(Last Updated On: July 31, 2009)
Movie of the Month: Teton Skiing- Legends of the Fall Line
Director: Derek Weiss
Where can I find it? http://www.pitonproductions.com/
Legends of the Fall Line is a documentary created by Derek Weiss of Piton Productions. Weiss is a nurse in his working life. But, in his playing-life he is an avid backcountry skier, photographer, and filmmaker. A movie documenting the history of skiing in the Teton region has been long past due. Weiss saw this need and spent weekend after weekend traveling back and forth between Salt Lake City and Jackson, WY capturing bits of history and clips of film to bring together this fabulous skiing documentary.
Legends, narrated by Steve Baron, opens up with a quote that sums up the just of this movie: “In the history of skiing, few places have had as much influence as the sport of skiing as the Teton Mountains have. This story follows the birth of skiing as a necessity of winter transportation, through the revolution of steep skiing, and into the eventual revolution of ski alpinism.”
Before there was a lift and before people even knew what could potentially be done on skis, there was need for mail. And in Jackson, the mail was delivered by Fred Brown in the 1930’s. Mail carriers were some of the first people to use skis in the area and Brown brought the mail over Teton Pass. This is where Legendsstarts. Fred Brown is the first ski “legend” in this movie, as he pioneered skiing in the Tetons in the 1930’s.
Legends continues on, interviewing ski legends such as Ted Major, Muugs Schultz, and Virginia Huidekoper who themselves reminisced this interesting era. Each person points to 1938-9 as being a pivotal year for skiing in the Tetons. This is the year the first ski lift was built by Neil Rafferty, opening Snow King ski area. Recreational skiing had finally arrived in Jackson!
Legends both interviews and highlights Betty Woolsey as not only a influential women of the time, but also a central person in the development of skiing in the Tetons. Betty was captain of the women’s 1936 Olympic ski team and was racing in Sun Valley when she heard about Teton Pass. In 1940 she decided to visit the area. Betty had skied at numerous places including Aspen, Alta, and European resorts but decided none had the snow she desired like Teton Pass. She decided to relocate from New York to Jackson. Betty soon purchased Trail Creek Ranch, inviting vacationers to come stay and ski at the ranch. Woosley ran ski tours on Teton Pass and became known for her knowledge of avalanche safety. Trail Ranch continues today to provide skiers with a place to stay and access to Teton Pass.
My favorite portion of Legends is the story of Bill Briggs. Bill Briggs and Barry Corbett were both attending Dartmouth which, in the 1950’s, was a renown skiing school. Briggs and Corbett eventually decided to drop out of Dartmouth and move West to ski Teton Pass. In an interview, Briggs cited how he felt that the college was setting him up for city and corporate life. But, Briggs knew he didn’t want any of that. He decided, “To hell with all of that. I’m going to do those things which I enjoy doing- skiing, climbing, and music….. I’m going to make my life out of those three things and that’s it.”
Together, Briggs and Corbett made the perfect team for pioneering the next level of skiing in the Tetons. Aside from their Teton adventures, they also skied Mt. Rainier and pushed through a 100-mile ski tour in British Columbia. But, the whole time, Briggs was in severe pain. He had been born without cartilage in his hip and eventually had it surgically in 1961 fused to alleviate the pain. Briggs figured that he could no longer engage in the outdoor activities that he loved and he thought his ski days were over. He inspired his ski partner Corbett to tackle a new line that had never been skied- Buck Mountain. Corbett likely would have skied many other Teton lines had he not become a paraplegic after a helicopter crash in 1968.
Meanwhile, Briggs was slowly realizing that his activities didn’t have to be so limited, and got back on his skis again. He tackled the Middle Teton and the Mt Moran Skillet Glacier. These peaks came with ease to Briggs and he set his sights even higher- toward the Grand Teton. While the Grand Teton is now virtually a popular ski among ski mountaineers, no one had even thought about skiing the Grand at the time. The thought was simply preposterous. Jackson locals knew Briggs was crazy, though, and knew when the time was right, Briggs would ski the Grand Teton.
And ski the Grand, Briggs did, on June 15, 1971. After three years of waiting for the right conditions, Briggs headed out with a team of three others. Briggs account of the ski is simply amazing and is best heard from him, rather than retold. But, Briggs endured ice and avalanches to rise up to success in skiing the Grand Teton. Yet, he did more than that. Bill Briggs created ski mountaineering as we know it today.
Legends not only focuses on historical figures. The film also recounts the role of Jackson Hole opening in 1964 and the role it had on skiing. As the film moves through it’s chronology, the development of ski equipment is also presented. Also essential to the evolution of skiing in the Tetons were the Exuum Guides.
The movie continues to highlight the development of Teton Skiing through to the present day. Legendaries such as Andrew McLean, Rick Wyatt, Jeff Rhoades, Tom Turiano, and Stephen Koch are all interviewed. The story of how lines like the Black Ice Couloir and Hossack-MacGowan Couloir were skied are revealed through these interviews. Legends even details the first guided ski of the Grand Teton in 2004 with Doug Coombs (guide), Mark Newcomb (guide and filmer) and Cameron Romero (client), showing footage of the actual climb and ski.
Legends of the Fall Line has become one of my most favorite ski movies of all time. In true documentary style it highlights the development of skiing and the evolution of ski mountaineering in the hub of it all- the Tetons. Skiers and ski mountaineers alike will find the stories in this movie both compelling and inspiring. No, you can’t rent this movie on Netflix. But, it is well worth the purchase!
Other Movie Excerpts:
Lou Dawson on wildsnow.com
Mitch Weber on telemarktips.com
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