The taming of the saw

The problem, clearly, was the cold. The old lodge on the Beaverkill in which we planned to spend the winter was built in the 1920s, before the rising cost of oil created the need for three-paned glass and modern insulation. By today’s standards the once four- season lodge was now at best a summer home. There was a furnace of sorts, built for coal and later converted to burn oil at less than 40 percent efficiency. And the fireplace, a great stone maw that devoured all the fire’s heat and a good deal more besides, was an even greater liability. When the wind blew across the chimney’s mouth, it was like a giant pulling on a corncob pipe, and unless the flue was tightly shut, the pages of your book would flutter in the draw.

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A wood stove seemed to be the answer.

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We found a used one quickly enough, a friend’s donation, its rusted interior still serving as the lodging for two mice and a decade’s worth of shop debris. The mice crept gullibly into Havahart traps set with peanut butter (the rodents’ bait of choice) and were bused to a lakeshore some miles to the east.

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The wood was another matter. There was no shortage on the lot: its forty-odd acres were thick with deadfall and standing maple, beech, and other hardwood, seasoned upright and ready to be felled, split, and stacked. But the bucksaw–a museum piece of my father’s childhood, still hanging in the toolroom and sharp enough despite its years –could hardly keep up with the demand of the cold months ahead, which was estimated to be six or eight cords. When our friend the stove donor threw in the offer of a chain saw for the season, I readily accepted.

A chain-saw operator can fell and section a tree for splitting in a fraction of the time required with ax and manual saw. Hard work, of course, was part of the appeal of the place, but we had no hydraulic splitter. All work with wedge and maul would still be done by hand. By my reckoning, splitting six or eight cords over the coming months would constitute an adequate amount of outdoor labor. Sure, I said, I’ll borrow your saw.

The chain saw holds a particular position in the average suburban- bred psyche. It wasn’t an aspect of daily life in the town of my childhood, where firewood arrived in the back of a dump truck, paused briefly on the back porch, and eventually went into the fire.

Instead the tool was a film prop. Who can erase the image of the man-child in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? The tool performs a grisly task in Scarface–Naow zee leg, hunh? –and is given a walk- on part in many other movies. Hollywood has branded the chain saw as an embodiment of psychosis and unbridled mayhem. And the machine provides its own sound effects–a roar almost as terrifying and aggressive as images of the blade in contact with flesh.

The chain saw’s portrayals in legend do little to allay one’s sense of its inherent malevolence. The tale of the logger pinned beneath a fallen tree of impossible diameter, forced to cut one or both legs off with the tool and then drag himself, like Monty Python’s Black Knight, legless through thirty miles of icy woods, is subject to infinite and often epic variation.

A new bar and chain were required for the beat-up saw, so I took it to the saw dealer, a neighbor who works out of his home. On his mantelpiece stood a row of gleaming figures, each holding high a golden laurel wreath. I read the engraved plaques on marble bases: First Place, County Chainsaw Competition, 1987. Second Place, Third Place, First Place, 1988, 1989, 1990. Chain-saw trophies from one end of his mantelpiece to the other.

“All won with this saw right here. The one I work with.” He indicated a large German model sitting smugly in its open case.

He produced a stack of calendars, each month a different saw, a different champion. He opened one to reveal the present world champ in the custom class. The man held a modified saw the size of a Yugo, huge exhaust pipes sweeping back, the bar three-quarters through a horizontal log. Smoke and sawdust filled the atmosphere behind the champion. Sweat ran down his arms.

“Twenty-inch-diameter pine,” the dealer said.

“How long did he take to make the cut?”

“Two seconds. At the outside.”

He looked down at the pictured saw with unconcealed awe and shook his head.

“Nothing like it. I tell you, you should go to one of these saw competitions. It’ll change your life.”

With the new bar and chain came a thin booklet on chain-saw handling, a welcome document that I read carefully twice before setting hand to saw. It warned of the physics of the beast –the infamous kickback, caused by several possible circumstances but most notably the tip’s catching on another surface. This can send the machine careering up and into a face or throat, its power diverted from the chain into the body of the saw. Other possibilities, less vivid but still formidable, were laid out simply, the precautions to be taken clear. To clarify the potential of kickback, the saw dealer had zealously dealt me another anecdote, this one with the legitimacy of a professional source.

An acquaintance of his stopped one evening to cut up a tree lying dead by the side of the road. He worked quickly in the dimming light, eager to get home, and didn’t see the burl waiting for his blade. With a quick jerk the saw kicked back and fell to the ground from his hands. That was close, he said to himself, and reached down to continue the job. Then he felt the warmth from the severed carotid artery in his torn throat, and he lay down on the roadside to die. The next moment he reconsidered–there were children, a young wife–and with a balled-up rag pressed against the wound he tried to make it into town. He chanced to come up behind an off- duty ambulance and was saved. By the time they got him stitched up, he had lost more than half his blood.

I finished the safety booklet and set out with heavy tread for the woodpile. Wearing shatterproof glasses, stout orange silencers, and rawhide gloves, I felt underprepared for an event that seemed to warrant a great heaume, hauberk, and greaves. I started the saw with a tug, ready for a kickback to beeline for my vitals. Spared evisceration in the starting, I poised for the first cut while the engine warmed. Several moments passed. Perhaps I should move the woodpile into the garage first, I mused, what with the coming of rain . . . Coward! Make the damn cut! The teeth nibbled delicately on the bark. Small chips flecked against my boots. The manual had advised that I operate at maximum rpm to reduce the possibility of kickback. With the trigger clenched and the engine howling at full throttle, the teeth took another taste. Bare wood gleamed; the dust blew golden on my pant cuffs. I allowed the saw to take long, steady gulps of the seasoned beech, snarling, vibrating deep into my upper arm, deceptively still, descending slowly and easily through the narrow width

The section tumbled off into the leaves and the saw took a breath. I released the trigger. Hum-a-ding-ding-ding-a-ding-ding–it idled pleasantly like any healthy two-stroke motorcycle engine. I examined the chain, now still and wet with oil. The dust that had gathered where the chain slinks into the machine’s innards was wet and gummy, like sedimenting grass on the bottom of a lawn mower.

Soon the pile was cut to length, the weapon more comfortable, if still unwelcome, in the hand. With the light step of a man who has cheated death, I stacked the hour’s quick work and made it back inside as the first raindrops fell. The stove was fed for the night.

