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DVD Review: Steep

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One man's idea of utterly insane is another man's idea of just an average day at the office. There are things that some people do on a daily basis that other people wouldn't ever contemplate doing in a million years. Just because someone won't contemplate an action, however, doesn't mean that it's not fun to watch someone else do it.

As an example, look at the recent DVD release, Steep. The documentary traces the history of extreme skiing in the United States, and watching it makes this reviewer wonder why anyone would want to jump climb up a mountain (or be dropped on one by a helicopter), ski down a 50 degree-plus slope, and then maybe, just for kicks, jump off (while still on skis) the mountain, perform a couple of 360s, and then pull out a parachute. Seriously.

Beginning with the start of extreme skiing in this country, Bill Briggs skiing down Grand Teton, the movie chronicles the way extreme skiing has evolved from Briggs's run in 1971. Narrated by Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) and directed by Mark Obenhaus, the film makes it quite clear that extreme skiing took place in Europe well before Briggs's run, but marks the Teton descent as the first major example of it in the U.S.

Steep does a wonderful job of tracing a through-line from Briggs's run to the current state of extreme skiing in this country. The film is, as it would have to be, full of talking heads. Most importantly, it doesn't just feature expert observers, it features a number of extreme skiers who helped define, and then redefine, the sport.

It should be noted that I am not an extreme skier; truth be told, my one time skiing probably doesn't even qualify me as a basic skier. However, being an extreme skier and having the ability to instantly recognize the name of Anselme Baud as a French pioneer of extreme skiing when he appears in the film aren't necessary for enjoying Steep. The visuals of what these men (and woman) do is utterly unbelievable. As the viewer watches the various runs the film does a wonderful job conveying just what the skiers are experiencing and thinking. It is, I am sure, no substitute for actually performing some of the feats caught on film, but the healthy respect one has to have of the danger involved also makes it clear that the average viewer ought not attempt any of the runs. A significant amount of time is spent discussing the danger and death involved in extreme skiing, and one of the interviewees actually passes away due to a skiing accident prior to the completion of the film.

If the film has one significant shortcoming it is the audio quality of clips from other work. Every time a clip from another movie or show is put into Steep, even if the video is of good quality, the audio seems somewhat degraded and far, far too quiet. It is a huge shock when going from one of these clips back to the regular film as the audio level jumps dramatically.

That aside, the spectacular visuals and more than adequate storyline are enough to carry the day in Steep. The film fills the viewer with both awe and wonder at the cleverness, strength, and slightly askew mindset that the extreme skiers depicted in it possess.

The DVD contains a making-of documentary which focuses on some of the wonderful camera work involved in filming the ski runs, a Q&A with Ingrid Backstrom, Andrew McLean (two of the skiers in the film), and the director at a film festival, and two photo montages. It also contains a commentary track by Obenhaus and the skiers for the feature itself.

While the sport is clearly not for everyone, the film is wonderful to look at and the sense of love the skiers have for what they do is palpable. Everyone in the film seems truly in their element, and even if you or I think that element is odd, it doesn't make the film less interesting.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.