Book review: ‘Ski Bums and the Art of Skiing,’ by Tom Simek
special to the Weekender
Nearly everyone who has settled in Summit County and other Colorado resort areas has done so partly because of the skiing that is within minutes of any doorstep. There are many types of skiers, and there is room for all of them across the varied terrain that comprises Colorado’s famed resorts. And then there are individuals like local author Tom Simek, who has taken the skiing lifestyle to another level all together.
In his recent book, “Ski Bums and the Art of Skiing,” Simek describes his own evolution into the realm of obsessive-compulsive skiing behavior and its many side effects. As is common, Simek’s inauguration into the Colorado ski-bum culture came in the company of a family member who led the way. He watched his older brother head west, away from the only kind of skiing he had ever known — short, icy and unsatisfying runs on the hills of New England.
Neither of Simek’s parents were skiers, so he was not raised in the culture. Instead, he came to the sport later in his childhood. He relates those first moments on skis, that time when half the battle is getting past the initial fear in order to arrive at the sweet spot of the experience, when the thrill is discovered. As with most things, childhood is that window of time when all things seem possible and failure is just another part of the journey toward learning and when one discovers that those moments of doubt and uncertainly can lead to exhilarating experiences on the other side.
Like most kids who learned to ski and lived in the East, he struggled between his love for the sport and the frustration that accompanied each run down the too-short and iced-over trails of his local resort. He turned to other sports, playing basketball and soccer, but he quickly tired of their organized nature, longing for a more freeing activity.
Finally, the time came to join his brother in Breckenridge for a visit, and the first powder run was humbling, yet liberating. The experience shook up his world, waking him from the society-dictated life trajectory; he was smitten, ready to commit — commit to the soft, fluffy Colorado snow and the easy lifestyle of a life in the mountains with friends.
In Simek’s mind, living a ski-bum lifestyle is living the American dream, albeit a slightly irreverent and rebellious one. Throughout his book, Simek pays homage to marijuana and its rightful place as a friend to the committed ski bum. He goes well beyond acknowledging the modern ski-bum stereotype of drinking and smoking from dawn until dusk, detailing a life-on-the-edge existence. He straight out celebrates the decadence, the nights of heavy drinking until the wee hours, emphasizing the ability to hit the slopes the next morning.
In all his honesty about his chosen lifestyle, Simek comes across as slightly defensive of the ski-bum culture, and perhaps he goes too far in assuming the right to speak on behalf of ski bums everywhere — very possibly, the earliest Summit County residents who claim the ski bum title might not want to be included beneath his umbrella.
Embracing the child at heart is indeed a trait shared by most adventurers and others who dare to challenge convention and rules, and he admits that this can include both positive and negative childish behavior. For the most part, he insists, modern ski bums are well-intentioned, mostly male, more attached to their dogs than to girls and are very possessive of those special hidden “stashes” of backcountry powder.
Simek’s book is short and reads easily, and it could have benefitted from some editing, but the author was probably heading out for a smoke and some early powder turns, eager to get high and deep in his mountain playground.
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