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Sun Valley, Idaho: Arnold Schwarzenegger And The Perfect Carved Turn

“You will train much differently, if you see yourself as an animal.” Arnold Schwarzenegger on the meaning of life, longevity and the perfect carved turn.

Arnold Schwarzenegger on skis is a force of nature. It is not the effortless flick of his pole or how he unweights and pressures the ski tip. It is not how he drives his knees into the turn, or squares his shoulders to the fall line. It is his expression–the Terminator’s single-minded sense of purpose that refines the image of a 225 pound, six foot two, granite boulder bouncing from edge to edge.

Encounter Schwarzenegger on a cold winter day on Sun Valley, Idaho’s Bald Mountain and you will discover the King of the Hill–an ubermench who in the course of a day, will ski thirty thousand vertical, run a multi million dollar business empire, stay in contact with his aides in California’s governor’s office, devote time to his family, eat pizza, apple strudel and Sees Candy and pump iron to maintain his universe class biceps, pecs and quads. On this incandescent February morning Schwarzenegger is too busy to waste time on chitchat. There may be better bump skiers, rut rats or extremists but, when he’s pounding the limit on Warm Springs no one owns Baldy like Arnold. He simply doesn’t stop. Not once in 3200 vertical feet. Top to bottom, it’s one, sustained, bit in the teeth blast.

Arnold Schwarzenegger On Skis is a Force Of Nature

Arnold Schwarzenegger On Skis is a Force Of Nature

Even expert skiers quickly learn you have to be in shape to hang with Arnold. By tag teaming Sun Valley’s detachable quads with Baldy’s unrelenting vertical, Schwarzenegger can reduce the best recreational skier to an apoplectic pile of sweat, pain and lactic acid.

Schwarzenegger simply hates to follow. Even Adi Erber, his long time friend and Sun Valley Ski Instructor serves as Arnold’s wingman. “Arnold likes to lead,” Adi shrugs–a statement that could eventually grace the Schwarzenegger crest.

There is also Arnold’s outfit. He could easily buy one of the designer ski suits favored by Sun Valley’s rich, famous and professionally idle. Schwarzenegger, however, is wedded to an anonymous purple and green windbreaker, green army surplus wool pants, Sun Valley ski instructor hat and dark granny glasses. In a sport dominated by fashion and form, it’s clear that Arnold simply doesn’t give a damn. In fact his only concession to glitz are a pair of Atomic 10.28 Titanium Beta Carvers–a gift from Hermann Maier, the Austrian Herminator and Nagano Gold Medalist. Colored candy apple red with checkerboard flags on the tip, these are powerful, demanding sticks. Schwarzenegger, however, doesn’t just noodle around on Hermann’s 10.28s, he bends them into a drawn bow. The why is self-evident? You need only to link his five time Mr. Universe thighs, hamstrings and quads, to the arcing Beta Carvers to realize any World Cup downhiller would kill for his guns.

Schwarzenegger insists he is simply an aggressive, strong skier with limits. Limits? Five time Mr. Universe, six times Mr. Olympia, he is better known as The Terminator, Conan the Barbarian and half a dozen other roles where his physical size and granitic strength of personality spawned a classic character. Limits? This is Arnold Schwarzenegger, California’s Governor–one of the most– if not the most, recognized human beings on the planet. So what limits?

In a word, moguls.

Standing above upper River Run’s egg crated face, Schwarzenegger admits because he didn’t ski as a kid, he now lacks a requisite quickness in bumps. “You haf to start very young to ski moguls well,” he reflects in the strong Austrian accent that is as much signature as his striated biceps and huge thighs. “It’s like a boxers reflex to pull his head back from a punch. You have to start at a very young age so that you react without thinking. I never got to that point and because I’m a physical guy…..it’s frustrating! I always want to go all out but it’s not possible. After moguls, I can ski powder, the ice, steeps…..I’m willing to try anything but my reflexes are not always there. I’ve had incredible days where I skied with Franz Klammer, Tony Sailer, Franz Weber and Jean Claude Killy. Yah, they grind you, but I skied everything they did and they always complimented me on my skills.”

Well, ok, but you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger. What are they going to say? You ski like a girly man? ”

Adi Erber!  The Ski Professor!

Adi Erber! The Ski Professor!

“Austrians are different,” he disagrees. “Those guys would never compliment you unless they believed it. Austrians always mention the negative first and if they still remember it, they’ll include the positive. When I ski with those guys, they’re comfortable and confident enough to say, ‘You’re stiff, cramped up……what’s the matter with you?

Born on July 30, 1947 in Tahl, Austria, Schwarzenegger still sees himself as a man of the mountains and admits, where Maria needs the ocean, he is drawn to the high country. His father was a policeman and each Sunday would take the family wandering from one farmhouse to another. Because Arnold feels complete in the mountains, he spends as much time as possible in Austria or Sun Valley and admits, “I feel this is what life is all about, a foundation from which I can work.”

Today, along with Adi Erber, he is skiing with Franco Colombo, the 1976 Mr. Olympia. Since Franco is an admittedly intermediate skier, you would expect Arnold to take a few courtesy runs with his old competitive rival, then politely put his foot to the wood. Yet, he proves to be endlessly patient. While demonstrating a carved turn to Colombo, Arnold is careful to stick to groomed runs–mainly College and Ridge Run, where the snow has been groomed into a forgiving corduroy face.

Adi Erber, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joe Colombo

Adi Erber, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Colombo

So how does Schwarzenegger get in shape for skiing?

He first dismisses the question then confesses, “It doesn’t make any difference what I think or do! I’ve trained so much and my background is so different. The key is, people should never look for a quick solution. In forty years of being involved in fitness and sports, I’ve never found an easy answer to any problem. It just doesn’t exist. Does not exist!” Here a cutting ridicule shades his deep Austrian accent. “All the fad diets, all the short cuts, all the rubber belts that sweat around your waist, all the quick diet pills, the secret machines…….all are nonsense. The thing you must understand is fitness is like eating and sleeping, it will be around until you die. There is no rush. “

Arnold Bending the Herminator's Checkerboards

Arnold Bending the Herminator's Checkerboards

That disclaimer on the record, he admits he starts two months before ski season with isometric leg exercises against the wall, leg extensions and calf raises. Closer to ski season he’ll work out heavier and with more reps and only stop when he feels the kind of burn that occurs when he skis Bald Mountain top to bottom without stopping.

He says, “During the last thousand vertical feet when my thighs start to burn, I search for moguls to make it really burn. When I feel that burn, I know I’m hitting those fibers that I need to ski strong. The final thing is I stretch more. Not because stretching makes you a better skier, but if you fall forward or slam into a mogul and lack flexibility, you can tear an Achilles tendon. If you can gain an extra half-inch of flexibility by doing calf raises, calf stretches, or lifting your leg on a table and bringing your head forward, or stretching your leg backward to stretch your hip flexors, then you reduce your chance of injury. It makes no sense for anything else.”

Now 55, it has been twenty-two years since “Terminator” hurled Schwarzenegger at mainstream America– thirty-eight since he was he crowned Mr. Universe for the first time (only twenty years old, he was youngest man ever to win the title). In the intervening three decades he has starred in over two dozen movies including the lesser-known body building epics “Stay Hungry” and “Pumping Iron.” There was the classic “Conan the Barbarian” series which showcased Arnold’s surrealistic biceps, calves, quads, pecs and lats (as well as a hundred other muscles middle American men didn’t know they had) at the same time it framed his accent–a deep mélange of English accented Austrian that left many viewers scratching their heads. When “Saturday Night’s” Hanz and Franz pilloried his accent and critics shot gunned his acting, Schwarzenegger laughed harder than anyone–all the way to the bank. Like Croesus, he methodically built a real estate and business empire, the true worth of which can only be guessed at. He also courted and married Maria Shriver, started a family and served on the President’s Council on Fitness.

Sliding to a stop at the base of the mountain, he appears to materialize in the line waiting for the Warm Springs Quad. Schwarzenegger is as much presence as man but skiers surprisingly do not immediately recognize him and when they do, are first shocked then delighted. Schwarzenegger in the flesh is the square jaw and forehead, the light brown hair– whether it is dyed for public, or dyed for “Terminator,” or not dyed at all, there is no gray and, few lines around his eyes.

