Arapahoe Basin opens up this week with special restrictions and registration required, but we still all lost a ski season this year. We hope this list of the best (and the worst) skiing flicks of all time helps a little bit when you have binged through Ozark and Wild Wild Country.
I decided in this time of quarantine and indoor activities, it was time to list a few of the best and worst ski films of all time. Stuff you can watch while you’re getting fat and old. I asked some old friends—(Dick Dorworth (DD), Peter Kray (PK), Chris Davenport (CD), Geoff Stump (GS), Doug Schnitzspahn (DS), and Rick Sylvester (RS)—to suggest films for this piece (and so I could name drop). They gave me ideas. Some good. Some no bueño. The following is a listing of the best and worst ski movies of all time. The ultimate selection was mine, and one criterium was that the films be available for free on the internet, which didn’t quite work out. Streif requires a few ducats, and Blizzard of Aahhh’s requires Amazon Prime membership. The rest are free online.
This film centers on the antics of Tahoe doctor and skier Rob Gaffney and his friend the late Shane McConkey. Gaffney (sadly, now fighting cancer) wrote Squallywood, which is a guide to the steeper lines at Squaw. The guide has a point system in which skiers can earn points and lose points, depending on what they do. “If you do tricks while skiing the lines, you get more points,” Gaffney explains in the film. There are also penalties. A backslap reduces your score by 50 points. Lose both your skis or tomahawk, you lose 2,000 points. Lose your hat and gloves? Minus 1,000 points. You get the idea. Then there are the more style-related penalties and awards like “Lagger: lagging behind and holding up the group,” “Old School: Successfully complete any line in this book wearing skis 215 cm or longer or an old school snowboard,” and “Radness Yell: Before dropping into line, vigorously wave arms while yelling ‘Hey, check me out. I’m going to rip the shit out of this.’” The big daddy of the point system is finding a garden gnome in the Enchanted Forest and getting an “Altoid hummer”—worth a million points!
The story coalesces around a two week competition among mostly locals to win the GNAR crown (and $25,000). As you can guess, the antics are off the charts—as well as the clothes. Packages start flowing like UPS at Christmas; they’ve all got skin in the game. But then the Squaw management gets word and shuts the competition down. Wedding tackle flying around with Joe Average suburbanite’s eight-year-old in proximity ain’t cuttin’ it with the Corp. Beaten and bloodied, but not down, the crew of locals chasing the GNAR crown do the next best thing: take the competition on the road. Gaffney’s Numerical Assessment of Radness is truly genius ski filmmaking basically because there’s a brilliant story there.
Voted in by PK, CB.
Trivia moment: The Ski Club of Great Britain endorses the film.
The Hahnenkamm is a mountain above the resort of Kitzbühel, Austria (Hahnenkamm means rooster’s comb in German). Every year it plays host to a World Cup race, the Hahnenkammrennen. The race follows a slope known as the Streif (streaked in English). It is considered the most demanding course on the World Cup circuit. This film shows you why.
Narrated by American skier Daron Rahlves and Swiss skier Didier Cuche, the story is told from a number of vantage points: the course managers, the safety experts, and the skiers themselves. We get appearances from Franz Klammer, Herman Maier, Stephan Eberharter, Didier Cuche, Bode Miller, and Yuri Danilochkin—to name a few.
The most eye-opening part of this film is the story of Hans Grugger’s 2011 crash. During a training run he whacked terra firma pretty hard, hitting his head on the Mausefalle, a ghastly jump on the Streif that sends skiers flying more than 250 feet. Immediately after it he was placed in an induced coma. We get interviews with doctors about how lucky Grugger was, and his recovery story, told by Grugger’s partner, pro skier Ingrid Rumpfhuber. Then we get his realization of how the crash had destroyed him both physically and mentally. (“The Strief let me live,” he notes, perhaps ironically.) Grugger’s accident prompted extensive discussions about safety in downhill skiing.
Even more eye-opening is the effort the Kitzbüheler Ski Club goes to prepare the course for the race—helicoptering in snow, erecting fences (there are three fences along any given section of the run), snowblowing, shoveling, and endless strategy meetings.
A fascinating look at why the highs are so high and the lows so low in international ski racing.
Voted in by CB.
Trivia moment: The film prompts the obvious next story idea for a click-bait article like this one: best and worst crashes in the Hahnenkammrennen, although these clips are pretty good.
