So we can’t ski right now. What’s a skier to do? Last night, I hunkered down in the basement with my husband and three kids (one just home from college) to watch Aspen Extreme. “If it’s so classic, mom, how come I’ve never heard of it?” Our kids have much to learn. It came out seven years before he was born. I’m suggesting movies with a plot that have killer ski scenes—not just ski movies with awesome ski action from Warren Miller, TGR, and MSP, though we’ve got links for those below, too—or maybe even slightly cringey movies with skiing that are good for a chuckle.
So, here’s a playlist to watch during the coronapocalypse. The list runs the gamut from classic flicks from the ‘60s to ’80s cult movies. Pretend it’s après-ski. For the kids, make hot chocolates with whipped cream and sprinkles and maybe beers for the adults. Wear your neck gaiter if it makes you feel better. It’s one way to ride this thing out until we can ski again.
Aspen Extreme (1993)
TJ Burke and Dexter Rutecki quit their jobs in Detroit and road trip to Aspen, where they land coveted jobs as ski instructors. This movie came out the year I started as an editor at Skiing Magazine, so I have extra appreciation for the scene where TJ and Dexter flip through the pages of Skiing while driving to Aspen in their van. The movie didn’t exactly get rave reviews when it debuted, but it has endured as a cult ski flick for its authenticity and the killer ski action. And man-eating crevasses and avalanches. More than a dozen locals and legends served as body doubles for the actors, including Scott Nichols, Doug Coombs and Scot Schmit. Local talent Lizzie Talenfeld filled in for Bryce Kellogg, TJs cougar-worthy love interest.
Several stunt skiers were used to film the insane scene where TJ outruns the ski patrol by skiing down a waterfall over a cliff. Their ability to rip on those skinny skis from the early 1990s is beyond impressive. Scenes were filmed at Aspen Highlands, Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Telluride, and in British Columbia. Watch the movie and you’ll feel nostalgia for Powder 8 comps, 360 iron crosses, neon anoraks, and baggy one-piece suits. And for Aspen’s tanned Olympian Andy Mill, who plays himself as a Powder 8 commentator.
Downhill Racer (1969)
This iconic ski film was shot at European resorts such as Wengen, Val d'Isere (during the1968 Winter Olympics), and Kitzbühel, however, there are also scenes from Boulder and Idaho Springs in Colorado. Downhill Racer stars Robert Redford as US Ski Team athlete Dave Chappelet, a cocky Olympic hopeful. The original inspiration for Chappelet was Steamboat Springs’ Buddy Werner. But in 1968, Redford (along with screenplay writer James Salter) traveled to Europe to shadow the US Ski Team for research. As a result, the Chappelet character was also inspired by 1964 Olympic silver medal winner Billy Kidd (Steamboat’s iconic ambassador) and Spider Sabich, who raced on the World Cup from 1967 to 1970, moving from Boulder to Aspen in 1971. The movie also stars Gene Hackman (as the coach), a character based loosely on legendary US Ski Team coach Bob Beattie. Evidently one of Hackman’s lines, “Tell him to uncork one,” was something Beattie would radio up to racers at the start house.
Film critic Roger Ebert called Downhill Racer “the best movie ever made about sports—without really being about sports at all.”
