Author of new ski racing book, ‘The Fall Line,’ in Eagle County for two events this week
Catch Nathaniel Vinton for a free book signing at Fuxi Racing USA in Eagle-Vail Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m.; and a $10 event and discussion at The Bookworm of Edwards on Friday starting at 6 p.m.
Look at the cover of Nathaniel Vinton’s new ski racing narrative “The Fall Line” and you’re likely to notice a picture of Bode Miller, and not much else.
Get a few pages into the book and you’ll find it reading like a great novel, a page turner that keeps you on the edge of your seat, wanting to know what’s next.
But it’s not a novel, it’s a true story, and you already know what’s next — Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller win gold medals at the 2010 Olympics.
And that’s the beauty of Vinton’s work in “The Fall Line,” you know the outcome, but the details getting there are so interesting and well told that casual observers and wonks alike can’t help but pour through them with the excitement that you would a good novel.
STARTS OF THE SPORT
Vinton’s prose is both philosophical: “The 2009 U.S. National Championships would later be remembered as the Volcano Nationals because of the concurrent eruption of Mountain Redoubt … just the earth’s molten core reminding the ski racing world that geology made this all possible,” and funny: “T.J. Lanning, a self-professed redneck from Montana, was living proof that talent and courage were insufficient virtues for downhillers who didn’t also possess luck.” But through and through he’s a reporter, and his ear for detail and in-depth material will have you appreciating that an American journalist took this much time and interest in the sport at the moment that Vinton did. The time period and subjects on which he focused — Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn from March 2009 to February 2010 — are, in themselves, perfect fodder for such an undertaking. But Vinton goes much wider, to the first downhill ski race in 1911 in Switzerland, the 1950 World Championships in Aspen and, of course, to Franz Klammer in the 1976 Olympics.
It’s that wide view that will give the reader so much more appreciation for the cover after completing the book; jumping out from what was once a picture of Bode Miller will be a compelling collection of details. After reading Vinton’s work, you’ll notice the Head logo on Bode’s skis, because you’ll be well aware of what the superstar has been through with various ski companies, and what he has put various ski companies through over his many years skiing on the World Cup. You’ll notice the Solden logo on his helmet and know the story behind headgear sponsorship on World Cup athletes, and how Bode engaged in one of his “classic demonstrations of artistry,” as Vinton put it, at the Solden venue in 2003.
A great reporter but also a wry wordsmith, along the way Vinton amasses a wonderful collection of details very loosely related to ski racing but wildly interesting nonetheless, like the Solden venue gaining international renown in 1991 “when a pair of hikers found the body of a 5,300-year-old caveman half protruding from his icy grave.”
Local residents will enjoy Vinton’s descriptions of the Birds of Prey course, “The raptor motif fits perfectly; the racers look like hawks folding their wings up and diving for prey”; Vail Mountain and Ski Club Vail, “Racing had been built into the resort’s image since its founding”; and native Olympian Sarah Schleper, who Vinton says, in 1994, was “A vivacious 15-year-old blonde from Vail … an expert powder skier said to be one of the most promising young racers in America … about as cool as a teenager could get.”
THE SPORT STARS
While the whole book is written in the third person, it’s an especially omniscient third person, leading us to assume Vinton has consumed every piece of ski media for the past three decades. We’re taken to the pages of the Chicago Tribune in 1992 with a great Marc Girardelli quote: “You people make me laugh with your Olympic obsession”; NBC’s “The Tonight Show” in 1998 with Arnold Schwarzenegger himself coining the term “The Herminator” for Hermann Maier; and the Austrian Press Agency in 2009 with their breaking headline “Bode Miller has a daughter.”
Part of Vinton’s ability to collect so much interesting material lies in his access, as he explains in the one part of the book that is written in first person, the forward. It’s a nice introduction, where Vinton is able to validate himself as an experienced ski journalist without coming right out and professing his resume by sharing stories of him and Lindsey Vonn in 2002 and him and Bode Miller in 2013. Vinton’s goal, as stated in that forward, is to “let the sport be the star,” rather than Vonn and Miller.
Vinton certainly accomplishes that with his thorough research and thoughtful prose, but as the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships begin here in the Vail Valley this week, Vinton’s book will also give you an appreciation for just how great Miller and Vonn have been in their contributions to American ski racing, and how much of a treat it is that we as Americans will get to see both of these legends of the sport here in Beaver Creek this week.
“The Fall Line” is not just a must-read for anyone with any interest at all in ski racing, it’s a must-read, right now, while the excitement from the World Championships is in the air.
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