“Extreme” sports and the films that highlight them go hand-inhand. Like a chicken and egg.
What came first?
Did death-defying acrobatics beckon for someone to capture those exploits on film, or did the emergence of video technology spur athletes to push their skills to the limit?
We may never know, but it’s undeniable that the popularity of extreme skiing rests in large part at the feet of filmmaker Greg Stump, whose flick “The Blizzard of AAHHH’s” became the benchmark for the genre.
The rockumentary-style “Blizzard” put filmmaker Stump — as well as extreme skiing in general — on the map, inspiring a generation of skiers and snowboarders and setting the stage for countless film production companies that would follow in Stump’s footsteps.
The film also launched the careers of an iconic trio of skiers — Scot Schmidt, Glen Plake and Mike Hattrup — who in “Blizzard” display their prowess on the steeps around Chamonix, France. Schmidt, a former racer, Plake, a mohawk-sporting punk rocker known for his outlandish antics, and Hattrup, a mogul specialist, became celebrities overnight.
Crested Butte Snowsports Foundation will host a screening of the cult classic ski film as part of the flick’s 30th anniversary tour this coming Saturday, Nov. 17 at the Center for the Arts in Crested Butte.
Stump says the idea for a 30th anniversary tour was sparked by “an angel investor character” who he’s done a few projects with in the past. Stump was hesitant to revisit “Blizzard” at first, but after continued urging he got to work on an edit.
Stump describes the 30th anniversary cut of the flick as beginning with “some pretty funny bits from my movies before ‘Blizzard AAHHH’s’” before launching into a condensed version of the original film.
“It’s more about Scot, Glen and Mike,” he said of the recut, noting that the film concludes with a “killer ending sequence” and highlights the fame that has resulted for the film’s three athletes.
“That was the big thing with ‘Blizzard of AAHHH’s,’” Stump explained. “Five months after I released that thing on VHS videotape out of my garage in Portland, Maine, those guys were on the Today Show. That just doesn’t happen.”
Born in San Diego, Stump learned to ski after his family moved to Maine. Later, he earned recognition in the competitive skiing ranks — becoming the U.S. national junior freestyle champion in 1978 and winning the North American Freestyle Championships the following year.
Subsequently, Stump began appearing in ski films of the day, but by the early 1980s he had turned t o making his own flicks — set apart from previous efforts by his use of soundtracks and narrative style. From 1984-1987, Stump produced four films.
But in 1988, at the young age of 27, Stump’s “Blizzard” changed everything.
"Seeing 'Blizzard' for the first time was like looking through a portal to the future I wanted for myself," Mike Douglas, a freeskiing pioneer, is quoted as saying. "This group of antiheroes were exactly who I wanted to be. Looking back, I would say 'Blizzard' was one of the key catalysts that launched the extreme sports movement."
After “Blizzard,” Stump would go on to make 20 other ski films, but in recent years he’s moved away from flicks focused on skiing, turning his attention to a greater degree on commercials and music videos.
“It was like, somebody’s going to get killed,” he said of the direction he saw ski films going, “and I didn’t want to be the one filming.”
As for the current state of affairs in the ski film industry, Stump is quick to commend technology and athletic ability for advancing the genre to a new level. However, he isn’t a fan of the “bro-speak” style of language which has infiltrated the genre.
“That’s my biggest complaint, how they interview their athletes,” he said. “The thing that bothers me most is I know if I interviewed those guys it would be more interesting.”
Today, Stump lives in the small town of Prineville, Ore., northeast of Bend, in a converted former doll factory. He stays in touch with Schmidt, Plake and Hattrup — but admits that he could get “Willie Nelson on the phone faster than” Plake, who’s gone on to achieve television stardom and is still involved in many facets of the ski industry.
In recent weeks, the 30th anniversary tour has included screenings in cities throughout the Pacific Northwest — drawing, as Stump explains, a predominantly middleaged crowd of skiers and snowboarders who found inspiration from the film over the last three decades.
“It’s a compliment to have multiple people every night say, ‘That movie changed my life for the better,” he said. “Well, wow, thank you. Mine too.”
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .)