I came in to Matchstick Productions’ Superheroes of Stoke world premiere in Seattle with medium expectations. On one hand, it’s the storied company’s 20th anniversary film; the trailer teased throwback footage from the cowboy glory days of skiing. Lately, film companies like Sherpas Cinema, Level 1, and Sweetgrass Productions have all been pushing the bar of creativity, storytelling, and innovation in ski films. Surely MSP would answer that call, as they have in the past as key cinematographic influencers, and keep pace with what is becoming the new establishment in ski movies, right? On the other hand, I didn’t fully trust that they would do anything differently. I needed to see it to believe it.
Superheroes of Stoke has plenty of awesomeness. I said the words “holy shit” out loud several times.
Collectively, however, the film falls flat. The interspersed footage from the vault feels disconnected to the modern feats, as no real storyline weaves through the film. MSP stuck to the ski-movie formula: athlete talks about shot, then skis, and then reflects on the radness, which is fine and entertaining, but isn’t much more than that. At the end of the movie, I asked my friend, a recreational weekend warrior what he thought of the film. “I kept trying to figure out what they were trying to say,” he said. That about summed it up for me. I kept notes throughout the event. Here’s my play-by-play.
6:18 – Cody Townsend, the big personality who has become an MSP regular, shows up wearing a slick leather jacket. “It’s pleather,” he says. “No animals were killed in its production.”
6:35 – The doors open and in flood hundreds of over-caffeinated teens with flat brim hats. Got to love the ski industry.
6:40 – Ditch POWDER responsibilities and sneak out to get Thai food. Feel justified when I see Mike Douglas there. When I leave, I nervously mix up the words meal and dinner and tell his table to, “have a nice deal.”
7:59 – Middle-aged men keep sneaking behind Ingrid Backstrom to have their photo taken with the skier, saying things like, “Hey it’s Jim, we rode the chairlift at Crystal once in 1999.”
8:11 – Jump in photo booth with POWDER staff and Saucer Boy cutout in memory of Shane McConkey, and take a shot of Jack in honor of Saucer Boy from shot ski.
8:24 – The lights dim.
8:32 – Sneak in booze successfully. What kind of ski premiere makes you check your beer at the door?
8:35 – I look behind me and realize how huge the McCaw Theater is. There are several thousand people here filling the lower level and the wide balcony. And they are excited. This should be fun.
8:37 – Cody Townsend walks on stage with the Saucer Boy cutout, which gets a huge ovation, but the biggest cheers go to Backstrom. My friend says she’s the best dressed, too. Noted.
8:44 – Free swag! People will do anything for swag, like rob 14-year-old girls of the free shit thrown their way.
9:00 – Frenchman Richard Permin scores the opening segment. He shreds and shows proficiency doing pretty much anything you can on skis, like a huge switch straightline (to which my friend says, “I didn’t know people could do that.”), but the biggest cheers occur after he out-skis an avalanche. Eff that. You’re not going to beat the mountains, and that seems to be what people are cheering for nearly the entire movie, save for Eric Hjorleifson’s segment, which is just flat-out cool and stylie.
9:08 – The Chatter Creek snowcat footage is so light and deep. Mark Abma shows what he does best, charging bottomless pow and making ladies swoon with his deep, icy blues eyes. He says, “It’s the best powder I’ve ever skied.”
9:15 – There’s a cool homage for the New Canadian Air Force, but all the throwback footage feels a little disjointed. Not much of a narrative here. Segue into the Alyeska, Alaska, jump scene with Gus Kenworthy, one of the nicest young pros out there, and Australian Russ Henshaw.
9:23 – More flashbacks from Kim Reichhelm, Wendy Fisher, and Jamie Burge leading up to all girls segment with Backstrom and Michelle Parker. Parker says she wants to ski lines like Backstrom. Then she does. Surprisingly, Parker has a lot more footage in the film than Backstrom.
9:26 – The music in this film isn’t very interesting. The best track is MIA’s Paper Planes, which was popular in 2007. I made a note about one song sounding like something that might play in a soft-core porn, not that I know anything about that.
9:31 – Are Richard Permin and Sean Pettit dating? That’s fine if they are, but I’d rather see them ski than watch a three-minute-long montage of them being cute and silly together.
9:34 – Pettit has had the opening segments for the previous two MSP films, but there isn’t too much of him here. Assuming his Red Bull responsibilities relegated him to a bigger role with Poor Boyz. Bummer. Arguably, he’s the most talented skier in the world and the most fun to watch.
9:45 – The dedication montage to a long list of skiers that have recently passed is a little disturbing, especially when we hear C.R. Johnson say, “The thrill is worth dying for.” These were all tremendous human beings and skiers, but I don’t think we should romanticize their early, tragic deaths. Let’s scale it back and all ski pow until we are 90.
9:56 – Hoji steals the show. Meticulously scouting lines, sticking huge drops, and shredding tricky lines with his signature style, he’s the purest skier of my generation.
10:17 – People really like shot-skis. The half-gallon of Jack goes quick after the show. As the bottle empties, a fan turns to Hoji and says, “Hoji, will you do a shot with me?” He obliges. The whiskey is gone. And so are we.