There is also no mistaking his broad shoulders, narrow waist, solid buttocks and massive legs. Six two, two hundred and twenty five pounds, he is well built and obviously in shape, but he is not huge, not a giant that towers above this rainbow colored sea of Gore-Tex, plastic and carbon fiber.

He confesses his physique often depends on the movie. “I’ll alter my physique to conform with a part,” he says. The body should be a backdrop, to show the character has been around, is tough and can handle himself, but not a competitive body builder.”

Loading the Warm Spring quad, Schwarzenegger offers Colombo a few tips, teases Adi in German, then switching easily to English, focuses on his nearly forgotten heart valve replacement. He says he had a heart murmur since birth that never bothered him. As he aged, the murmur grew louder and his doctor suggested he correct it between movies. During the operation, the surgeons discovered he was born without a leaf on his aortic valve. The condition is so rare, the doctors wanted to preserve it for future reference. To avoid the regimen of blood thinners and anti rejection drugs needed to maintain a pig, or artificial valve, Schwarzenegger opted for a human heart valve. His doctor promised him that, following the operation, he would have tremendous energy.

But even that was an understatement. While tabloid stories claimed that Maria had to help him from bed to the toilet, Arnold was back on his Life Cycle six days after they closed him up. “I came back very fast,” he admits. “I was on the road promoting Batman six weeks later. Part of it was I had a movie to promote and a major part was my family supported me.” Because he has never been out of shape, he neglects to add his physical conditioning played a critical role.”

Arnold With Fan

Arnold With his Dairy Herd

Today, along with a winter white scar running between his legendary pecs, he possesses a tremendous drive and energy. A typical day begins at 6:00 a.m. when he rises and spends a half hour swimming or cycling. “Truthfully, I’m addicted to training,” he says. “It releases a chemical that hits the brain and makes me feel fresh and energetic…if I don’t train in the morning I feel lethargic.

Though he confesses he used bodybuilding as a vehicle to immigrate to America he holds no illusions about its relative importance to world peace or finding a cure for cancer. Twenty plus years after he won his last major competitive title, he admits, “I always thought that body building, running around the world posing to prove who was the best built man was stupid. Even during my height of competition, looking in the mirror I would think how insane…..but no more insane than chasing after a golf ball. You’ve got to be able to step back, take a look at this, and say,……it’s all just to entertain ourselves. You can’t take any of this too seriously.”

“I was secure about myself and didn’t need body building to prove a point. I never ran around on the beach pumped up trying to attract attention. There were times when I would go up to body builders with their arms out like they’re posing and say, ‘exhale, you’re blue in the face already!’ What’s that all about? That’s why I was never sensitive about the media when they ridiculed bodybuilding and some of my movies. My feelings weren’t hurt, I was casual about it, I thought, ‘let’s move on!”

“I believe the most important thing in life is to have a dream, and a vision of where you want to go. I always had a vision, a clear dream…..I dreamt of coming to America, of becoming a world champion in body building and doing movies in Hollywood. I dreamt of being a successful businessman. I also realized that as soon as I achieved a certain success in body building, I needed to use that success as a tool to inspire and help other people.”

His sincerity is not rehearsed, and for that reason not out of place on this detachable chairlift in Central Idaho. Warming to his subject he continues, “A powerful dream of mine is to help inner city kids, or Special Olympians…..there is much I can do with the power of my movies….not only the visual power, but because kids will listen to me, the Special Olympians who recognize that I care about them, or the inner city kids who will listen when I tell them, ‘don’t take drugs, don’t get involved in selling drugs, or gangs, or guns or violence. No has ever been successful doing that, but people have become successful by having a dream and working toward it….by overcoming those obstacles every day.’ Success is not the (social or economic) standing you have in life, success is the ability to overcome obstacles.”

Reaching the summit, Arnold, Adi and Franco follow the groomed College Run to Flying Squirrel and eventually to Baldy’s shadowed north face where they break for lunch in the massive log, Warm Springs Lodge. Acknowledging the other skiers delighted stares with brief nods, and the occasional hello, Arnold buys a pizza, Caesar Salad and a chocolate covered biscotti cookie then returns to a sunny table where he provides the focus for the entire lodge.

