Can you mix God, heaven and backcountry skiing? Many would say “YES, every time I ski powder.” Beyond enjoying fruits of the material world, such as a perfect backcountry skiing run in God’s own fluff, I’ve always been partial to mountain mysticism, and enjoyed discovering the occasional book that delved into the unseen portion of the mountain ethos. I’ve read nearly every mountain mystic writing I could get my hands on — from Buddhist to pagan, and enjoyed every one.
But western writers, especially those with a Christian slant, frequently struggle with mixing spirituality and mountain sports. Richard Day takes on the challenge in his new book, Mad Dog Mountain. Written in what I’d call the “magic realism” style popularized by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mad Dog Mountain tells the love story and spiritual journey of two North American mountain folk in their athletic youth.
It’s a wild ride that would make Marcquez proud. When Nancy meets Jim while doing CPR on him after a car crash, you know things are getting strange. When the two end up in a Yurt with a bunch of rasty pagans who burn down the yurt, things get exceedingly strange. After that, all bets are off as the book splits between the real world of Nancy, Jim, and a few of the pagans waiting for rescue while bivouacked in a storage box, to an alternate reality Jim as he’s dying from injuries sustained in an avalanche (he was out backcountry skiing while the Yurt burned down, then they rescued him). Whew.
Warning: With its overt sexuality and graphic descriptions of injuries and such (“cold fingers and hot yurts”), Mad Dog Mountain is definitely an adult book. The same could be said of the book’s spiritual theme, which ultimately leads to concepts of reaching heaven through salvation — while using a hefty dose of “magical” metaphor. But if you’re a backcountry skier with an open mind, Christian, agnostic or otherwise, you’ll enjoy it.
And for you telemarkers out there, rest assured, the “soul turn” is the ONLY turn in Mad Dog Mountain.