Colorado memoirist VanHee recalls a troubled upbringing that led him to the ski slopes and drug scene of Aspen in the wild 1970s.
Now a Vail businessman and philanthropist, VanHee introduces himself at the outset as a classic 1970s American archetype: a young, quasi-hippie Aspen ski bum who sustained himself in Colorado counterculture partly with a dishwashing gig but mainly with drug dealing and supplying (and sampling) the resort city’s notorious narcotics buffet. Seeking to make the proverbial One Last Big Score and quit the scene, he and his cronies find themselves caught in a deadly avalanche; it’s from this metaphorical and real-life limbo, buried under an unknown quantity of snow and uncertain of the severity of his injuries, that VanHee flashes back over his life story. With a father who abandoned the household early on and an inattentive mother afflicted by a weakness for bad men, VanHee grew up bouncing between Colorado and Nebraska with haphazard supervision and a penchant for trouble. When sent to military school, he actually enjoyed the novelty of structure, discipline and athleticism. Still, personal demons and major missteps derailed his young life several times. Granted a miraculous reprieve from Vietnam service, he traded college for easygoing Aspen, where he savored communing with nature, the ski slopes, celebrities, camaraderie with friends who were also anti-war and—of course—the town’s thriving drug trade. Going from pot to peyote to LSD to cocaine (and seeing acquaintances succumb to heroin), VanHee spent much of the 1970s peddling narcotics, aware that the breezy ride was getting darker and nastier. While other addiction memoirs credit recovery to the likes of AA, religion or an author’s own mighty willpower, VanHee indicates that it was thoughts of his family, however badly flawed his parents might have been, that compelled him to turn his life around. In an afterword, he explains that writing an autobiography started as a way to bond more closely with the strong, stable household he now heads, a position once unlikely for an at-risk kid from a broken home. Though the lawbreaking and vice here may be too small-time for readers hoping for salacious true-crime thrills and a deep look at the higher levels of the drug trade, VanHee’s tale is a satisfying one, well-told and with a special appeal for regional markets in the western United States.
Less skiing and drugs than one might expect but still a successful account of a bumpy personal run and ultimate redemption.