A young white honorable male heads to Squaw Valley to compete in a freestyle skiing competition. On the drive there he meets a young lady, Sunny. They travel together. At one point in the journey they cross paths with Rudi Garmischt, the world champion freestyle skier, who, it turns out, is one big Austrian nob. Once they get to Squaw, the young white male (“Harkin,” played by Patrick Houser) meets the local set of clowns spanning the white male-ski-culture-stereotype landscape (with the exception of James Kaito starring as Kendo Yamamoto, the token crazy Jap). We begin to understand our plot, which is, essentially, a series of encounters between our loveable USA boys and the Austrian, creating much-needed and highly palpable tension. Sort of. It’s all sorted out in a Chinese downhill race at the end of the film.
The Playboy Playmate of the Year for 1982 Shannon Tweed stars in the film and does what all good Playmates-tuned-actresses do: titillate the male characters. She appears in at least one climax.
This movie is as eighties as Plastic Bertrand (although that song was from ’78) and fag bags. It includes Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf.” The clothes and haircuts are worth the price of admission alone (the film is free on Vimeo and Youtube). There’s even a drink served in this film called “The Leg Spreader.” There’s some skiing in this film, but there’s a lot more footage of drinking, boobs, hot tubs, arguments, tart rejoinders, broomball, rugged poses, more drinking, more boobs, and more drinking. The New York Times said of Hot Dog “light and less moronic than it might have been.”
Voted in by PK, CB.
Trivia moment: Dick Barrymore, who made Last of the Ski Bums (another terrific film I couldn’t find online), invented the wet t-shirt contest (click on the link to “Nudes-A-Poppin” while you’re there). Second trivia moment: Crystal Smith, Playboy’s Playmate of the Month for its September 1971 issue, played the role of motel clerk.
This is the story of a group of climbers/skiers—all French except for Zach, an American (“…a nice crew of idiots,” the narrator quips at one point)—who venture into the Karakorum to ski/ride a nit-poker of a peak called Biacherahi Tower as part of a 150-kilometer loop around the Biacherahi group, through the Skam La Pass and back. The film is a visual diary, shot with helmet cams and at least one drone.
After arriving in Islamabad, they drive to Skardu, then on to Askole. The drive to Askole is frightening enough, (“we clench our buttocks” is quite endearing when spoken with a French accent), but then they start doing truly wild stuff. First, they climb a ridge near camp (small slides rattling off their ice tool placements (no cows tails, mind you)) and ski/ride the thing. The footage is puckering. It rates a super skinny toothbrush. Then they go for Biacherahi Tower itself, and the clenching bits get tightened even more. This footage is remarkable mostly because they all survived it. (Watching them wriggle their ice tools out shows these guys have limited ice climbing experience.)
They successfully summit and ski/ride the peak, then cross the Skam La with their 800 pounds of gear, and go for another big descent. They’re successful there, too, remarkably. And they ski/ride some more. This film is remarkable simply because these guys didn’t die.
Voted in by CB.
Trivia moment: “Fuck this shit weather” and “nostrils” are also charming when spoken with a French accent. Second trivia moment: Zabardast means wonderful in Urdu.
This film is a fascinating look into the mind of Walter Steiner, a world class ski “flyer,” as downhill jumpers were called in the 1960s and ’70s. His occupation is wood carving, but his preoccupation is flying through the air at 60 miles per hour. Steiner won silver on the large hill (an important distinction) at the 1972 Winter Games as well as two World Championships.
The film is couched as a piece of journalism with a German reporter following Steiner’s career, beginning with Swiss jumper training in Austria. The reporter makes the point that Steiner should be the world champion because if the length of his 179-meter jump at Oberstdorf (ten meters longer than the world record at the time), but the judges had to interrupt the competition and start Steiner on a shorter hill (“you might say he flew too far”). The reporter makes an ongoing case for Steiner before he heads off to Slovenia to compete at Planica. And of course, during practice he sets a ramp record equaling his own jump at Oberstdorf. And then we get to the final. Fifty-thousand people show up. They’d seen Steiner on television over the preceding days and want to witness the great ski jumper in person. Fans and reporters climbed trees to get a better look. Steiner takes the overall lead on day one. Even though he starts at lower gates than his competitors (because his jumps are so long), he wins the event handily. The prize is a wood carving of a spread-eagled flying chicken (I think)—which is disturbing considering his occupation. There’s some dramatic footage of Steiner crashes—just awful stuff. But overall this is a subtle, humble story about a guy who explores the edges of what’s possible. The film is directed by legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog (Aguirre: the Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo).
Voted in by DD. German with English subtitles.
Trivia moment: The current world record is 253.5 meters.
(Dick Dorworth: “Steiner was to ski jumping what Michael Jordan was to basketball, and the film portrays ecstasy and humility as partners in pushing the limits of the possible.”)
