Tom Kelly: Quarantine ski film festival
As skiers, we’re motivated by our aspirations. For me, every fall meant heading to a local theater to catch that year’s Warren Miller film — often narrated by Warren himself. Films inspire us. Whether or not you have CMH on your heli plan for the spring, ski films take us there in our minds.
In a season that’s like no other, we need to be ready for anything. So, for those days you may need to spend indoors for quarantine, welcome to the Quarantine Ski Film Festival.
What are the best ski films of all time? Certainly it’s in the eye of the beholder. But with the help of some of my Facebook friends, here are a few to think about next time you’re stuck at home for a couple days while it’s dumping outside. Let’s take some time to revisit old friends, and maybe meet a few new ones along the way.
“Hot Dog: The Movie” (1984): Well, it was either “Hot Dog” or “Ski Patrol.” I went with Hot Dog. A friend told me once that she did an edit to show the kids just the clean scenes. It came down to about 20 minutes in a 90-minute film. Do you remember ballet skiing again! There are many great lines from the movie, few of which can be printed here. But here’s one from the closing scene as skiers drop off the Palisades at Squaw Valley for the final event: “Now for the rules of the International Chinese Downhill: there are none.”
“Blizzard of Aahhh’s” (1988): When you look at 30-year-old ski films they generally, well, look like they’re 30 years old. Not “Blizzard of Aahhh’s!” What struck me was the relevance of the film still today. Greg Stump’s genius was on full display, beginning with his opening narration as Glen Plake, Mike Hattrup and Scot Schmidt stood on a Chamonix ridgeline to open the film. This was a film that ushered in a new era for the sport and set a standard for films to come.
“Der weiße Rausch” (1931): A stunning piece of cinematography from the early days of film! This 1931 production features innovative film techniques and extraordinary ski scenes from St. Anton, Austria. The film from Arnold Fanck features legendary ski pioneer Hannes Schneider, along with Leni Riefenstahl, who went on to produce Nazi propaganda films. Make sure to stay with it for the skiing scenes in the final third of the film.
“Swiftcurrent” (2020): “Swiftcurrent” from two-time Olympian Maggie Voisin is an easy-watching short film that gets to the heart of being in the backcountry. It helps that Maggie is a truly joyful person. But in a mere 4:29 she shows off the amazing skill that vaulted her to X-Games gold while motivating viewers to get out and ski. They’ve done a magical job in showcasing Maggie (it’s a solo film) while captivating viewers with puffy pillows of powder.
“Hotdoggin’ Hans” (2021): This new short feature from Olympic freeskier Alex Ferreira is just plain fun. The plot centers around Hotdog Hans, a legendary freestyle star from the ’70s who’s released from prison after 45 years, finding his way to the local terrain park and rippin’ it up. Enough said — find eight minutes to watch it this week.
“Downhill Racer” (1969): I’ve had a love affair with “Downhill Racer” for a half-century. For those with an inkling of an interest in alpine ski racing, this is your favorite ski film (it won my informal Facebook poll). Filmed on-site at the fabled Lauberhorn and Hahnenkamm downhills, it tells the story of downhill ski racing — the speed, the tension, the danger. It was a breakout film for Robert Redford (it didn’t hurt that “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” had been released a short time earlier). My dear friend, filmmaker Joe Jay Jalbert, was the skiing stand-in for Redford and others. Yes, that’s him crashing into the Wasserstation Tunnel.
“Other Side of the Mountain” (1975): In an era that would begin to define the present day U.S. Ski Team, Jill Kinmont was the young Mikaela Shiffrin of her time. A horrific crash in the Alta Snow Cup in 1955 paralyzed her for life — just a year before her projected Olympic debut. Think about that next time you ride the Collins Lift over the old Race Course run. The film showcases the ski legends of the time from Kinmont to Andrea Mead Lawrence, Buddy Werner, Dick Bueck and coach Dave McCoy in a gripping story of success, failure and tragedy. Despite her paralysis, she lived a gratifying life as a teacher. It’s a story that needs to pass down to future generations.
“Steep and Deep” (1985): As a lifelong Warren Miller fan, it was tough to pick just one. But Warren’s 1985 “Steep and Deep” is considered one of his quintessential films. It came at a time of transition in the world and the sport. The soundtrack was quintessential ’80s and the cameras captured changes in the sport as freestyle skiing was emerging, while the steeps got steeper and the powder got deeper. The opening scene of Utah’s own Scotty Brooksbank and newly blossoming legend Scot Schmidt scaling the near vertical of New Zealand’s Mt. Hood builds great tension. From Schmidt to Stein Eriksen, Jean-Claude Killy to the Mahre brothers, Warren brought all the stars together.
Warren produced hundreds of films. And his words every fall have motivated millions, like me.
“I think a lot about how lucky we people are, as skiers. Our spiritual roots reach back to the European pioneers who first dragged their skis to the four corners of the world. For all of us, it’s an old bond — a bond with the mountain, the snow in our skiing. It’s important. It’s everlasting. And it’s alive. And the bond will always be that way as long as the mountains are steep and snow deep. Hope to see you again next year. Same time, same place. Thank you and good night.”
So, tonight, click onto a ski film you haven’t watched before or one you’ve maybe forgotten. Enjoy!
Wisconsin native Tom Kelly landed in Park City in 1988 (still working on becoming an official local). A recently inducted member of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, he is most known for his role as lead spokesperson for Olympic skiing and snowboarding for over 30 years until his retirement in 2018. This will be his 51st season on skis, typically logging 60 days in recent years.
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