Everybody knows that ski movies are to skiing what porn is to sex; visually stimulating, but nothing compared to the real thing. It’s why I tend to avoid them both. Why bother when the real thing is so infinitely superior?
When it comes to movies I want more than a tickling of my visual cortex, I look for something that stirs the soul. Thus, my preference is for movies that have a story line and characters that simmer and develop as the plot thickens (or sickens). That’s a tall order in the world of ski porn.
A Life Ascending is ski film by Stephen Grynberg that doesn’t fit the mold of nonstop segues of skiers hucking their meat off cliffs and diving deep in bottomless stashes of powder synchronized to throbbing music. It is a whole lot slower and thoughtful than that. Ski mountaineers may appreciate it, but action hungry tweeners will only use it to cure insomnia.
Myself, I found it worth spending an hour to watch Grynberg’s portrayal of Ruedi Beglinger. Ruedi’s reputation as a ski mountaineering guide had grown to legendary status by the turn of the century for offering not just a luxurious backcountry hut experience, but a challenging one as well, regularly leading clients around the Selkirks for up to 50,000 vertical feet of untracked skiing in a week. But that reputation was severely tarnished on January 20, 2003 when we were all stunned to learn that 12 people had been caught in an avalanche on the flanks of Tumbledown Mountain and seven died.
This movie does an excellent job of framing that situation and how the Beglinger family has dealt with the tragedy, from the immediate grief of friends lost, to the personal growth it has required not only for Ruedi and his wife Nicoline, but their daughters and everyone involved in the Selkirk Mountaineering Experience operation. From my perspective, the movie is even handed. It accurately portrays their lives, attitudes, and the relationships among themselves and with clients without getting bogged down in lengthy explanations. There are some excellent skiing sequences, but best of all, there is character and a real, albeit tragic, story to be told. In short, it isn’t some fluffy, fictional portrayal of how awesome skiing can be, but a real portrayal of a man who has made skiing his life, and how that life is like any other, full of warts and sorrow and passion and joy. In short, what this movie lacks in action it makes up for with soul. At the very least, it reminds us that skiing is life, life can be short, so we had best make the most of it while we can.
Real art portrays and reflects real life,whereas ski porn is but a superficial version of the real thing. A Life Ascending shows that ski mountaineering is a form of skiing that captures and reflects what is real in life, not merely the highlights.
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