6. Few Words
This is a film about one of the most creative skiers in history: Candide Thovex. Candide came out of the womb on skis, schussing. Fast. And this spectacular film tracks his progress via some exceptional photography.
The film showcases his early years when Thovex was learning jumps and there’s some great archival footage or him flying off everything he can get his edges on. One of his early coaches, Edgar Grospiron, explains in the film that Thovex was great in moguls, but “in the air, he was above everybody.” (I love French irony. This guy shoulda been on the Zabaradast trip.)
But the crux of what made Thovex the skier he is was snowboarding. As we learn, Thovex would mostly ski with snowboarders and early on he realized that shredders seemed to have a lot more freedom in the ways they come down a hill. Candide adopted their tactics, and was off to the races.
In 1999, Thovex pulls off a brown-eye clencher when he jumps Chads Gap—a chunk of air between two piles of mine tailings that span 120 feet (supposedly named for Chad Zurinskas who had been trying to land the massive launch) just outside Alta.
For Thovex, it was “a pinnacle moment in skiing,” as Teton Gravity Research cofounder Todd Jones described it.
He went on to win competition after competition, including two X-Games podiums and piles of other contests. He established the Candide Invitational, in which the best skiers from around the world came for several fun days of skiing over huge jumps (check out the Big Bertha jump). The event ran from 2002 to 2007.
After a pretty big crash, Candide became a big mountain skier, and we’re treated to a hell of a lot of spectacular scenery and some amazing lines. This film is mesmerizing.
Voted in by CB.
Trivia moment: Thovex is pronounced “Toe-vex.”
This film is typical Greg Stump fare. A mobile party of American skiers go out on the circuit and experience a whole lotta terrain, conditions, wild geography, and personalities. Again, it’s Stump’s wonderful narration (like Warren Miller’s before him) that makes this film.
This flick introduces us to skiing in the French alps, and places where American style liability does not exist—a major theme.
Scot Schmidt, Mike Hattrup, and Glen Plake add color to the film (in their fluorescent outfits). But there’s a bit of background on each of these guys and their careers, which is actually quite interesting (For example, no promoters would touch Schmidt because they feared lawsuits from would-be imitators who got hurt.)
There’s even an interview with Rasta Stevie (remember him?) mostly because Telluride is presented as the antidote to the corporate production lines of Aspen and Vail. And, as with every ski flick made in the 1980s, there’s at least one doof on a monoski.
Squaw is up next, then Chamonix again, where they take on the Poubelle (Trash Can) Couloir, among others, and Greg narrates the geography of the French Alps. The French mountains aren’t any place for the weak. As Hattrup later wrote of the filmmaking adventure, “But it was what we heard in the bars that was unsettling: a Brit got caught in a slide on Tuesday; a Swede fell into a crevasse on the Argentière glacier yesterday. Stump even fished a snowboarder out of a crevasse. Chamonix: death sport capitol of the world? We were starting to understand. Then we heard the stats: the Chamonix valley claimed roughly 50 lives a year. Holy shit? One a week! I couldn’t remember hearing about a single person dying at a ski resort back home.”
Voted in by GS, PK, CB.
Trivia moment: fluorescent clothes are in style again. Trivia moment two: you can work road construction in said clothes.
(Geoff Stump: “It was the coming of age movie for our generation and for Greg and our film production capabilities.”)
I didn’t like this one much, but “Dav” recommended it so I included it.
This film is a patchwork of footage from all over the place. Set to a—mostly—metal rock background, it’s okay, not great. There’s no plot. There’s some outrageous skiing. There are some outrageous locations. But this film has no collective direction. It’s a stoner’s mess of skiing junk food.
Another reason I wanted to include this film in the list is because it includes my high school classmate Dean Cummings (currently in jail in New Mexico on a murder charge) and my neighbor (Chris)—both great humans, both unbelievable skiers. It includes Dean’s first backflip, which is pretty cool because I remember seeing him week in week out at Pajarito in the early 1980s, clearly thinking about it.
French innovator Candide Thovex appears at one point. The late Shane McConkey is in there, blowing minds as usual. Plus a gaggle of the late 1990s crew.
There’s a bunch of base jumping. There’s also a truly annoying rap by some dude standing on a car hood. Man, that is a turn off. My brain is wounded. There’s a pile of snowmobilers doing silly things. And, of course, as with all these films, we flip to some other adrenaline sport: motorbiking. Jumps, flips, whatever (there’s even a moon lander, no joke) in that sequence. Back to the skiing. And we’re in Europe again, skiing trees of all things. While this film lacks the gathering of the energy like Aahhh’s or GNAR, it does have some excellent footage of skiing.
Voted in by CD.