In the weeks to come I would tame the saw, learn its nature, acknowledge the enormous boost in productivity. I raced the stove and soon outstripped it. The woodpiles climbed faster than they could be devoured. Trees fell by the dozens, suddenly. Deadfall simply disappeared.

And now the fear of the machine is gone, leaving only the respect required for safe use. The chain saw is no longer a film prop but a simple tool that has saved hours of hard work.

And how I hate the thing: its roar, its stink, its jarring vibration, its very presence a transgression in the quiet of the woods. Perhaps most of all I dislike its efficiency. I now understand the mulish refusal of Tolstoy’s serfs to give up their antiquated tools. It’s more than a question of aesthetics, of an offended ear or nose. Nor is it simply stubbornness–that what is new must be worse. I suppose it’s the intuitive awareness that what relieves us of our labor removes us from our lives. We grow more frail and dim-witted with each invention that outstrips us. It is this sense of robbery, of loss, that makes us cringe at technology’s advance.

And yet the bucksaw hangs in the garage. We simply need the wood.

Alone At The Top: On April 18, 2005, Vail Mountain was home to seven bowls, 34 lifts, 193 trails, 5,289 skiable acres–and precisely one skier

Byline: Paul Hochman; Deborah Marks

A true, enlightening tale of interest to anybody who’s ever dodged a snowboarder, cursed a liftline, lunged for a lunch table, raced for an untracked line or sought a moment of quiet solitude atop any of America’s most popular mountains.

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Fast. It feels fast–that’s the only way to describe it. Weightless, free. I drop over a blind knoll, the tips of my ears burning in the wind. I don’t care what’s ahead. Adrenaline has trumped good judgment. So I go faster, this time over another blind knoll and suddenly into the wide open, onto a corduroy boulevard that stretches out before me and rolls into the distance like Gatsby’s last dream. With the trails empty as far as the eye can see, the only injury I’m risking is a cramp in my cheek from a wide, permanent grin. And then, because I can, I stop.

“Hello Hello Hello Hello?”

Nothing. I try again: “Hey! Is anybody out there?” Nobody says anything, because today, here at Vail, there is nobody.

There’s only the sound of the wind whistling across the steel cable of a Doppelmayr quad, which sits empty and unmoving at the top of Swingsville. The chairs sway a little in the breeze, but otherwise there is stillness. Even Vail’s wildlife–the paranoid squirrels, the larcenous noonday jackdaws–are out of sight.

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“Vail for one,” the editor had said. “Everything groomed and open. Just for you. We can make it happen. Interested?”

Vail is the nation’s most visited ski resort. On a typical midseason weekend day, the mountain might play host to 17,000 skiers and snowboarders. But for one day in April, I’d have America’s most popular alpine playground to myself. More than 5,000 acres, dozens of lifts, seven bowls. I could ski where I wanted, when I wanted, as fast as I wanted–and then find a good table at lunch. This was to be a one-off event, the editor explained, an experiment in fantasy fulfillment. There’d be a handful of other folks on the hill–people to turn the lifts on and off as I needed them, various resort officials going about their end-of-season business, a photographer, obviously–but I’d be the only real skier on the mountain. Was I interested? Who hasn’t spent an hour stuck in a liftline; who hasn’t been shushed by a librarian; who hasn’t done what they were told for 40 years and wished for a little freedom? Oh, I was interested.

8:30 a.m.: Independence Day Dawns

I’m so excited my teeth are swimming. You know the feeling: You’ve done the clomp-clomp through the snowy parking lot, and now all that’s left is the ride up.

The excitement, though, has taken its toll, and the bathroom at Lionshead is locked. From a practical standpoint, this makes sense. When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go, but everybody’s gone, so they’ve closed it. I spy the employee lav through an open door in an abandoned ticket office and slip inside.

When I emerge back into the empty sunlight, I notice the gondola has been started up by an unseen hand and is now humming loudly. Or it seems loud because there is no other sound–the plaza is empty of people, music, excited chatter.

The moment reminds me of the morning my brother and I pulled into the parking lot at Disneyland after an overnight drive from Las Vegas. It was about 7:30 a.m. We were the first ones there. When they opened the park, we walked through the turnstiles, headed straight for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and boarded an empty boat. But something was wrong: They’d forgotten to turn on the sound. All we could hear as we floated through the dark tunnels was the clack-clack of animatronic dummies lifting pints of ale in a mute rendition of “Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.” Occasionally, the smoke machines would hisssss as cannons went off with no boom.

I find the same out-of-context silence in the base area at Vail. Interestingly, though, and despite the unnatural quiet, it’s a full workday for the cleanup crew. Yesterday, the ski season’s last official day, was an alpine bacchanal, with barbecues, cocktails and more than a few bad ideas, as evidenced by the lace bra hanging in a tree by the pedestrian bridge. Today, as I walk over to the lift building, the plaza next to the gondola begins to show signs of life; the morning-after team with their Glad bags and work gloves has begun its glum search for aluminum and plastic.

That’s when I experience my own version of the universal daydream about waking up nude at the SAT. Only in this case, I’m not nude but, rather, I’m the only one in the plaza wearing a ski ensemble while everybody else is in overalls. Yesterday, I’m a skier. Today, I’m mistaken. They: Carhartts. Me: Fancypants.

“Dude. Place is closed,” someone says. That’s what you think. I walk into the gondola building. Empty. Cabins sliding on their track. Finally a nice lift guy there comes out of the control room and says, “Welcome.” But his eyes betray a 93-octane envy. He knows.

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The gondola doors shut behind me, the cabin sways suddenly, and I fly out of the building and soar up and above the empty trails. Below me and all around, there is nothing but open space. It’s like a mirage. A hundred million square yards of corduroy wait for an arc, a slice, a parenthesis. I instinctively turn to share the thrill, to backslap somebody in the gondola. Nope, that’s right, I forgot: I’m on my own.

9:15 a.m.: The First First Tracks

At the top of the hill, I walk onto the snow, drop my skis and click in. I couldn’t possibly be happier. I could take a left or a right or do nothing. Or all three. It may not be a coincidence that the first trail I see on the way up is called Born Free, and the first trail I pick for the way down is named Avanti, Italian for “Go!”

So I do. I pole out onto the gladed flats above Avanti’s long, steep middle pitch and start to feel the speed build. And build. Just for the fun of it, I scare myself silly. Then I slow down. Then I go fast again. Trees whip by. Lift towers disappear. It’s quiet. The hill comes up to meet me, and I fly through the scenery.

