Cody Heartz: Book of 50 classic ski descents meant to inspire drool
January 21, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Any lover of books has his or her own literary guilty pleasures. When I was younger it was comic books, pulp horror fiction and those "choose your own adventure" game books. While I may have outgrown those particular dalliances, my affair with writing that exploits my own — possibly delusional — quests for adventure is not over.
Some people escape with cheap romance novels or kitschy sci-fi, but I'm seduced by more esoteric, single-minded fare like "Trout and their food," by Dave Whitlock, or Gary Lafontaine's essential fly-fishing tome, "Caddisflies." Some might call these books dorky, but Coloradans take their leisure pursuits very seriously.
What's a bit more frivolous is the eye-candy that takes up space on my bookshelves. I'm talking about the glossy magazines and superficial coffee table books, the ones with pictures of Patagonian peaks, extravagant new gear and unrealistic travel expectations. Yes, I mean ski and travel smut, the kind of literature that exists only to make our mouths water, crush our egos or empty our wallets. For those of us without the endorsement deals, unlimited vacation time, and — let's be honest — the requisite skills needed to take on these sorts of Hemmingwayesque expeditions, these books provide us vicarious thrills and inform the pipe dreams that stoke our passion.
This is what the new book "Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America" is for. Aspen based ski-mountaineering icons Chris Davenport, Art Burrows and Penn Newhard have compiled a list of 50 big-mountain descents from 10 regions across the continent.
Big is an understatement for some of the lines being skied in this book, which includes accounts of descents on Mount Whitney and Denali. Davenport, Burrows and Newhard also have enlisted the help of other heavy hitters from this tightly knit community of adventurers.
While there are accounts of some truly classic ski endeavors and essays by elder statesmen of the sport, this isn't a history of backcountry skiing. And this isn't a guidebook. The writing is decent, some of the tech talk and alpinist's jargon can be alienating, but it serves its purpose, which is to put the pictures — which are epic — into context.
This isn't to say that "Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America" is devoid of good writing. Dawson contributed a great chapter about skiing Buffalo Mountain near Silverthorne. Also, Glen Plake, a skier best known for his mohawk and fondness for neon jumpsuits, wrote a surprisingly nice piece about skiing and humility.
It is a big, bold and ambitious book, a reflection of the people who made it. It isn't meant to be read straight through. Instead, the reader should wander through it in awe, alternately gasping and chuckling in disbelief. There are gorgeous pictures of massive, vicious routes on North America's most iconic mountains. Anyone could look through this book and easily discern that the feat of skiing these descents is undeniably impressive. Ultimately, though, "Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America" is for the initiated, or those of us who wish we were.
"Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America" is available at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore and Epilogue Book Co. in Steamboat Springs.
Cody Heartz is a full-time resident of Steamboat Springs and is pursuing an master's in creative writing.