(Last Updated On: April 17, 2010)
Movie of the Month: Winter Magic Around the World
Director: John Jay
Year: Features footage from 1946-1970, could not find date of compilation
Where can I find it? amazon.com
I like old ski movies. I’ll admit, I have a weakness for them. The more old ski movies I watch, the more I realize we are doing the same things now as they did over 50 years ago. Only a few things have changed- helmets have replaced hats, ski equipment is not as sketchball, it’s now cool to wear sunscreen instead of walking with a lobster face, and people don’t ski like their ankles around bound together with rope anymore. Other than that, skiing and ski movies have not changed. The heart and soul of this sport evolved from an era where skiers were just as die-hard as the skiers today. Like I’ve said before, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
I also like ski movies because they teach me something new every time I slip a new one into the DVD player. Have any of the new-release ski flicks taught me anything new this year? I can’t think of any. But, Winter Magic Around the World was an entire learning experience in and of itself.
First, this movie taught me about John Jay. I’m young and I grew up in an era where Warren Miller movies rocked the ski world. Sure, Greg Stump had a brief stint of fantastic films. But, his legend was short-lived. As he began to fade, production companies like TGR and MSP began finding their way into the niche of skiers that found something lacking in WME. But, who knew the heart of all of this started with John Jay?
John Jay reminds me a lot of Warren Miller. In Winter Magic, Jay narrates in what I call “old style”. You hear Warren Miller telling this story all the time…. Old ski movies were shown as film, but the narration was done in person. Jay very obviously narrates this compilation of ski footage he has obtained throughout the years on a much later date. My guess is that his narration is taking place somewhere in the 1990’s, not long before his death in 2000.
John Jay has a long list of ski movies he has produced of which you can read more about in his bio. But, even more interesting, is Jay’s role in the army during World War II. Already being an avid skier and ski-film producer, Jay received his orders in 1942 to report to 1st Battalion, 87th Regiment at Fort Lewis as the Second Lieutenant to the ski troops. Jay then led an eight-man subdivision of the 1st Battalion on the first winter ascent of Mount Rainier in Washington. That same year, Jay became Captain and began what became known as the 10th Mountain Division. Shortly after, Jay began putting together his second film, Ski Patrol. Completed in the fall of 1943, the film drew 75,000 viewers and helped produce a wealth of army recruits. After his career in the army Jay continued his ski-filming career until he died in 2000 at the age of 84.
Winter Magic is a compilation of ski footage that Jay collected from 1946 to 1970. Judging by other ski movies he has produced in certain locations, I believe that most of the footage was obtained in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.
Much of the ski film is not unlike ski movies of today. There is heli skiing in the Bugaboos of Canada, a World Championship slalom race in Vail. Footage is also shot on location in Aspen, Zermatt, France, Japan, Austria, Australia, and New Zealand. The film has skiers rappelling on glaciers, backcountry skiing in Europe, staying backcountry huts, and doing fly-ins. Winter Magic is full of skinning segments, showing skins and even ski crampons of the day. The only major difference from the backcountry segments of today is that 40 years ago skiers didn’t have heals releasing on their bindings to make skinning easy. John Jay explains during one of these backcountry segments, “This is what skiing used to be 50 years ago….and now the wheel has come full circle” as more and more people take to the backcountry to avoid crowds. Perphaps that circle has spun around yet again!
Winter Magic has some really interesting segments featuring skiing in non-traditional locales. He and his film crew traveled to Russia when it was still far behind the Iron Curtain. They also traveled to Iran, where they experienced some of the best powder in the world at the Shaw’s private ski area in the Alborz mountains. Most skiers even today are hardly aware that skiing even exists in Iran and those who do would probably think hard about traveling there to ski.
One of my favorite segments was the ski-bobbing Jay featured in Zermatt. Just catching on in the 1960’s, the Europeans took ski-bobbing to the extreme, as they seem to do with everything. Who knew that these cheesy ski-bike things could be so fun? Yet, the footage shows these ski bobbers heading down steep mountain slopes at speeds that might even scare me on skis. But, they do it with grace, carving fast turns all the way down the mountain.
Probably one of the funniest segments to me was the skiing of Stein Eriksen in Vail. A Norwegian skier that made his way to the US in the 1950’s, Jay, along with many others, regarded Eriksen as one of the best skiers of that era. Yet, if you watch his skiing today, you’ll find yourself wondering…. HOW? WHY? His legs are stuck together like glue, his pole plants are virtually non-existent, and his hands are flailing in the air with some sort of upper-body twist that’s supposed to counter the movement of his lower-body. Why it looked good then, we may never know. But, an even greater question I have is, “How did he even ski like that?” It seems so unnatural!
Present in Winter Magic, but absent from so many of today’s movies, is humor. Jay narrates his movie in near mono-tone laden with witty remarks. Jay refers to a crash by Billy Kidd as “bad day at the office” and when looking at two skiers basking in the sun, working on their tans, as “two well-done”. Comments like this are prolific throughout the movie and had me laughing out loud on a number of occasions. Similar to older Warren Miller movies, Jay has several segments of “bloopers”. In these segments he usually features beginner skiers flailing, falling, crashing into one another, being twisted and contorted, and generally losing the war with the skis. I’ll be honest, I kind of miss these segments in the intense huck-fest movies of today.
All in all, Winter Magic Around the World is a good movie. While the footage is 40+ years old, some of it still may surprise you. It’s worth the watch in my book!