Dave Chappellet is a cold, cocky skier but Robert Redford playing the character makes him likeable. Chappellet, from tiny Idaho Springs, Colorado, joins the U.S. Ski Team after another member is badly injured in a race. He immediately tests his coach, played by Gene Hackman, and his teammates. But it’s not the plot that makes Downhill Racer, it’s the authenticity of the ski scenes and the sport.
Whether ripping the Lauberhorn in Switzerland or racing the Hahnenkamm in Austria, nearly half the movie is filmed with downhill action. Some of it, filmed from Chappellet’s vantage, displays all the speed and danger of the sport. Other sequences show the electric atmosphere of European fans and the beauty of the mountains.
Downhill Racer is as much a documentary as it is a drama. Hackman works constantly to promote the team to skeptical U.S. sponsors while trying to keep his brashest and most talented skier in line.
A buddy story wrapped up in a tragedy, blanketed in Aspen snow and beautiful women. Aspen Extreme has all you’d expect from a flick made in 1993, including the day-glo, the headbands and the one-pieces.
TJ and Dex (Peter Berg), two blue-collar Detroit friends looking for something better, drive to Colorado and score jobs at Aspen’s ski school. TJ quickly wins the heart of the local sugar mama, Brice (played by Finola Hughes of General Hospital fame). But TJ sees more challenge in the town radio DJ, Robin, who refuses to date another ski instructor. Meanwhile, Dex is spiraling out of control with cocaine-induced self-pity because TJ is either slayin’ it in the boudoir or on the slopes as the new poster boy for Aspen skiing. After a drug deal gone bad and a beating, Dex reforms his ways with Robin and TJ’s help. And the annual Powder Eight pairs downhill competition looms for the boys, who want to show Euro-rivals Franz and Rudy who the best skiers in Aspen are.
Thanks to short scenes with just enough conflict, Aspen Extreme moves along as fast as the skiing. As for the tragedy, you’ll have to rent it to find out. No spoilers here.
This short documentary chronicles the 10th Mountain Division’s formation, WWII role and ski industry legacy. Fire on the Mountain explains how only the best skiers and outdoorsmen were selected for this elite unit that would go on to fight some of WWII’s nastiest battles in Italy. Their grueling training at Camp Hale in Colorado—freezing marches and back-country skiing at altitude—prepared them for the worst. These scenes will make you appreciate your Gore-Tex jacket and light-weight skis, not to mention not having to fight the Nazis in Europe.
With period ski footage and interviews with veterans, Fire on the Mountain (a 1996 Sundance documentary selection) is enough to satisfy the appetite of skiers and history buffs alike.
Part stunt-adventure and part philosophical journey, this Academy Award winner documents the 1970 Japanese expedition of alpinist and extreme skier, Yuichiro Miura and his attempt to ski the icy South Col of Mount Everest.
Canadian actor Douglas Rain (the voice of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey) narrates the black and white film using Miura’s begged-to-be-read diary. Describing the adventure ahead and with footage showing him skiing down Mt. Fuji in Japan, Miura reflects: “I am Tom Sawyer in the snow.”
The absence of color and the sparse, somber soundtrack make his date with Chomolunga even more haunting. And further contrasts the awesome size of the surrounding snow covered peaks with the ant-like procession of men dotted along the lunar landscape. The long trek to the base of Everest effectively builds the tension for Miura’s ultimate ski run. “The challenge of the peaks is the challenge of life itself,” he says.
The team’s first major challenge—if you don’t consider the 185-mile, 22-day slog from Katmandu—is traversing the Khumba Glacier, a two-mile swath of constantly shifting ice blocks. With 65-lbs. packs, the now smaller team cautiously picks its way over crevasses and across the glacier with the South Col in sight.
In camp that night, Miura ponders the 8,000 feet, 45-degree slab of ice. “For the first time I’m afraid. I worry more about failing than dying.”
Before there were hitchhikers there were extreme skiers. Greg Stump’s 1992 zany adventure has plenty of sweet powder skiing by the likes of mulleted legend Scot Schmidt, an interview with industry pioneer and Snowbird founder Dick Bass and a soundtrack that includes Seal and Adrian Belew. Be warned: If you’re a ski purist, some of the scenes—BMXing with Matt Hoffman and some sick windsurfing—may throw snow down your pants. But not to worry, there are plenty of long sequences ripping it through Snowbird, Telluride and Chamonix in multi-colored neon. This may be the college-era flashback you were looking for.