It should be noted here that skiing fast is fun. But skiing fast when there are no snowboarders sitting on their duffs tying their shoes on the blind side of a dropoff is bliss. It takes a while to get to bliss, though. First, I have to make it past guilt. Whether I like it or not, I was raised a Yankee Calvinist–an Easterner who likes to keep his pleasure under wraps. Things that feel good, you know, are universally held to be morally wrong.

In fact, like most skiers, I realize at this moment that I’m not conditioned to seek bliss. I’m conditioned to avoid a lawsuit. Still, 10 turns into my first run, I can’t believe how exciting it is to make huge, slightly scary super G-size arcs without having to look up the hill to see if somebody is going to blindside me.

Just above the base of Lift 2, I stop to listen: nothing but wind, a couple of birds somewhere, and the chatter of a few hundred aspen leaves shimmying in a rogue gust. And then, far off, I hear a voice. It’s a lift operator, talking on his phone a few hundred yards below me. Pieces of sentences and muffled consonants float up to me in soft drifts. I’ve heard this kind of thing before, on summer nights next to a lake, when single words can travel long distances, like telegrams, on the humid air. I ski down and go up again.

10:30 a.m.: Castaway

I’m scared. Well, not scared in the same way Tom Hanks was when he was stuck on that island in that movie, because let’s face it: In about an hour and a half, they’re opening Two Elk Lodge and I’ll be having the glazed duck.

What I’m scared about, I guess, is that without anybody to share this amazing day with, and after each successive ride, I wonder if I’m really having this experience at all.

11:30 a.m.: Transcendence?

Skiing alone for hours is transcendent in the same way running long distances can change you. At first, there are distractions–thoughts that intrude on your actions, muscular complaints, stray dreams that pop to the surface like soda bubbles. And you can’t help but focus on the external stuff, like the beauty of the day, the thrill of knowing that while a million things could have gone wrong, none of them did, and you’re here.

But after three hours of skiing solo, a lot of life’s daily considerations fade in the glare of repetition. Run after run, turn after turn, with no one to talk to, and nobody to fuel your most basic need to show off, or to complain, or to shout, the rumble and glide of the activity lulls you into an active, meditative fog.

That’s when I turn left at the top of Lift 11 and head over to take what turns out to be the greatest run of my life.

At this point in the late morning, I’m getting very tired. My legs have a dull but not yet debilitating ache, and my lungs are starting to get chafed by the dry air. So I decide I’ll distract myself with a long, cool change of pace. At the top of Lift 11, with my back to I-70 and my front to Blue Sky Basin, I glide over to a part of Vail that’s usually either empty or, in the way traffic jams sometimes coalesce out of nothing, packed to the rafters.

Today, of course, it’s empty. In fact, part of the transcendent nature of this day springs from the way my choices take no time. No stopping to consider the hour, the place, the weather, anything. Just movement for its own sake. It’s one of the few times I can remember since childhood that my breathing, my skiing, my life has been utterly without brakes, totally without friction.

I turn left and head down, fast, toward the long road that rides along the crest of one of Vail’s best north-facing trails, Northstar. To get there, I take a quick glide along Timberline Catwalk and then a left, and drop down onto its first pitch. I lay my hip over, almost parallel with the hill, and begin the first of what I hope will be a hundred huge, perfect turns.

The trail’s first steep has a series of giddy, diving rolls that, if timed right, let you soar inches over them, and then, cradling you in your own weightlessness, drop you softly into the compression at the bottom of each. This goes on for half a mile. Ahead of me, I see where Northstar merges with Northwoods, a steep, rolling boulevard so enormous, so dense with choices, I can feel myself getting pulled into its orbit.

And that’s when it happens. For no apparent reason, I throw my skis sideways and stop. I was worried about something. I don’t know what. Somehow, after all the freedom, after all the open, free sailing, and despite hours of evidence to the contrary, I don’t trust the emptiness. I haven’t yet truly let myself go. I’ve been pretending. Kidding myself. A stupid, private anger rises up in me and I let out a shout. This is the chance of a lifetime. What the hell am I waiting for?

11:45 a.m.: The Best Run of My Life

Northwoods is a gigantic version of Northstar, with a series of swells that resemble frozen tidal waves. In a fit of pique, or clarity, or both, I decide to surf the thing–to let the terrain take me where it wants to go. Close to the edge? Fine. Near the islands of spruce trees that split the trail in two? Why not. So fast I may or may not fall? OK. Whatever. Go.

And so I do, skiing faster and faster, until my skis no longer turn in the snow, they just tap-tap-tap across little frozen wavelets, over small jagged imperfections. The clatter is hypnotic. The tiny, percussive pops under my feet crawl up my legs, run through my hips and groin, rattle my guts and sweep across my chest and shoulders. There’s a hum in my ears, and a roar, too. My lips feel like they’ve just been kissed. Avanti, baby. Go.

12:30 p.m.: Sirens in Stretch Pants

Lunchtime is when I discover I’m not alone on the island. Or, perhaps, I’ve skied so long and so hard and have spent so much time not thinking, I’m starting t o hallucinate. Yeah. That must be it.

Because right there in front of me, so close I could reach out and touch them, are 10 beautiful women in tight ski pants, arching their backs, pouting their lips, pushing out their chests and generally acting like they’re starring in a bad beer commercial.

Actually, it looks like there might be 20 of them. I smile the smile of a man dying of thirst who knows without a doubt that the watery oasis before him is a mirage, but who is still aware enough to appreciate the beauty of the lie.

This is what has happened: I have come up to the top of Lift 14 for lunch, to the timbered hugeness of Two Elk Lodge, and by some quirk, the manager thinks I’m part of a group of 20. There’s enough food in front of me to feed the Denver Broncos. Tacos, steak, tortellini, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, julienned potatoes, peanut butter (jelly somewhere, I’m sure), soup, pizza, drinks and about a bushel of french fries.

I’m hungry, but still distracted–the fake women cavorting outside are giggling their mirage giggles and shaking their mirage behinds, and I’m not really sure what to do. It dawns on me that even though the restaurant manager is talking to me, and his radio crackles with the sound of somebody somewhere talking about snowcats, I can’t deal with reality quite yet. Assuming this is reality.

It doesn’t help that the women in my dream choose that moment to walk past me speaking Swedish. They’re like sirens in stretch pants. And though I’ll find out later that they’re models shooting a skiwear catalog, right then, I realize I need to get a tray and step outside, to the other side of the lodge, where it’s quiet. At a picnic table on the ridge, I’m alone again, and my breathing returns to normal. I eat, then head out for one last run.