This may be one of the few times he will sit still long enough to ask about the secret to his success……and energy. Pausing over his lunch, Schwarzenegger points out, “The secret is you don’t subtract anything from your life. You add things to your life, not subtract them. The last timed I played my father- in-law in tennis, if I hadn’t used a trick shot, he would have won. The secret is to stay active mentally and physically.”

“I remember when I lived in Austria people would sit on a porch and smoke a pipe and complain about their chronic this and chronic that…..” He pauses to put the chocolate-coated biscotti cookie on Franco’s plate. Franco takes a knife and scrapes at the chocolate then shakes his head, “I can’t eat this, it’s loaded with chocolate!”

“Eat it, it’s from Sardinia,” Schwarzenegger tells him.

Franco studies it again then shrugs, takes a bite and says, “When I came to the USA, Ronald Reagan was president at 75. In Italy people retire when they’re sixty!”

Arnold interrupts, “If Reagan hadn’t gotten sick, he would have been in shape for a long time. I saw him lift a fifty-pound dumb bell in the Oval Office with one arm. Just put it over his head….Boom!”

It’s how you see yourself. Read my Encyclopedia about mind and body. The physical training helps the mind and the right mental attitude helps the body. If you can’t see your bicep being 22 inches, you’ll never get a 22 inch bicep!”

Warming to his subject, he points out, “Before Columbus Ohio, no one had ever lifted over five hundred pounds in the clean and jerk because they were afraid of five hundred pounds! Afraid! So in Columbus they lifted a record 499 pounds. When they rolled it onto the scale it weighed 501. From that point on that same year, eight other guys lifted over five hundred pounds. You have to train your mind, or else it won’t happen.”

For the past three decades Schwarzenegger has embodied the perfect male physique. The problem is he’s 61 years old and though he looks ten years younger and projects the energy of a 20 year old, how much longer can he maintain his amazing pace? Governor, businessman, celebrity, father, husband….?

The Defintion of Growing Old is Giving up What You Love. Arnold Curling in His Driveway

The Defintion of Growing Old is Giving up What You Love. Arnold Curling in His Driveway

Schwarzenegger takes a final bite of pizza, pushes the plate away and shakes his head. He is arguably the world’s most recognized man, perhaps more famous than the Pope. Along with his incredible energy he possesses a palpable self-confidence and an undeniable ambition that propelled him from humble beginnings in Tahl, Austria to an icon. By sheer force of will he has pumped himself into a kind of international alpha male. But, does he consider himself a success?

Arnold Schwarzenegger Celebrates Above Sun Valley, Idaho

Arnold Schwarzenegger Celebrates Above Sun Valley, Idaho

He has to think for a moment before admitting, “I sometimes feel like I’m a fire marshal putting out fires. By evening if I can overcome the daily obstacles and accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, then yes I feel like I’m a success.”

It is difficult not to envy Schwarzenegger. Born in Austria, he is the embodiment of the American Dream. He has it all, wealth, fame, a beautiful wife and healthy children. In the final analysis, however, he is still human, still mortal and one day all this will come to a crashing end. How do you survive between here and there? How do you face the consequence of living a full, long life?

Schwarzenegger pauses to think, then says, “I believe your body is inspired by your mind and no matter how strong your body is, if your mind is not equally strong, you will not perform well….. you will lack the necessary energy. I think if you set high goals and have interesting things you wish to accomplish, rather than the same dull things in your life, you can have tremendous energy and endurance to a very late age. To me, it is critical to work on things that are new, different, fun and bring joy to you.”

But, we’ve got to settle on an age here. When would Schwarzenegger be willing to cash in his chips? Seventy? Eighty? Ninety?

He is extremely serious when he says, “I don’t think there is a rule because I think it isn’t the amount of years but the life you live. Some people live to sixty and have such a rich life and contribute so much they are far ahead of many people who live to be 90 and have been miserable for the past 30 years. I love life, I hate the thought of dying one day……I think it is one of the few things you can’t control. You can improve the quality of your life by training, but eventually you die. I think you can determine, ‘now I want to go,’ or ‘now I don’t want to go’……but that is all.”

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