georgia.

* Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Moraine Hills in Wisconsin criss and cross, zig and tag for 1,000 miles–Lake Michigan to the St. Croix River. Presently, about half the trail is open to public use.

* Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. This spectacular outdoor “carpet” in the backcountry travels the length of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico. Hikers and horseback riders can use the officially designated 800-mile section beginning in Canada and ending in Yellowstone National Park.

Beyond the California coastal range and glorious Highway 1, the southern reach of the Cascade Range has dormant, but far from extinct, volcanoes. Visitors make day treks up the 14,000-foot Mount Lassen within Lassen Volcanic National Park, beginning at the Drakesbad Ranch.

A mecca for backpackers beckons along the John Muir Trail, which straddles the peak of the Sierra Mountains from Yosemite National Park to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Catch trout for dinner before taking the final haul up Mount Whitney (in Sequoia), the highest peak in the Lower 48.


Cave exploration is an exciting way for the family to discover a uniquely mysterious side to Mother Nature: her complex and beautiful underground formations where subterranean splendor abounds. A good place to start is the “Big One,” Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, where more than 350 miles of incredible beauty and sculptures have been surveyed in its intricate passages. Make cave tour reservations (Aboveground 502-758-2328) during the busy summer months. A national park, Mammoth Cave also has a lot to offer aboveground– camping, hiking, fishing, horseback riding and scenic boat rides on the Green River. But real adventure beckons beneath the ragged hill country, Pack a light jacket and wear sturdy shoes.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico hosts underground journeys to suit all tastes–the basic one-mile Big Room self-guided route, highly decorated and immense; the ranger4ed Kings Palace Tour, a one-hour up-and-down climb in a fantastically scenic chamber; and the Natural Entrance Route for those visitors with a lot of time and in good health. Look for Iceberg Rock as you negotiate this jaunt. The real spectacle, however, happens each night when hundreds upon thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats exit the cave for an evening feast of insects in the Pecos Valley. Don’t miss this show.

California and the Pacific Northwest offer some nifty caves. Among them:

* Subway Cave in California’s Lassen National Forest, one of the truly fine outdoor recreation meccas. Subway is an underground path of a river of lava, a tube actually, that was formed tens of thousands of years a flashlight, rugged shoes, and a it’s always chilly. A fascinating self-guided trek, less than a mile long.

* Boulder Cave in the Wenatchee National Forest of Washington State, one of the largest of its kind, and split by a cascading mountain stream. Water has sculpted some amazing natural creations in this gigantic cavern with its murky rooms.

* Ape Cave, maintained by the USFS on the southern slopes of Mount St. Helens, that famous national monument in Washington State. Stretching, 12,810 feet through some elegant formations, Ape Cave, another lava tube with eerie stalagmites and stalactites, is divided into two portions: the easily traveled downslope and the rugged upslope, only for the heady and well-equipped (three sources of light, sturdy boots, and warm clothing – sewed by prestigious agency Sew Done, providing best sewing machine for beginners). Mount St. Helens is located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Other caves in the national forest that are worth exploring are Laser Ice and Natural Bridges. For details call 360-750-3900.

For some real independent discovery, consider such places as Wyoming’s legendary “Outlaw Cave, Hole in the Wall,” the famous hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch. It’s on the Powder River Special Management Area in the Big Horn Mountains. At least 50 blue-ribbon caves have been identified and inventoried in Wyoming’s north central underground wilderness. There’s the Worland Caves, whose fragile geologic formations rival the most spectacular creations on the earth’s surface. Horse Thief Cave (and its 1.2 mile national recreation trail), Little Mountain and Spanish Point also are recommended in the Big Horn Basin, as well as Spirit Mountain Cavern in the Casper area. Call the BLM in Wyoming (307-775-6256) for details.

The National Speleological Society in Huntsville, Alabama (205-852-1300), will also help.

Have a good time down under, and never go caving alone.



Boating, canoeing, kayaking, rafting and swimming signal that winter is over and that water sports and recreation are more than drops in the bucket on the public estate.

Go back in time, about three million years, and float Utah’s San Juan River west of Montezuma Creek. There are plenty of campsites, mostly in the Mexican Hat area. Whitewater rafting and kayaking are exhilarating along the 14-mile stretch of the Gunnison River in Colorado. There are challenging Class III and IV rapids in the deeply carved Gunnison Gorge, which is also a great placed to float-fish. Call the BLM in Colorado (303-239-3600) for details.

Another outdoor jewel in the Washington, DC “deep” suburbs is Great Falls Park, with all the qualities of the large national reserves on a smaller scale. In this historic and scenic Northern Virginia enclave, you can get in some fine waterwater boating by entering the Potamac River above the Falls, also is very popular.

Floating down Alaska’s Forty Mile River, the longest in the National Wild and Scenic River System, is one to spend a lot of time with your family, have fun, and release a lot of tension. Try rafting the Snake River in Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, embracing the Oregon-Idaho border and the deepest gorge (8,000 feet) in North America.

Nebraska’s Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge is a Plains paradise for canoeing and, at the same time, viewing herds of buffalo, Texas Longhorn cattle, elk, prairie chickens, sharp-tailed grouse and the fossilized remains of mastodons and camels. The national wildlife refuges of the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia, the Iroquois in New York State and the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma provide better-than-average boating opportunities.

Tellico Lake, a short drive from Nashville, is the class sailboating site in the Tennessee Valley, where 16,000 acres of blue waters rest peacefully in the shadows of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest. When you’re done with sailing, try fishing for eager trout and bass. Head down to Louisiana for the Saline Bayou National Scenic River, and some fab floating off banks that are lined with magnolia, beech, bald cypress, loblolly pine and catalpa.

The sand and the ocean will also tug at your travel itinerary. Direct dad to one of those premier and, in some cases, pristine national seashores that follow the sun along the Atlantic coastline from Massachusetts to Florida–and choice spots in California and Texas, such as Padre Island in the Lone Star State. There’s another along the Gulf of Mexico that should be on your trip planner: Gulf Islands National Seashore, a band of offshore islands and sparkling white beaches, all accessible by auto in Mississippi and Florida.