The name of the trail I pick for my solo swan song–Slot–doesn’t do justice to the round perfection of its porcelain-cereal-bowl openness. I turn down into its big, wide embrace and start skiing again, in long, open arcs. The bowl is empty and warm and sunny. After about 25 turns, it occurs to me that the trail is like one of Willy Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstoppers–no matter how long you let it dissolve, the candy lasts forever.

With no trees and no other skiers, my perspective gets skewed, to the point where I’m quickly back at open-throttle, and weightless, too.

I turn to my right, and then to my left to share the moment with somebody else. I’m alone.


Chances are you won’t have America’s most-visited ski resort to yourself. But a few proven strategies and some local intel can make Vail feel a little bit more like your own.


Vail resident and ski instructor Allen Smith has a simple but effective piece of advice for anybody looking to beat the rush: Get out of bed early. Officially, Vail’s lifts open at 9 a.m.–although, in the heart of the season, you can often grab a chair as early as 8:30. Be there, or be prepared to share. “I’ve had some of my best experiences before 9:30, and most runs are consistently underskied until 10,” Smith says. Your quest for first chair will be aided if you can skip the ticket window. Some of the longest, slowest lines every morning are at the resort’s ticket offices. Avoid wasted time by purchasing multiday passes in advance. You can also buy tickets online at

If you’re driving in for the day, ride the bus (A). Resist the urge to follow the flow of traffic from I-70 to the large parking structures. Instead find a spot on the street, close to the in-town shuttle route. The largest free ski-bus system in North America will take you straight to one of Vail’s three base areas within minutes. While the sheep who parked in the garage are lugging gear down four flights of stairs and hoofing through the slippery streets of the village, you can scarf a granola bar and get dropped off close to the lifts. But which lifts?

Start from Golden Peak (B) if you can. The Vail Village (C) and LionsHead (D) base areas can be frenzied between 8:30 and 10 in the morning, so unless you’re staying at one of the ski-in/ski-out lodges there, you’re well-advised to avoid those spots. In any event, on your way to the chair, be sure to grab a daily grooming report, passed out liberally by mountain hosts at all base areas. “It’s the best way to get the scoop for the day,” says Vail Ski Patrol director Julie Rust. The report may direct you toward runs such as Riva Ridge (E), the mountain’s longest trail at a whopping four miles, or Blue Ox (F). They’re typically groomed top to bottom on Fridays and Saturdays, respectively, which makes them great places to start. If you’re already on the mountain, you can always stop into the patrol hut (G) at the tops of lifts 4 and 11 and and ask about conditions.

Another highly effective–if not necessarily cheap–way to beat the crowds to the best of Vail is to hire a private instructor. Instructor Smith and his colleagues know the mountain intimately and–let’s cut to the chase here–they can get you to the front of the liftline. Cost: $595 per day for up to six people. Reserve in advance (800-475-4543 or


A great way to start is to take chair 6, the Riva Bahn Express (H), to chair 11, the Northwoods Express (I), which deposits skiers at the highest spot on the mountain.

Get a warm-up run on Swingsville (J) or Expresso (K), then hop on chair 4, the Mountain Top Express (L).

If you’d prefer to forgo a warm-up run and jump straight into the action, from the tops of chairs 4 and 11 you can drop right into Sun Up Bowl (M) by way of Headwall Ridge (N). “The time to catch it is when it’s been groomed at night and then covered with a foot or two of fresh,” says Smith. “It’s a great place for advanced-intermediate skiers to experience untracked powder.”

One key as you explore the mountain: Don’t backtrack.It could take you days if not weeks to ski every one of Vail’s almost 200 runs, but if you plan wisely, you can hit all of the Back Bowls before lunch. “Navigate the mountain from west to east,” suggests patrol director Rust. “And remember to keep moving.” Chairs 5 (O) and 17 (P) provide the most efficient route up the Back Bowlsbut, Rust advises, “Hit it hard and hit it fast.” Chair 5 is a local favorite, so it can get crowded.

Head east. Siberia Bowl and Inner and Outer Mongolia are aptly named–they’re usually sparsely populated. Cut tracks on Bolshoi Ballroom (Q) before working your way down Silk Road (R) to the Orient Express Chair (S) and back into China Bowl. “My favorite is Jade Glade (T), meandering in and out of the sparse trees,” says Smith. “This is what Vail is famous for: wide expanses of terrain where you can make 25-meter turns without worrying about skiing into anybody or anything.”

Lunch early. You’ll burn through that morning granola bar in a couple of hours and need to refuel. “Stop in early and skip the noon to 2 p.m. feeding frenzy,” says Rust. She likes Belle’s Camp in Blue Sky Basin (U) for a quick sandwich (and incredible views).

Don’t forget the frontside. The bowls get all the glory, but there are some great late-day conditions on the front of the mountain. You can find groomed intermediate runs off the Wildwood Express lift (V), or if you haven’t had enough of the bowls, drop into Game Creek via Ouzo Glade (W).

Kick back. If you’re on the lift by 8:30 a.m., you can get in an intense four to five hours of skiing (the average skier only puts in three hours a day) and be on the deck at Garfinkles under the LionsHead gondola (X) for the Broncos kickoff at 2 p.m. As everyone else is surfing the afternoon slush on lower Born Free, you’ll be enjoying some apres cocktails–and planning tomorrow’s attack.


We told you all along that FSU was the one

This is the time of year when many people like to reflect on the past. With that said, here is a look back at how TSN’s preseason picks fared:

