Jan 03 2011

Review: A Life Ascending

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.

To obtain a copy for yourself, register here.

  • http://www.thompsonpass.com Valdez Telehead

    My wife and I sat down on the couch last night and watched this movie. By the time it was over my eyes were swollen nearly busting with tears. We each sat silently holding hands as the titles filtered away.

    Over the years many of the skiers I have guided in the Chugach have skied with Ruedi. I could hardly compare myself with Reudi and his accomplishment, but the parallels as his story unfolds were far too many to ignore and far too deep to get into on this blog. When it was over I wanted to call Ruedi and tell him how much I respect (love?) him and his family and to apologize for many, including myself, who may have questioned or misinterpreted his actions in the 2003 incident that dominates the film. Throughout the film it becomes starkly clear how devastating the incident was on one of the greatest mountain guides of our times. It’s also clear that he is a man of purpose and resolve to capture and sustain the joy he finds traveling in the mountains one step at a time. His family would have it no other way.

    The highlights, at least to me, were the opening segments of his daughters on the rock walls and how they gazed upon their dad doing the wall with awe and love. Only Dad’s know that look. Of course the beautiful song one of them sings at the ends to mesmerizing. What a beautiful voice she has! I too have two children about the same age revealing one of the parallels. The movie is full of the human spirit that binds a mountain family in a remote and wonderful winter wonderland. The raven story is all the proof I needed that the mountains are truly a church, a place to worship and of true spirits.

    Many get wrapped up in the world of Hollywood skiing, tricks of extreme and fancy camera angles shot from a helicopter to enhance angles beyond what they really are. It gets old. This movie was shot at the human level both literally and spiritually. If you love backcountry skiing this movie is for you. If you are backcountry skier who loves your family this movie is for you. If you have had tragedy in your life this movie is for you. This movie will have a profound impact on how you view the mountain world. Every time I ski for the remainder of this season it will be hard to do so without thinking of “A Life Ascending”.

    Thank you Ruedi, your wonderful family and friends for sharing your private lives with me and Tabitha. We love each more because of this movie.

  • https://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    Just received word that Dave the Raven is back this season. Again!

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