Local athletes abound in Millers ‘Playground’ | AspenTimes.com

Local athletes abound in Millers ‘Playground’

Will Wissman/Warren Miller

ASPEN Tis the month before opening day, and all through town, locals are dreaming of fresh tracks while snow continues to come down. Or, to the point, its the perfect time for another Warren Miller movie especially one with Aspen in a leading role. A year after being notably absent from the annual Granddaddy of Ski Films, Aspen and its athletes get some top billing in this years offering from Boulder-based Warren Miller Productions. Playground, the 58th of the Miller films, features valley locals in four of its 16 vignettes, including a segment filmed here last year profiling Winter X Games stars Gretchen Bleiler, Peter Olenick, Sam Ferguson and Casey Puckett. Aspen icon Klaus Obermeyer also pops up to provide some words of wisdom, while Snowmass Village big-mountain skier Chris Davenport gets his turn in front of the cameras while logging harrowing first descents in Alaskas Tordrillo Range. The film debuts locally Oct. 26 at the Wheeler Opera House and will screen twice nightly through Oct. 28.The films director of photography, Chris Patterson, said Aspen has always been a beloved locale for Millers filmmakers. This years segment on the Winter X Games reflects that.

We wanted to do a homegrown thing, said Patterson, a veteran of 15 Warren Miller films who first became enamored with Aspen as a 6-year-old boy during a family holiday. We sat around and thought, How can we capture the great skiing, community and just the beauty of this place? Weve always sort of done stories on the people who make up Aspen, just those locals who give it that great sense of community. Considering the films theme, the ultimate terrain park that gets put together every year at Buttermilk for the Winter X Games presented a great opportunity to profile some original Aspen characters, Patterson said. In the film, Bleiler, Puckett, Ferguson and Olenick represent the current incarnation of Aspens pioneering spirit, while Obermeyer provides insight into the towns past noting Aspen has always been a place capable of propping up big dreams. Its really about the locals personal experiences at the X Games, and about growing up in a town that influenced them and supported them to get to that level, Patterson said. We dug a little deeper into their childhoods to find out what allowed them to be the person they are. That digging included asking mothers to sift through old boxes of photos. The images offer some telling perspective, and are sure to bring out a few laughs from local audiences. Appearing in this years installment was a childhood dream come true for Puckett. Ive always loved the idea of skiing in a Warren Miller film, but I never really pursued it, said the four-time Olympian, who has designs on a fifth chance at an Olympic gold when skiercross makes its debut at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. I pursued the racing aspect more, but its kind of a kid thing where youre like, Ooh, I want to ski in places like that. I want to jump off those cliffs and rocks, and drop off those cornices.

Puckett said he wanted more than the one day he spent with Patterson and his film crew, but an injury to his right knee cut short a successful season for the master skiercrosser. I wanted to drop some lines in the Dumps on Aspen Mountain, Puckett said. Im psyched to see what they did with the stuff we shot, but I wish I could have done a little more skiing. Staying current with the winter sports industry, and the playgrounds that have sprouted up at ski resorts across the globe, this years film has a bigger helping of freestyle footage than any of Millers previous works. Thats partly a sign of the times, and partly because it was a trying winter for Millers film crews with a lack of snowfall in places like western Europe and the eastern United States. It was actually one of those happy accidents, Patterson said. We werent able to get that deep powder, big mountain experience everywhere, but those are just some things you cant control. With this years theme and the freestyle, though, it just went hand in hand. Patterson said the formula for a Warren Miller film hasnt changed much. Theres a simple litmus test for every segment one that is still very much bulletproof after all these years. It is a challenge every year to come up with something fresh, but in so many ways we follow the formula Warren created, he said. You want to inspire them, make them laugh or thrill them, to put them on the edge of their seat. Theres more elements to it that give it the unique flavor of a Warren Miller movie, but really its that basic. One of the more humorous vignettes in Playground takes freeskiing superstars Austin Ross and Andreas Hatveit to Dubai for a freestyle free-for-all in a billion-dollar indoor snow facility. Davenports segment, meanwhile, is classic Warren Miller: just straightforward, aggressive skiing on peaks that would unless captured on camera seem to exist only in dreams.People love Warren Miller movies because they love to see something that is totally unique, Patterson said. They come to expect something totally off kilter and exotic, something that reaches a broad audience and makes it that great piece of entertainment. Nate Petersons e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com

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