Why the Classic Ski Film ‘Aspen Extreme’ Is for the Girls
Thanks to female characters Bryce Kellogg and Robin Hand, women in ski towns have a timeless manifesto to follow
Let’s start with some assumptions: 1) You’ve seen the 1993 film Aspen Extreme, and 2) You agree it transcends cult classic status and has settled into its rightful place as the greatest ski movie of all time.
Like many skiers, I have long marked the beginning, middle, and end of ski season with a viewing of the one-hour and 58-minute film following our celebrated heroes T.J. Burke and Dexter Rutecki. For decades, we’ve held them up as the golden gods of ski-town lore. And for good reason. They had the cojones to do the thing many of us say we will do, dream we will do, and ultimately never do: leave it all behind to move out west and go skiing. They are ambitious, loyal, charming, and handsome, and they make a damn good case for being the best skiers on the mountain.
As the head of the Aspen Ski School reminds T.J., “Part of the job is fulfilling the fantasy: you are the fantasy.” He’s not wrong. But this is where I tell you that it is no longer T.J. Burke and Dexter Rutecki selling the fantasy of living in a ski town. Maybe it never was. You want fantasy? Turn your heads and gaze upon the true stars of the film: the fur coat-wearing, high-roller hottie Bryce Kellogg and the equally badass local, Aspen radio DJ extraordinaire Robin Hand.
When director Patrick Hasburgh wrote the film, he shaped it after his own experience of leaving behind a blue-collar job in the Midwest to try his hand at life in glitzy Aspen. But whether it was Hasburgh or the Disney execs who softened the rough edges of the original script, it seems the men involved forgot to pay homage—as men occasionally do—to the women who kept their dreams afloat.
It’s time these women get their due. Aspen Extreme is not only the greatest ski movie of all time but also a timeless feminist manifesto that proves there is no singular, best, or right way to be a woman in a ski town. Get it, girl.
When it’s 5 a.m. and the Detroit hotshots are freezing their chiseled buns off in the van down by the river (He told you to fill the propane, Dex!), it’s Robin who renders aid with hot coffee and a blazing fire. Yes, Robin, a Roaring Fork Valley home-owning, gainfully employed woman with healthy boundaries and the confidence to pull off mom jeans.
When Dex and T.J. later find themselves illegally parked outside her house because they can’t find a place to live, she sets them up with a locals-only connection—a train caboose they rent for the remainder of the season. You’re welcome, boys. It won’t be the last time she saves you.
In their continued quest for glory, Dex and T.J. ski out of bounds (illegally) while training for the Powder 8 competition, and T.J. nearly drowns in a crevasse, only to emerge with a gaping head wound. Instead of going to the hospital for stitches and risking their jobs, the boys turn, once again, to our heroine Robin. (According to the latest CDC figures, the average American woman will outlive her male counterpart by five years, to the surprise of no one.) Of course, she has a stocked medkit on hand and the know-how to close the wound. Have you ever asked a 25-year-old man for so much as a Band-Aid? He doesn’t have one, I promise you.
What seals the deal is the lip she gives these two BFFs (that’s “bozos and friends forever”) for risking their lives for a ski competition. No wonder she stopped dating ski instructors when she was 16. Robin makes no apologies for who she is and remains unaffected by the mad, mad world happening around her. To remain calm in the eye of the storm that is Aspen after dark is a special type of hero, and she deserves our respect and praise.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Ms. Kellogg, who treats our boys to a different brand of TLC when she delivers a $600 bottle of bubbly while they split a single shrimp cocktail for dinner.
Bryce knows what she wants and how to get it. When her old flame Franz Hauser no longer suits her, she unapologetically moves on to T.J. Seasons change, Herr Hauser, and so have the lady’s needs. But does she wait for T.J. to call, pining, wondering, worrying if he’s interested? She absolutely does not. Bryce calls that caboose (if you know what I mean) and invites him over for a clothing-optional dip in her indoor pool. At the foot of Ajax. Not to mention a Denver office where she forwards her calls while the help serves up a swan-shaped edible arrangement and five kinds of juice for breakfast. And that’s just the first date.
You want a second date, Teej? Bryce says you’re going to have to read some books. Give her a ring when you’re done. We love the way this lady makes the man work for it, even if she does jet off to Philadelphia without explanation. As she says, “Someone has to make money in this family.” And boy, does she. How else could she afford an all-day private lesson with the season’s hottest instructor? Even better, when you watch her ski, it’s pretty damn clear T.J. should be the one taking notes. Thanks to stunt skiing by Aspen’s own real-life Katie Ertl, the woman puts on a damn clinic and moves T.J. to second fiddle.
And frankly, that’s where he belongs. Dex (who, spoiler alert, gets involved in a bad coke deal and dies in a ski accident) and T.J. are two in a million eager young bucks who make a go of it in ski towns the world over every winter. Lovable, but not unique. Affable, but not bright. On the other hand, Robin and Bryce are two (of many!) examples of how women dominate the scene. They’ve realized the true fantasy, and it’s time to celebrate the ladies who shaped the greatest ski movie of all time. It’s their world. Dex and T.J. are just skiing in it.