By Alejandro Montalvo
Take a minute and name your favorite skiing film. How about your favorite snowboarding film? It’s no surprise if it’s difficult. Skiing and snowboarding are not as well-represented in film as other sports like baseball or boxing. Often when skiing or snowboarding are featured on film they’re a smaller part of a larger story, not the main focus.
Only a handful of films have solely been about skiing or competitive skiing. And out of that handful, even less take it seriously, in the same way “Hoosiers” presents basketball seriously. “Downhill Racer,” released in 1969, starring Robert Redford and Gene Hackman, is such a film. Chronicling Olympic skier David Chappellet’s race to become a champion, “Downhill Racer” presents skiing as competitive and cutthroat, even within the United States Olympic team. The film features exciting handheld footage from the perspective of the skiers, something that hadn’t been done before and it effectively translates the excitement and speed of downhill racing. Unfortunately, it is a lonely exception in accurately portraying the sport on film.
“Aspen Extreme,” released in 1993, is another attempt at a ski-driven film. Marketed as “Top Gun on the Ski Slopes!” it’s laughably melodramatic and very ‘90s. It does, however, present skiing as an exciting endeavor. Two working-class buddies make their way to the Aspen slopes to work as ski instructors, showing up pretty much everyone on the mountain. With its excess of synth-driven music, early ‘90s hairstyles and bright neon colors, “Aspen Extreme” isn’t exactly a perfect picture, but it does bring skiing to the big screen with enthusiasm.
But what about snowboarding? How about “Johnny Tsunami”? It’s a Disney Channel movie from the early 2000s that follows a boy who moves from Hawaii to Vermont where he applies his surfing skills to snowboarding. But according to the “cool” kids (i.e., rich kids) he’s picked the wrong sport. The “cool” kids at school do not snowboard (said with disgust), they ski! It’s classism used to effectively distinguish the antagonists. The film ends with a race, Johnny on a snowboard and his stuck-up rival on skis. It’s a Disney flick, so it’s pretty easy to figure out who wins. What’s significant here is the unfortunate stigma against both snowboarders and skiers. Skiers see their sport as somehow above and better than snowboarding. In truth, both sports are equally enjoyed by all ages, neither better than the other. But you couldn’t guess that by looking at Hollywood.
“Agent Cody Banks,” teenage spy for the CIA, rides a jet-propelled snowboard in his adventures. He could have very easily been on skis, but clearly skiing is for adults only! James Bond, a 20th-century male icon, skis. Only briefly did he snowboard, in 1981’s “For Your Eyes Only,” but for the most part Bond has ridden skis while taking on enemies on the slopes.
Skiing and snowboarding are two sports well-suited for film but so often get dumped into B-movie, direct-to-video flicks like “Shred,” “Snowboard Academy,” “Ski School” and “Out Cold.” It’s an unfortunate designation that perpetuates the stereotype that both skiing and snowboarding are somehow “lesser” sports. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Alejandro Montalvo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TheSagebrush.