For the Love of Ski Racing
At the Aspen World Cup Finals there will be the requisite big buck VIP tents, official FIS events and insider sponsor parties. There will be public bib draws and outdoor concerts for mass appeal, and of course grandstands for the throngs of spectators. But for true ski racing fans there will also be a few more personal offerings, windows into ski racing’s colorful history attended by those who were there and portrayed through the lens of those who chronicled it on film.
The first event is a sure-to-be-raging “50 Years of Ski Racing” party on Wednesday, March 15 at Hotel Jerome. The second is a free screening of three iconic yet rarely seen race films at the Wheeler Opera House, aprés ski on Thursday, March 16. The thread between the two events is the small but mighty Bob Beattie Ski Foundation, dedicated to the promotion of ski racing and preservation of its vibrant history. “It was a classic BBSF move to latch onto this idea, to ensure Aspen represented itself and its race history in style by staging some events beyond the predictable offerings for the credentialed crowd, and honor and celebrate something essential about our sport,” says board member Mark Taché.
At $25 a ticket, the “50 Years of Ski Racing” party sold out fast. Lucky attendees will be treated to a lively mix of ex-champions, industry insiders and locals with five flat screens running slideshow loops of classic stills donated by the sport’s top photographers along with historic film clips painstakingly spliced together by ski film legend Joe Jay Jalbert. The second event, a mini film festival screening spearheaded by BBSF board members, ski champions and Aspen locals Taché and his wife Christin Cooper, is free and open to all.
Cooper describes the films as “important documents of our sport at a moment in time – joyous, creative representations of ski racing in a golden age, set to an amazing soundtrack!” All three mini-features (with a total running time of 65 minutes) were directed by renowned cinematographer and one-time Aspenite Paul Ryan, whose credits include two Oscar-winning films for Best Cinematography: Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven” and Robert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It”.
Made in the late 1960s and early 70s, a time when ski towns were welcoming and affordable to creatives living on a shoestring and when skiing was on the rise, Ryan found money in the industry to be spent on sponsoring films. “Ski Racer” (sponsored by Lange Boots) captures the World Cup’s third season in 1969, with all the culture, innocence and striving of the racers on tour. “Karli” explores the God-like greatness and the humanity of one of the greatest ski racers of all time, Karl Schranz. “One for the Money” chronicles the raw energy, camaraderie, freedom and opportunism of ski culture at its swinging height
Ryan’s films are not only a window into ski racing at the high-flying cultural moment they were made, but also a reflection of the evolution of filmmaking at the time. As fellow ski racer, friend, and writer Dick Dorworth recalls, Ryan used the film covering the 1969 World Cup season “to break away from the previously staid conventions of sports filmmaking and experiment with the gonzo visual ideas that were invigorating the greater film world at the time … cinema verité styles with hand-held cameras, jump cuts, disorienting angles and other non-traditional film language, as inspirations.” All of the above, along with a rock music soundtrack and the personal voices of the racers themselves (in place of traditional narration), made the film a “one-of-a-kind impressionistic ride.”
“If I win the slalom on Sunday? I’d have the biggest party Sunday night you could imagine!” – “Ski Racer”
Ryan will introduce his films, made in various collaborations with Vail’s Roger Brown and then-Aspenites and acclaimed cameramen Don McKinnon and Norm Clasen. All four will return to their old stomping ground for the reunion. A discussion and Q&A will feature the filmmakers. Billy Kidd, Nancy Greene, Rod Hebron, Moose Barrows, John Demetre, Chuck Ferries, Stefan Kaelin and many others are expected to be in the audience.
This being Aspen and the World Cup Finals, it is only fitting that ski racing icon Bob Beattie – the last living co-founder of the World Cup, and visionary founder of World Pro Skiing – for whom the Bob Beattie Ski Foundation is named, and under whose direction it runs, will also attend.
Ski Racer, a Summit Films Production: this 25-minute documentary on the World Cup’s 1968-69 season explores the energy and innocence of a vibrant ski racing culture across the European Alps and the American West in a formative era. Summit Films founder Roger Brown, who invented the genre of promotional ski films, connected Ryan – then fresh out of film school – to Bob Lange, who suggested Ryan make a film about World Cup racing. At the time, Ryan recalls, Lange boots were “so far ahead in their industry that literally 80 percent of ski racers in the world wore their boots. Bob said ‘Show the boots every now and then, but just go and do it.’ So thanks to Bob Lange and Roger Brown, I basically had a blank check to go to Europe and follow the circuit for six weeks!”
Karli, a Summit Films Production: made the following year, is an insightful documentary on one of Austria’s all-time greats, Karl Schranz. Ryan gets beneath the steely presence and awesome talent of this four-time Hahnenkamm winner and multiple Olympic medalist to uncover his motivations, commitment and great sense of humor.
One for the Money, a Fat City Films Production: this short promotional film, commissioned by Pro Tour sponsor Demetre in 1973, captures the essence, honesty and risk-taking mindset of professional racers who tackled the dual format when TV coverage and spectator interest was at its height. It opens with a young and vital Spider Sabich assessing his challenges over stunning footage of the mountains around his hometown of Aspen, and features interviews and racing footage of former World Cup stars battling each other for cash at the finish line in Pro Racing’s 1970s heyday.
Wheeler Opera House doors open at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 16. Cash bar gathering-of-the-tribe before and after the films and Q&A. Films begin at 5:30 p.m. Classic World Cup and Pro racing stills, donated by the some of the world’s finest photographers, will be on display and offered for sale, post-screening, to benefit BBSF.