27 Nov Words for Winter
In need of a good read? Here are five books that are sure to inspire and entertain this snow season
Every fall, usually in late October, after the aspen leaves have floated to the forest floor, I ache for winter. Days become shorter, the hue of Lake Tahoe takes on a paler, subdued personality, and I often gaze west in an attempt to remember impending winter storms. Blackening skies, biting northwest winds, darting pine needles, these old friends are always welcome. But they don’t inspire, motivate, captivate—and they certainly don’t validate why I chose to create a life in the mountains.
The previous winter—even one as big as 2022-23—has been gone too long, it seems, to remind me of winter’s intoxicating qualities. An autumn snowstorm never disappoints, and ski films will always share a role in rekindling winter’s spirit.
These days, however, winter doesn’t begin until I’ve reacquainted myself with The God of Skiing. It’s become annual reading, because Peter Kray’s 2014 novel accomplishes what other titles simply can’t: the soul of skiing and the essence of winter wrapped into a timeless piece of ski literature.
The God of Skiing, by Peter Kray
The story has no crescendo or climax. It has a meandering storyline of the narrator in search of Tack Strau, a magnetic and talented former ski racer who becomes an accomplished freeskier and whose reputation is, like many things in ski towns, more impressive than his reality. He is somebody who has come and gone and embodies all that is beautiful and dangerous about life in the mountains.
I often wonder if this was the intent of Kray, to be rough and unfocused because Strau is a metaphor for ski towns and especially those who live in them. He’s not a sympathetic protagonist, or one who emotionally connects with the reader on any level. He has little depth beyond entertainment shock value, with his glory days a thing of the distant past.
Living in a ski town produces moments and feelings that cannot be bottled and found but must be experienced and then lost, by design—just like Strau. And it’s as if we all know somebody just like him in every ski town. We relate to what Strau represents, and while we wish it weren’t so, the moments that keep us anchored in ski towns are fleeting and wonderful and end as quickly as they come. We are all memories, in the end.
The narrator states: “And I wondered how even if I did make all the money in the world, and bought the biggest car, and bought the biggest house on the widest cul-de-sac next to all the other biggest houses with the white-trimmed doors and lime green lawns—and even if I did marry the best-dressed of all the middle class mannequins—what would I really have to show for it then? You could always lose those things. Sometimes I think those things are just for losing. Like life, how no one figures out how to keep it in the end. … But if you ski then you have that forever.”
The God of Skiing is a fun, entertaining read, even if the reader doesn’t transform what could be a light-hearted campfire story into an existential decree. It’s the blending of both that keeps me coming back to my pre-winter ritual.
Powder Days: Ski Bums, Ski Towns, and the Future of Chasing Snow, by Heather Hansman
A wide-ranging account of issues facing ski towns, and winter sports themselves, Powder Days (2021) dives into each with a desire to paint an accurate picture of the increasing challenges to the ski bum lifestyle. While the issues range from corporate influence to rising real estate prices, both of which are prevalent in mountain communities across the country, the premise is not new and already appeared in the 2010 book In Search of Powder: A Story of America’s Disappearing Ski Bum. That said, revisiting these issues and updating them provides the opportunity for fresh material, such as how climate change is now impacting the industry. Any skier or snowboarder should be interested in these subjects, and any book that delves into such topics is worth exploring. This one is no different.
The Art of Shralpinism: Lessons from the Mountains, by Jeremy Jones
Snowboarders should shelve this 2022 title next to their important books. The Art of Shralpinism is an informative guidebook packed with personal anecdotal gems and illustrations from one of the sport’s all-time greats, Truckee’s Jeremy Jones. There isn’t a single section among the book’s 288 pages that can’t teach a snowboarder something useful about being safe and having fun in the mountains. Most books will teach readers something worthwhile, but it’s rare that a book can deliver on every page. Jones provides such an influential read, and the unpretentious, unassuming prose makes the reader feel as if they are having a conversation with him at a coffee shop in Truckee.
The Ski Town Fairytale: A Quest to Live the Dream, by Sam Morse and Ryan Stolp
A graphic novel encompassing all the archetypes and stereotypes, The Ski Town Fairytale also accurately illuminates the misnomer of living “the dream” in a ski town. Fictional, but humorous because the character’s revelations are all too frequent and true, this 2022 release visually tells the tale of an unsuspecting and idealistic transplant who quickly realizes the harsh challenges of ski town living. Moving to such a town and trying to make it has never been easy, but in this beautifully designed and well-told tale, the good-natured ribbing belies the protagonist’s own revelation: Moving to Tahoe, or to any major ski town, isn’t what she thinks it will be—but like all dreamers, she came anyway. And that one powder run perhaps made it all worth it.
Squallywood: A Guide to Squaw Valley’s Most Exposed Lines, by Robb Gaffney
Written by the late Robb Gaffney, who died this past fall after a long battle with cancer, this title is required reading for those looking to explore Tahoe’s most famous ski resort. Gaffney was a fixture and a beloved member of the Tahoe ski community, and his guidebook with detailed route descriptions, personalized anecdotes and clear pictures (originally published in 2003), will hopefully inspire future generations to familiarize themselves with a mountain cherished by the book’s author. RIP, Dr. Robb Gaffney.
Jeremy Evans is a South Lake Tahoe-based author whose most recent book, See You Tomorrow, is about French snowboarder Marco Siffredi, who mysteriously disappeared on Mount Everest in 2002. Learn more about his books at jeremyevans.org.