When I finished reading Peter Kray’s The God of Skiing, I sat back and took a deep breath. The breath went down like a swig of beer after a good day of skiing powder with close friends. My soul felt a little fuller. It was satisfying, but I didn’t want the day to end. Or the story.
The book centers on Tack Strau, a collegiate racer turned ski bum whose legend was built on his cowboy spirit and unmatched power and speed on skis. Strau’s characterizations are aided and intertwined with Kray’s own experiences as a skier and writer, travelling the world and living in the mountains. The tales of Strau often read like stories told by strangers at a bar or by friends at a campfire, filled with familiarity but also fantasy. Kray even admits in the introduction: “In order to tell what’s true, I made up a couple of things. But only to balance out what I’m still afraid of telling.” Fictional or not, it sure reads like a skier somewhere experienced the stories that Kray tells.
The God of Skiing has received praise ever since it was released by Kray, and was even called “the greatest ski novel of all time” by Porter Fox, the author of DEEP: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow (which you should also go read). Despite the high acclaim, I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading, which may have been best. I was surprised and delighted by the style of writing and storytelling within, and quickly realized it is a book that must be read to understand what the rave is about.
Just sit back and enjoy it. When I first picked up the book, I found myself overthinking and overanalyzing the plot. There was no use trying to predict where the storyline was taking me. When I found myself reading in the moment just as the characters were living in the moment, I was far more impressed and engaged with the story.
The writing is a work of art. For example, when describing the Tetons, Kray writes: “It exults in the evidence of the speed of centuries, of billions of tons of earth pushing upward, gaining another single inch of sky every thousand years. Pharaoh building pyramids. The men we’ve sent to the moon. On the ongoing sense of sedimentary strife, of encrusted conflict and subterranean stress, as if every mountain were proof of the planet’s highest ideal.”
Read it when you’re in ski mode. Last summer I had the opportunity to chat on the phone with Kray, and he mentioned that when publishing The God of Skiing he made it a small, unique size so that it could fit in a pocket. His thinking in doing so was so that you could read it on the chairlift. Personally, I didn’t read it on the chairlift, but maybe I should have. My favorite reading spot was the bar of the GMD after skiing until last chair at Alta.
The book is an experience of skiing. I found myself thinking of the late Bryce Astle’s effortless arcs when Kray described Strau’s skiing. I thought back on my ski coach’s stories of moving west to Jackson Hole during the chapter from the Calico Pizza Parlor. I felt the sorrow and fear of an avalanche taking our own. I was reminded of the people I had met in my own ski travels and the sketchy situations I’ve skied my way through. For me, The God of Skiing encapsulated everything I love about the sport: the culture, the lifestyle, the people, the feeling of sliding on snow.