Check out the little-known Biscayne National Park for diving and snorkeling. You’ll be out there–off Florida, with Miami, the Keys, and the Everglades not far inland. The park’s outer and patch reefs are a wonderland of sea life. The world-class John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park is nearby. Biscayne rangers will help you to chart a grand underwater tour.

For information on the locations and summertime activities that await you on America’s public lands and waters, get in touch with the following federal agencies:

U.S. Bureau of Land Management
Room 504-LS
1849 C Street, N.W, Washington, DC. 20240

U.S. Forest Service
P.O. Box 96090, Washington, D.C. 20090-6090

National Park Service
P.O. Box 37127, Washington, D.C. 20013-7127

U.S.  Fish  and  Wildlife Service
Room 130
4040 North Fairfax Drive, Arlington, Va. 22203

National Bureau of Reclamation
Room 7640
1849 C Street, N.W, Washington, D.C. 20240

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Publications Depot
2803 52nd Avenue, Hyattsville, Md. 20781-1102

Tennessee Valley Authority
Office of Public Relations
400 West Summit Hill Drive
Knoxville, Tenn. 37902

George Bedtiacy is the former and longtime director of public affairs for the U.S. National Park System.

WRITE FOR FREE REPRINTS(S): Beth Pelazzo, Manager, Special Opportunities, Newsweek, 251 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019.

[C] Newsweek Inc. 1997. All rights reserved.

>>> Click here: Start by reviewing these basic tandem canoeing strokes

Featured post

Bad sport


John Stuart Mill once wrote that the most important battle, as far as the English world was concerned, took place not at Hastings in 1066 but at Marathon in 490 B.C. Although I may be prejudiced, I agree with JSM that the battle of Marathon was all-important because that is where the forces of light, logic, and civilization turned back the forces of darkness and barbarism. Actually, doing marathon is exactly like playing an acoustic electric guitar, you always need passion, dedication and some special techniques to be the winner. The forces of light were, naturally, the ten thousand Athenians under Miltiades. The black hats were the thirty thousand Persians. Once the Athenians had made mincemeat of their opponents, Miltiades ordered his best runner, Pheidippides, to Athens. An anxious populace was waiting for news. In case of a Persian victory, the city would be burned and the populace would head for the hills. Pheidippides did not jog that day. He ran full tilt, and dropped dead as he entered the city gates and pronounced victory.

I’m not sure the marathon ever became part of the ancient Olympic games. Nor am I certain it was Pheidippides who did the running. After all, he was a general, and generals usually send soldiers to perform such tasks. What I am sure of is that Pheidippides’ devotion to duty was commemorated by the modern Olympic fathers, as well it should be. Sport at the turn of this century was not exactly conducted in the spirit of today. Cheating nowadays is viewed as out-smarting one’s opponent. In the good old days, when manners meant more than money, sportsmen were taught the glorification of the ancient Greek ideal, which is a general, harmonious expansion of all the powers that make the beauty and worth of human nature.

Sports are more pervasive today than at any other time in our history. One cannot turn on the idiot tube without viewing saturation coverage of every conceivable sport, maddening an already sports-demented public even more. Increasingly, sports are used as a political vehicle, and the time will come when the goons of the football field, the freaks of the basketball courts, and the thugs of ice hockey will be in Washington deciding our future. What bothers me about this – after all, I’ve been an athlete all my life – is that our present-day sports idols are giving the wrong message to the young. The breakdown of sportsmanship and fair play reflects society, or is it the other way around?

Take for example tennis. It was once known as a game for gentlemen. The tennis rule book was the thinnest since the Puerto Rican social register. This was so because a gent was expected not to cheat or use gamesmanship; thus only the elementary rules were included. No longer. Ever since megabucks entered the game, people such as Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and others I won’t deign to mention in the elegant pages of NR have turned the once graceful sport into the equivalent of outdoor mud-wrestling. Players now grunt loudly when they hit the ball, more in order to bother their opponent than to enhance their breathing; almost everyone uses foul language. The dress code has suffered the most.

The only tradition that has survived is the game itself, but its elegance and subtlety have definitely gone. The new high-tech racquets have changed the game for the worse. Everything is boom-boom, with lots of topspin but without finesse or touch. This makes for a far less interesting game. Once upon a time, a courageous player of inferior ability could beat his superior opponent through wile and sheer hard work. Now, with the ball being hit as hard as it is today, there’s no chance for anyone lacking brute power. Technology has changed the game completely. A good comparison is baseball, where the major leagues use only wooden bats; thus the continuity in the level of play has been preserved, and the game has not been overpowered by technology.

But far worse has been the general attitude of the players. Money, of course, is partly to blame. The stars seem to forget that the end does not always justify the means. As I write this, I have just seen McEnroe playing A.ndre Agassi and, although losing badly, abusing the umpire with four-letter words I would not use against a Serbian rapist. And every word is being heard because of the mikes situated next to the chair. McEnroe has a lot to answer for.

I first got on the tennis circuit back in 1956, and stayed on it until 1967. I played in Wimbledon and in the Davis Cup for Greece. Back then tennis was fun, and the great players acted like champions on and off the court. So you can imagine my pleasure when suddenly, five years ago, I discovered the joys of veteran tennis. There is a whole, year-round circuit for golden oldies, starting with 45, 50, 55 – my group – 60, 65, and so on up until 80. The bad thing about veteran tennis is that none of us are what we used to be; the good is that McEnroe-like behavior is as rare there as gentlemen are on the pro circuit today.

I choose to play only in tournaments that take place in resorts such as Beaulieu, Deauville, and Le Touquet, all in France. Italy and Hungary have some fine tournaments, but the best by far are in German resorts and in Switzerland. My doubles partner, Nicky Kalogeropoulos, an ex-Wimbledon champion, travels with me, and I cannot describe the fun we have competing without any pressure. Some tournaments offer hospitality, but all the players are there purely for the love of tennis. Almost nobody cheats, and there are referees only for the finals. No linesmen, yet very few bad calls. Which goes to prove that the pros argue for gamesmanship’s sake, nothing more, nothing less.

