Ski films have been around for as long as we can remember, from retro edits with bad hairstyles and even worse fashion sense in the 1980s to epic feature-length films shot across the globe in recent years.
Every season, with the development of new filming technology and the popularity of events such as the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour and Kendal Mountain Film Festival, production budgets seem to be stretching further and further. All this allows some of the world’s top skiers and snowboarders to push themselves (and their film crew) to new extremes, all in the hope of producing the next big ski film.
With the 2019/20 ski season cut short due to the spread of coronavirus it’s no longer possible for us keen snow-sport fans to make powder turns of our own – so to make sure we’re all getting a healthy dose of action from the mountains (albeit through a screen) here’s our selection of the ski and snowboard movies you have to see, whether in self isolation or not:
The self-proclaimed “best ski movie ever” does its best to live up to its own humorously arrogant assessment. It’s the last feature length film to star Canadian skiing icon Shane McConkey before he died in a basejump ski accident in 2009. The pioneer of modern freeride skis (he strapped water-skis to his feet to tackle the deep powder), he was able to adapt to both freestyle and freeride skiing scenes with ease. A scene set to The Final Countdown sucks you into the high octane spirit of the movie, when all the riders fist pump after landing incredible drops.
Short but spectacular nonetheless, this ski film is a visually stunning work of art. Shot in the deep powder of the Esplanade Range, Canada, at night, it captures skiers weaving through a blend of colours and lights, accompanied by poetic narration. The crew used eight 4,000-watt lights to illuminate the mountain and filmed for over six weeks to create the perfect edit. Plus the futuristic LED jackets they wear in some of the scenes would make any style-savvy skier jealous. The full film was made in association with electronics company Philips as part of an advertising campaign to support its new Ambilight TV.
The Crash Reel (2013)
This documentary, charting the rise and fall of professional US snowboarder Kevin Pearce, makes for compelling viewing. The film follows him as he’s gearing up to compete in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, alongside his snowboarding contemporary and friend Shaun White. But after a massive crash during one of his training sessions, Pearce is lucky to escape with his life, while White goes on to win gold. The film explores how he tries to recover from a life-threatening head injury – and how his love of the sport endures even after the crash, despite not being able to compete anymore.
The 23-minute film by The North Face follows athletes Hilaree Nelson and her partner Jim Morrison on one of the most epic ski-mountaineering missions of all time, as the pair set out to climb Lhotse, a 8,516m mountain in the Himalayas, and make the first ski descent of the narrow Lhotse couloir that runs from the summit. The film is as much about reaching the top, in the shadow of Mount Everest, as it is the route down. The journey entails taking the same route climbers would take towards Everest, including crossing the crevasse-riddled Khumbu glacier, and passing through three Everest camps. That’s not to discredit their descent, which was the first in history of the unfeasibly narrow couloir. In the words of Jeremy Jones, who’s one of the commentators on the film: “If you think of all the thousands of little things that need to line up for that to happen, and not only to succeed, but get it in what I would call Himalayan A-plus conditions, it’s truly a mini miracle.”
The Blizzard of AAHHH’S (1988)
One of the first ever professional ski movies features American ski legends Glen Plake (check out the first outing of the American’s crazy mohican!), Mike Hattrup and Scot Schmidt, in undeniably retro outfits, with an undeniably Eighties soundtrack. All three skiers are the inspiration for many pros on the scene today, and this rockumentary-style film sees them tear up the mountain. Made in 1988 by the pioneering director Greg Stump, it really marked the start of freeride skiing.
What started as a childish game conjured up by Shane McConkey for him and his friends to play in Squaw Valley, first became a chapter in a book by Rob Gaffney called Squallywood, and then, eventually, provided the inspiration for a feature film. After McConkey’s death in 2009, skiers from all over the globe gathered in Squaw Valley to compete in the first (and only) official G.N.A.R. (Gaffney’s Numerical Assessment of Radness) competition. The game is made up of various silly tasks, including attempting tricks completely naked, calling up your mum while going down steep pistes, and playing pranks on the public – but the prize for winning was a serious $25,000.
Day Tripper (1997)
This Nineties snowboard film captures its time period perfectly. The soundtrack has some great indie tunes by the likes of Placebo, Feeder and The Stone Roses to go along with the portrayal of the huge hype surrounding snowboarding at the time – although in the clip below it’s all about the jazz flute. The story is simple: a group of pro riders, including K2 poster boy Travis Parker, sets off in a bus around the US to hit the best powder and jumps in the country.
Formed in 2009, mega ski group Legs of Steel have made numerous major ski movies and have a long list of current professional riders under their name. With a backdrop of four continents, the riders in Passenger push the limits of park and freeride skiing. Look out for Sheffield-born skier Paddy Graham, who helped set up Legs of Steel originally. There’s one amazing scene at the Stubai terrain park in Austria, involving the whole team attempting a huge jump, which left the audience of Ski Sunday stunned after the clip aired on the BBC.
Where the Light Shines (2019)
Keen for a side of culture with your skiing? Where The Light Shines provides a rare glimpse into skiing in one of the world’s most war-torn countries, Afghanistan. Created by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Daniel Etter, the film aims to reveal the truth of skiing in the country through the story of one of its biggest successes, Sajjad Husaini, who is bidding to become Afghanistan’s first ever Winter Olympian at the Winter Games in Beijing in 2022. The film takes its name from the translation of Bamyan, ‘the place of shining light’, which also happens to be the country’s leading ski resort – where most of the action is set. Sequences from the film demonstrate how the area has little infrastructure, with locals using shovels to clear paths for 4×4 vehicles up the mountains and not a single lift. But it’s this simple approach to life, tourism and skiing that will leave viewers intrigued.
