Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘Living the Life’ |

Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘Living the Life’

by Andrew Travers

‘Living the Life’

David J. Rothman

Conundrum Press, 2013

Much to ski town readers’ disappointment (or at least mine), no author has yet been able to deliver “The Great American Ski Bum Novel.” This elusive, hypothetical work of fiction would capture the seasonal rhythms of a ski town, the interior lives of people who build their lives around mountains and who spend six months of the year sliding down them — in short, it would do for skiing what “Solo Faces” did for rock-climbing and use the ski bum life as fodder for literature.

David J. Rothman’s “Living the Life: Tales From America’s Mountains & Ski Towns” may be non-fiction — part memoir, part reportage, often something in-between — but it’s the closest thing I’ve found to my dreamed-of ski novel.

A second-generation ski bum, Rothman tracks his life on snow in 38 sections, from ski lessons on the East Coast (“sort of like math, but more fun, although the mistakes hurt more”), to seasons in Crested Butte and Telluride, to pushing into the backcountry, converting to telemarking, and teaching his son.

The book’s episodic structure reflects the often-absurd juxtapositions of ski town life. Stories of tragic on-mountain deaths of friends sit next to silly haikus about being naked in the snow and portraits of quirky mountain characters. A series of spot-on “Top 10” lists skewers the egos of telemarkers.

This is no chest-pounding tale of mountaineering triumph — it’s a meditative, observant and gracefully written take on skiing, not as a sport but as a way of life.

Unlike other sports, he observes, “skiing does not create a bounded playing field but rather accepts and transforms the places where we pursue it.”

It can also, Rothman shows, transform the people who pursue it.