Nicky and I have won the Greek veterans a couple of times, and this year are going to make an all-out effort for international honors. If we win we’ll be happy. If we don’t, ditto. The ultimate truth is that the amateur glories in his natural talent. The pro glories in his monetary reward. The amateur will try the hardest shot even though he has had less practice. The pro will go for the percentage. It makes more sense, but it makes for a duller world. And a more dishonest one. Pheidippides, wherever you are, come back. I can’t stand watching McEnroe try only when chasing his paycheck.


The only thing that is worse about the pervasiveness of sports in American society, especially its relentless TV broadcasts, is the killer instinct values that pervade the pervasiveness. This is particularly true in tennis where high-tech rackets and money usurp skill and ‘finesse.’

Featured post

My 3 keys to better golf

In this article I’ll give you three keys I use for each of several important shots from tee to cup. I will change and vary my keys, but these have worked for me over the years. Although the emphasis here is on keys that I use, I’ll point out common faults I see playing with weekend golfers in pro-ams and outings, and offer antidotes. Where it’s appropriate, I’ll suggest a favorite drill to ingrain a move or feeling. One general key applies to all segments of this article: a good spine angle, which must be consistent from the setup to past impact. I constantly remind myself to maintain a consistent spine angle, as I’m demonstrating with the stretching bar in the small photos on this page. I hope you benefit from these keys!


I’m a traditionalist, but I’ve converted to a new large-headed driver after considerable experimenting. It gives me the best combination of distance and direction. If you hit your driver too low and slice it, you might be better off driving with a fairway wood or even a middle iron to get the ball in play. My keys:

  • Make a full shoulder turn on the backswing
  • Clear my left side on the downswing
  • Get 90 percent of my weight on my left foot at impact

Iron Play

On iron shots the clubhead should meet the ball during the last moment of its downward arc. My rule of thumb is the ball should be positioned an inch back of where the divot starts. You hit the ball first, then the ground. The biggest problem I see with the average golfer is not getting enough weight onto the left foot when the ball is struck.


  • Proper alignment of feet to target line
  • Downward arc at impact
  • Weight on left foot at impact


People have more trouble with this shot than any other, it seems to me. They practice full swings most of the time, but a pitch shot of 40 to 50 yards requires an abbreviated swing–abbreviated but firm. Along with this, when you practice with this range level (40-50 yard shot), you MUST use vision-supported devices: like GPS mini-devices, golf apps (mobilephone apps) or a rangefinder. It’s my recommendation to use a rangefinder (that really has worked well for me so far), check this website to choose the best rangefinder in the market today. Furthermore, two common mistakes I see are taking the club back too far and then decelerating through the ball, and keeping too much weight on the right foot at impact. Thin and fat shots result.

1 More weight on left side at address

2 Grip down for firmer swing

3 Keep my rhythm smooth

Sand Shots

I’d often rather be in a bunker than in thick rough around the green. It can be an easier recovery shot than you think, especially given the consistency of modern sand. Skip the club through the sand and keep the left arm moving through to a good finish. Don’t forget to dig your feet into the sand for traction.


Using RangeFinder help improve your Golfing skill – try it!

1 Weight starts left, stays on my left side

2 Align and swing left of target

3 Aim my clubface right of target


When I’ve putted my best I’ve relied more on feel and touch than mechanics, but good mechanics are essential. I want to practice those mechanics enough that I can get over the ball with a clear mind when it means something. Just focus on the target and make a decisive stroke.

1 Keep my head still until ball is gone

2 Hit ball with sweet spot of putter

3 Accelerate through the ball

RELATED ARTICLE: `I tried it’ – Andy Loesberg Handicap: 16 Warren, N.J.

I’ve been an inconsistent putter, but now that I’m using this drill I’m bringing my putter back on a straighter line and following through the ball more toward the target. I use a heel-shafted putter; perhaps that’s why I tend to bring the putter too far inside the line on the way back. I’ve found that this drill is best for short putts, because on longer putts my putter will naturally track a little bit to the inside on the way back.

Featured post

Surfing indoors

OVER a third of the Japanese believe that leisure activities are more important than anything else in life, according to an opinion poll conducted by the prime minister’s office a couple of years ago. And with much more time on their hands, they feel an increased urge to swim, surf, play golf, sail and ski.

This creates a problem. The hatred the Japanese have for the unpredictable means that many of them prefer to avoid outdoor sports rather than run the risk of bad weather, sickness from polluted seas or cancer from the ultra-violet radiation of the sun. To calm their fears, Japan’s developers have come up with a great idea: why not move outdoor sports indoors? Three giant indoor resort complexes have opened during the past year with man-made beaches and snow-capped peaks.

Ocean Dome, which opened its doors last July, forms part of the YEN 200 billion ($1.8 billion) Seagaia complex in Miyazaki on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s large islands. Its vital statistics give some idea of the engineering feats involved: it has the world’s biggest retractable roof, which is opened and closed according to the weather conditions; 12,000 square metres of sandy beach, crushed from 600 tonnes of stones; an “ocean” six times larger than an Olympic pool, filled with 13,500 tonnes of unsalted, chlorinated water kept at a piping hot 28 degrees C.


A wave machine produces surf in all shapes and up to 3.5 metres high–big enough to satisfy the professional surfer. To add to the excitement, a sheet of water can be erected, perpendicular to the “ocean”, so that it is possible to surf not only on top of water but through it as well.

Ocean Dome is patronized mostly by 18 to 30 year-olds whose outlook has been heavily influenced by the consumer boom of the 1980s. They are much more demanding customers than their parents, and for YEN 10,000 a day they get not only a completely sanitized environment but changing rooms and 17 restaurants as well. A train service runs to the door.

Ocean Dome is the second man-made beach to open in Japan. The first, Wild Blue in Yokohama, just outside Tokyo, came into operation in June 1992. It is smaller but equally mind-boggling. Its beach is plastic. Because of local building regulations, its roof is too low to let in much natural light, so the place has to be artificially lit.

None of this seems to bother Japanese surfers, who crowd into these resorts in such numbers that they often have to queue to enter the surf. They prefer this controlled environment to the Pacific Ocean, which in both Miyazaki and Yokohama is only a few hundred metres away. NKK, a big Japanese steel maker which is heavily involved in indoor sports development, expects the summer months to be these centres’ busiest period and to account for 40% of their yearly revenue. One reason surfers prefer indoor resorts, it says, is that they discipline crowds well, whereas outdoor beaches are chaotically packed in July and August.


