(Last Updated On: November 21, 2009)
Movie of the Month: Blizzard of Ahhhs
Director: Greg Stump
Where can I find it? Netflix, Amazon.com, www.gregstumpproducations.com
It’s funny how your perception of movies changes over time. I rented Blizzard of Ahhh’s from Nextflix recently and watched it for the first time in about 15 years. The skiing that I remembered to be so incredible in the movie now seemed tame by today’s standards. Still, the movie sits in a special place in my heart and had a huge effect on my generation of skiers.
One of the first things that struck me in the movie was Greg Stump’s reference (as a narrator) to Dick Barrymore, creator of Last of the Ski Bums. I did not remember this reference before, probably because in middle school and high school I had no I idea who he was. Stump states that Dick Barrymore’s movies provided inspiration to him as both a skier and a movie-maker, taking viewers to far away lands that most skiers at the time only dreamed of. Since I grew up idolizing the movie and characters in Blizzard of Ahhhs, I suppose that it makes sense that I would like Last of the Ski Bums.
Stump’s recurring theme in Blizzard of Ahhhs is the growing restrictions of ski areas. He makes it clear that ski resorts were making filming difficult by not providing reasonable access to good terrain. Scott Schmidt, he points out, was not “endorsed” by ski areas at the time because his skiing was so extreme. The ski areas simply did not want to endorse the kind of skiing, like Schmidt’s, that was so risky. In retrospect, these restrictions at the ski areas caused the trend of ski movies today- almost entirely filmed in the backcountry or with heli-drops in Alaska. But, in 1988 backcountry skiing was not prolific. So, Stump and his crew travel to Chamonix to film the majority of the film, where there are far fewer rules, thus avoiding American lawsuits.
Before filming in Chamonix, Stump did film in two American ski areas: Telluride and Squaw Valley. In Telluride, we meet a few local characters, like Scott Kennett and his famous dog Zudnik, for which a trick is now named. We also meet “Rasta Stevie” who was voted to the town council. Rasta man provides a monologue about how he was among the few who were fighting to keep Telluride’s soul alive, trying to prevent it from becoming another Vail or Sun Valley. At Squaw Valley we are introduced to Scott Schmidt- the prime bad-ass skier of the time. He is to go film with Stump in Chamonix and Stump is looking for a partner for him. Three skiers show up for the “audition”: Tom Day, Mike Slattery, and Glen Plake. Glen Plake dominates the field and is sent to Chamonix with Schmidt.
Blizzard of Ahhhs was Plake’s “coming out” movie. Plake was constantly filmed by Stump as a no-fear punk, with his giant mohawk as a symbol of his individualism. When he wore the helmet camera, his hair stuck out the front of his helmet- a constant reminder that he wanted to be noticed. Well, noticed he was. Plake constantly took big risks, often one-upping Schmidt’s skiing, adding an interesting twist to the plot. Overnight, Stump made Plake famous.
Watching the skiing in Blizzard of Ahhhs is interesting. Today’s ski movies always make snow look perfect. There’s always powder, the snow is always soft, and sometimes the slope is so steep and soft that you see the classic “slough”. But in the ‘80’s, movies largely stuck to filming in-bounds at ski areas. So, scenes were shot in all kinds of conditions. In this movie, there is very little powder, but here is a lot of hard-packed and wind-packed chunky goodness. Nevertheless, the skiers in the movie made the conditions look effortless, even on “skinny skis”. Although the terrain they chose was less extreme than today’s standards, the skills of these skiers cannot go unnoticed.
In filming these skiers, Stump set a precedent that is still followed in today’s ski movies. Stump filmed the skiers pushing themselves out of their comfort zone- skiing steep couloirs, rappelling into start zones, dodging crevasses, and hucking huge cliffs. Stump’s cinematography catches these skiers perfectly at the height of their risk-taking and his influence can be seen in many ski movies today.
The closing scene is the climax of the movie. I remember it well, even from 15 years ago. While at Les Grands Montets, Schmidt sees a steep couloir and decides he wants to ski it. As a narrator, Stump says “I wanted nothing to do with it.” But, Schmidt goes anyway, falling and losing his ski part way down the couloir. His ski stops at the top of a hidden crevasse. Just as you think the segment is over, Plake takes over. He cannot be outdone, so he decides to ski the couloir as well. Plake enters the couloir aggressively, but things can turn quickly on a steep slope. Plake catches an edge and goes rag-dolling down the rest of the couloir. The hidden crevasse located at the bottom of the couloir adds to the growing anxiety as Plake continues to tumble down the mountain. When he does get to the crevasse, he somersaults over it.
Blizzard of Ahhhs is a ski movie classic. Arguably Stump’s greatest film, it’s influence can be still seen in ski movies today. There is no doubt about the powerful impact Blizzard of Ahhhs had on an entire generation of skiers. It fed our souls and inspired us to seek out new amazing places, to find our own Blizzard of Ahhhs!
Update: Greg Stump is currently working on a new movie called Legend of Ahhhs. He hope to show it at the upcoming Sundance festival. You can read more about it at www.gregstumpproducations.com
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