The Evolution and Inspiration of the Ski Movie

Skier: Mark Abma // Photo: MSP Films

By Cameron Hall

As mountain lovers, we share a lot of common traits. We are dreamers, we thrive in the beauty and splendour of our natural surroundings and we like to constantly challenge ourselves. In our bid to hit that rail, drop that cliff, nail that trick or master powder skiing, we look to one another for support, encouragement and inspiration. 

The instinctive desire we have to push ourselves to new limits is something ski film producers have understood for decades, and every winter brings a raft of new ski movies, designed to quench our thirst for inspiration throughout the season.

Arguably, the birth of the commercial ski film dates back to 1950 when Warren Miller, a young director and ski fanatic from Los Angles, released a movie called Deep and Light.

Since that point, there’s no doubt Miller has been a pioneer in capturing the adventure and humour of skiing on film, and is unquestionably regarded as the father of ski film makers. He produced, directed and narrated his own movies until 1988, and whilst long retired, Warren Miler Entertainment is still going strong to this day.


Ski Movie Screening

Cameron’s company, Holmlands, puts on bespoke ski movie screenings in London

Miller created a recipe for ski films that still transcends into new-schooler production companies like MSP Films, Teton Gravity Research and Sherpas Cinema today.

Warren Miller films follow a very traditional format; they are fun, friendly and safe. When you go and see a Warren Miller film, you know exactly what you’re going to get before you go, and for that reason, there’s nothing to feel inspired by. It’s PG family friendly viewing. You can munch on your popcorn and have a nice time but there’s nothing that will get your heart racing.

Warren Miller is last winter, we’ve been there and done it before and as adventurists, we crave the thrill of the unknown. Thankfully new-school production companies have recognised the need to engage audiences in a way that will fuel you with adrenaline. MSP Films, widely regarded as the leading production company of ski movies, have led the way in a new wave of cinema, using cutting edge technology and advanced cinematography to create visually stunning productions that both entertain and excite.

MSP (also known as Matchstick) have taken the traditional format of what’s expected of a ski movie, turned it upside down, played with it, thrown it around some more and shaken it vigorously, so that every year their productions redefine what we think we know about ski films.

In no small part, the success of Matchstick as a category leader is down to the influence of ground-breaking skiing legend Shane McConkey. McConkey almost single-handedly changed the sport of skiing and was a pioneer both on and off the slopes. An extreme skier developing new tricks each season, he was also a visionary in designing award winning powder skis at the turn of the millennium.

MSP ski films

Michelle Parker and Eric Hjorleifson are familiar faces in MSP films. Image: MSP

McConkey started working with MSP Films in 1995 and starred in their movies annually until his death in 2009. As an athlete that pushed the boundaries in every way, he became the heartbeat of Matchstick Productions, through which his legacy continues beyond his passing.

The essence of a Matchstick film is excellence. By adopting the use of 4K ultra high definition cameras, Matchstick productions are visually scintillating as you can almost feel the snow falling off the screening right into your lap. The audience are engaged and we’re left on the edge of our seats as we are led into the unknown, away from the tried and trodden path laid by Miller.

Red Bull are another powerhouse in adventure film production and the release of this winter’s snowboarding movie The Fourth Phase brought extra anticipation following three years of production and five years since its preceding hit, The Art of Flight.

Also filmed in 4K, The Fourth Phase is a labour of love by Travis Rice, who himself is an acclaimed snowboarder. We experience the film with the production crew every step of the way, with a constant battle between the filmmakers and Mother Nature. The personal way the film is edited draws you into the movie screen, creating a much deeper connection with the audience than traditional ski films offer. Rice makes us feel part of the film, which is critical to delivering the inspiration we so desperately crave.

In recent years, ski films have also carried a certain sense of political awareness.  We are often reminded of the significance of global warming; which is certainly a core part of the narrative in this year’s post-apocalyptic Matchstick offering, Ruin and Rose. It’s almost like the evolution of the ski movie carries a greater sense of social purpose and not only are we inspired to be better skiers, but also to become better globally responsible citizens.

Whilst the new school ski films are an essential part of our pre winter preparations, we should also pay homage to the more classic ski films of the 1980’s and 90’s.


Hot dog ski movie

Old but good. Classic ski movies – movies about skiing – are hilarious.

Classics include Hot Dog, Ski School and Aspen Extreme. If you haven’t seen these movies before, you owe it to yourself to hunt down copies this winter and enjoy these guilty pleasures on your next duvet day. Whilst the acting is awful, plot thin and quite often there’s not much skiing featured, these old movies hold an almost untouchable cult status amongst seasoned skiers – even half the runs in powder mecca, Revelstoke, are named after anecdotes from Hot Dog.

You may not take away the inspiration the big budget new school productions offer, but you will come away smiling. Because whilst these films are so bad, they’re actually genius.

With the dissemination of media, most ski movies are available to watch at the click of a button from comfort of your own home, but if you get the chance to watch these films on a big screen, you should take it. For any passionate skier or snowboarder, the spectacle of a good ski movie on the big screen will leave you ready to walk straight out of the theatre and clip into your bindings, pumped up and ready to embrace everything the mountain has to throw at you.

Cameron Hall is founder of Holmlands, media consultancy and hosts of bespoke film screenings and events.

For more on their screenings visit www.skimovielondon.com




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