Marolt film showing to aid Aspen couple |

Marolt film showing to aid Aspen couple

Steve Marolt photoMike Marolt makes his way up Cho Oyu, the world's sixth highest mountain, in spring 2007. Footage of the ascent and ski descent of the peak on the border between China and Nepal is part of a film featured in a benefit screening Thursday night at Aspen's Wheeler Opera House.

ASPEN ” When Mike Marolt commuted to Los Angeles last May to work on a film about high-altitude skiing he vowed to use the project to help a family friend in need.

A lot was in doubt at the time, regarding both the completion of the film and friend Jeff Reese’s chances of surviving the injuries he suffered when his vehicle was smacked head-on by a drunk driver two days before.

Reese pulled through, the film was finished and Thursday Marolt makes good on his promise. There will be a benefit screening of “Skiing Everest” at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen at 7:30 p.m. Seating will be general admission. The screening is technically free, but organizers are asking for a contribution of at least $20.

All proceeds will go to Reese and his wife Susan Grove. They were both knocked unconscious in the May 8 crash and spent several weeks in comas. They suffered brain injuries and broken bones, but are finally back in Aspen, recovering. Their insurance covered roughly 80 percent of their $1.3 million in medical bills racked up so far, but they need help with the remaining debt. They also need assistance with daily living expenses as they recover and make their way back to work.

Marolt, 44, has known Reese, 46, as long as he can remember. Jeff was a kid down the street who grew up with his older brother and was always a family friend. He considers his ability to use the film to benefit the couple as the highest honor.

“For me, it’s not about the film, it’s about Jeff,” Marolt said of the screening.

The film is about the roots of high-altitude climbing and skiing, some Aspen history on skiing big peaks, and the expeditions that Marolt has taken with his twin brother Steve and members of their team. He worked on the 95-minute adventure documentary for more than a year with Les Guthman, who Marolt said is considered the “Spielberg of adventure docs” for his work on more than 300 films.

Marolt supplied still photos and film footage of his teams’ skiing of three 8,000-meter peaks and loads of lower mountains. Guthman wrote the script and taught him a lot about the art of making a film.

“A high-altitude ski film has never been done,” Marolt said. “There are people that could do it, they just don’t.”

But Marolt has schlepped camera gear of one type or another on his teams’ 30-plus expeditions for nearly 25 years. He has thousands of still photos of the expeditions prior to 2000. That year, NBC and Outdoor Life Network film crews follows the Marolts on an expedition to Tibet and recruited Mike to help shoot high-altitude footage. He did, and he was hooked. Marolt brought his own camera with him in 2003 to capture the first ski footage above 25,000 feet in elevation on Mount Everest. Members of their team included their cousin Jeramie Oates and two lifelong friends, Jim Gile and John Callahan, all from Aspen.

The film also looks at the notable contributions of others to high-altitude skiing with footage from Hans Kammerland, Mark Newcomb, Fredrick Errikson and Aspen’s own Chris Davenport.

Marolt said there is a “ton of Aspen in it” because Aspenites have played such a prominent role in high-altitude skiing. The contributions of Andre Roch and Fritz Stammberger are recognized and the film delves into the Marolt family’s roots in skiing. Mike said his dad, the late Max Marolt, was inspired by his uncle, George Tekoucich, who started skiing by stripping boards off old barrels. Tekoucich went on to tackle the 14,000-foot peaks around Aspen well before extreme skiing was born. The film includes a great old photo of him at the bottom of Highland Bowl in 1936.

Max Marolt went on to become an Olympic skier and inspired his own sons, who have put the family name on the map of ski mountaineers.

Mike said he is proud of the film because they did it right. He made two previous short films about his high-altitude skiing expeditions but “they never made the mark.”

He is confident that attendees of Thursday’s benefit screening won’t be sorry.

“It’s an unbeatable way to see the world,” Marolt said. And a fantastic way to help two Aspenites in need.

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