Steep (PG)

Documentary 92 December 21, 2007
By Aaron Hillis
The three deepest profundities plowed by Mark Obenhaus's blandly beautiful, inarticulate extreme-skiing doc: (1) Alaskan snow feels unusually velvety, (2) "You're not a big mountain skier unless you’ve skied Chamonix," and (3) "Mountains always have the last say." That final quote, from the wife of pioneering ski mountaineer Doug Coombs — who died while trying to save a friend on a slope, mere days after completing his last interview — carries an existential weight that the film never attempts to lift. For what justifiable purpose do these passionate boundary pushers risk their lives, beyond recreation and a possible career as a hi-def ESPN2 porn star? Is the lifestyle of an adrenaline junkie any less self-destructive than a drug addict's? And how does Ingrid Backstrom, a female rarity to the sport, feel about being likened to "a guy with a ponytail"? Such explorations might've boosted interest in this niche film, which ekes out much of its feature length with nostalgia for the Frenchmen who popularized "Le Ski Extreme" in the '70s and mohawked superstar Glen Plake's breakthrough 1988 ski video, The Blizzard of AAHHH's. An avalanche-in-progress aside, there's no hook for the audience, who would probably have more fun getting drunk in the lodge.
Mark Obenhaus Ingrid Backstrom, Anselme Baud, Bill Briggs, Doug Coombs, Chris Davenport, Stefano De Benedetti, Shane McConkey, Andrew McLean, Seth Morrison, Eric Pehota Mark Obenhaus J. Stuart Horsfall Sony Pictures Classics

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