(Last Updated On: November 21, 2009)
Previously posted on my Thrillhead Blog
STEEP: A movie to see!!!
I was able to see “Steep” this weekend while in Crested Butte. If the movie comes your way, it’s a definite must-see. A big thumbs-up goes to this movie from me.
STEEP is a documentary about the history of skiing over the last 35 years and it’s movement into the backcountry. The movie makes the case that skiing was never really considered dangerous until people began pushing the sport to a new level. Skiers started looking at mountains- big mountains- and wanted to ski them too. Slowly, the world of skiing 25 degree slopes was left by the wayside, and a sport was reborn.
One of the first pivotal points in American skiing was the Bill Briggs’ ski descent of the Grand Teton. His story and interview is truly an amazing one. People thought he was crazy for skiing one of the gnarliest mountains in the range, and expected him to die. But Briggs truly thought it could be done, and thought people should be doing it. So, he gathered a team of mountaineers to help him to the top of the mountain. But, part way up, they claimed they could go no farther, leaving Bill Briggs to summit the peak on his own. His team waited as he went out of sight, and then later saw an avalanche. They took Briggs for dead, but then turned around and saw him skiing down the mountain. Bill Briggs completed the first ski descent of the Grand Tetons in 5 hours. Most amazing, though, is that he did the climb and ski on a surgically fused hip which caused him to limp whenever he walked. Truly amazing.
STEEP then transitions back to Europe, talking about 1970’s ski pioneers from France, Anselme Baud and Patrick Vallencant. The movie slowly takes you through the evolution of the sport, focusing on why people do it. The constant underlying theme that pulls the movie together is, “Why do people do this? Why are these people putting their lives at risk?” Every athlete in the movie has a different version of the same answer: You don’t want to die, but something that brings this much joy is worth some risk.
STEEP focuses on the discontent of filmmaker Greg Stump in the late ‘80’s. He was discontent with the portrayal of skiing as it was, and desired to change that. He did so when he released the epic movie, “The Blizzard of Aahhh’s”. I particularly liked this segment of the documentary because I could remember very vividly watching “The Blizzard of Aahhh’s” for the first time, and loving it. I watched it over and over and over and over again. I am surprised the video tape didn’t wear out. While I was watching this cult-classic film, others were too. The shots of Glen Plake and Scott Schmidt down the Aguille de Midi influenced an entire generation of future skiers, whose eyes were wide open, searching for the next adventure. Skiing could be fun. Skiing could be dangerous. Skiing was again reborn in America and we discovered our own Chamonix, in the mountains of Alaska.
STEEP has several interview segments from Doug Coombs and his wife Emily. Both Coombs and his wife reflect back on their lives as skiers. “I didn’t choose the mountains, they chose me.” STEEP follows them through the lives in establishing the first heli-skiing operation in Valdez, Alaska and then on to La Grave in the Alps. “Being able to feel what the mountains are saying to you is huge. They’re alive…. And they’ll make you more alive, or they’ll make you dead.” Coombs’s comments in his interviews are particularly saddening, mind boggling and profound, especially considering his own ski-related death in April, 2006.
STEEP follows the evolution of skiing through today, covering Seth Morrison’s big air, Shane McConkey’s base jumps, and Ingrid Backstrom as a true “lady-who-rips-like-a-guy”. The question is, “Where will the sport go next?”
STEEP is full of excellent cinematography, like most ski movies. But what sets this movie apart from others is the story. The story is portrayed with genuine interviews, profound statements and reflections, all while covering the history of one of America’s most interesting sports. This documentary not only covers the rebirth and evolution of skiing, but digs deep into the heart and soul of the sport itself.
The quotes that sum it all up for me:
“We are mountain people. This is what we do, this is how we live.”
“You can either live your life like a lamb. Or you can live your life like a lion. We have a choice.”
“Without risk there is no adventure.”
This movie is the best ski movie I have seen since the “The Blizzard of Aahhh’s” itself. Go see it. 🙂
If you like this movie, then I higly recommend Piton Productions’movie “Legend of the Fall Line”. This movie is a documentary that focuses on the history of skiing and ski mountaineering in the Tetons of Wyoming.
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