Molly’s Game (2017)
You probably know Jeremy Bloom, Olympic mogul skier and CU football player. Did you know his sister was also U.S. Ski Team freestyle skier? But Molly Bloom is more well known for getting into hot water with the feds for running high-stakes poker games. Based on her true story, with Jessica Chastain playing Molly, the movie starts out with a riveting scene of a World Cup mogul run—what goes into and what can go wrong, including a spectacular slow-mo career-ending crash that, P.S., didn’t actually happen in real life. Dramatic flourish or no, I watched that scene five times.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
It’s no surprise James Bond, international man of mystery, is a crackerjack skier. Ian Fleming, who brought the character to life in his novels, lived in Kitzbühel in the 1920s. As such, skiing is a recurring theme in James Bond movies. There are too many Bond movies with ski action to name here, but the ski scene in the 1977 Roger Moore classic, The Spy Who Loved Me, is legendary. Bond leaves his latest lady friend in mountainside cabin high in the Alps to outrun gun-toting Russians (the scene was actually filmed on Canada’s Baffin Island). Bond twists his ski pole to activate the gun feature and shoot the baddie behind him while—get this—skiing switch (long before switch was ever a thing). Then he skis backward and hucks a backflip off a small cliff. The scene culminates when Bond launches off an enormous cliff, kicks off his skis, then rips the cord on a Union Jack parachute to float to safety. Cue the theme music.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
This 007 flick, with Roger Moore again playing Bond, features a daring ski chase set in a bobsled run. The scene was filmed on the bobsled track near Italy’s Cortina d’Ampezzo and was directed by Willy Bogner, Jr., a filmmaker, cameraman, former German ski racer, and son of Maria and Willy Bogner, Sr. The younger Bogner worked on James Bond films from 1969 through 1985 (including The Spy Who Loved Me, mentioned above). It’s no coincidence that Roger Moore wore Bogner suits in most of the Bond movies. In this movie’s epic ski chase scene, Bond clicks into a pair of Olin Mark VIs and is chased by villains on motorbikes. The heroic British M16 secret agent clotheslines one of his pursuers with a ski pole wedged between two trees before dropping into the bobsled track. Eventually Bond jumps out of the bobsled track, flies over a cow, skis across the snow-covered roof of a barn, and then crashes.
Better off Dead (1985)
This romantic teen comedy starring John Cusack as Layne Mayer is worth watching, even without the hilarious skiing scenes. It’s a campy classic with cringey lines like (in a French accent): “All you’ve got to do is go that way [pointing down] very fast. If something gets in your way, turn.” The action revolves around high school ski team tryouts, culminating with a challenge between the rivals over a girl to ski down the “K-12,” an infamously steep and dangerous local run (maybe riffing on Squaw’s KT22, but actually filmed at Snowbird in Utah). Our favorite part of the movie is the paperboy Johnny Gasparini (played by Demian Slade), who haunts Mayer throughout the movie to pay up a $2 paper delivery debt. “I want my $2!!” The pièce de résistance: when the paperboy chases Mayer down the slopes on a ski bike, demanding his $2. Frank Beddor, author, actor, and former world champion freestyle skier played Cusack’s ski stunt double[HO1] .
Streif, One Hell of a Ride (2014)
This Red Bull documentary gives an inside look at Kitzbühel’s Hahnenkamm, narrated by Streif winners Daron Rahlves and Didier Cuche. Cutting-edge camera angles offer a new perspective on the World Cup’s scariest downhill course.
Hot Dog, The Movie (1984)
This is another classic must-see 1980s movie that promises a high cheese factor.
Ski Patrol (1990)
If you get desperate, there’s Ski Patrol. Common Sense media calls it: “An inane ’90s comedy with strong language, lots of slapstick.”
Chalet Girl (2011)
This rom-com is about a skateboarder from the wrong side of the tracks (played by Felicity Jones) who goes to Chamonix to make money as a chalet girl. She learns to snowboard and falls in love with one of the guests. The New York Times movie reviewer Rachel Saltz pointed out that leading man Ed Westwick (the love interest) “looks good in ski clothes; everyone else looks like a stuffed animal.” So there’s that.
Free Ski Movies
If you do want to watch ski movies (not just movies with skiing), Matchstick Productions (MSP) offers some of its films for free here, including McConkey (2013), Claim (2008), and Attack of La Niña (2011).
You can find free vintage Warren Miller movies on the company’s website, like Higher Ground (2005) and Playground (2007)
And Teton Gravity Research (TGR) also streams many of its movies at no charge. (You just need to sign up to be a Stash member, but there’s no cost.)