Robert Cocuzzo - Tracking the Wild Coomba

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For readers who are not familiar with author Rob Cozuzzo’s debut book Tracking the Wild Coomba, a biography of one of the world’s greatest mountaineering extreme skiers, you also might not know he is the Managing Editor of N Magazine, a stunning seasonal publication featuring all the latest and greatest people, places and things on and about Nantucket. It’s more than a full-time job, and he manages it seamlessly year-round, twenty-four-seven. So, before I tell you about the awe-inspiring biography he recently wrote about the life and death of his skiing hero, Doug Coombs, which he will be presenting at this year’s Nantucket Book Festival, I must tell you a bit about the man behind the pen. 

Rob conceived, wrote and published this book during his almost non-existent spare time, grabbing random hours whenever he could, while turning out issue after issue of N. No small feat.  Some of the writing of the manuscript was done on Nantucket after work and late at night, some was written in his cabin in New Hampshire during the winter months when the magazine is in its planning stages, other chapters from weekend digs in Boston, and a lot of it, during one intense winter Rob committed to retracing Doug’s life in the same small French village in the Alps where the skier spent the last days of his life.

Ever since Rob graduated from Mt. Holyoke, he knew he wanted to write and eventually landed a dream job as the editor of N in 2012. Through sheer determination and focus, plus elbow grease mixed with sand, he was quickly promoted to Managing Editor. Working long days and endless weeks, Rob’s pinpoint focus, determination, and tenacity make a winning combination for a writer who needs to put the words down on the page and get the job done.   While he turned out articles for N, he was also churning out the book that was bursting from beneath the buttons of his polo shirt. It was something he felt called to do and there was nothing that could or would stop him from getting Doug’s story down on paper.

      

I believe, as does Rob, in cosmic energy, and it is by no mistake that Rob became obsessed with Doug Coombs at a young age.  As a kid, Rob remembers watching VHS videos of Doug maneuvering his way with ease, grace, and skill down vertical mountain drops as steep as a closed door. Doug cruised through places no one on earth had ever skied before, down terrains no one had ever even dreamed of descending: Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Mount Vison in Antarctica; Wyatt Peak in Kyrgyzstan; Valdez, Alaska; and throughout the commanding French Alps.  Images of Doug on the covers of Powder Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Skiing Magazine—images burned onto Rob’s brain—were everywhere, as Doug won competition after competition as the world’s greatest skier. He and his wife, Emily started the first heli-skiing company in Valdez, Alaska, a first in the industry, opening the doors of ski-mountaineering to serious skiers around the world. Doug felt born to pursue this sport and nothing would or could, stand in his way.  

 Rob shared a cosmic past with Doug as well, skiing the same ski area in Massachusetts as Doug did when he was a kid. Rob has always longed to follow in Doug's ski tracks and discover what traits Doug possessed that made him as talented an athlete—one so fearless, tenacious, dedicated, and focused that he could claim the title “King of the Mountains” forever.

When I met Rob, he had just started his job with N. He had new ideas and stories he knew would work to bring vibrancy and readership to the magazine but needed freelancers. We met by chance, struck up a conversation about writing, and when he found out I was spending the summer on Nantucket to revive my long-shelved career as a writer, he asked me if I was interested in sending him a sample of my work. I went straight home and browsed through my fledging list of recently written documents and found one possible fit.  “Good for a Girl” is about my friendship with a college ski team buddy, a guy I dated named Doug Coombs, whose death from a fall while skiing in France I felt acutely when I read about it in 2006 in the New York Times.

Rob’s emailed immediately. “I’m writing a book about this guy. He’s my all-time hero. I can’t believe you sent this to me. You’re hired.”

It was my own cosmic reentry into journalism, a path I felt destined to complete, one that would open the way for me into more published work, an eventual graduate degree in nonfiction writing and eventually onto the memoir I am writing now.

Throughout Rob’s journey of tracking the wild coomba, there were many other cosmic coincidences involving Doug.  Unexpected and revelatory conversations and meetings with family, school friends, and beloved ski buddies of Doug’s in extraordinary circumstances took place time and again. But Rob came to understood that Doug, too, was fallible. Doug had indeed slipped and fallen to his death trying to help his best friend avoid that very fate. Doug’s undoing was his big heart. But it is Rob’s dedication to Doug’s spirit that allows the skier to live once more on the pages of this finely researched and written story.

It is no wonder that Rob choose Doug for the subject of his first nonfiction profile. All the traits that carried Doug to be the best in his field, are the same characteristics and qualities that have taken Rob to his—hard work, dedication, fortitude and that one very special quality they both share—heart.   I saw great things in Doug way back when, and I see an amazing future for Rob as a writer. Two heroes in one lifetime makes me one lucky girl.

Ryder Ziebarth