Steep: the evolution of big-mountain skiing |

Steep: the evolution of big-mountain skiing

Stewart OksenhornAspen, CO Colorado

Aspens Chris Davenport is among the skiers featured in Steep, a documentary about extreme skiing. It shows this weekend at the Isis Theater in Aspen. (Neal Beidleman/High Ground Productions)

ASPEN Skiers in Aspen may want to turn down the volume as they relate the days exploits on the local hills while sipping aprs-ski cocktails at Mezzaluna and The Little Nell. Even a couple of laps on Highland Bowl isnt going to sound like much after witnessing the tales of Stefano De Benedetti, Doug Coombs and Andrew McLean.Their stories are told in Steep, Mark Obenhaus documentary about big-mountain skiing. Consider the film a cold-weather, high-altitude companion to Riding Giants, the 2004 history of big-wave surfing. Both are about adventure-seeking iconoclasts who dare the unthinkable towing in to surf 50-foot waves miles off the coast of Tahiti, skiing the craggy rocks of Grand Teton in search of physical thrills and spiritual expansion. Like the earlier film, Steep features a surprisingly rich trove of historical footage (which tends to prompt the question: Werent these camera operators as worthy of mention as the athletes they were shooting?)Steep begins with Bill Briggs early-70s conquest of Grand Teton, near Jackson, Wyo. As the commentary explains, Briggs, like other extreme athletes, were doing things that others didnt conceive. Not even the local skiers contemplated a descent of Grand Teton, which looks like a rock with some snow, rather than a ski mountain. Briggs feat was considered a monumental achievement toward the extreme era.The film, however, moves backward in time to make the point that what was groundbreaking in the U.S. was nearly old hat in Europe, especially the classic French ski village of Chamonix. On Chamonixs Mont Blanc, extreme skiing is known as simply … skiing. Unlike the well-defined, mostly manicured American ski resorts, in Chamonix, the lift essentially drops you off at the top of a mountain, and leaves skiers to find their own way down. There is no Skier Responsibility Code, no concept of suing a ski area for not sufficiently marking the terrain. French skiers were tackling Mont Blancs chutes, its pitches so close to vertical that they hold snow only a handful of days a year, before Briggs made his famed descent.The comparison of France and the States is a way of making a point about extreme skiing: Downhilling on the trails of a resort is fun, recreation. Skiing in the backcountry Mont Blanc, the remote peaks of Alaskas Chugach Mountains, or even the preposterous walls of northern Iceland where there are no lifts, and the hot aprs-ski spot is your tent, is another activity entirely. It is about pushing the limits of the mind, body and imagination to achieve a peak of joy, freedom, the defiance of death. The latest boundary to be pushed is the sick terrain that ends, unfortunately, in a cliff a problem solved by combining skiing with parachuting.In a place where extreme-skiing footage is so much wallpaper you can see insane clips while waiting between acts at Belly Up Steep manages to distinguish itself. Everything in Steep is predictable the talk about how skirting death is the best way to feel alive, the powder, the falls, and yes, even death itself. But this is a bigger-budget project than has probably been attempted before; the cinematography is sumptuous, even poetic, rather than merely extreme, and the history of the sport is cohesive and informative.Thus, comparing Steep to your average thrills-and-spills ski video is like stacking West Buttermilk up against the gnarliest route down Mont Blanc.Steep shows Friday through Monday, Dec. 24, at the Isis Theater. Classified: PG. Running time: 92 minutes. See the movie listings in this Arts & Entertainment section for showtimes.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.