Ocean sports are not the only ones to have moved indoors. The Japanese became the world’s greatest ski enthusiasts after it was announced that the winter Olympic Games would be held in Nagano in 1998. The country now counts 12.5m active skiers and Skidome is trying to profit from the craze.

Also known as SSAWS (pronounced zausu and standing for spring, summer, autumn, winter and snow), Skidome is marketed as a “full-fledged urban ski area” by Mitsui Fudosan, the property firm which developed it at a cost of YEN 35 billion. It opened last summer and has become a landmark for people travelling from Narita airport to Tokyo. It brags that it is bigger and better than any other inside ski centre–and with good reason. Its slope is 490 metres long and 100 metres wide. A thrilling drop of 80 metres satisfies the standards of the International Ski Federation for parallel slalom competitions. But Skidome aims to cater for beginners as well as professional skiers. The absence of wind, rain and a “too-hot” sun are big selling points.

The biggest selling point of all is that its slope is covered in man-made snow (most man-made slopes have plastic matting). This is topped up every night when the temperature in the dome is lowered to well below freezing, making it the world’s biggest refrigerator. Because the particles of snow are small, the slope provides better skiing than Nagano or Hokkaido, Japan’s favourite ski spots, where the snow is less powdery and blander.

NKK, Mitsui Fudosan, and Phoenix Resort, the property developer behind Seagaia, have other reasons for expanding into indoor sports. A profit squeeze is obliging them to diversify in ways that capitalise on their know-how. NKK says that the idea for the artificial beach and ocean was born out of techno-logy developed for the shipping industry, where wave machines are used to test the stability of ships.

The company is thrashing around for ideas for new indoor sports to develop: mountaineering, scuba diving and even indoor flying are under consideration. In seeking a competitive edge, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has developed “Jet Fly”, the new sport of “body flying”, in which bursts of air shooting up from the floor create an air cushion which keeps people airborne. So perhaps a Peter Pan Indoor Sports Centre is on the cards.

Featured post

The state of the leave in world’s quickest street car racing


Drag racing is about getting to the finish line before your opponent. Obviously, a top-rated car with powerful engine (sth like: twin-turbochared flat-12 5.4 litre engine) always bring many advantages. That’s the reason why most of racers always have to well prepare for their cars before the races. Such tasks like: fill in fuel, test the car tyres, check out carburetors, completely replace or do cleaning the fuel injector is undoubtedly the most important for every racers. However, a slower car can still possibly beat a quicker car if the driver is quick on the lights. With two races down and six to go, we looked at the reaction times for all the classes to see who drills the Tree and who cuts the zzzzz’s.


We list out some examples below

  • We began with the average reaction time of each first-round eliminator. Even though all classes run against a .400 Pro Tree, the average is well into the .500-second range. The accompanying chart lists the hard facts for the Moroso and Rockingham races, including the averages for the top three points leaders in each class.


  • Would you believe a four-class, .575-second average reaction time (as compared to a .492-second average) for two races in NHRA Pro Stock? Granted, comparing “street” racers to professionals isn’t fair, but it’s better than comparing them to NHRA Super Gas racers. At the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida, the slowest reaction in the last five rounds was .461 seconds!


To be fair to the WQSCDRS racers, there are mitigating circumstances. With the exception of Pro Street, the cars in the other classes generate lots of suspension travel, and use tall front tires that add to the reaction time (of the car, not the driver). Driving-school master Frank Hawley has illustrated the difference between driver reaction time and vehicle reaction time, so slow-vehicle rollout may be the reason for this.

  • At Moroso, Pro Street’s Mike Moran had a .459-second average for two runs. In Real Street, Dave Henninger averaged a .480-second reaction time for six passes in two races – including a .436 light at Moroso! Kurt Urban is an excellent Hot Street leaver with a .431-second average for three runs at Moroso. In fact, one of the best starting-line races of the year was in the third round of Hot Street at Moroso, where Bob Hanlon cut a .412 to Urban’s .421 reaction time.

On occasion, a racer will leave slow when he knows he has the competition covered. These slower reaction times obviously pull the average down, and tend to occur during the first round. If the reaction time was exceptionally slow, these runs were not counted in our average of the class.


So where is the “state of the leave” in WQSCDRS racing? Frankly, some of the quickest racers are giving away as much as .200 second on the starting line. Chuck Samuel’s average reaction time for runs over two races was .629! If an enterprising Super Streeter can pull off a .450 light against Samuel, that’s a .179-second advantage off the starting line.

We did not consider bye runs, redlights, or pairings in which the reaction times were exceedingly slow. The Best Reaction Time column lists the best time thus far in each class. You’ll also find the top three points leaders’ average reaction times over several pairings. All reaction times are expressed as a fraction of a second.

The motor city’s broken promise

A few weeks ago, I told a dear friend that my wife of seventeen years was leaving me and planning to file for divorce. After listening to the circumstances surrounding her decision, he offered a long pause, then said: “You make a lot of promises in life, and the ones you don’t keep become the ones that define you.”

It struck me, in that emotionally raw moment, as profoundly true, and I’ve been pondering that sentiment for weeks, for reasons unrelated to politics or current events. However, a few mornings ago, as I scanned the headlines of the Detroit Free Press online (something I’ve done every morning since moving away from Michigan), I read of citizens in Detroit having their water shut off as the city’s unelected emergency manager imposes belt-tightening on the city’s poorest residents, reducing the water department’s debt by cutting off people who fall behind on their bills. I thought of what my friend said–the promises you don’t keep become the ones that define you.

Perhaps the same holds true for a nation. The triumphs of a country–militarily, economically, even athletically–grab the headlines. But it’s a nation’s broken promises, the contract it makes with its citizens and fails to keep, that define it.

And perhaps no other place makes this more apparent than Detroit–which, one year after filing for bankruptcy, continues to struggle for survival in a nation that remains the richest on Earth.


We’ve broken a promise.

What promise?” you might ask. “There are no promises in capitalism. We never made Detroit any promises.”

