(Last Updated On: April 17, 2010)
Recently, Frank and I have decided to add to the character of our blog by doing reviews on various ski movies. We plan on reviewing a wide variety of ski movies from both past and present. Our first review begins today, with Last of the Ski Bums. Please also check out my review of STEEP, which I reviewed last January.
Movie of the Month: Last of the Ski Bums
Director: Dick Barrymore
Where can I find it? Netflix, Amazon.com, REI
Today’s ski movies are fun to watch. I mean, who doesn’t love watching people drop over 200-ft cliffs, or straightline a sick line, or ski a steep slope in Alaska trying to out-ski their slough? Yet, all of these amazing stunt-like shots make the brain go numb. After 15 minutes it begins to lose the thrill and excitement that the movie had at the beginning. Frankly, today’s movies lack soul. It’s a collection of thrills and spills with no seeming meaning or story being portrayed. In order for a ski movie to have soul, it needs a story.
Greg Stump was the master of ski movie stories in the ‘90’s. I grew up being able to recite several lines from Blizzard of Aahhhs. Anyone who has seen this movie will vividly remember the climax of the story- Scott Schmidt and Glen Plake on the Aiguille du Midi. When stories are used to build toward thrilling ski shots, the movie suddenly becomes electrifying.
Since I was a teenager I’ve long viewed Blizzard of Aahhhs as a standard for ski movies. I’ve compared every ski movie I’ve seen to this classic, and the majority of ski movies I’ve seen don’t come close to meeting this standard. So, when I kept seeing Last of the Ski Bums being compared to Blizzard of Aahhhs, I decided I had to see it.
Created nearly 40 years ago by Dick Barrymore, Last of the Ski Bums might not have all the thrills standard in today’s movies. But it has the more heart and soul than any ski movie made in the last 15 years. The places are the same, but the shots are different. The ski bums in 1967 act just like the ski bums of today. It’s a movie that any avid skier past or present will enjoy.
The movie starts out with stunning scenery of the Alps, and then your classic powder-day shots. Then, the narrator chimes in, “This is Ron Funk. He’s 33 yrs old and has never held a permanent job. His whole life has been dedicated to the sport of skiing. He would rather ski than do just about anything.”
Upon hearing this, I knew I was going to like this movie. And I knew I was going to like it even more when The Sandals began playing their ski bum song. All ski bums will appreciate these lyrics.
Then the movie introduces ski bum #2: Mike Zuettel. He’s 28 yrs old and a graduate of MIT in mathematics”. Zuettel spent 8 yrs in school, graduating with a Doctor’s degree then working in the space-missile industry and then quit because “he wanted to fulfill his lifelong dream of skiing the Alps”. Along the way they meet ski bum #3: Ed Ricks who is “24 yrs old, just out of the army and tired of everybody telling him what to do.”
So then the story begins. It’s the story of these three ski bums, traveling through Europe. Their one goal was to “ski as much as possible, work as little as necessary, and enjoy the simple pleasures of an unhurried life.”
The ski bums’ journey takes them to places like Chamonix, Val D’Isere, Alpe D’Huez, Zurs, Coeur Cheval, and Sestrierre. Flash back memories take them to places like New Zealand and Jackson Hole. Along the way, they have encounters with people who are still famous today, such as Jean Claude Killy. They even talk about Bob Smith testing out his double-lens anti-fog goggles (Smith goggles). The skiing, by today’s standards, is relatively mellow. But when they show the equipment these people skied on- leather boots and scary looking bindings- any skier today will begin to have respect for what they were able to do given the limits of their equipment. The scariest scene was a giant slalom race in Sestrierre. Watching skiers go 60 mph down an ungroomed slope in leather boots turns my stomach upside-down!
My favorite scene was when the three ski bums met Gaston Rébuffat, the famous Frenchman who was a climbing pioneer. Funk asked Gaston why he climbed and he replied, “The joy of climbing is the joy of discovery- of being able to see further and from a greater height.” The ski bums went on to ask Gaston if he climbed for the danger. Gaston then stated, “I do not climb for the danger. I climb because of the difficulty…. It is not enough for a man to exist. He must live, but not live dangerously. That is too easy. Yes, to climb well between heaven and earth, is to find an inner peace- a religion that cannot be found in books. No my friends. I do not climb for the danger of being close to death but for the difficulty of being close to life.”
Dick Barrymore created a masterpiece with Last of the Ski Bums. He got just about everything right. The only thing he got wrong- the vibrant ski towns of today are still chalk full of heartfelt ski bums 🙂
Update: Dick Barrymore passed away this year on August 1 in his home in Ketchum, Idaho. He was 74 yrs old.