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Steep (2007) - Movie Review

The World of Extreme Skiing

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Steep (2007) - Movie Review

Steep Takes You to Places You've Never Been.

Sony Pictures Classics
Steep is part sports extravaganza, part travelogue. It takes you to the remote wilderness of Alaska, British Columbia, Iceland and France, following adventure seeking, risk taking men who’ve pioneered heliskiing and ski mountaineering. Watching talented athletes push past their limits is breathtaking.

Long before it became the rage in the US, extreme skiing was popular in Europe, especially around Chamonix, France, where famous skiers like Pierre Tardival, Amselme Baud, Patrick Vallencant and Jean Marc Bolvin stirred the snow on Mont Blanc. Fabulous archival footage in the film illustrates their exceptional skills.

The Sport Debuts in America

The sport was launched in the US in 1971, when Bill Briggs climbed to the summit of magnificent Grand Teton Mountain, overlooking Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and skied down the 6,000 feet to its base. The treacherous five hour run set off an avalanche of extreme skiing in remote mountainous regions of North America.

Briggs’ climb and descent attracted a lot of attention, and descending Grand Teton became a bench mark challenge for daring skiers who found even the most difficult resort skiing to be boring--something, they say, is good to do when you‘re 80 years old.

Skiers not only followed Briggs in skiing down Grand Teton, they invented other challenges of their own.

Extreme skiing involves searching for and scaling peaks that nobody else has previously visited, then skiing down slopes that are 50 degrees or more and are covered with snow that in some places is barely clinging to exposed rock. It‘s extremely difficult to overpower the pull of gravity and control your descent. Additionally, many runs entail skiing along or off the edges of cliffs, where the slightest misstep could be fatal.

The skiers acknowledge that their friends and colleagues are quite often carried off the slopes in body bags--but they say that find the sport addictively invigorating and fun. “If there’s no risk there’s no adventure--and that’s a great part of life,” says Briggs in his on camera interview.

The Cast of Characters

Stefano De Benedetti Skiing in Steep

Sony Pictures Classics
Doug and Emily Coombs, the skiing couple who pioneered heliskiing in Alaska, are particularly appealing characters who speak almost poetically about the sheer joy they experience while exploring uncharted mountain terrain. “Mountains are living, breathing things--you have to know how to read them or you get into trouble. They’ll make you more alive, or they’ll make you dead,” says Doug. “When you’re in the vertical world of mountains, you’re moving through as a guest.“

Director Mark Obenhaus introduces us to Chris Davenport and Ingrid Backstrom, whose daring exploits have been recorded in numerous ski films, and to Seth Morrison, referred to as the cat because of the way he twists out of difficult situations, always landing on his feet after skiing off cliffs and doing double flips in the air. There smart useage of rare footage of Andrew McLean’s death defying encounter with an avalanche in Iceland, and of some of Stefano De Benedetti‘s daring runs on the Italian face of Mont Blanc that are so dangerous they simply can’t be repeated.

The Allure of Vicarious Thrills

Even if you don’t warm to extreme sports, you’ll find psychology of the skiers fascinating and Director of Photography Erich Roland’s stunning panoramic vistas of mountain tops and taken from them is utterly inspiring.

Steep takes you to places very few people get to see and experience in person, and the visual--if virtual--trip is truly a great treat. Scenically, the most beautiful shots are those of human dots zigzagging down an expansive sheet of pristine white snow, but close-ups that show the remarkable athleticism of the skiers will also leave you breathless. Steep is the armchair thrill of a lifetime.

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