Patroller pens ‘White Heat’
December 22, 2007
In "White Heat," author Wayne Johnson, a part-time ski patroller at Park City Mountain Resort, invites the reader to slip into his ski boots and wear his goggles for a while.
For Johnson, that means beginning with his first love of "the arcane world" of Nordic jumping in Minnesota and daring to conquer "Suicide Hill." It means examining legacies of ski racers Picabo Street and Bode Miller and acknowledging the influx of snowboarders on the resort scene, and subsequently, the introduction of home-boy hip-hop culture slopeside. It also means experiencing what it’s like to wake up before sunrise to meet Jackie the Dynamite Girl at Park City Mountain Resort, to strap 24 pounds of dynamite onto your person and agree to be her "Dynamite Donkey.
"White Heat" takes a look at mountain life from the inside out and with a democratic eye not just for local members of the mountain cult, but for all those who are interested in learning about the lifestyle. For most of the book, he writes in the second person, and he considers his companion anyone who’s curious about what it feels like to launch yourself 20 feet into the air or let yourself slide down a 40-degree pitch at 70 miles per hour or, if they are so inclined. "I wrote it for everyone I wrote it for your aunt’s parakeet," he says.
Johnson says he’s slowed down since taking a job with ski patrol, replacing that thrill with a new interest in backcountry and heliskiing, joining skiers he originally thought of as crazy-looking "Steep and Deep Skiers" who were "either guys with hearts like diesel truck engines who ran triathlons or girls who put plugs of Red Man in their cheeks demented-seeming guys who did avalanche control, who you just happen to know now folks like Jackie, Dynamite Girl."
Now, he says, he’s come around.
"Powder at ten or eleven thousand feet can be so light as to be compared to smoke," he writes in the final pages of his book. "A good pair of powder skis, or snowboard, will literally ‘float’ in it, and the sensation of coming down a mountainside in uncut, high-altitude powder, is only akin to flying."
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"White Heat" is Johnson’s fifth novel, but it’s his first book to unite his passion for the mountains with his passion for literature. Beyond the visceral experience of flying down slopes, he says he aimed to write a book about people, describing the many colorful characters he’s met while living the mountain life and on ski patrol whom he calls "the most unified group of unlike people" he’s ever met.
When he’s not patrolling at Park City, skiing or writing, Johnson teaches at Salt Lake City’s Westminster College as a writer-in-residence and at University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Program. He graduated with an MFA from the University of Iowa in 1989 and was nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize. He has received two prestigious fellowships, including the Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University and the Chesterfield Writers’ Film Project at Amblin Entertainment, where he helped to refine screenplays in Los Angeles. He lives in Park City with his wife Karen, to whom he dedicates his book.
"White Heat" is published by Simon & Schuster and can be found on Amazon.com and local bookstores. For more information, visit joannadymond.com.