The advent of the high-speed interweb has been both a blessing and a curse for lovers of ski films: a blessing because it’s now possible to watch thousands of them for free on your smartphone; a curse because this means people are less likely to take the trouble to watch them on the big screen. That’s too bad, because there’s a whole world of difference between watching a ski flick at your local cinema, ideally as part of an enthusiastic audience of like-minded souls, and watching it alone on a screen the size of a fag packet while you’re waiting for the bus. Happily, however, not only are there some fantastic new ski films out this winter, there are also plenty of chances to see them in the best possible format.
The Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival makes a welcome return to Edinburgh’s George Square Theatre next month, after a year away, and the event’s 2020 edition looks particularly promising from a snow-sliding point of view. Peter MacKenzie is one of Scotland’s most stylish backcountry skiers so anything with him in is usually worth watching, and that’s certainly the case with Every Few Winters – a wonderfully atmospheric 10-minute film directed by Matt Pycroft and Ryan Goff, screening as part of the festival’s Sunday morning session. Films about steep skiing can sometimes take themselves a mite too seriously, but this one cuts cleverly between MacKenzie, Hamish Frost and Dave Searle waiting patiently for the clag to clear so they can see their way down the dramatic east face of Sgurr an Lochain, and everyday skiers and boarders talking candidly and often humorously about the pros and cons of skiing in Scotland.
The undoubted star of the show is four-year-old Murray Bryce, who is filmed skiing at Nevis Range with his dad, Doug. Murray, who is already like a ninja on two planks, says he prefers “chips” to “pizza” while skiing (ie. pointing both skis straight down the hill, as opposed to slowing himself down using a snowplow) and when asked how long he’s been skiing, he replies, “hundreds of years.” Dave Ryding had better watch out.
Also on the bill on Saturday morning’s programme, is The Ridge of Dreams, in which Zack Giffin and Ben Sturgulewski travel to Alaska in search of a mythical mountain that’s allegedly never been skied before. Giffin is a pro skier-turned-tiny-house-enthusiast, and one of his diminutive dwelling designs features in the film, towed behind a truck to provide a home from home as the duo scour the 49th state for virgin lines.
If you only have time to see one ski film at this year’s EMFF, though, make it Hilly Skiing, screening as part of the 2pm session on Sunday. Directed by Henry Iddon, it tells the heart-warming story of Inverness-based skier Helen Rennie, who last October clocked up her 120th consecutive month of skiing on Scottish snow, after a decade of tracking down remote snow patches all around the Highlands. As Iddon put it in a recent interview in Scotland on Sunday’s Scottish Ski & Board magazine, “She’s not doing this to get on the speaker circuit or become a professional outdoor athlete, she’s just doing it because she loves it.”
Before the EMFF gets under way, Scottish audiences will also be able to check out the Banff Mountain Film Festival, which begins its Scottish tour at Pitlochry Festival Theatre today, before stopping off at the Macrobert Arts Centre in Stirling on 21 January, Eden Court Theatre in Inverness on 22 and 23 January, the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh on 25 January and The King’s Theatre, Glasgow on 25 February.
There’s only one out-and-out ski film on the bill so far (although some of the programme is still tbc, so there could be more by the time you read this) but in any event Charge should comfortably hold its own alongside all the various kayaking and mountain biking films screening at the same time. The premise is simple: take four leading freeskiers, Cody Townsend, Chris Rubens, Alexei Godbout and Stan Rey; add one world champion drone pilot, Jordan Temkin; and let them all loose in Chatter Creek, British Columbia – a skier’s paradise of tight trees, steep chutes and unlimited powder.
Drone shots have become so common in ski films lately that they are beginning to lose their impact. However, the angles Temkin manages to get in Charge are like nothing you’ve seen before. Forget about those overview sequences where the skiers are so far away you might as well be watching them on Google Earth – Temkin flies his drone so close to Townsend & Co as they flip and huck their way through BC’s snow-laden pine forests, it’s a miracle there weren’t any trip-ending collisions.
Charge is available to watch for free online, but – as with all the films above – it would look infinitely better on an enormous screen, preferably with a large bucket of popcorn in the immediate foreground.
For more about the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival, see www.emff.co.uk; for more on the Banff Mountain Film Festival Scottish tour, see www.banff-uk.com/films