Great literature, like a first-rate concert, clings to your every pore long after the music’s stopped. Peter Kray’s new book The God of Skiing delivers that same sensation—a feeling of being overwhelmed by something far bigger than any one thing, and at the same time belonging to a fabulously complex sport. Plus it’s a rollicking good story about skiing and the people who love it.
Like any good read, the pure mental imagery evoked by the prose in The God of Skiing rivals the actual words. First there’s the cover shot—a candid of ski great Fritz Stammberger, who, like Kray’s hero Tack Strau is “golden and glowing like a statue in the sun.” Strau’s crash during the 1980 Olympics makes your hands sweat.
“I thought about how he seemed to float away below me on the trail. Like his skis weren’t even touching the slope, hovering like a bee lofting from rose to rose. How he would be gone after four or five turns then standing patient and still in some far off reverie at the bottom where he was always waiting at the chair, beaming back at the sun with that wild crazy smile, saying something like, ‘It’s just the best damn feeling in the world.'”
That descriptive kaleidoscope of images, supported with poetic prose, sticks with you long after the last page is turned.
The book’s a blend of truth and fiction—biographical fiction, like a reality show or a good Woody Allen movie. There are plenty of references to real-life to anchor the book in recent memory.
“When they ask about the white parties in Aspen, when Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty would walk into the bar at the Hotel Jerome at 2AM with their sunglasses on, or the all-night keg parties at the parking lot at the base of Pallavicini bump run at A-Basin….”
Yes, things that really happened, but also events that live in ski lore.
Into his novel, Kray effortlessly weaves people and places that are as familiar as an old ski sweater—Spider Sabich, Jean Claude Killy, Bill Briggs, Gram Parsons. Yes, there’s a strong music beat that runs throughout the novel—Kray’s near encyclopedic knowledge of rock and folk music history is rivaled only by his thorough grasp of skiing history and culture.
There’s depth in Kray’s prose, seasoned with equal parts humor, irony, and even despair. In many ways, the narrator’s path from hero worship to contemporary is more Holden Caufield than Downhill Racer, a film that documented a similar star athlete—though we’d pick Tack over the film’s protagonist in a race anytime.
It’s a coming-of-age novel, a modern This Side of Paradise, as the narrator with no discernable moral rudder blindly makes the transition from boy to man. For people who love the outdoors, and perhaps even more importantly, love adrenaline and the characters who define that word, this book helps the rest of us to explore our own experiences and dreams
Philosophizing aside, The God of Skiing is a date with history. It’s a reminder of what it is like to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. In the 1800s, journalist Pierce Egan referred to boxing as “The Sweet Science of Bruising,” but if he’d skied with Tack, he would have used that term for alpine racing. Hemingway—another of our great “men’s men” types—didn’t list skiing as one of the three sports—bullfighting, car racing and mountaineering—but you know he’d have gotten on famously with Tack, and, after a day with him of dropping into couloirs, would have added ski racing to his list.