  1. Florida State: Need we say more?
  2. Nebraska: Didn’t count on the bottom Calling out of the offense; inexperience, injuries to blame.
  3. Florida: See Florida State.
  4. Tennessee: To quote the preview. “Will Peyton Manning run for his life?” The answer was yes. The young offensive line never matured.
  5. Colorado: Buffs beat themselves against Michigan; rain and cold nipped whatever chance they had against the Huskers’ defense.
  6. USC and 7. Notre Dame: They belong together. The Trojans never found an offense; Notre Dame lost its hard drive at crucial moments. Irish fans may think that overtime turned a 10-1 team into an 8-3 team. More likely, it turned an 8-3 team into an 8-3 team.
  7. Miami: Lack of depth caused byNCAAprobation caught up to the ‘Canes on offense. Defense and special teams made Miami Big East co-champ.
  8. Texas: An awful start, but by the end of the season, the Longhorns made this pick look good. No team is hotter going into January 1.
  9. Auburn: Too young for this ranking. A green defense spent this season learning Bill Oliver’s complex scheme. Watch the Tigers next year.
  10. Iowa: No, really, we know what we are talking about. See Florida, Florida State.
  11. Penn State: And we quote, “No Roses, perhaps, but no funeral bouquets, either.” The Nittany Lions went 3-0, all against bowl teams, in November.
  12. Syracuse: The Orangemen did the cheap-suit routine when it counted. Don’t blame them for the loss to North Carolina. They’ll remember the losses to Minnesota and Miami for a long time.
  13. Ohio State: No one could have predicted the way the Buckeyes reassembled their offense. Too many people predicted the Buckeyes’ collapse against Michigan.
  14. Arizona State: We blew this one. The Sun Devils turned themselves around in mid-1995, drew confidence from their upset of Nebraska in September and never slowed down. Too bad the Super Alliance is two years too slow. A Seminoles-Sun Devils game remains a dream.
  15. Texas A&M: The secondary never came together. The rest of the defense fell apart. It will be a long winter and spring practice in Aggieland.
  16. Virginia: As usual, the Cavaliers are a 300-meter runner in a 400-meter race. Nice win over North Carolina, though.
  17. LSU: Right on the money. Need to work on that Florida/Alabama game plan, though. The Tigers lost their two big games by a combined 82-13.
  18. Virginia Tech: The Hokies battled through too many off-field problems and a tough November schedule to go 10-1. A deserving Alliance team.
  19. Oregon: Injuries consumed the Ducks, and their defense really missed coordinator Charlie Waters. A fourth-quarter collapse at Stanford in October cost the Ducks a bowl bid.
  20. Kansas State: The Wildcats are used to being underestimated. Still, they’ve got to score more than three points combined against Colorado and Nebraska to be taken seriously. Congrats on the Cotton Bowl.
  21. Alabama: Coach-elect Mike Dubose would like to take this time to announce that the quarterback position is wide open.
  22. Michigan: How can the team that won at Colorado and Ohio State be the team that lost at Purdue and lost its nerve in the fourth quarter at Northwestern?
  23. Clemson: Slow start, fast finish. To quote the preview: “The year will end better than it began.” Hear, hear.
  24. Northwestern: Owe you another apology, Gary.

Picks we wish we had back

  1. North Carolina
  2. Brigham Young
  3. Army (83?)
  4. Navy

Picks that peaked in August

  1. Kansas
  2. Boston College
  3. Indiana

The Big 12

Bowls products

Bowls products

Bowls products

Following are the dozen biggest events of 1996:

  1. Arizona State 19, Nebraska 0: The Kings are husked.
  2. The departures, en masse of some of the sport’s best coaches. Lou Holtz left Notre Dame after 11 seasons, saying over and over, “I do not feel good about this at all. I do feel it’s the right thing to do.” Gene Stallings got off the pedestal Alabama fans placed him on after he coached the Crimson Tide to the 1992 national title.

Others couldn’t leave on their own terms: Minnesota’s Jim Wacker, Indiana’s Bill Mallory, Kentucky’s Bill Curry and Pittsburgh’s Johnny Majors left or were asked to leave before they were ready. With Glen Mason’s decision last weekend to leave Kansas for Minnesota, there will be, in all, 23 Division I-A schools with new coaches in 1997. It may be the greatest drain on coaching talent in the history of the sport.

And it would have been worse had Grambling forced out Eddie Robinson after 54 seasons and 400 wins. University president Raymond Hicks reportedly asked Robinson to step down after the 77-year-old legend went 3-8 this season, the school’s worst mark since 1951. But Robinson asked for one more season and was granted his wish.

  1. Tremain Mack blocks a punt at West Virginia–and saves Miami’s season. The Hurricanes escaped Morgantown with a 10-7 victory when, with 29 seconds left, Mack blocked a punt that Jack Hallmon picked up and handed to Nate Brooks, who finished the 20-yard return by scoring a touch down. With the win, the Hurricanes were able to tie for their fifth Big East title in the league’s six seasons.
  2. John Mackovic’s faurth-and-inches call at the Texas 28 as the Longhorns tried to protect a 30-27 lead over Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game. With the Huskers bunched at the line, quarterback James Brown rolled left and flipped a pass to tight end Derek Lewis, who caught it and made the first down–with 61 yards to spare. Last week in New York, waiters interrupted Mackovic’s dinner order to congratulate him on the call.
  3. “There’s been a lot of finger-pointing at BC. What everyone &d was wrong, but who throws the first stone, know what I mean?”– Eagles quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, at the end of the week in which 13 teammates had been suspended for gambling. The scandal, which cost coach Dan Henning his job, highlighted the pervasiveness of gambling on campuses.
  4. Beating Danny Wuerffel–literally. The Florida State defense hit the Florida QB time and again, leading the No. 2 Seminoles to a 24-21 victory over the No. 1 Gators.
  5. The return of the service academies. Army and Navy combined for a 17-3 record before their meeting, which the Cadets won for the fifth consecutive year. Check that. Their seasons haven’t ended. Army plays Auburn in the Independence Bowl, and Navy plays Cal in the Aloha Bowl.
  6. Ron Dayne’s fumble against Northwestern. Wisconsin had a 30-27 lead and the ball near midfield with less than a minute remaining, when Dayne fumbled. Northwestern recovered at the Badgers’ 41 and two plays later scored the winning touchdown. Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez defends the call-Dayne hadn’t fumbled before and didn’t the rest of the season–but says if he sad it to do over again, he would call for quarterback Mike Samuel to sneak.
  7. Overtime. The fans loved it, the purists hated it and the reality is somewhere in between. Georgia A.D. Vince Dooley. the chair of the NCAAFootball RulesCommittee. says the group will look at ways to tweak the rule, such as moving the starting point of each possession from the 25- to the 30-yard line. Or after two overtimes, forcing each team to go for two points after a touchdown. The committee also will discuss whether overtime statistics should count. They did this season.
  8. Michigan’s 13-9 upset of 10-0 Ohio State though why anyone would label a Wolverines win over the Buckeyes an upset is silly. Michigan has won seven of the past nine meetings. Regardless, the Buckeyes still are going to their first Rose Bowl in 12 years.
  9. The first 20 minutes of the Florida-Tennessee game, in which the Gators scored 35 consecutive points and ended the Heisman hopes of Volunteers quarterback Peyton Manning. Behind an inexperienced offensive line, Manning threw four interceptions, although he did rally Tennessee in a 35-29 loss.
  10. Houston’s extravagant offer to its faculty, staff and students of two tickets plus bus transportation from Houston to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl. No better symbol could capture the depths from which Houston, which improved from 2-9 in 1995 to 74, has risen.

If the Super Alliance were here:

Bowls products 1

Bowls products 1

Bowls products 1

Sugar Bowl: Arizona State vs. Florida State.

Rose Bowl: Florida vs. Ohio State.

If the old days were here:

Orange: Nebraska vs. Florida State.

Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Virginia Tech.

Cotton: Texas vs. Tennessee.

Fiesta: Penn State vs. Colorado.

Next year’s their year

Yes, 1996 was good for the following teams, but 1997 is going to be better:

Clemson (2-3 start, 5-1 finish): By next year, the still-young defense will be a year older and the Tigers’ off-field problems will be a year further away.

Auburn (5-1 start, 2-3 finish): The Tigers are predominantly a freshman/sophomore team. Young players trying to learn new coordinator Bill Oliver’s complex pass defenses can result in allowing 22.6 points per game. In another year, watch out.

Stanford (2-5 start, 4-0 finish): The Cardinal showed a rare ineptitude on offense this season. But they had the defense to tide them over until the offense began to learn how to play. And redshirt freshman quarterback Chad Hutchinson is turning into The Next Stanford QB.

Now hear this

Iowa State’s Troy Davis, who last season became the first Division I-A running back to rush for 2,000 yards and not win the Heisman, did it again. Voters shied away from Iowa State and its 2-9 record, although Davis’ ability to rush for that amount of yardage in spite of playing for a 2-9 team is perhaps more impressive than any other performance.

In the pairs competition, the winners are Davis and Wisconsin freshman Ron Dayne, who didn’t start until the fourth game of the season yet broke every NCAA freshman rushing record. In 12 games, Dayne rushed for 1,863 yards and 18 touchdowns on a whopping 295 carries, all Big Ten highs, but didn’t make any All-American teams.

One man’s Heisman vote

  1. Jake Plummer, Arizona State: Great quarterback, leader and MVP on one of the two best teams in the nation.
  2. Danny Wuerffel, Florida: Overcame injury-plagued offensive line to lead the Gators to an 11-1 record while closing out a remarkable career.
  3. Orlando Pace, Ohio State: The best offensive tackle in many years. The Buckeyes say he is the best since 1869, the year collegefootballwas born.

December Madness

Texas (8-4) making the Alliance is the first taste college football has had of March Madness. The Longhorns played their way into the field, despite a poor start to the season. To the chagrin of the Western Athletic Conference, the Longhorns’ automatic bid likely prevented 13-1 Brigham Young from getting an at-large invitation to the Fiesta Bowl. The Fiesta picked No. 7 Penn State with its first selection and the Orange Bowl followed by taking No. 6 Nebraska.

Had the Huskers won the Big 12 championship, they would have played Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. The Orange would have taken 11-1 Florida and Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker says his game would have selected the Cougars. The affair left WAC officials sickened. Commissioner Karl Benson called for a vote of the 16 WAC presidents on the Friday before Selection Sunday on whether to proceed with legal action against the Alliance. He wanted them to vote what they thought, not what they felt after being snubbed. The vote went 13-2-1 against proceeding in the courts.

The WAC has proposed to the Alliance that if its champion–or the Conference USA champ–finishes in the top 12, it automatically be awarded a bid. The Alliance has yet to respond. It’s worth noting that BYU ranked 77th in schedule strength among the top 100 teams, according to the Sagarin ratings in USA Today.

Instant expert: your cheat sheet for the bowl season

* Southern California looks to win its third straight national title and 35th consecutive game. But the Trojans will have to dispense of Texas, a program rich in tradition but searching for its first national title since 1970.

* Some say Notre Dame doesn’t belong in a BCS game because it has two losses, but considering the Irish’s schedule, mass appeal and magical season under Charlie Weis, they have nothing to apologize for … except for losing to Michigan State.

* Auburn is the best team not playing in a BCS bowl. The Tigers have a swarming defense and a killer offensive line. Tackle Marcus McNeill and his big buddies open plenty of holes for Kenny Irons, who averaged 147.6 yards in his past six games.

* Oregon screamed that it was worthy of a BCS bid because it lost just once (to USC, by only 32 points!). The least we owe the Ducks is to tune in to their Holiday Bowl matchup against Oklahoma and see what all the yelling was about.

Bowls reviews

Bowls reviews

Bowls reviews


Want stars? USC’s Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush and Texas’ Vince Young are playing in the same game. It’s fitting this one is in L.A. because the pregame introductions should be conducted on the red carpet.

Want coaches? Joe Paterno returns to relevance by getting Penn State to the Orange Bowl. South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier goes to his first bowl game since the 2001 Orange. Barry Alvarez coaches his last game for Wisconsin before his retirement.

Want entertainment? It would be fun to watch Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick play backgammon, so imagine what a good time it will be seeing him in action against Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who led the nation with 20 sacks and 10 forced fumbles.

Want to get a jump on the NFL draft? Your team could do worse than landing any of these players: Virginia Tech cornberback Jimmy Williams, Boston College defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, Iowa linebacker Chad Greenway, Miami receiver Sinorice Moss or UCLA tight end Marcedes Lewis.

Bowls reviews 1

Bowls reviews 1

Bowls reviews 1


* The Rose Bowl is a national title game that’s as eagerly awaited as you are likely to find in a sport often dogged by computer number crunching. Texas and USC both are averaging, ahem, 50 points, so look for nonstop action–around the supersized halftime show and numbing stream of commercials and ABC promos.

* The best contrast of styles: Alabama vs. Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. The Crunching Tide allowed 10 or fewer points six times this season; the air-it-out Red Raiders average more than 10 points a quarter.

* If Ohio State-Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl doesn’t excite you, maybe you can take up knitting. Buckeyes linebacker A.J. Hawk figures to be a top 10 NFL pick, and Irish quarterback Brady Quinn will make a more serious run at the Heisman if he returns to South Bend next year.

* The best game before New Year’s Day: Miami-LSU in the Peach Bowl. Neither is where it wanted to be, but these are strong defensive teams with exceptional athletes on offense.


* The Trojans over the Longhorns, but not by much.

* Other BCS winners: Notre Dame, Georgia and Penn State.

