Last week, I wrote about the avalanche on Loveland Pass that killed five people, including someone I know. After 10 years of spilling all the meaningless, self-indulgent drivel that bubbles over in my head most days, it felt good to take on a more serious topic. It was kind of like cleaning behind kitchen appliances or rearranging a junk drawer — good to know I can still organize a meaningful thought or two.
I’ve still been feeling haunted by the avalanche. Images of deep holes from which the bodies were recovered are stuck in my brain, playing on the insides of my eyelids like the spots after a flashbulb. I don’t think anyone in that crew who went out that day for a quick, one-hour tour ever could have imagined a slide of that size and scope. And that was their fatal mistake.
On the heels of that nightmarish disaster, I attended the 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale, which is fast becoming one of my favorite events of the year. You are talking to an ex-ski-film-production-company groupie, an ex-snowboard-magazine editor, an ex-surf writer. During that period in my career, I saw every action-sports film known to man. I went to a million movie premieres where everyone would get dolled up and wear sunglasses indoors and drink too much and pretend it was the Oscars and that athletes are real celebrities and that the guys behind the camera are doing important work. But if you’ve seen one of those flicks, you’ve seen them all. They’re like one long music video that will end up playing in the background of a bar and get tossed in the bin as soon as the lifts stop running.
But 5Point is in a league all its own. That these films are about adventure is really just a side note. To me, their common thread is inspiration.
“Inspiration” is a heavy word, and I don’t use it lightly considering I spend more than 80 percent of my life looking for it like the other sock that disappears in the dryer cycle. I sit at my desk and stare at my computer and check Facebook and email and shop online and grab a snack from the kitchen and go for hikes and bike rides and made-up errands that end up taking all day. As a creative person, you spend your whole life trying to achieve two things with your work and never knowing if you’ve gotten there. One is finishing it, and the other is wondering if it’s any good.
“Good” is something that makes you laugh and cry; it gives you goosebumps; it makes you want to go out and do that thing you’ve always wanted to do or maybe something you’ve never thought of before. And best of all, it makes you think. I love films that I think about afterward for days on end — films that I want to talk about, like it was something that happened to me.
That was certainly the case with “Crash Reel,” the HBO Documentary film about pro snowboarder Kevin Pearce and the traumatic brain injury he suffered in the halfpipe in 2009. He was attempting the double cork, a trick he’d been working on all summer, to beat Shaun White going into an Olympic season.
Then, during a practice session in Park City, Utah, he caught his toeside edge at the top of the lip and face-planted into the bottom with nothing to break his fall.
The film documents Kevin’s road to recovery and how it tested his relationships with his friends, girlfriend and family. It raises many of the same questions we’d all been left with in the wake of last week’s avalanche about risk and reward — Kevin’s own struggle with that very issue is the crux of his story. It’s also the tipping point for his tightknit Vermont family, which had suffered profoundly through an agonizing, slow recovery. We learn you never really recover from a traumatic brain injury — you just learn to live with it. But at least you’re still alive.
Kevin made a personal appearance and spoke afterward, which was a rare and special treat. He’s an amazing all-American kid with a head full of thick, shaggy, surfer-boy hair that kind of flies in every direction but still looks good, a wide face and a broad smile full of cereal-box teeth. He wears thick-rimmed glasses, his vision still seriously impaired from the accident, but that’s what all the cool kids are wearing these days. To me, as someone who spent a lot of time with professional snowboarders who aren’t that cool, Kevin is one in a million. Thanks for coming to Carbondale, Kevin.
Two young boys sat next to me during the film, maybe 7 and 9 years old. Some of the more disturbing, horrific scenes of the accident itself and some of the hard-to-look-at images of Kevin in the hospital immediately after, all swollen and bloody and hooked up to all these tubes, had me wincing and wondering about age-appropriateness. My motherly instincts had me wanting to cover their eyes or distract them with popcorn or candy if only I’d had some.
But the boys sat still throughout the entire two-hour presentation, totally captivated. And that’s when I realized that this was something they needed to see.
It’s true that more people get hurt in car accidents than they do in halfpipes, and Kevin told us himself he would not condone parents’ preventing their kids from the joy of snowboarding but taking the precautions necessary to do it safely.
When athletes die in these sports-related accidents, people such as Sarah Burke and Caleb Moore, people always say, “To die is better than to never have lived.” And I get that — I do.
But after watching all these amazing films, I think inspiration and risk don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Living is the better option.
Thanks to the 5Point Festival folks for raising the bar. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.