Every autumn my husband and I watch ski movies, letting the scenes of deep powder and steep skiing fill us in like the first snowfall. I always have high hopes. This time of year I’m ready for the season to start, sniffing the morning air for incoming storms, keeping my eyes on the winter forecast, and sharpening my skis. Skiing is in my blood, and after a few months without the feel of metal edge on forgiving snow I start to feel a little lost.
Enter the high hopes of ski movies.
Some of them meet expectations: The recent Art of Flight knocked my socks off and classics like Steep and Deep and Blizzard of Aahhhs, never get old. Lately, however, I’ve been waiting for something better. As much as I love to watch pros ski incredible lines that I can only dream about, isn’t there something more?
Perhaps because I’m a writer, I want more out of ski movies. I want to be told a story. In Creative Writing 101, a writer learns that a compelling story must have a narrative arc. Interesting characters must transform in some way through the inevitable action of the plot. I’m not saying that ski movies should adhere to the rules of fiction. Yet, when every season starts anew with all-too similar spines, helicopters nosed in to sunlit ridges, skiers jumping over cliffs, I start to wonder how the ski movie industry is going to move forward.
A friend and reader recently lamented the glorification of cliff jumping in ski movies. As a mom, she worries that her kids will associate the kind of skiing in the movies as the norm. I guess I just wish ski movies were a little closer to the experience of real skiers.
Cody Townsend's Tracks with Bombhole, courtesty of codytownsend.com
When Cody Townsend is injured during the filming of Matchstick’s Attack of La Niña after jumping a 70 foot cliff, Scott Gaffney later admits that while watching the fall, there was a moment when he thought, “I may have just watched a friend die.” Townsend came out relatively unscathed (if you consider a knee injury and tibial plateau fracture unscathed). But still. Watch the video and the interview here.
For most of us who plan on skiing until we’re old, even a “minor” knee injury could cause lasting damage to our skiing careers. But professionals–whether ski racers, big mountain film stars or Olympic-bound freeskiers, injury seems inevitable.
If the film-going masses expect the tricks and jumps to get bigger and more impressive every year, skiers and riders will continue to raise the bar. Instead of throwing ever more impressive stunts, I hope for a different direction in the movies.
Here’s my idea for a ski movie: Take a crew of five or six professional skiers; choose individuals who can string a few sentences together without having to rely on mind-numbing uhhs and dudes and various expletives. Visit five ski areas in the world. Follow the pros as they meet locals and learn where lay the goods. The local that shows them the best lines, the best time, maybe even hooks them up with a place to stay goes with them on their next stop—heli-skiing in Kamchatka or cat skiing in BC or fjord-assisted touring in Norway. I would love to watch that guy or gal, who previously found only brief stashes of powder at his or her local ski area, approach an entire mountain of fresh lines. Call the movie, “Ski Bum Karma.”
In this way, viewers learn about individuals, real skiers sacrificing money and prestige to ski every day. These are the dedicated. These are the individuals that make ski towns worthy places to live. As much as I enjoy watching Eric Hjorleifson talk about how well Ingrid Backstrom can ski, I’d really love to hear what he has to say about Ross Gregg’s dedication and joie de vivre. Ski bums are the true heroes of the ski industry.
In the introduction to this month’s The Ski Journal, editor Mike Berard laments the recent losses in skiing, including Shane McConkey, Arne Backstrom and Kip Garre. It’s important, Berard claims, that such loss “should remind us there are more important elements to life than sliding down a mountain.” And yet these tragedies “are reminders to continue pursuing what is closest to our heart.”
To pursue what is closest to our heart—isn’t that what it’s all about? It’s really not about watching others drop big lines that stoke the fire of a million-dollar industry. It’s not about that Redbull sponsorship or those K2 skis or the Smith goggles that help you keep your eyes on the slopes. Nor is it about Crystal Mountain or Big Sky or any other ski area.
Really it is about pursuing a sport close to your heart. It is about the sparkle of snow crystals caught in a glint of snow; it is the triumphant moment just before you drop in, when your ski tips hang over the lip of the run and the wind rises up to meet you; it is that first turn—whether ripping corduroy, jumping a cornice or letting fly a million powder crystals that sweep you up and envelop your heart.
So all you ski filmmakers out there, feel free to steal my idea. It’s there for the taking. Give us more than another round of a lucky few hitting predictably big lines. Give us a story. Show us real skiers reaping big rewards, living close to their hearts.