The Norwegian tourist board must have had huge grins when this film was released; it brilliantly captures the beautiful landscapes and expansive freeriding in Norway. It also showcases the immense amount of talent Scandinavia has when it comes to alpine snow sports – as well as American freestyle skier Tom Wallisch and snowboard legend Terje Håkonsen. A guest appearance by World Cup ski race star Aksel Lund Svindal freeriding in deep powder instead of bullet-proof ice race tracks is one of the big highlights.
Shane McConkey has already had a couple of shout-outs in this list, but that’s because he brought skiing, and ski movies, to a totally different level. This documentary captures his life, death, and legacy, coupled with insights from his close friends and family. A great tribute to one of the biggest stars in action-sports history.
Lindsey Vonn: The Climb (2015)
This is a fascinating insight into the life of a World Cup alpine ski racer. Lindsey Vonn is the most successful woman in the history of skiing and is still competing at a top level in the speed events. This documentary follows how she overcomes the many challenges of recovering from a serious knee injury before the Sochi 2014 Olympics. It reveals the complex sports science and psychological battles that go into maintaining a position at the top.
Many Moods of Skiing (1961)
It wouldn’t be a ski movie list without a Warren Miller film. The legendary Miller started out narrating his own home movies, and went on to make 750 sports films during his directing career. After over 50 years of making ski movies, Warren Miller films are still being made today despite him not being directly involved. Many Moods of Skiing is one of his early classics, released in 1961. The film follows three skiers as they hit the slopes of four different countries, and was ground-breaking as one of the first ski movies to be shot around the world in one feature.
Streif: One Hell of a Ride (2015)
November 2015 saw the release of the highly anticipated ski movie Streif: One Hell of a Ride. The film is about the legendary downhill run of the same name in Kitzbühel, regarded as one of the toughest ski race courses on the planet. Charting the bravery and determination of those who race the Streif course, this ski film isn’t short of jaw-dropping crashes and showcases the courage and dedication required to compete at the highest level of downhill racing.
Eddie the Eagle (2016)
The much-anticipated film about British ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards and his hapless turn at the 1988 Winter Olympics burst onto cinema screens in March 2016. Starring Taron Egerton as Eddie and Hugh Jackman as his coach, the feature-length underdog tale left us believing that maybe, just maybe, anything is possible if you put your mind to it…
Picture Organic Clothing’s 2019 release, Shelter, goes a long way in cementing the brand’s already punchy environmentally-friendly credentials. The film follows five friends, Leo Taillefer, Jeremy Jones, Mat Schaer, Levi Luggen and Thomas Delfino (who all also happen to be some of the greatest riders on the planet), on a reduced carbon footprint trip through the Alps. Think public transport and a hell of a lot of hiking and touring/ splitboarding, rather than the usual heli-skiing and transglobal flights you’d expect from a ski film. But that doesn’t mean the action, or the terrain (most of which is away from major big-name resorts), is any less impressive – in fact it’s more so as the whole thing is achieved under human power and is highlighting the impacts of climate change on the mountains. Whether you’re an eco-warrior or not, if you’ve always dreamt of a hut-to-hut trip that would allow you to truly escape for awhile, this one’s for you.
The Fourth Phase, (2016)
With over 20 snowboard film credits to his names, Travis Rice is no stranger to the big screen, but his 2016 release was earmarked as his most personal endeavour to date. The Fourth Phase is a refreshingly different feature film about snowboarding – with surprisingly little snowboarding in it. The 90-minute film explores nature’s influence on snow sports as much as it is about the practice of them – something that Rice researched intently. In a unique plot, the hydrological cycle (Google it!) provides the narrative for the film. It took Rice and his crew, including Victor de le Rue, Jeremy Jones and Mark Landvik, five years to produce in various resorts, big and small, around the North Pacific. This isn’t a film about snowboarders conquering the mountain; it’s about Mother Nature proving who’s boss. There’s a constant battle between the crew and the landscape that surrounds them, which makes the times when they are able to perform even more spectacular. A unique insight into one of snowboarding’s most creative minds.
Warren Miller Entertainment, the production company set up by ski-bum-turned-filmmaker Warren Miller, has been producing ski and snowboard films since 1949. Its 70th feature-length film release, Timeless, is a nod to the past seven decades of ski cinematography, while also showcasing the very best up-and-coming snow-sports talent. The film’s locations span the globe, from the steeps of the Colorado Rockies to the rooftop of the European Alps. It includes everything you’d expect from a great ski film, heli-skiing, deep powder, narrow couloirs and untracked bowls. “Every year I still get that same feeling I got when I was a kid watching ski movies. I enjoy watching them now more than ever, and that is what Timeless celebrates,” says narrator former-Winter Olympic skier Jonny Moseley. If you’re feeling nostalgic, this one’s for you.
Dream Job, (2019)
If you’re in need of some light-hearted ski action, Dream Job, is an easy-to-watch documentary-turned-comedy by Katie Burrell, who opens the trailer with “I work in marketing in the ski industry, and kind of hate it.” Those looking for straight up ski porn, with epic lines and big mountain stunts, will need to look elsewhere – Dream Job breaks the mould by featuring an average skier, and a funny one at that, as its protagonist. Following Burrell as she aims to become one of the industry’s ‘stars’, the short film features a day in the life of three of the biggest names, big mountain skiers Christina “Lusti” Lustenberger, Girls Do Ski founder Leah Evans and female mountain guide Diny Harrison. Our favourite of the many great one-liners? “They go up, they go down, how hard can it be?” Admit it, isn’t that the question we all ask ourselves when watching these films?