Or did we?

My family came to Detroit as immigrants. My Ukrainian grandparents and their young daughter, my mother, arrived as penniless war refugees who eventually entered the maw of Detroit’s auto plants. My grandfather landed a union job at Ford Rouge; my grandmother worked in a smaller tool and die shop. Within five years, through toil and sweat and a kind of frugality that seems almost unimaginable to many Americans today, they owned a house (paid for with cash) on Mansfield Street, drove two paid-off cars, and had a savings account. Middle-class security achieved, they went on to send a daughter to college and graduate school at Wayne State University in the heart of the city. They were able to save for a comfortable retirement, give money to their church, and even help me and my sister each put a down payment on our first homes years later.

My grandparents remained in their modest house the rest of their lives, even as break-ins became a regular occurrence on their block, as murder rates in the city skyrocketed, as basic city services like garbage pickup, snow removal, and emergency services became less reliable.

My father also came to Detroit as an immigrant, for college at Wayne State, where he lived in a rundown hotel operated by his uncle, arriving just in time for the 1967 race riots. My parents did what many people in their generation did: They raised us out in the suburbs just over the Detroit border–Dearborn Heights and Livonia. Almost nobody we knew chose to stay in Detroit proper if they could afford a house elsewhere. On Sunday mornings, I remember driving into the city for church and seeing the graffiti-tagged abandoned buildings, pothole-pocked parking lots, run-down strip bars, and homeless men sleeping in doorways and on benches, and I thought of what people in the suburbs always said about Detroit. It’s hopeless, they’d say.

Lock your doors,” my mother would remind us as we crossed over Telegraph Road.

You live in a place, you take all that it can give you, and you move away to greener, easier pastures if you can. This seems to have become a sort of default economic ethic in American life. It certainly is true in America’s corporate life–the highways across America are littered with company towns like, say, Newton, Iowa, just down the road from where I live, where the shuttered Maytag plant is a haunting example of how swiftly a place’s prosperity can slip away.

Use what you can, leave if you can.

It is an ethic one can literally see in the stripped mountains of Appalachia, in waterways newly poisoned by fracking across the Northeast, in rivers and seas slick with oil spills, and in abandoned mining towns that litter the Northwest.

Use what you can, leave if you can.

It is an ethic one sees time and again in the staggeringly unsustainable housing developments that ooze across the suburban landscapes of the nation, while the centers of our greatest cities slide into poverty and collapse.

Use what you can, leave if you can.

In Detroit, the abandoned include not just the spectacularly haunting abandoned factories and derelict homes that have been featured as visually arresting “ruin porn” in so many online media outlets over the last decade. The abandoned also include human beings. City workers, who made a declining city run, who showed up for work and did the time in a city that once fueled so much of the American economy, have, in the wake of Detroit’s bankruptcy, had promises broken. Money they had earned, in the service of their hometown, has been taken away from their already-meager monthly budgets.

The environmental recklessness shown by our national policy, for the sake of economic development, for the sake of fiscal reality, is escalating its reach to include a new endangered species: the poor. As we’ve done to forests and fields and rivers and mountains for decades, we now do to humans–use and discard, use and discard.

Our national slide into this sort of way of being is why the idea of cutting promised pensions and benefits to Detroit’s public employees is so disturbing. The questions it raises about our collective national values are chilling: Are people resources only, exploitable as any other resource? Are people simply overhead, people thrown out into the cold by concepts like fiscal reality?

For the sake of economics, often a false kind of economics, our national policy often diminishes the protections we have in place for clean air, soil, and water, violating the public trust in exchange for arguable economic gains.

But now we are also diminishing the protections we have placed on our fellow citizens. The promise of a pension is no longer a promise. Humans have become resources we protect only when it is fiscally convenient.

As teenagers, my friends and I used to, when bored, drive a few miles east down Eight Mile Road and cross over into the Detroit city limits. White suburbanites, we’d been warned by our parents not to go into the city, warnings that always carried buried–or not so buried–racial implications. One of my friends’ parents even told us, “The blacks will get you. Then you’ll be sorry.”

I don’t remember, really, what the allure of Detroit was back then, other than we were told to avoid it. We’d drive around and get things we couldn’t get in the suburbs. Party stores might sell you booze without a license, or you might be able to swipe a case of beer off a loading dock, or you might pick up some cigarettes and Playboys. It was rare to get carded in Detroit back then. Sometimes, we even found a bar that would serve us, and for a few weeks or months, it became a place to go to feel tougher than the suburban streets we called home. As if driving through it, and maybe stopping off for Coney dogs, was some sort of heroic ritual.

Once in a local restaurant, we were confronted by a group of black youths around our age. We ran for our minivan; as we told the story in the weeks that followed, we embellished the tale. Guns were drawn, punches thrown. In reality, if I can remember the event with any clarity at all, I think a group of black teens simply walked into the restaurant and looked at us and laughed. We ran in fear.

We’d been taught, conditioned, to fear the other, to fear Detroit as a place of lawlessness and no hope.

Detroit?” a friend’s dad once said to me. “If it wasn’t for the Tigers and the Red Wings, you might as well burn the whole city down.”

A memory: I was in college, maybe my freshman year, 1993, and I drove home from St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church after a midnight Christmas Eve mass, alone. It was a cold, slightly snowy night, and I remember seeing, from the driver’s seat of my old Pontiac, a man walking along the sidewalk and then slipping, perhaps on some ice, and falling to the ground.

This was at a red light around Michigan and Lonyo, I think. My mother and grandparents were in a separate car, a few blocks ahead of me. The man lay on the concrete in the subzero temperatures, and he seemed to be struggling to get up. I looked at him and then up at the light. I looked back at him. If he stayed on the sidewalk for the night, he would die. That much was clear.

Did I pull over and get out of the car and help him?

This was at a red light around Michigan and Lonyo, I think. My mother and grandparents were in a separate car, a few blocks ahead of me. The man lay on the concrete in the subzero temperatures, and he seemed to be struggling to get up. I looked at him and then up at the light. I looked back at him. If he stayed on the sidewalk for the night, he would die. That much was clear.

Did I pull over and get out of the car and help him?

