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Some ski reading

Sidebar by Bob Berwyn

Recreation – April 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine

Skiing is really an experiential kind of thing, much more fun to do than just read about. But it seems that many skiers have taken advantage of the non-snow season to put pen to paper, creating an extensive collection of books about every conceivable aspect of the sport.

Free-Heel Skiing: Telemark and Parallel Techniques for All Conditions (The Mountaineers, 2002), by Paul Parker of Breckenridge, is often described as the bible of telemark skiing. Parker’s recently updated work includes a short section on the history and evolution of telemark technique and equipment, and extensive how-to chapters for all ability levels.

Even non-skiing history buffs might enjoy skimming through Wild Snow — A Historical Guide to North American Ski Mountaineering (American Alpine Club Press, 1997) by Lou Dawson of Carbondale. Dawson’s lively and well-organized text is broken down along geographic lines, with chapters covering every significant mountainous region on the continent. One of Dawson’s strengths is to describe historical ski events like first descents within a social and cultural context, which gives the athletic achievements a little more meaning.

Dawson’s book focuses mainly on mountaineering, but A History of Skiing in Colorado (Western Reflections, Inc., 2000), by retired history professor Abbott Fay, does a great job of describing how early pioneers created a ski empire in the Rocky Mountain state. Informative appendices help aspiring ski scholars figure out who’s who, what’s what and what happened when.

Telluride author Hal Clifford has written a book that picks up where Fay’s ends. Downhill Slide (Sierra Club Books) hasn’t been published yet, but should be out sometime next autumn, covering the corporate takeover of the ski industry during the 1980s and 1990s, when many long-time Mom-and-Pop ski areas disappeared as they either closed or were swallowed up.

For a scholarly historical look at the sport, including plenty of footnotes, there’s E. John B. Allen’s From Skisport to Skiing — One Hundred Years of an American Sport, 1840-1940 (University of Massachusetts Press, 1993). Allen traces a well-documented path, describing how skiing evolved from being a fringe activity for outdoor fanatics to the time just before World War II, when the sport was on the cusp of becoming Big Business.

On the lighter side, the out-of-print and hard to find The Cross-Country Ski, Look, Cook & Pleasure Book (Wilderness Press, 1973) by Hal Painter offers a laugh per page. The book is the skiing version of Be Here Now, with tongue-in-cheek chapter headings like “How to Make a Pair of Indestructible Skis from Ferrocement.” More than any other book I’ve found, this captures the irreverent spirit of the ski hippies who took to the woods and breathed new life into the stoic realm of Nordic skiing.

Also out of print but worth the search for its historical significance is The Manual of Ski Mountaineering (Sierra Club Books, 1962), edited by David Brower. Some of the mountaineering techniques are outdated, but much of the fundamental information is still as practical as the day it was written.

Finally, for a more poetic and spiritual interpretation of why we ski in the first place, there’s no better source than Dolores LaChapelle’s Deep Powder Snow — 40 Years of Ecstatic Skiing, Avalanches and Earth Wisdom (Kivaki Press, 1993). LaChapelle, who lives in Silverton, describes a new way of relating to the earth by experiencing the entrancing feeling of floating through a blanket of shimmering, frozen crystals.