Leafing Through An Old Magazine Reminds Us Of A Great Writer

Back in the early 70s, as assistant editor at SKIING Magazine, then located at One Park Avenue in New York, we would occasionally watch a typescript from John Jerome arrive in the mail and work its way through the editorial process. After reading a couple of paragraphs, it became clear that these words were not the usual ski article patter. John was a skilled observer, first requirement of an essayist extraordinaire, and was able to tell stories and administer advice about simple things in a way that revealed a writer was at work.



John Jerome was a polymath; he started in automotive journalism (he was editor at Car and Driver), became a skiing savant (he was editor at SKIING), re-located from the “city, working for magazines, wrestling with words and paper in tall buildings under fluorescent lights” to New England. There, as a freelance, he wrote books and many articles about running, building stone walls, becoming an aging athlete, mountains, the value of stretching, and, yes, skiing. And the halo of subjects around skiing, like cars and winter. Here’s an excerpt we just re-discovered by glancing through a November, 1969, SKIING article, “Car and Skier”. He’s talking about one of the two main problems of winter driving he learned by living in cold-winter New Hampshire, getting unstuck:

“Getting unstuck, or not getting stuck, is a much more diffuse problem, against which logical, ordered stops are not so effective. I hate and despise snow tires, but I put ‘em on, and they saved me a lot of grief. My prejudice was based on their noisiness and feel at highway speeds; what I didn’t realize is that a large part of the process of not getting stuck is a kind of metaphorical shifting of gears that takes place when you are a severe-winter resident. You simply slow down. When winter closes in, you bank your metabolism and your frustrations, and settle down into a calm and bumping 25-mile-per hour way of life. It does wonders for keeping you out of snow banks, and it also overcomes a lot of prejudices about snow tires. You can spot winter tourists by how fast they drive more quickly than by their plates. So can the cops.”

The first problem of winter driving, if you’re wondering, is getting started.  Solution: Bring car battery into house at night.

John Jerome, prolific writer, observer, athlete, contemplator of things.

Good writers see connections between things in the world that others either don’t see, or don’t see until the writer points them out. John Jerome was good at that. Here—in this excerpt from his book Stone Work— he makes a link between the rhythm of placing stones on a wall and making linked turns in skiing. On finishing the placement of a stone—the last step of the cycle: start, the move, the finish—he says:

“Sometimes, there is more difficulty in finishing moves than in starting them. I first ran across this principle in downhill skiing, where great instructional emphasis is placed on completing one turn in order to get the next one started right. This didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me: you have to stop turning in one direction if you’re going to start turning in the other, don’t you? I flailed and flummoxed my way through a lot of awkward moments before the significance of the advice sank in. Finishing is a positive act. A ski turn carried to its logical physical conclusion ends with an edge-set that make a stable platform from which to start the next turn. ‘Finished’ means your weight is in the right place, your body and skis prepared for whatever comes next. Without it, you’re in trouble. You have no ‘timing’.’

John Jerome was contemplative writer who wrote in a way that made you feel you were talking with a very interesting friend over a very good drink.

His books are still available on Amazon.com. Have you read Truck, Staying With It, or Staying Supple?

One Comment

  1. Tamsin Venn says:

    Nice write up. On Mountains is another good book by Jerome.

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