The Soul Gallery: Dick Dorworth

Skier, climber, writer

Dick Dorworth, skier, climber, writer, born 1938. PHOTO: Scott Markewitz
Dick Dorworth, skier, climber, writer, born 1938. PHOTO: Scott Markewitz

The Soul Gallery, a tribute to iconic figures who defined skiing, originally ran in the January 2014 issue (42.5). As pure as snowflakes drifting through the sky, each winter represents a clean slate—an opportunity to meet new people, accomplish new goals, learn lessons about yourself and nature, and be reborn as you fly through deep powder snow. What happens when you can experience this every season throughout a lifetime? What lessons do you learn? What can you accomplish when you ski not just for years, but decades?

For a handful of old timers, the annual return of winter gives them the means to influence everyone around them. Season after season, storm after storm, they see things differently than everyone else, and they keep at it long after others slow down or simply give up. They are the pioneers, visionaries, innovators, artists, and warriors who are fully committed. Eventually, their accomplishments help define an entire sport.

Today, these skiers remind us where we came from and what lessons we can learn in order to follow in their tracks.

Rebel, wanderer, and free spirit, Dick Dorworth has maintained a steadfast dedication to three pillars throughout his life: skiing, climbing, and writing. Fiercely competitive and driven by principle, Dorworth’s pursuits have taken him all over the globe.

Required reading: Dorworth's "Night Driving." PHOTO: Scott Markewitz
Required reading: Dorworth’s “Night Driving.” PHOTO: Scott Markewitz

“He can be intensely stubborn,” says Lito Tejada-Flores, Dorworth’s friend and publisher. “When he pursues something, it’s very much damn the torpedoes.”

As a young man, he became one of the country’s best ski racers while exploring the world as a writer and rambler. In 1962, he was named to the first U.S. National Training Team. The next year, his insatiable drive to be the fastest skier took him to Portillo, Chile, where he broke the world speed-ski record by hitting 106 mph in leather boots.

As a ski instructor at Bear Valley, California, he refused, on principle, to shave his huge Grizzly Adams beard. Because he was so good at his job, the resort made an exception to their strict grooming standards. In 1968, he traveled with Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins, and Tejada-Flores on an epic road trip from California to Patagonia in order to climb the 11,020-foot Cerro Fitz Roy.

On all of his journeys, Dorworth kept his thoughts in little spiral notebooks, where he’d generate material for a host of magazines. His most well-known piece of literature is called “Night Driving,” a 100-page essay, rant, ramble, mind- and drug-exploring diatribe on skiing, climbing, racing, speed, nature, women, and, of course, driving cross-country after the sun goes down. The essay was first published, in its entirety, in the Mountain Gazette, in 1975. “Night Driving” is socially irreverent and wide-eyed to the importance of being true to one’s self and the planet. As such, it should be required reading for every dedicated skier. The book was republished this year by Western Eye Press, to go along with his two other books: “The Straight Course,” a work about speed skiing in the 1960s; and “The Perfect Turn,” essays on skiing.

Also in The Soul Gallery: Bobbie Burns