* Highest-scoring game: UCLA-Northwestern, Sun Bowl.

* Lowest-scoring game: LSU-Miami, Peach Bowl.

* More likely to end with one loss, Oregon or TCU? TCU.


1 Team ever with two 1,000-yard rushers (Bush, LenDale White), a 1,000-yard receiver (Dwayne Jarrett) and a 3,000-yard passer (Leinart) in the same season. Meet the 2005 USC Trojans.

14 Five-loss teams that are going bowling. How many bowl games are too many?

5 Bowl teams from the state of Florida: Florida, Miami, Florida State, Central Florida and South Florida. It won’t be stunning if they go 0-5.

46.5 Average points by BYU in its past four games.

508 Rushing yards by West Virginia freshman quarterback Pat White–in his past three games.

Veltrop, Kyle

Football bowls over competition: ABC takes Thurs., Fri., Sat. with college, NFL fare

Gridiron action got the new year off to a winning start for ABC, which stood tall against the competition Thursday and Friday with college bowl games and Saturday with coverage of the NFL playoffs.

CBS, meanwhile, did only modest business on Friday with its headline-generating “Michael Jackson Number Ones” special.

The tribute special, originally scheduled to air in November but yanked after Jackson’s arrest on child molestation charges, averaged 10.6 million viewers and a 3.6 rating/11 share in the adults 18-49 demo from 8-9 p.m., according to preliminary estimates from Nielsen Media Research.

That’s slightly better than what CBS has averaged in the time slot in adults 18-49 with its freshman drama “Joan of Arcadia,” but not a big number considering the legal imbroglio that has enveloped its subject.

The Jackson special itself became the focus of news cover age last week amid allegations that CBS paid the singer an extra $1 million to give his first interview since his arrest to “60 Minutes.” CBS denied there was any payment for the interview but also said that it would not reschedule the “Number Ones” special until Jackson addressed the molestation allegations on a CBS News program.

best new bowls

best new bowls

best new bowls

ABC had no trouble taking Friday in viewers and key demos with its Fiesta Bowl coverage. Reliable estimates for ABC’s live telecast won’t be available until today, but preliminary estimates indicate that at least 13 million viewers turned out for Ohio State’s 35-28 victory over Kansas State.

NBC came in second for the night on Friday with an average of 10.9 million viewers and 3.1/9 in adults 18-49. Even against college football and CBS’ Jackson special, NBC’s “Dateline” (8.2 million, 3.3/10) delivered the peacock’s highest ratings in the 8-10 p.m. slot in eight months.

ABC dominated Saturday with its coverage of the first round of the NFL’s playoffs, which drew at least 22 million-23 million viewers to the network for the night, according to preliminary numbers.

best new bowls 2

best new bowls 2

best new bowls 2

On Thursday, the first night of 2004, ABC’s Orange Bowl coverage brought the network a rare Thursday night win. The University of Miami’s 16-14 win over Florida State averaged at least 13 million-16 million viewers in primetime. ABC’s Rose Bowl coverage of USC’s 28-14 triumph over Michigan also spilled over into the first hour of primetime on Thursday, delivering big demo ratings and at least 20 million viewers.

CBS placed second to ABC on Thursday (13.9 million, 4.2/11) with a slate of drama reruns led off by a special 8 p.m. airing of Sunday freshman “Cold Case,” followed by regulars “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “Without a Trace.”

Fox did only so-so business Thursday with the 9 p.m. conclusion of the “World Idol” sing-off competition (Part 1 aired to equally modest numbers on Christmas night) that crowned Norwegian Kurt Nilsen king of the amateur crooners. “World Idol” brought in 7.7 million viewers and 3.0/8 in 18-49, which nonetheless ranked as Fox’s best showing on Thursday since its “Michael Jackson’s Home Videos” special in April.

Broadcasters bowed to the inevitable on Wednesday and punted for the most part on New Year’s Eve by serving up reruns.

NBC had surprisingly solid returns at 8 p.m. with its “Most Outrageous Moments in Live Television” special (10.9 million, 3.3/12), which gave the peacock a narrow nightly win (8.3 million, 2.3/8) over ABC. The 10-11 p.m. primetime portion of ABC’s perennial “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve” special was on par with last year’s ratings with an average of 7.8 million viewers and 2.9/11 in adults 18-49.

Artists’ project helps the hungry

A small association of potters in Brooklyn, New York, are using their art to help feed the hungry in their community in a program that blends form and function. Inspired by an international hunger-relief effort called The Empty Bowls Project, the twenty-plus members of The Brooklyn Potters Group produce bowls that are then sold at a popular neighborhood Italian restaurant called Cucina. Donors can choose a handmade bowl in exchange for a minimum $25 contribution. Proceeds benefit CHIPS, a nonsectarian, community volunteer-based organization that has served the needs of the poor and homeless in Park Slope, Brooklyn, since 1972. Last year, CHIPS provided fifty thousand hot meals and gave shelter to more than five hundred people.

best bowls

best bowls

Artists’ project helps the hungry


The Empty Bowls Project was established in 1991, when a group of Michigan potters organized an exchange of handmade ceramicbowls for donations to local food charities. The Brooklyn Potters Group, a local sponsor of the project, was formed nearly twenty years ago. Members arrange workshops and lectures and gather to share technical information, buy materials together, and troubleshoot. “Our idea is that the bowls will always be a reminder of hunger,” says member Ragnar Naess. “Our emphasis is on the fact that there are people going hungry right next door. We also want to show that artists do things that have social relevance.” Originally, they had planned a one-time event at which contributions would be collected and bowls given in exchange. But when searching out a sponsor, they found Michael Ayoub, one of the owners of Cucina and an artist in his own right (he’s a glassblower), and he encouraged the potters to build a display case for the restaurant so they could sell their bowls on an ongoing basis.

