Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘Against the Wind: A Memoir’
‘Against the Wind: A Memoir’
by Kirk VanHee
268 pages, softcover; $14.99
CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2014
When I was moving to Aspen in the summer of 2007, I drove from New Orleans with, among my few possessions, a small library of books on this place: Kathleen Krieger Daily and Gaylord Guenin’s “The Quiet Years,” Ted Conover’s “Whiteout” and Peggy Clifford’s “To Aspen and Back.”
Almost eight years later, I’d still rank those atop the list of books on Aspen, along with Kurt Brown’s indispensible 2012 memoir “Lost Sheep: Aspen’s Counterculture in the 1970s.” But slowly and steadily — aided by the advent of expedited self-publishing — more books and more experiences of Aspen have made it onto the bookshelves.
Among the latest is Kirk VanHee’s “Against the Wind,” which uses a ski bum narrative to drive an addiction memoir.
VanHee lived here from 1967 to 1975, during the town’s dropout heyday. But his book offers a vital counterargument to all the tales of hard-partying, hard-skiing hippie glory you’ve heard from old-timers. As VanHee explains, there was a dark side to that, and it nearly killed him. By the time he left, he writes, “‘I was 27 and had done little with my life other than become a vey, very good skier and a very, very good drug dealer.”
It’s an interesting counterpoint to another new Aspen book, Jeff Howe’s novel “Into the Roaring Fork,” which uses a ski-bum drug-runner character as the protagonist in a thriller.
Much of VanHee’s book is about what drove VanHee to Aspen — his troubled upbringing in Omaha and Denver, with a stint in military school. As he settled into ski town life, he experimented with drugs before growing woefully addicted to them, eventually dropping his job washing dishes at the Mother Lode to run drugs, supporting both his skiing and snorting habits.
“Against the Wind” opens with a visceral first-person take on getting caught in an avalanche out-of-bounds on Aspen Mountain, which is some of the best writing I’ve come across about facing death in the mountains. But local readers will also, no doubt, be annoyed by some of VanHee’s over-explanations (“pow” is powder-like snow, “Ajax” is Aspen Mountain, etc.)
In the end, VanHee makes it out of the avalanche and turns his life around — struggling toward sobriety and leaving Aspen for Denver and then Vail, where he became a real estate broker. If the idea of a hero skier from ‘70s Aspen turning into a Vail dirt pimp is less than inspiring to you, give VanHee a chance to tell you about his journey anyway. You’ll be rooting for him by the end.
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