Instant Karma, by Wayne K. Sheldrake

Review by Eduardo Rey Brummel

Ski Life – November 2007 – Colorado Central Magazine

Instant Karma: The Heart and Soul of a Ski Bum
by Wayne K. Sheldrake
Published in 2007 by Ghost Road Press
ISBN: 0979625505

With no small thanks to Telluride, Aspen, and Vail, skiing is at the top of the list of what people think about when you mention Colorado. And one of the new voices that’s been rising since Mountain Gazette’s resurrection seven years ago, is Wayne Sheldrake, a skier from Del Norte and a contributor to that magazine, as well as this one.

When Sheldrake catches his groove, he writes with the same “damn the torpedoes” bravado he devotes to skiing. In the thirteen chapters of this mountain memoir, he takes the reader from the heady days of Wolf Creek ski-instructing, to the ripping sounds of carving turns at Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Between snow and turf, Sheldrake tells of his hellion early boyhood, the men his mother chose for live-in lovers, his two nearly-fatal skiing accidents, and his open-heart surgery at thirty-three.

And, of course, skiing.

Most of the chapters are longer than what’s generally allowed in a magazine, and this is mostly new material. Sheldrake, like a skier on his first backcountry trip away from the lift lines, chairs, and groomed snow, works to keep himself upright, to keep his turns smooth and match them to the suddenly expansive terrain. In the second chapter, Sheldrake is among twenty-one hopefuls who’ll be chosen to fill seven ski instructor vacancies. They’re gathered to begin the training and the weeding out:

The Wolf Creek Ski School instructor was a tall, broom-mustached, green-coated, squeaky- voiced hybrid — part √¶robics instructor, part revival preacher…. He insisted that we “Look up!” and “Smile!” as we gathered in circles to wiggle absurdly short skis on flat snow. He taught us absurdly embarrassing on-snow calisthenics.

… I took my turns leading my fellow wannabes — unemployed locals dressed in checked flannel shirts, boot cut jeans, work gloves, and parkas that looked like sleeping bags. We hopped. We wiggled. We shuffled. We sweated. We thrashed around like junior high kids mocking our parents’ enthusiasm for Chubby Checker’s Let’s Twist Again. The ski school director cheered from the sidelines, clapping his thick mittens and barking, “Isn’t this fun!”

I kept smiling. Free skiing, I told myself. Free skiing.

Sometimes, though, the lack of boundaries in this format allows for too much rambling. Chapter thirteen checks in at forty-two pages. You’ll likely be glad it’s the last chapter; and you may be sad, realizing this closing leaves you with the worst example of Sheldrake’s abilities. If he’d taken less time getting to the subject of this chapter– skiing at Great Sand Dunes — and put in fewer superfluous conversations once there, it could have easily shortened this chapter to a third its length, with three or four times its power.

If there’s a problem plaguing the book, it’s a need for better editing. The looseness and bar-brother-well-met style of Mountain Gazette doesn’t work well outside the context of those monthly pages. Sheldrake’s story-telling tends to wander, and a little more tightening and polishing could have displayed his talents with greater elegance.

Still, all-in-all, Instant Karma weighs in with more power than problems. I came to the end, wanting more. Amid the rough terrain, there are enough good runs to leave you smiling and breathless, seeing the world differently and anew. This is just Sheldrake’s beginning; there are surely still miles to go before he sleeps. My parting words to Sheldrake are the same as those in a friend’s letter. “Write soon.”

Eduardo Rey Brummel lived nearly thirty years in Texas. But after nine years in Colorado Springs, and four and a half in Salida, not many folks still hold it against him.