This season’s ski films are out and there are some real game changers. From the technical wizardry of Into the Mind, to the emotionally powerful, McConkey, this year’s line-up was both diverse and challenging.
Valhalla by Sweetgrass Productions
Sweetgrass took an alternative approach and added a narrative component, which worked well with their signature stylized videography. The film centers around the character “Conrad” and his interactions with the colorful characters of Valhalla, a commune of ski-bumming free spirits who are so legit they whittle their own instruments, gut fish for food, and partake in polyamorous bonfire raves. Cody Barnhill (“Conrad”) and Sierra Quitiquit (“Ayla” ie. Conrad’s hippy-haired girlfriend) prove capable actors (golf clap!); however, the script oscillates between momentarily profound and trying-really-hard-to-be-Jack-Kerouac, but the narrative’s syntactical failings don’t distract from the movie and my criticism probably says more about my world-weary cynicism and sarcasm-prone tendencies. Interspersed between the storyline, the ski segments are well-choreographed, creative, and skillfully shot. Into the Mind might be more epic, but Sweetgrass reminds its audience of the simple joy of a good day in the mountains and it’s impossible not to be delighted by shots of powder-punching groms, naked butts on chairlifts, and shred artists ninja-ing through trees. In addition, the expert camera skill and editing touch of Camp4 Collective resulted in a visually cohesive film.
Into the Mind by Sherpas Cinema
What just happened?! No really, what just happened? I am still not sure. It’s hard to come up with any sort of concise commentary on Into the Mind. Being in the audience felt more like an experience than a spectator event. The camera work is masterful and scenes of Narnia-like landscapes, billowing powder pillows, and vertiginous ridges induce actual pains of longing. The film stands as an industry leader in its visual presentation of skiing and terrain, so go see it. Alas, the storyline is convoluted. Many sections of the film felt uncomfortably like waking up in someone else’s dream. It’s hard to connect with any of the storylines as each new episode interrupts the previous. Distractions aside, the segments themselves were brilliant. The top three were: JP Auclair’s urban night scene, the cleverly shot in-bounds scene (Julian Carr, my jaw is still on the ground), and the footage of Bolivia. Overall, the visuals are so powerful that a simple, linear plotline would have allowed the audience to better appreciate the material. Still, this will get you stoked out of your known mind…but your soul might not achieve apotheosis as promised.
McConkey by Matchstick Productions and Red Bull
This one got to me. Of all of this season’s features, McConkey gets my vote as the most worthwhile investment. In an era of so many intimidating but not always inspiring athletes, it was humbling to once again be in Shane’s company. No skier has contributed more the evolution of skiing than Shane, and the film does an excellent job presenting him as both an athlete and innovator. My hero-worship aside, the movie is candid: it does not make its namesake into a saint or superman. Shane’s flaws and failings are addressed (and he comes across as a bit of a liability as a friend and husband), and in places it’s hard to watch the BASE jumping sequences knowing the inevitable outcome, but the movie does an excellent job illustrating how much creativity Shane brought to the extreme sports community. This movie will not get you stoked but it will remind you why you chase the freedom that can only be achieved at great heights and speeds. The most poignant quote of the movie came from Shane’s wife Sherry, who said simply: “Shane would regret dying, but he wouldn’t regret how he lived.” That’s a damn fine epithet.
Way of Life by Teton Gravity Research
Good storyline. Good talent. Way of Life goes down like comfort food after the other front-runner flicks this season. Spoiler alert: IAN MCINTOSH IS BACK!!!! Praise be. His segment is predictably stacked with hucking, straight nosing, and butterfly inducing lines. The talent of the TGR team runs deep and there wasn’t a bad or slow-paced segment. In addition to McIntosh, Angel Collinson and Sammy Carlson gave noteworthy performances (golf clap!). The film lacks the sexy videography of Into the Mind or Valhalla but makes up for it with good content. Also, can we just take a second and acknowledge how awesome Elyse Saugstad’s TGR edit was???!!! Girl crush.
Ticket to Ride by Warren Miller Entertainment
Wow…wasn’t expecting that. After five or so years of only delivering the expected, Warren Miller’s latest flick showed serious evolution. While the filming doesn’t quite hold up next to Technicolor genius of Into the Mind, the ski sequences were well-executed. The narrative elements were also clear and the movie functioned successfully as an activist, bringing important emphasis to climate change and adaptive sports. Overall, Warren Miller did the best job at storytelling: local profiles were included; athletes were actually interviewed; and, there was a good bit of playfulness. Rather than always showing athletes as super-human, we see the best ski racers in the world humbled by big mountain terrain in Greenland and a pro-snowboarder struggle to explain to an adorably perplexed local in Kazakhstan what he is doing there. I would also like to credit Warren Miller as being an absolute leader in its inclusion of female skiers. All in all–a job a well done.
Personal suggestion to film makers: Put more girls in movies!
What were your thoughts on this season’s ski films? Let us know in the comments below!