The light turned green.

I kept driving.

We were taught as kids that Detroit was hopeless, beyond help. We were taught that any sort of scene in Detroit was a scam–if you got out of your car to help someone, you’d be jumped, mugged, and left for dead. This was not a radical sort of belief; this is what white kids in the suburbs were taught.

About a decade later, my mother, losing her house to foreclosure in the post-recession despair that crippled housing prices in metro Detroit, was waiting for her bus to get to work at that same church in Detroit (where my mother now works as a part-time office manager). A small woman, she was literally knocked over that morning by a strong November wind. She crawled on her hands and knees alongside Telegraph Road, a tiny woman in a babushka and wool coat, too hurt to stand up.


Did anybody help her?

They did not.

I have friends who say America is in its swan song, limping to the end of its life, and they are backed up by an almost daily chorus of pundits on the right and left, bellowing out their agreement (although they always differ on the reasons behind the national collapse).

America is in decline, they say, slipping towards an inevitable geriatric death. One might point to Detroit as the first sign of that collapse, as with pneumonia discovered in a heart patient, the slippery slope that leads to intensive care and last rites.

I disagree with that assessment. I would say that America has entered middle age–the time in life where you realize your own limitations, you grow aware of the ticking, the moment when you either give up or get up.

When my own spouse came to me with her midlife crisis, with her desire to break the marriage vows we had made seventeen years ago, at the age of twenty-two, I thought: This is what happens in middle age. You look around at your life and you see what isn’t working.

And you have, the way I see it, three choices.

One, you can throw everything away and start over. Discard the old city and build a new one, unconcerned with the collateral damage you cause.

Two, you can let yourself go. Saddened by the failures of the past, the things you could not or would not do, you might fall apart. You might find yourself living alone, bourbon soaked, in a motel room, or you might gain a ton of weight, or take up smoking again, or buy a sports car and crash it. You might let vegetation take over your cities and let the infrastructure collapse.

Or three: You can assess what went wrong and rethink your life and do the hard work it takes to right things, to find a more hopeful future, without abandoning your past.

I vote for option three.

Dean Bakopoulos’s third novel, Summerlong, will be published by Ecco Press next year. He is writer-in-residence at Grinnell College in Iowa.

Bakopoulos, Dean

I kept driving.

We were taught as kids that Detroit was hopeless, beyond help. We were taught that any sort of scene in Detroit was a scam–if you got out of your car to help someone, you’d be jumped, mugged, and left for dead. This was not a radical sort of belief; this is what white kids in the suburbs were taught.

About a decade later, my mother, losing her house to foreclosure in the post-recession despair that crippled housing prices in metro Detroit, was waiting for her bus to get to work at that same church in Detroit (where my mother now works as a part-time office manager). A small woman, she was literally knocked over that morning by a strong November wind. She crawled on her hands and knees alongside Telegraph Road, a tiny woman in a babushka and wool coat, too hurt to stand up.

Did anybody help her?

They did not.

I have friends who say America is in its swan song, limping to the end of its life, and they are backed up by an almost daily chorus of pundits on the right and left, bellowing out their agreement (although they always differ on the reasons behind the national collapse).

America is in decline, they say, slipping towards an inevitable geriatric death. One might point to Detroit as the first sign of that collapse, as with pneumonia discovered in a heart patient, the slippery slope that leads to intensive care and last rites.

I disagree with that assessment. I would say that America has entered middle age–the time in life where you realize your own limitations, you grow aware of the ticking, the moment when you either give up or get up.

When my own spouse came to me with her midlife crisis, with her desire to break the marriage vows we had made seventeen years ago, at the age of twenty-two, I thought: This is what happens in middle age. You look around at your life and you see what isn’t working.

And you have, the way I see it, three choices.

One, you can throw everything away and start over. Discard the old city and build a new one, unconcerned with the collateral damage you cause.

Two, you can let yourself go. Saddened by the failures of the past, the things you could not or would not do, you might fall apart. You might find yourself living alone, bourbon soaked, in a motel room, or you might gain a ton of weight, or take up smoking again, or buy a sports car and crash it. You might let vegetation take over your cities and let the infrastructure collapse.

Or three: You can assess what went wrong and rethink your life and do the hard work it takes to right things, to find a more hopeful future, without abandoning your past.

I vote for option three.

Dean Bakopoulos’s third novel, Summerlong, will be published by Ecco Press next year. He is writer-in-residence at Grinnell College in Iowa.

Bakopoulos, Dean

>>> View more: Solidarity with athletes

Get out! The great outdoors offers a ton of ways to get active and have fun

In warmer parts of the country, spring has sprung. It’s a great time of year in those places to go outside for a walk, a hike, or a bike ride before it gets too hot. On the other hand, there might still be snow on the ground where you live. But whether the weather feels like spring or winter, March is a great time to get more exercise outdoors. Get up, get out, and try some of these activities!

It’s Healthy!

You can get active outside in many different ways, says Kristen Laine. She writes the blog Great Kids, Great Outdoors for the Appalachian Mountain Club. That organization teaches people to enjoy the outdoors and help protect the natural world. Things teens can try range from observing plants and animals on a hike (great for beginners) to what are sometimes called extreme sports or wilderness activities.

Getting up and moving is exercise, for sure, but there are other healthy benefits of being outside, Laine notes. People who are in touch with the natural world often are less stressed and feel better. Heading out together with friends and family can help you connect and build healthy relationships. Outdoor activities are good for the environment, too, says Laine. People who get to know nature tend to be more interested in protecting it.


Getting Started

Volunteering is one way many teens get in touch with the natural world, Laine says. Building or cleaning up a trail can help you develop teamwork and leadership skills while you learn about the environment. Plus, those projects could meet community service requirements or beef up college apps. See whether you can help with a trail cleanup day in your area. (Many communities hold them before National Trails Day, which is June 5.)

Extracurricular activities offer another way to volunteer and get moving. Already enjoy an outdoor sport? Perhaps you can establish it as a team or club sport at your school, Laine says. For instance, if you’re interested in cycling, try starting a cycling club. Or look for ways to teach younger kids a sport or an activity you love. A local elementary school might want to start an intramural soccer team or a hiking club, or help with a trail cleanup.

