David Rothman has been in and out of the ski writing scenes for decades. He’s a matriculated scribbler, prone to poetry and teaching (PhD, Literature). He even did a stint as a private high-school headmaster, and plays a mean jazz keyboard. He’s also a skier, a mighty fine glisser with a long history of backcountry adventure.
Rothman’s book “Living the Life” came out a while ago (2013). Apologies on my part for not reviewing it sooner. Sometimes the ebb and flow of life here at WildSnow seems get in the way of things like book reviews. But “Living the Life” is a solid tome with plenty of timeless insight into mountain town life, so it’s about time we brought it up.
The book is set up as a series of essays, some of which are adapted from previously published material such as magazine articles (most notably, from “Couloir,” the first North American dedicated ski touring pub). If you’re an avid longtime reader of skiing literature some of it might look familiar, but the prose is crisp and well edited so worth a redo.
What “Living the Life” does more than anything is give you a well written glimpse into what’s become an important part of alpine culture in North America, that of the “mountain town.” Usually supported by tourism (if you can’t mine rocks, mine a tourist’s wallet!), mountain towns have a unique mix of youthful energy, adventure sports, and an overall lifestyle that’s most certainly never boring. The mountain town lifestyle can be a lifelong commitment, or as many alpine sports enthusiasts do, you might have a “life phase” in one such place.
Indeed, when numerous friends (I’ve lost count) have asked me over the years about living in Crested Butte, Colorado, my usual answer is “every young man or woman alpinist needs to live in Crested Butte once.” Substitute “Jackson,” or “Bellingham,” and you get the idea. Having a phase of your life in a mountain town is a right of passage. (Disclaimer, my Mom actually lived in Crested Butte four times, she might hold the record? Oh, and see Rothman’s chapter 14, he lived there at least twice.)
Rothman’s book actually begins in the Northeastern U.S., where he began his backcountry skiing. But he’s soon out west experiencing everything from Crested Butte’s zany parades to climbing and skiing a Colorado 14,000 foot peak with me and a couple other blokes.
Near as I can tell, most of David’s tales originate in the 1980s and 1990s. His experiences hold up for readers of any age despite the occasional parochial historical reference, such as including content about telemark skiing that has novelty value, but detracts from the overall feel of the book. Specifically, I’m talking about a few telemarking “top ten” lists that I’m hoping he included for humor, as otherwise they’re painfully sophomoric.
Lesson here, and I’m taking this to heart myself now that my ski writing can reach back a half century, is that when writing memoir one has to be vigilant about what he assumes the reader knows about the far past. Otherwise, more explanation is in order. (To David’s credit, he does make an effort to achieve this and most readers will be able to follow the narrative without too many trips to Wikipedia. Hint: You can find Kasha there if you need to know who she is.)
Speaking of telemarking, the book does give you a sense of how important telemark skiing was to the North American backcountry skiing industry in the 1980s going into the 1990s. Somewhat of a blip on the Ptex screen in the end, but anyone with an interest in skiing history will get an idea of how this went simply by absorbing Rothman’s take. As many folks did in that day, he sometimes puts too much emphasis on the telemark turn, rather than just simply skiing. But that’s the overall mass hysteria that did take over the backcountry ski industry for a while. My hope is that we’re not destined to repeat history. Perhaps Rothman will help prevent such a catastrophe. I cannot imagine Kilian Jornet skimo racing on tele gear.
Main thing here is you can get a glimpse of one man’s life in what’s easily one of North America’s top ten mountain towns. More, it’s enhanced by a few stories that range around the world — with the thread of skiing holding it all together. Thanks David for making the effort to put it all together. Recommended.