Trivia moment: Weirdly, this film includes some stock avalanche footage shot along I-70 by my friend Steve Kroschel (my wife Ann starred in one of his films).
This is a video by someone named Todd Richards who apparently has some kind of podcast. Right away you realize there’s a lot of footage of bros standing around or sitting around and talking. And Richards explains that the film is “me following people around, and basically just life commentary.” And, it promises to be hilarious. We know that because there’s a professor at the beginning of the film explaining how funny Todd Richards is. Which, of course, he’s not. Todd thinks he’s handsome, too, so there’s a hell of a lot of his face in the video. The extreme hilarity begins when the Todcast crew go looking for Travis Rice in New Zealand. Todd calls Travis a “classic” human being. That’s hilarious. It’s not until about the middle of the film we get some really good snowboarding footage, but quickly after that, we go back into depressing RV travelogue as the bros tool around the South Island. Much of the film centers on the dilemma of whether our crew of handsome young hunks should go to the mountain or to the beach. They do both, and it’s randomly knitted together into this film. There are some inane philosophical discussions, too. The one about surfing is the best (“the water has, like, the energy of the earth”). And a lot of the film shows them packing and unpacking vehicles. Now that’s quality screen time.
There’s miles of video of bros talking, shooting other bros while they’re videotaping bros talking, and miles of video of bros talking while they’re editing video of bros talking. These are the kinds of gents who think the f-word is funny. And the more you say it, the funnier you are. Grab your favorite testosterone-flavored power drink and get ready to laugh…or cry. Certainly this film will turn you into a day drinker. I made it to 17 minutes. Voted in by CB.
(Geoff Stump: “My Worst…. Any over hyped skiing bro-fest with deadly lines barely skied. I don’t want to see it.” I found you a movie, Geoff!) Rule of Thumb for this film: you can use your thumb to operate the off switch.
A group of nasty French monoskiers (monoskieurs)—you can tell they’re evil blokes by the music—declare something pretty important then go ripping down a hill. It seems they’re targeting a bloke on a snowboard (an early 1980s Winterstick, me thinks). Inside an igloo, this bloke, played by the legendary Regis Rolland, gets a radio call, gets out of the igloo, and it blows up. Then he goes ripping down a hill.
Next thing you know, the monoskieurs maléfiques have some kind of huge rubber ball (looks like a Zorbing thing). One of the maléfiques—dubbed the Interceptor—gets in the ball and rips down the hill, chasing our golden boy. He gets out of the way and the Interceptor seems to die. The Interceptor also appears to be an alien. (I’m not a huge expert on aliens but once someone asked for my advice on accommodations in Roswell.)
Regis keeps ripping down the hill and outruns an avalanche. Then outta nowhere the maléfiques are back. Regis gets on a poma. That’s attached to a helicopter. Then we float around a bit.
Next thing you know, Regis is on skis and the maléfiques are too. (Incredible plot twist.) Then, Regis skis down a ski area road while the maléfiques crash and burn on the sides of the road.
This film is 26 minutes long. I stopped watching at 11:57. That was enough. I felt like I was ripping down a bowl—yeah, the other kind of bowl.
Voted in by DS, CB.
(Doug Schnitzspahn: “Apocalypse Snow tops the list in both best and worst categories.”)
Trivia moment: Remember, more than 70 percent of France’s electricity comes from nuclear sources; this might explain something.
3. The Bad, the Rad, and the Mono (mispelled “Monoo” in some of the Youtube uploads)
The film starts with a guy named Charles being given a camera and being asked if he understands some kind of protocols as he prepares for a journey. Then there’s some science fiction–style footage of a space craft (presumably Charles is on board), some nature footage (fish in a river then a bald eagle catching one), a bit of kayaking, some more spacecraft footage, and then footage of the Samples playing Vail in 1994, all mixed with incredibly bad video filters and effects. (I’m not making this up.) Then more space footage, but space footage with a slow-motion bungy jumper superimposed over the planets of the solar system as they’re presented. We get to Earth, the terrible video effects go away, and we are treated to low-resolution scenes of skiing, kayaking, and more bungy jumping. That’s part one. There are nine more parts. Briefly they feature: gangs of guys on motorcycles with snowboards and mono skis, a guy playing air guitar on his mono board, a bunch of skiing and riding, and awkward conversations about who’s a Telluride local and who isn’t and real estate prices. The use of video filters and effects is so poorly done that it’s genius. You do not need recreational drugs for this one. The incredibly bad video editing eliminates the need for jumpers, coke, and sweet Mary Jane. Save some money tonight. Watch this “film.” (I got through two of the ten segments.)
Voted in by GS, CB.
(Geoff Stump: “So bad that it’s almost watchable.”)