Those of us who once regarded snowboarders the way Rome did the arrival of the Huns have been humbled. Without snowboarding, resorts could be selling 10 million fewer lift tickets per winter. We might not have ski lengths and sidecuts to fit the short-radius turns we formerly pivoted and skidded. We might also have waited years for the invention of fat skis to float through deep snow.
There's more! Snowboarding can even heal deep psychic wounds suffered by uptight skiers bound up by rules and tradition.
My discovery of snowboarding's latest rescue of our sport began earlier this season, when I stepped out of the cold on Manhattan's West 34th Street to view a new movie, Extreme Ops. Thirty years after Downhill Racer, I'm still searching for a ski film with a coherent story line. It wasn't encouraging to find only six people in the theater.
The Extreme Ops "plot" concerns a group of snowboarders and skiers who are filming a commercial. The group travels to a mountaintop resort that's under construction. There they find a hideaway of heavily armed Serb terrorists, who mistake them for CIA agents. Attempts to escape the terrorists and to shoot the film give rise to explosive scenes of snowboarding and skiing amid terrifying avalanches. But what captured my attention in Extreme Ops was the subplot.
A willowy blonde, winner of a downhill gold medal, finds it difficult to keep up with the boarders in the extreme out-of-bounds conditions. She loses a ski and crashes. The boarders help her to her feet. In a hot tub scene, a girl snowboarder advises her to loosen up. Then the gold medalist communes with the film director.
Director: "How's it going?" Skier: "It was humiliating today. She (the snowboarder in the hot tub) was trying to loosen me up. Apparently, I can't even do that right. I'm not built like you guys. All I do is race and compete."
Director (sympathetic): "Mmmm."Skier: "I thought for once in my life I could ... I could ski just for fun (almost in tears now, contemplating the vacuity of her gold-medal existence). But apparently I'm incapable of doing that."
Remarkable, I thought. Do Picabo Street and World Cup skiers suffer such inner torments of self-doubt? Could it be that the uptightness induced by turning through gates, dressing in tight clothing, and skiing within bounds can be relieved by snowboard psychotherapy?
Extreme Ops has vanished from screens, but perhaps we can look forward to future movies involving the rescue of skiers from our anally retentive lives.
How about Seinfeld Rides? Jerry and Elaine go on a ski trip. Elaine wiggles and smiles in a desperate attempt to capture the handsome snowboard instructor's interest. Jerry, meanwhile, is anxious about the dirt in the lodge lavatory. The snowboard instructor leads them into a halfpipe. By day's end, Elaine has conquered her facial twisting, and Jerry happily dries his mud-encrusted boots with the dryer in the men's room.
In Fawlty Alpine Towers. Basil, a frenetic Brit, and his wife operate a lodge at Gstaad. Basil sneers at the down-market snowboarders in his lobby. One day, he notices on the booking list that Stein Eriksen is unexpectedly arriving. He plans to evict the déclassé snowboarders from the Alpine suite, so Stein can occupy it. But Stein graciously agrees to share digs with the boarders, even agreeing to listen to their rap music. By the end of the week, Stein has abandons his famous uptight, angulated turns, and Basil stops fighting with his wife.
Both of these shows would rank up there with Extreme Ops, labeled as a "waste of film (and) time" by the New York Times, and rated by another reviewer as, "one of the worst written scripts I've ever come across." Anyone addled enough to make a movie in which snowboarders rescue skiers from joylessness is unlikely to end years of bad ski moviemaking by Hollywood. Ski cinema is evidently one area of human endeavor that can't be improved by snowboarding. Robert Redford, wheere are you? Columnist Fry can be found at email@example.com