Book Review: “Ski Bum” by Colin Clancy

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“The thing that sucks about trying to live in the moment is that you end up broke and hungover when you wake up tomorrow.”

Direct and down to earth, Colin Clancy’s “Ski Bum” follows ski enthusiast Jimmy as he drops out of college in Michigan to head out west to chase the big slopes of Colorado. Aimless and romantic in an understated, blue-collar kind of way, Jimmy is looking for more than fresh powder. He wants to live life, to chase new experiences, even as he discovers how tough that can be on a part-time ski instuctor’s budget.

Living in workers’ quarters, Jimmy falls in with a crew of friends and quickly settles into a service-job routine: shots at night, the monotony of teaching rich kids to ski in the mornings, and stealing moments on the slopes whenever he can. Uncomplicated without being simple (just like Clancy’s writing style), Jimmy seeks basic pleasures alongside the more difficult work of determining who exactly he wants to be.

That’s when he’s sober. When he’s partying, Jimmy can turn into someone else entirely–throwing his phone into a snowbank after a screaming match with his girlfriend or wading into a bar fight for the thrill of it. But he’s not the worst drunk in a party scene full of them, and Clancy does his strongest work capturing several hellish bacchanalias, the kinds of bleary binges that render the next morning into slush under your boots.

The group’s excursion to New Orleans is a particular lowlight, taking what’s supposed to be a fun party weekend and transforming it into something hateful and queasy, half-riot, half-purge. The characters are still young enough that it’s fun for them to tie one on and get out of control; I’m much older than they are now, and reading Clancy’s book, I couldn’t help but worry for them, seeing the trouble on the horizon.

But the book reminds us they’re still young enough to make mistakes, to flounder, and to bounce back. “Ski Bum” does a memorable job capturing a slice of youth in a special place. The characters aren’t sure what they’re doing, but they don’t have to be quite yet–they still have time to bum around a while before shifting back to conventional lives, finishing school, getting real jobs.

It’s unclear how things will turn out for these characters, but the easy read rewards us for the time we spend with them.