For some time now, high thinkers of the literary world have been irritated by something they call the "nonbook." The nonbook looks like a book. It has a cover, title, is sometimes attributed to an author (though more often to an editor or collector) and contains a certain number of printed pages. Despite the formal similarities, the contents, style and raison d'�tre of a nonbook are very different from what is conventionally thought of as a book. Nonbooks are such things as The Best from Burma-Shave Signs, 101 Ways to Cook with Tannic Acid, Collected Letters from the Dubuque Public Schools, How to Knit Thermal Underwear, Enjoy Your Thumb—Don't Risk Lung Cancer, Praying with Your Eyes Closed, Computer Ballads, etc.
Whether it is another instance of nature imitating art or just that our times are right for such developments, there are, besides nonbooks, a number of other things which appear to be what they are not. We have, for example, the nondrink (taste creamy Colorless Cola), nonfoods (slurp up Coal Tar Whipping Cream), nonsongs (hear Bob Dylan) and nonflowers (look in the window garden of almost any bank). We also have nonsports. Nonsports, like nonbooks, have all the trimmings of the real thing—rules, gear and jargon—but are shy on substance. They do not require, as a rule, physical conditioning, exertion, endurance, agility, risk-taking, cunning or sweat. In true sports the object is to seek out some sort of difficulty, created by the elements, men or other beasts, and overcome it. In nonsports the aim is to avoid stress, strain and challenge.
Hunting, for example, is evolving into a major nonsport. Commercial pheasant and quail "preserves" have recently become big and numerous. At these establishments "hunters" who have a yen to kill are provided with gun, dog, temporary permit and directions to small fenced lots into which are released cage-reared birds. At the better-run preserves, guns and dogs are superfluous, except as psychological props. After paying his fee, the nonsportsman is guaranteed a pair of birds. He can bag his brace by shooting them, stomping on them, smothering them, or he can get them pre-bagged (in plastic) from the preserve's freezer.
One inflexible law of nonsports, or sports becoming nonsports, seems to be that as the athletic content of the activity decreases, the athletic trappings increase. A nonsportsman going out for two frozen pheasants buys or rents enough clothes, shells, guns and hounds to have sufficed Daniel Boone for a transcontinental hunt. Or take golf. It would have taxed the entire field of the 1900 U.S. Open to have used the clubs, balls, umbrellas, folding stools, food and booze carried today by a foursome using electric golf carts. Or bowling. The best exercise bowlers get is carrying their custom-whittled balls, kangaroo-skin shoes, monogrammed shirts and towels from the car into the alleys.
The purpose of this nonsport impedimenta seems to be to create an illusion of true sport, a type of activity non-sportsmen obviously wish to think—or have it thought—that they are engaging in. To create this impression with a minimum of difficulty and exertion, they are willing to invest heavily in vigorous-looking clothes, gear and recreation facilities. Many promoters, designers, manufacturers and retailers have noted with delight the growing demand for nonsporting goods. However, perhaps none have so profitably stimulated this demand as those associated with the ski industry. Also it is probably fair to say that no group has shown such an insatiable appetite for illusion as skiers.
Now, nobody but a confirmed grouch could strongly object to the act of skiing itself—a pleasant, mildly stimulating pastime. (Nor should it be denied that some people have made this diversion into a sport of grace and daring. However, this group is neither the support of the ski industry nor the subject of this report.) Growing up in Michigan, I skied and enjoyed it. To ski you put on your long underwear, overalls (in those days, best beloved, blue jeans had not been invented, or at least not yet named), lumberjacket, boots, earmuffs, went out, climbed a hill, slid down it and then repeated the process. Besides the thrill of sliding on boards, the principal motive for going up and down the hill was to keep from freezing. All in all, it was harmless and filled in the afternoon between the end of school and the beginning of
Sometime between then and now somebody got hold of this child's play and began to make a billion-dollar nonsport out of it. The start of skiing's long downhill slide was the elimination of the only strenuous part of casual skiing—crowfooting uphill. First there was a rope tow, but this was a little too sporty, since it required hanging on with two hands. So came the T bar (which still took some balancing) and assorted chair lifts, which made it as easy to get up a hill as to watch a TV report of Hillary scaling Everest. The second problem was all that cold air. We primitive skiers kept warm by climbing and, when not climbing, by standing around a fire built in an old oil drum. The first of these heating devices was eliminated by the various lifts, but the second was seized upon and eventually became the ski lodge.
Any student of non-, or illusionary, sports should scrutinize ski lodges. They are as fimbrillate as motels, fancy as casinos and fanciful as a Grimm fairy tale. They are also hot as hell. Inside, thanks to all manner of heat-making and conserving gadgets, the average temperature of a ski lodge is about the same as that of Kingston, Jamaica. Nevertheless, there is no known ski lodge which, in addition to its automatic heating machinery, does not have an open fireplace—the hotter the lodge the bigger and opener the fireplace. Also it is a rare ski lodge that does not have a few bearskin scatter rugs in front of the fire and a wolfhide or two tacked by the fieldstone chimney. The illusion obviously being aimed for is that of a rich trapper's cabin on the banks of the Mackenzie River into which the intrepid northman can rush, massage his frostbitten fingers before the fire and, if he is still troubled by chilblains (in the 75�-above room), wrap himself up snugly in bearskins.
The exteriors of ski lodges are carefully designed to support and enhance the polar image. The two most popular styles of lodge architecture are currently Chalet Gothic and Beowulf Modern. Lodge roofs run to peaked, suggesting that they can shed avalanche quantities of snow. Gables, windows, jambs, doors tend to be carved or stenciled with Teutonic-looking dwarfs or Norse runes. The wild-animal-motif is often sustained by a moose or reindeer head bolted to the eaves. Sometimes even more ingenious efforts are made to create illusionary decorations. A ski-bum acquaintance ekes out a living at a mid- Michigan lodge by, among other chores, tending to two large symmetrical icicles, which hang all winter on each side of the front door. Because of the heat of the lodge, he often must wait until early morning, when the thermostat is turned down, before he can get out a hose and fatten the icicles.
Logic would indicate that the advent of lodges in which orchids can be grown would at least make it possible to dress more conveniently than in the old long-underwear, mackinaw days. Logic would, but not illusion. Though one could now dress for ski lodging as one does for basketball, the image of the arctic outdoorsman could hardly be sustained (to say nothing of ski-shop sales) if nonsports lounged around in their skivvies. Therefore as exposure to cold has decreased, the style of ski dress has become increasingly thermal. In shops from Miami to Palm Springs (and some points north) there are now available millions of dollars worth of down parkas, wolverine-fur hoods, Norse mittens, Inca hats. Modern skiers buy and, what is even more incredible, faithfully wear these garments, which are so warm that if Sir John Franklin and his men had had them the tragedy of the Boothia Peninsula would surely have been avoided.