It was the ’70s and skiing was the scene. Everyone wanted to be outdoors with each other, bold and beautiful and kissed by the sun. It was like nature was a game. The air got you high, the sky, and there was the feeling of something wondrous and once in a lifetime. Sport was the same as soul and skis were the vehicles to ride in rapture in gravity’s new mechanical religion. Your body could open your mind. You could find enlightenment through motion. Anything was possible. Even the moon was just another mountain we would ski upon.
Excerpted from Peter Kray’s novel, The God of Skiing, the above passage reflects the lyrical language in the latest must-read edition in the library of ski literature. Kray, an award-winning author who grew up in Colorado and has worked as a ski and outdoor writer for several different publications, published the novel in December. This, his third book (the other two being The Monster and American Snow), captures a narrator through a life chasing the fictional legend ghost of a skier, Tack Strau. Kray spent nearly 10 years writing in a notebook, crafting stories from his own travels and others, collecting these adventures in what reads like a journal full of love, loss, and laughter. The New Mexico native’s prose is poetic—clearly conveying a deep love of skiing from his childhood in Colorado to attending college back East, and tales from all his years spent on the skier’s road as a journalist, with anecdotes of places like Austria, Jackson, and Chile and characters in those spots.
POWDER reached Kray at his home in New Mexico to discuss his latest work.
POWDER: How did The God of Skiing come to be?
Peter Kray: My whole life I’ve wanted to write a ski book about anything. I wanted to write something because I love the sport so much. I wanted to try and convey what it feels like and what we love about it.
There’s this movie called Indochine. It stars Catherine Deneuve, a lovely French actress. It’s about the French withdrawal from Vietnam. In the very beginning of the movie, her character is at an art show. She sees a picture of a bay she loves very much. She talks to the artist and says, “You know, I’ve tried to paint this all my life. I’ve never been able to paint it. How did you get it so accurate?” And the artist says, “I had to invent this.” He had to put something in the scene of the bay that didn’t actually exist.
That really affected me, so I had to invent some things in order to tell the story I wanted to tell.
Some of the deepest, most thoughtful, cerebral people I’ve ever met in my life are skiers. I’ve been fascinated by that. Every season I meet someone on a tram that leaves me saying, “Wow. I’m really glad I met that person” and I feel better about life.
Tack Strau, your protagonist, is that invention in the book. Is Tack an amalgamation of characters you’ve met along the way?
I can think of a few people who form that character. There are a lot of quotes that he says in the book that certain people said in real life.
For anybody who has lived in a ski town, there are all of these local legends who are absolutely phenomenal skiers and if you didn’t know them, you’d never know about them. Tack is that person.
The narrator’s life has certain similarities to your own life. The settings change, but my favorite is the meat of the book that’s set in Jackson. You capture what it’s like to actually live in a ski town, the day-to-day of it all. Did you live in Jackson?
I was there from ’89 to ’93. Anytime you ever see skiing portrayed in a book or a movie, they always make some big contest at the end. That really bothers me. Or it’s a comedy. The review of Ski School in the now-defunct Rocky Mountain Gazette was “Party guys make monkeys out of hot shots.” That was gold, but that’s also how skiing is typically portrayed in ski media. I wanted to get to the real stuff.
Living in Jackson, I’d never seen anything like it. I thought Vail and Winter Park were the end-all, be-all growing up. Whiteface is the toughest place I’d ever skied. But Jackson is the first place I’d been where the mountain is as much a part of the community as the people were. You had to be aware of what you were doing. There were guys like Doug Coombs around. There were guys like Theo Meiners, who was a huge influence and mentor for me. There was something to learn from everyone.
This book isn’t easily placed into this type of book or that type of book. The God of Skiing is the stories and characters around a coming of age of story. One of the strongest characters in the book is Toby, the dog.
That picture in the book is of the real dog. To-Bear had his own life. I don’t want to tell anyone how to interpret the book. Our lives are a mix of who we admire and what we admire about ourselves. The wonderful thing about skiing is you’re finding all these heroes and still trying to make yourself a hero at the same time. That’s what I love about this sport. You turn around and there’s always someone who you can say, “Man, that’s cool that they did that.” I mean, I watched the Internet blow up over that Cody Townsend line. We have no idea how many people are going to be inspired by that one moment to go out and try something rad.
What are you trying to celebrate with this book?
I don’t know how this happened. We, ski media, got kind of stuck for a while trying to make skiing cartoonish. That was the only way we could portray it. Unfortunately, people couldn’t understand how meaningful skiing is. They don’t understand how rewarding this is on how many levels.
We haven’t celebrated enough in our messaging about what we really do and what it does mean to us. Some of the deepest, most thoughtful, cerebral people I’ve ever met in my life are skiers. I’ve been fascinated by that. Every season I meet someone on a tram that leaves me saying, “Wow. I’m really glad I met that person” and I feel better about life.
I’m becoming a little bit of a zealot about this, but it’s time for every single one of us to give art back to this sport. There’s a whole body of literature out there waiting to happen. Frankly, I hope my book is a catalyst. I can’t wait to read the next 100 ski books. I hope they’re not all How-To. I hope they have some sort of epiphany and transformative experience.
In the last 10 years, it seems like the stakes have gotten a lot higher. We’ve all lost people we care about. It’s hard for us to talk about it. But maybe that needs to be channeled in the fight against the sentiment of “they died doing something they love.” Someone recently wrote that a skier “lived to doing what he loved.” We should be talking about that. We should be talking about the joy of this life, the ski life.
To purchase the book for all of $14, go here. That’s like a six-pack of tall cans in Teton Village now.