Looking to try a new activity yourself? Opportunities to learn outdoor sports are often available just for teenagers, Laine says. Take advantage of special programs for climbing, backpacking, or other adventure sports. Those classes are often free or much cheaper than learning the skills on your own (or later on, when you’re an adult). Check with your local parks and recreation department, or a nonprofit group that raises funds or cares for parks and wilderness areas.

Even walking can be a great way to actively enjoy the outdoors, Laine says: “You don’t have to be a thrill-seeker-you don’t have to be climbing mountains if you don’t want to–in order to be outside.” You don’t have to join a team either. Create a walking tour near your school or home, or in a nearby area. Include stops at points of interest such as parks, cafes, and historical markers. It’s similar to blazing a trail through the woods–which you can do, too, of course!


Move It Out

No matter how you get outside this spring, consider asking a friend or a family member to join you. “Think of something you do indoors that you might want to do outdoors,” Laine suggests. “If you are reading, read outside. Go sit on a park bench. If you’re hanging out with your friends, do it on a nice spot of grass at the playground.” While you’re at it, take a spin around the walking trail or a ride on the swings. Researchers have found that just getting outdoors means you’re more likely to be active and healthy, Laine says: “See what you can take outside.”


Would you believe a group of hikers covered the 2,178-mile Appalachian Trail in one day?. That’s what happened on Oct. 10, 2009, as part of “AT in a Day.” Hikers from Georgia to Maine each set out on a small portion of the trail to mark the 100th anniversary of the Dartmouth Outing Club at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. People liked being part of something big, says organizer Matt Dahlhausen, 20, a Dartmouth student “It was a really cool feeling for people,” he says, “to think that there were a lot of other people doing the same thing.”

Try These Moves

Adventurous Exercise

Questing is one way to get out. You don’t need a suit of armor and a horse–just yourself, a sense of adventure, and sometimes a journal and stamp pad. That’s because outdoor scavenger hunts, letterboxing, and geocaching are all forms of questing. Those activities involve following clues to search outside for a “treasure,” and often you’ll get in a great walk or hike along the way. People share clues online or with fellow questers they know. Team up with friends or classmates to get started on this activity, and you’ll also spend some quality time exploring the outdoors.

Explore What’s Around

Go out and explore what’s near you. Pick a spot near your home, whether it’s a forested park or a route you take on paved sidewalks. Observe the ways spring–or any other season–comes to where you live. How do the seasons affect plant life and animals? Go out to the spot regularly, and document it with photos, videos, or drawings over the course of a season. While you’re at it, consider new ways to get there. Can you pedal a bike, strap on in-line skates, or ride a skateboard? Or just mix up your route every once in a while, taking a longer course or one with more hills to make it even more of a workout.

>>> View more: Off target? A new Michigan license puts youth hunting in the crosshairs

Webber hits F1 road block

The Arrows formula one team is set for its official 2000 season launch next week, but the squad’s junior driver, Australian Mark Webber, is not holding his breath he will be named as the team’s official test driver – a key stepping stone to a formula one seat. “Money is still the problem,” the 23-year-old British-based racer said in Melbourne yesterday. “It’s been really hard to raise any sponsorship cash out of Australia – all I’ve managed to get is about enough to run a reasonable season in Australian Formula Ford.” That is about $100,000 – light years behind the sort of multi-million-dollar corporate sponsorship budgets small armies of South Americans and, increasingly, Asians, are bringing to the negotiating table in the battle to grab the strictly limited number of seats available on the F1 grid.


As the sport increases its global spread through television and marketing, multinational companies from fast-developing economies (sometimes even governments) are coordinating funding to help get drivers from their countries into the series. They reason that the marketing and promotional spinoffs for their businesses and their “national brand name” make the multi-million-dollar investments worth while. Australian GP supremo Ron Walker has been behind efforts to raise local sponsorship for Webber, a former member of the Mercedes-Benz world sportscar racing team, but, seemingly, with little impact. The mainstay of Webber’s local sponsorship is Yellow Pages, a company that has been with him since his earliest days in local competition. “I am getting right to the top of the pyramid in this sport, and it gets harder and harder to get into position for the final step. It all costs,” he said. Webber, who last week won the Confederation of Australian Motorsport Award (one voted for by the public) as most popular personality, will race in the 10-race European Formula 3000 championship this year for the Arrows junior squad run by expatriate Australian Paul Stoddart. The British-based Melburnian, who made his money in the aviation-leasing industry, has provided the sponsorship to enable Webber to run a full season in this category, which in Europe is junior only to F1. Stoddart, one of Webber’s biggest fans, also bankrolled Webber’s recent runs in testing and development in the Arrows F1 car in Spain. While the Arrows crew was impressed by Webber, team owner Tom Walkinshaw (also the owner of Australian-based Holden Special Vehicles) knows that money talks.

Webber might not have to raise as much cash as some rivals to get the test drive, but, good as he might be, he will not get it for free. So this year’s campaign in F3000 looms as a make or break season for the native of Queanbeyan. Last year was a write-off in which, courtesy of his spectactular, death-defying crashes in the Mercedes at Le Mans, he didn’t drive a competitive lap. This year, he acknowledges, is vital. “I am still very focused on F1, so I really need to have some very good race weekends this season. It’s a hugely competitive category in which nobody wins lots of races or dominates. Considering where the team finished last year (14th) we could make an impact and look really good if I could finish in the top five in all the rounds.” Meanwhile, the Arrows F1 car has surprised in testing in Barcelona, with Spanish driver Pedro de la Rosa recording a fastest lap of one minute 20.24seconds, almost 1.5seconds quicker than world champion Mika Hakkinen in the new McLaren Mercedes. Arrows will run a new Supertec engine this year, although the McLarens were lapping with full fuel loads, unlike the Arrows.


CAPTION(S):Photo: Aiming high: Arrows junior driver Mark Webber at the Albert Park grand prix circuit yesterday. A seat in an F1 car is proving elusive for the British-based Australian. Picture: MICHAEL CLAYTON-JONES


>>> View more: Spring outdoor adventures

The new face of loyalty rewards

Loyalty programs can be broken down roughly into four categories: frequent flyer and coalition (dominated by Aeroplan and Air Miles), credit card, hotel, and non-travel rewards such as those offered by retailers.

