“Living the Life” by David Rothman — Book Review

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | March 26, 2015      

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.


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4 Responses to ““Living the Life” by David Rothman — Book Review”

  1. VT skier March 28th, 2015 9:08 am

    In defense of telemark skiing in the 70’s I was backcountry skiing the Tetons during a winter in Victor Idaho; in 1976. At that time the Alpine Touring equipment IMHO was heavy and clunky. Silvretta bear trap bindings, and heavy double leather boots. Wooden Bonna (army surplus?) skis. The Ramer binding was just introduced..
    On lightweight Tele gear, Europa 77s with Rotte 3 pin bindings, you could move much more quickly in suitable terrain, even with an overnight pack. With the Alfa “bowling shoes” we had, (using an over gaiter) edge control was marginal, but we could still ski Edelweiss bowl or do multi day trips in Yellowstone.
    I still Telemark, but I agree the modern lightweight AT boots and bindings are surpassing current Tele gear for steeper terrain, and longer tours.

  2. Lou Dawson 2 March 28th, 2015 1:45 pm

    VT, exactly as you say. You needed very steep terrain and difficult snow in those days to justify the AT gear, as well as being an excellent skier (you didn’t want to fall using non release latched heel bindings!) which is why they did use AT gear in the Alps at that time. I went through a phase myself using lightweight nordic gear for just about everything. Didn’t last long. As soon as Ramer came out with his better versions I was on them and skiing big mountain lines, Silvretta 404 during and after that, and soon on the early Dynafits. Basically, I didn’t care what kind of ski bindings I was on, what I did care about was what kind of mountain I was on. I used what worked… Lou

  3. swissiphic March 28th, 2015 4:04 pm

    In further defense of the telemark turn (not the equipment 😉 ) , an annual day dedicated to donning the 25 year old fischer 210 skinny fishscale kick and glide x/c skis and rubber flexi soled ankle high boots to attempt survival down easy angle in bounds soft snow ski runs does wonders for the balance of both mind and body. Humbling for both. Appreciate the Mercuries and fat skis even more post baptism by telemarking headplants in wet grains.

  4. Lou Dawson 2 March 28th, 2015 4:13 pm

    I don’t need to fall and tweak my neck or smash my nose to be humbled. It’s already tweaked. (grin)

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