Punches from the Tribe

Time to put some pants on–it's ski movie season

POWDER columnist, David Steele, is based in Whitefish, Montana. His column, Graupel, appears here every month. | PHOTO: David Reddick

Not quite in time to the soundtrack pumping through the speakers, and slightly off-sync with the flicker of skiers moving before us, the first punch lands on my shoulder. I look over—Chris Rudolph has that manic powder grin on his face, his eyes twinkling electric in the gloom. The Excitement Smile has arrived only 10 minutes into the premiere. Now grinning myself, I turn back to the screen as some skier I don’t remember sticks a large drop, eliciting a howl of ecstasy from Rudolph. Another couple punches land on my shoulder. My grin, now starting to match his, widens.

Though the punches were years ago, I remember that perch on the edge of my seat: heckling, ogling, eventually throwing a punch or two back as All.I.Can pinned us to our seats. The snow the Cascades wouldn’t see for months flew on the screen before those folding seats. In the middle of a dry Seattle in September, our spirits rose little by little between the dark walls of the King Cat to the point that I still feel goose bumps whenever Lofticries pops up on Spotify.

We’re nuts—but at least we’re not alone on the couch.

Moments like those in Seattle seem to settle in my memories with the weight of a minor powder day. There’s the freedom, chance, and spontaneity in skiing that I love—yet the rituals of anticipation sharpen the first bumped chair or the sound of new skins tearing off a base yet to see any savagery from rocks. Premieres, those little cocoons of sound and the visual flicker of what we’d dream if we had the choice, are an emotive anchor to the winter we hope is in store.

Love ski movie premieres? Join us at First Chair Fest on Sept. 17 for a bunch of them.

And I don’t know if it’s fair to spread nostalgia like this, but it’s been a while since I went to a theater for skiing. Most of the flicks I saw last season were rented or purchased online. They were watched alone, in a kind of consuming lust to see what had been filmed the season passed—the sort of viewership that comes from social media feeds chock-full of free, easily watched, easily forgotten content. There were standouts in that stream: DPS’ Shadow Campaign or Salomon Freeski TV come to mind. Yet I’d brought my personal paradigm of easily available, always flowing streams of ski content to bear on projects that were designed for a real viewing experience.

Time to amp up: Watch every ski film trailer at the Trailer Park.

People are the other part. Staring at my phone, it’s just me. It’s simple to lose a lazy half hour on the couch catching up on recent ski edits online. Yet when I put on some pants and head to a premiere, the socialization of other skiers confirm the simple yet important fact that I am not the only person crazy enough to want this right now. The loop of electricity that shocks through us all at a premiere isn’t bound up in actually skiing together—it is a shared anticipation of the joyous days. A knowledge that we aren’t the only ones so excited about a reality that won’t come true for at least a month or two. We’re nuts—but at least we’re not alone on the couch.

Is it exciting to see skiing in my own home? On my own computer? Wearing just my underwear? Sure. But even as the definition gets higher and the project times longer, nobody’s punching me in the arm. It’s too easy to succumb to the ease of the webisode or a quick edit. Premieres bring us skiers together, shake us the same, offer an experience in anticipation that I’ll never be able to find on a mobile device.

And right now, with the autumn not-just-quite started, the first leaves starting to look a tiny bit like snowflakes that could start to fall, I want folding seats in a darkened room. I want a crowd of hopeless junkies like me with the same slightly-starved look in their eyes. I want to feel the floor shake, the screen animate the things I’d wish in my daydreams. And I want to hear the little yodels of joy, the punches of the tribe fairly vibrating out of their chairs, soon to be chairlifts, beside me.

Top Hits This Season

September 16, Ruin and Rose, MSP, Wheeler Opera House, Aspen, CO

September 17, First Chair Festival, Salt Lake City, UT

September 17, Tight Loose, TGR, Teton Village, WY

October 14, Here, There and Everywhere, Warren Miller Entertainment, Salt Lake City, UT

October 20, Monumental: Skiing our National Parks, KGB/Powder Productions, Denver, CO