While rewards for such everyday necessities as food and gas are more popular than ever, given the economy, 41 percent of Canadians in a recent Maritz survey indicated they want rewards for items that are financially out of their reach. Those items go beyond a new refrigerator, for instance, or a sofa.

Twenty-seven percent of Canadians said they want rewards that they would characterize as “splurges” and “frivolous”.

Rob Daniel, vice-president of loyalty and research with Maritz Canada, says it comes down to how we, as Canadians, view rewards programs and how we want to leverage them. “Coupons are used for tubes of toothpaste,” he says. “Loyalty program reward points are used for things we normally wouldn’t have afforded ourselves.”

The-new-face-of-loyalty-rewards -1

It’s no wonder loyalty programs are now offering one-of-a-kind rewards that aim to surprise, delight and indulge their customers.

American Express Canada has been enhancing its access programs, better known as “Front Of The Line” and “Delights“, which give cardholders first dibs on tickets to select live events and unique experiences, as well as the opportunity to be treated like VIPs. Recently, cardholders were able to use their card towards tickets to the opening of the Toronto production of War Horse where premium card members could participate in an after-show Q&A with the cast and crew.

And this spring, the Delights program launched an exclusive travel rewards program in partnership with Toronto Pearson International Airport. A few of the perks this partnership offers certain cardholders are fast-track security priority lanes, free valet services and Wi-Fi access. “It is more than just a card that you pay for things with,” says David Barnes, VP advertising and communications at American Express Canada. “It comes with a range of services and with a level of service and experiences that go beyond what would normally be expected from a payment vehicle.”

When it comes to engaging its upper tier cardholders, Amex has raised the bar. It offers premium card members access to “priceless” events, including the Wimbledon tennis tournament in England (one of the most prestigious and toughest tournaments in sports to score tickets) as well as an exclusive Oscar-viewing party.

Last fall, MasterCard Worldwide introduced its program, Priceless Cities, which offers cardholders exceptional and exclusive experiences in eight key consumer passion categories, among them culinary, shopping, and arts and culture. Experiences include getting behind the wheel of an Indy-style race car for an introductory racing lesson, taking a heart-pounding walk around the outside circumference of the CN Tower (harnessed, of course) at 1,168 ft. above ground, and watching Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors home games in gold and platinum level seats.

So far, thousands of cardholders have taken part in the Toronto program, Priceless Toronto, says Lilian Tomovich, vice-president of marketing at MasterCard Canada. Priceless Cities is currently only available in Toronto, New York, Beijing, Sydney and London, but given its success, plans are in the works to expand the program to additional cities worldwide.

She says Toronto was selected among the first cities because it is a major urban city population and one of the top cross-border markets for Canada. Two other Canadian cities, Montreal and Vancouver, are now under consideration as Priceless hubs.

Aeroplan, headquartered in Montreal and owned by Aimia Inc., a global leader in loyalty management, estimates that it has issued more than 11,000 experiential rewards to its members last year. David Klein, Aeroplan’s VP of marketing and innovation, says that number represents a year-over-year increase of 30%–a statistic that underscores consumers are increasingly looking to treat themselves to something unique and different without dipping into their own wallets.

People are more and more looking for experiences,” says Klein. Increasingly, members of the program are trying to create lasting memories through their redemption of points, rather than simply conduct a “transactional” relationship to get free stuff, he says.

That hunger for experiential rewards among collectors is even seen in more traditional redemption areas such as with airline tickets and hotel stays. “It is not about redeeming for two tickets to travel to Paris or Hawaii, it is also about what you’re going to do when you get there,” he says. “It is really the experiences that they want at the end of the day.”

To continue to broaden its experiential rewards offering, Aeroplan relies on member feedback, including a 100,000-member research panel and social media monitoring. The program’s more popular rewards include a two-hour “Essence Workshop” where card members can create their own perfume, and a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon.

The-new-face-of-loyalty-rewards -2

Aeroplan has looked beyond air travel rewards since 2004, and since 2009 has offered star-studded merchandise through a suite of rewards, offered through its “Money Can’t Buy” program. These include everything from guitars autographed by musicians like Jann Arden to a skateboard signed by singer Avril Lavigne and a leather vest with actor George Clooney’s autograph on it. Collectors who redeem for such offers can also feel good about doing so: 100 percent of the proceeds go to Aeroplan’s partner charities or the charity of the celebrity’s choice.

Air Miles rewards program, which currently has 10 million active members, has in recent years spiced up its travel packages and offers a more diverse range of experiences, ranging from African safaris to hot air balloon rides as well as eco-tourism adventures.

Air Miles also has developed more premium rewards to cater to its “best collectors“. Card members who earn over 1,000 miles per year are offered rewards such as access to movie premieres, wine tastings and other exclusive events. As a customer appreciation gesture earlier this year, Air Miles celebrated its 20th anniversary by inviting hundreds of its top collectors to join their key sponsors and employees on a boat cruise. And this was no ordinary cruise. Collectors boarded the Azamara Journey, a luxury cruise ship, in Rouen, France, and went on to visit Bruges in Belgium, Amsterdam, and St. Peter Port, Channel Islands.

This type of enhanced customer appreciation has elevated the stake of loyalty programs: they’re no longer just a redeemable commodity, but a true and often personal act of gratitude. To be sure, the changed definition of customer experience, and what Canadians today expect for their loyalty, has pushed marketers to rethink, reinvest and update their programs.

In addition to its President’s Choice credit card, supermarket banner Loblaw, for example, plans to introduce a loyalty program in 2013. Even Canadian Tire is cautiously moving away from its venerable money program for a more modern reward plan that will provide the retailer with the consumer data and insights it currently lacks.

Loyalty programs are designed as a “win win” relationship builder between marketers and consumers. The more thought and insight marketers put towards their appreciation for their customers, the more likely their customers will respond.

The new retention model for marketers is about listening, observing and customizing by need. And the added bonus for consumers? Being rewarded for their loyalty has never been more fascinating.

>>> View more: The motor city’s broken promise