September 2022 Book Review – “Sidecountry: Stories of Death and Life on Sport’s Backroads”


From the Winter Olympics and Tour of Utah cycling to Ragnar races and the Little League World Series, Utahns live outdoors and are engaged. With this wide variety of sporting activities, one may stop to wonder what an athlete is, or even what a sport is. In his book, “Sidecountry: Tales of Death and Life from the Back Roads of Sports,” author and journalist John Branch introduces us to people who play sports and helps us understand why they do it.

The book’s opening story takes the reader on a deadly Cascades ski trip with depth and detail about the people of Stephens Pass that fateful day about the precise timing and weather conditions and flawless exposure of the awful result. Branch’s reporting of the avalanche and its deadly aftermath is an absolute adrenaline rush.

But equally engaging and memorable are the many other stories like that of the athlete with one of the highest winning percentages of all time. If you guess the names of baseball or basketball players, try the horseshoes.

Or Mandy Stokes, the champion alligator hunter who holds the record for the most alligators killed in the annual hunt, or the particularly poignant story of the women’s basketball team in Huntington, Tennessee , whose epic losing streak is entirely irrelevant.

While each of these true stories is unique and uncommon, each is equally unforgettable. In his story of climbers on Everest, faced with the extraction of one of their dead, Branch writes that we are on this trail with the Sherpas, short of oxygen, frozen, at the limit of their physical capacities. .

Ultimately, they are deeply personal stories of strength, commitment, endurance and dedication, which go a long way in defining what an athlete is, and even what a sport is.

On October 19, the Park City Education Foundation will sponsor Mr. Branch’s presentation at Mr. Steve Cuttia’s Sport and Society Literature Class at Park City High School. Afterwards, he will address Friends of the Park City Library at the annual Authors’ Luncheon at Silver Lake Lodge.

Lunch tickets are available now at the Park City Library information desk and on the library’s website. “Sidecountry: Tales of Death and Life on Sport’s Backroads” is available now from your public library. For KPCW, it’s Cathy Lanigan.


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