This is not the first time the potters have raised funds for their community; members have also donated work for a fund-raising event to benefit a neighborhood women’s group. The Empty Bowls project has been more of an investment than the artists had expected (publicity efforts, not to mention the display case, have run them close to $2,000), but they’ve been able to rally the support of local merchants and others to help fund it. “Our idea is to have it going on indefinitely and provide a source of income for CHIPS,” Naess says. For more information on The Brooklyn Potters Group or The Empty Bowls Project, write: Ragnar Naess, Dept. AA, 107 Hall Street, Brooklyn, NY 11205; or call: (718) 636-8608; or write: Rene Murray, Dept. AA, 386th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215: or call: (718) 875-7153. New from Philips Media Software Home & Family Entertainment is “Masterpiece Mansion,” which challenges users to solve more than forty art-related puzzles and games centering on a hundred and fifty famous works of art from a variety of periods. Classical, Renaissance. Dutch realist. Impressionist, and twentieth century art are represented in works by such artists as Botticelli, Monet, Frida Kahlo, and others. To escape the 3-Drendered, art-filled Fouffenfester Mansion, players must navigate their way through a series of ten rooms, detecting forgeries, unscrambling images of classic works of art, arranging pieces in chronological order, hunting for the works of a particular artist or period, and solving other similar types of puzzles.

best bowls 2

best bowls 2

Artists’ project helps the hungry

“Masterpiece Mansion” was created with the help of art educators, and the games were inspired by teaching techniques developed by The Getty Center for Education in the Arts. Also included in the CD-ROM are “Art Explorer” and “Biographer Explorer” sections, which feature overviews, time lines, artwork, and biographies. For more information, write: Philips Media Inc., Dept. AA, 10960 Wilshire Boulevard, Seventh Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90024; or call: (310) 444-6500.

“Michelangelo: The Troubled Genius and His Times” and “Vincent van Gogh Revisited,” two new titles from E.M.M.E. USA, contain hundreds of color images (both photographs and reproductions of paintings) as well as music and full-motion video. The Van Gogh disc takes users on a virtual walk through Auvers-sur-Oise, where the artist spent his last days. It examines his use of color and is “narrated” by Van Gogh himself, using selections from close to seven hundred letters he wrote to his brother, Theo.

The Sistine Chapel frescoes are among the works discussed in the Michelangelo title, which includes a function that enables viewers to turn any image on the disc into a puzzle. The company also plans to release a CD-ROM entitled “Leonardo da Vinci: The Paintings” this year. For more information, write: E.M.M.E. USA, Dept. AA, 1200 Summer Street, Stamford, CT 06905; or call: (203) 406-4040.

Split coolers

Last summer Ohio homeowners Mr. and Mrs. Lee Gibson added a sun room to their house, and were advised that their central air conditioner didn’t have the capacity to cool the new room. So the Gibsons installed a Sanyo split-system ductless air conditioner to do the job.

In 1985 Ted and Sue Woollis decided to replace a noisy, inefficient window air conditioner in their bedroom and add cooling to the main living area of their 200-year-old farm-house near Syracuse, N.Y.–which had no ductwork and no place to run any. The Woollis family, too, chose a split-system ductless air conditioner. Their choice: a Carrier Multiplex system, which Ted Woollis, an engineer at Carrier Corp., helped design. The Multiplex cools three areas, each as an independent zone.

A split-system ductless air conditioner, like a central A/C, comes in two pieces: One piece–containing the compressor, condenser, and a fan–goes outside the house; the other–with the evaporator and another fan–goes inside. But like a window unit, these systems use no ducts; they blow the cool air directly into a room. Though common in Europe, and the norm in Japan, two-piece ductless systems are fairly new (and rarely used) here. But as the Woollises and Gibsons found, for some situations they fill the bill better than other coolers can.



air conditioner


* They deliver the quiet operation of central cooling in houses that have no ductwork or inadequate ducts. The compressor is outside, and the inside fan generally runs at a relatively low speed.

* Thermostatic controls give much of the comfort of a central system. And some models have fancy conservation and convenience features–like timers (that let you program one or more turn-on or turn-off times up to 12 hours in advance), energy-saver modes (that automatically adjust the thermostat), and wired remote controls. One Mitsubishi model comes with an infrared wireless remote.

* Unlike a central system, you can zone your cooling to save energy. “We only cool the areas we are in,” says Ted Woollis. “We keep the bedroom thermostat at eighty-five degrees in summer, then ten minutes before we’re ready to go to bed, I turn it down to seventy-five. By bedtime the room will be comfortable.”

air conditioner

air conditioner



air conditioner

* They don’t take up window space or require a large hole in the house. Window and through-the-wall units can compromise the security of your house, notes Mike McDonnell, airconditioning product manager at Burnham Corp. With a split A/C, a two- to three-inch opening for connecting lines is all you need. “A burglar would have to be a real snake to get through that,” he jokes.

Split-system ductless air conditioners come in a wide range of sizes–from about 1/2 ton (6,000 Btu/h) on up. Small ones can cool a room; larger ones can handle large open areas.

Several companies (including Sanyo and Mitsubishi) make systems that use one outside condenser-compressor to run two inside evaporator coils. The outside unit of Carrier’s Multiplex can drive two or three inside fan coils. Burnham has just introduced a similar three-zone system. Most split ductless A/Cs, including the Multiplex, are made in heat-pump versions. With those you can get heating in winter as well as cooling in summer.

Putting it together

Installing a ductless split air conditioner is considerably more of a project than popping a one-piece A/C in a window and plugging it in.

The systems are evacuated and charged with refrigerant at the factory. Some store the full charge in the condenser; others have refrigerant in the condenser and evaporator; pre-charged lines are available to link the two. Male-female couplings are torqued to connect lines to coils.

Lee Gibson installed his Sanyo system himself. “He is a licensed electrician,” Sanyo’s Stan M. Tabaka elaborates. “Someone with his technical sophistication should have no trouble installing the system.” Burnham’s McDonnell is equally cautious about DIY installation. “Though it would not be beyond a real handy-man,” he admits. Carrier wants only its contractors to install the Multiplex. “But about two years down the road we expect to sell it as a DIY product,” says Norman Washburn, corporate marketing director for this class of coolers.

Money matters

Perhaps the biggest drawback to split ductless air conditioners (and heat pumps) is cost. A split A/C may cost twice as much as a window unit of comparable capacity–even more if a pro installs it. “You have to manufacture two components,” says McDonnell. “And usually–I won’t say always–the components are of higher quality than you get in a window unit.”

McDonnell estimates that a one-ton Burnham would cost around $2,000 installed. Tabaka says the 3/4-ton Sanyo has a list price of $1,100; professional installation would add another $500 to $600. “But for your money you get quiet operation, considerably higher efficiency than with a window unit, and better air circulation,” he says.

You also get better humidity control, the experts claim, because the evaporator coils of these systems generally run at a lower temperature, and the inside fan at a slower speed.

Because your cooling can be easily zoned and there are no energy losses in ducts, a split ductless A/C should keep you comfortable for less money than can a central system. Check the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio when comparison shopping.