The Ski Film Is Dead. Long Live the Ski Film!

An ambitious documentary of big-mountain skiing investigates the lives behind the hucks

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WELL BEFORE ITS FIRST ADVANCE SCREENING, Steep was already being compared to Riding Giants, Stacy Peralta’s acclaimed 2004 documentary of big-wave surfing. As an action film, Steep holds up. Try to keep your jaw closed during the shots of Ingrid Backstrom’s near-free-fall descent of a veiny Canadian peak or the soulful paced segment of tree skiing in Alaska (shot by automated cameras on zip lines). Where it falters: Between adrenaline injections, the momentum of the film, directed by Mark Obenhaus, collapses under the weight of pretense. Each interview subject seems to feel the pressure to deliver deep resonant meaning with every breath: “It’s not a natural motion for the human body to stand on two planks and slide,” says ski mountaineer Lou Dawson. Or maybe it’s just that the film is 30 minutes too long. And yet Steep is worth the ticket—it will be shown in 50 cities starting in December thanks to a distribution deal with Sony Pictures Classics—due in part to laugh-out-loud archival clips of Glen Plake and pals in the eighties and the tender treatment of Alaska heli-skiing pioneer Doug Coombs, who died in an accident at La Grave, France, shortly after filming wrapped.

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