Classics low priority on slopes |

Classics low priority on slopes

Matt Zalaznick
NWS Alt Sick Read BH 12-4

After a day on the slopes and a stint on the night shift, three beers and a bucket of chicken wings are apparently a lot more alluring to local skiers and snowboarders than the verbal labyrinths of “Finnegan’s Wake” or “Gravity’s Rainbow.”

Even before a day on the slopes and no stint on the night shift – even for skiers and snowboarders just on vacation – sloughing through the masterpieces of classic English literature seems as high on the priority list as catching the flu.

“I think the last book I read was “The Red Badge of Courage’ – in high school,” said snowboarder Nick Kujala of Eagle-Vail, adding he doesn’t have the time for literature. “I ride all day, work the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. front desk shift – although I probably could read at the front desk.”

But, Kujala says, for those who do a lot of reading: “Stick to the classics.”

Kujala’s reading puts him in what some would call lofty company. “The Red Badge of Courage” was name dropped by Democratic presidential candidate and retired general Wesley Clark in a recent interview.

A better question to ask skiers and snowboarders than “What’s the last book you read?’ may be, “What’s the last magazine, brochure, pamphlet or flier you read?”

“FHM –“For Him’ mazagine – they had a few of those on the flight over here,” said Barrett Bruton, a skier from a small town near Greenville, Miss. “Or the morning newspaper.”

Bruton said he’d just rather be outside than curled up on the couch with a 900-page Tolstoy tome.

“I just don’t get into books,” he said. “I like to get outside and do things, like hunting, fishing, horseback riding –anything outdoors.”

There’s plenty of hunting and farming and running around outdoors in Tolstoy! A heroine would have to be outdoors to commit suicide by flinging herself in front of a speeding train!

Lightweight lit

The books that are read appear to be thrillers and bestsellers rather than the novels you’d find on the syllabus for a college English class.

“I’m reading Clive Cussler, “Shock Wave’ – it’s a mystery,” said Nate Picklo of Eagle. “It’s pretty good, he’s been writing for a while.”

But reading however may be more an exercise in pragmatism than erudition.

“I read on the bus ride over,” said Picklo, who was waiting for friends to head up Vail Mountain, adding he would still read Cussler’s books even if he didn’t have to ride the bus.

“When I’m not skiing or working,” he said.

Other recommended bus reading?

“”The Vail Daily,'” Picklo said. We swear – but at some colleges they do offer, “Bus Literature – Swift, Dreiser and Nabokov.”

How about reading on the gondola? A few pages of Faulkner or a chapter of Virginia Woolf to remind you about man’s inevitable state of doom and alienation before you start making some turns?

“I don’t read going up the gondola,” he said.

Skier Chris Norton, from Detroit, said he was an avid reader of thrillers and murder mysteries, such as the cannibal classic “Hannibal” by Thomas Harris –which he said was “pretty gross” – until his first child was born about a year ago.

“All I do is change diapers,” Norton said. “Babies take up all your time.”

What’s that got to do with skiing or reading? Well, there’s some hope, however, that skiers and snowboarders are truly edifying themselves.

“The last book I read was Harry Potter,” said Chris Drobney, a skier from Michigan, who added he also liked the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. “Just ’cause of all the media I started reading the other three Harry Potters so I thought I might as well read the fourth.”

Note: Five Harry Potter books have been published. What about the fifth book, Chris?

Clunky classics

OK, we said there was some hope that some skiers and snowboarders are reading the classics. Drobney, for instance, who admitted to also reading the works of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, said he couldn’t stand “The Last of the Mohicans” by James Fenimore Cooper.

“I had to put it down,” he said, adding he also hated Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

“Back then, that passed for adventure,” Drobney said. “You read it now, it’s kind of lame.”

By the way, Verne’s book was first published in 1864, and it’s a little known fact that Verne published the original “Terminator” –the inspiration for the Schwarzenegger movies – two years later and a series of novels featuring Jackie Chan in the 1870s. Drobney, however, said he enjoyed Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” – which is about starving orphans and has no karate fights or high-tech helicopter battles.

“Actually, some of the Shakespeare I read, I liked, too” he said. “It’s kind of scary.”

Liam Coughlin of West Vail is another snowboarder-reader not looking only for cheap thrills or mindless escapes. His current reading, he said, is solidly spiritual. He’s reading “The Tao of Pooh,” which, via the beloved children’s character, aims to show the simplicity of what’s often thought to be a complex eastern philosophy.

“The book’s at work,” he said.

You have time to read at work?

“It’s still the slow season,” he said.

And the last book he read?

“”Way of the Buddha,'” Coughlin said. Of his reading in general, he added, “It’s a way to be a good person.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at

Support Local Journalism