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Book Review — “White Heat”

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Novelist and Pulitzer-Prize nominee Wayne Johnson has written a book about skiing. “White Heat” (Atria Books, $26.00) debuted last week, and it covers the lifestyle that is skiing—in all its forms. Johnson, a 51-year-old native of Minnesota and now a resident of Utah, is a writer as well as a mountain patroller at Park City Resort outside Salt Lake City.

His 352-page tome includes a look into ski racing, avalanche patrol, Nordic jumping, park skiing, snowboarding, and steep and deep backcountry pursuits.

The book serves well as an introduction to all things skiing. Anyone who’s ever been curious about ski bummery and “the mountain life” and all that will gain insight from “White Heat.” Along those same lines, experienced skiers and/or mountain people might feel the material to be too geared toward the uninitiated.

But Johnson’s tales are entertaining. Stories about well-knowns like Bode Miller, Stein Erickson, Tony Sailer, and Jean-Claude Killy are featured alongside bits about the regulars from Johnson’s life on the mountain at Park City.

Chapters include “Avalanche Control: On Duty with Dynamite Girl”; “The Curious and Arcane World of Nordic Ski Jumping”; and “Who Lives in East Bumblerut, Idaho, and other West of the Hudson Mysteries.”

I enjoyed the “Dynamite Girl” chapter, where Johnson drools over the triple-bliss of powder snow, explosives, and a good-looking female mentor:

“RRRRR. RRRRRR, you growl behind Jackie, lifting your arms like some sleepwalker, or like Boris Karloff, laughing to yourself. . . ‘Oh, baby,’ you say, in it a kind of total dread, but with it. . . excitement. And it has nothing to do with Jackie. ‘Come on,’ she says and, with an eagerness beyond explanation, you follow her out into the blizzard, to stand a block from the hut, taking it in. A damn near, bona fide whiteout. The mountains, in all that snow, are phantasmagorical blue-black and white teeth. Standing just behind Jackie, the snow burning your face, you hear a sound in the distance not unlike what someone would make leaping face down onto a feather bed. A whoooomphf!”

The book is written in the pseudo-first-person, by which I mean that it’s written in the little-used second person. Though for a lot of the book the second-person tense is actually put through Johnson’s first-person lens. Confusing? The format actually works, as the reader is put in the driver’s seat, dead in the action, word after word.

Said Johnson: “I wanted to put the reader into the experience as much as possible, to collapse the gap between reader and subject, to get inside the experience and let them feel what it’s like.”

He accomplishes that pretty well with “White Heat.”

Book’s web site: www.joannadymond.com

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/White-Heat-Extreme-Skiing

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