By John Stifter
Argentinean soccer star Lionel Messi, arguably, makes disinterested Americans watch when he plays. His talent and creativity are that compelling.
Although a soccer pitch differs from a mountain environment in pretty much every possible way, the same can be said while watching 19-year-old Sean Pettit ski. As has been known the last few years courtesy of MSP Films, the 2010 Powder Awards Best Male Performance and Full Throttle winner forces even non-ski movie aficionados’ jaws to drop, hoot, and then shake heads in disbelief—in that order. Whether it’s manmade backcountry kickers, mini-golf pillows, or big mountain-style exposure with spines, cliffs and sloughing snow, the Whistler, B.C., native makes MSP Films’ Attack of La Nina a must see for 2011-12 ski season stoke. To boot, the new film, which premiered Saturday night at the Boulder Theater in downtown Boulder, Colo., marks the 20th feature-length movie produced by MSP.
Fitting to the title, MSP Editor Scott Gaffney deviated from the standard ski film format in featuring a collective opening segment of multiple skiers. Undoubtedly, skiers reaped the meteorological rewards of a La Niña weather pattern during the 2010-11 North American winter and skied apocalyptic-type powder, which MSP showcased in its exciting, powder-filled opener.
Pettit and Frenchman Richard Permin team up for a comical segment that highlights Pettit’s eye-popping skills, of course, and Permin’s lost-in-translation approach to skiing steeps and boosting backcountry booters. What has seemingly become a team of B.C.-only shredhorts, Mark Abma, James Heim, and Eric Hjorleifson return to Meadow Lodge, B.C., a remote cabin deep in the Selkirks, where powder and pillows align and allow for a sweet ski storyline and cinematography. It’s no secret that helmet cams are commonplace amongst skiers—pro and no— and augment the movie experience. In turn, shots from Heim and Hoji’s P.O.V. cams elicited a lot of cheers and beers from the sold-out crowd.
Adding to the story element (and British Columbia slayage), Cody Townsend, Ingrid Backstrom and Callum Pettit were featured in a retrospective at Selkirk Wilderness Skiing, the first cat-ski operation in North America, outside Meadow Creek, B.C. There, they honored the late operation founder and spiritual huckster Allan Drury by interviewing lodge staff and then replicating some of the same airs that Drury loved to launch in Kootenay cold smoke.
Colby West added to the comical element with his signature hilarious take on skiing today, with video game-like rotations added to the double flip craze. The spoof made even more sense when MSP returned to Alyeska, Alaska, for a jump shoot with Bobby Brown and Co. Brown and others now make ultra-difficult doubles look par for the course, almost to the point of making spectators indifferent to the remarkable tricks being thrown and landed.
Yet aside from Pettit’s standout skills, which need to be showcased even more in one long Pettit segment (a la his In Deep MSP segment with The Who blasting Teenage Wasteland), the best segment of the film is from Meager Hot Springs outside Pemberton, B.C., with Backstrom, Heim, and Hoji. With unique camera shots from heli rotor blades and multiple time-lapses, the cinematography (and music) tell the story of a radical place where the crew based out of for 18 days complete with hot springs, spines, and big descents.
Although MSP might not have changed the medium with Attack of La Niña, they stick to what they do best and that’s documenting the best skiing in the world with the best skiers. In addition to Pettit, the Meager Hot Springs segment and Cody Townsend and Henrik Windstedt closing out the film in hard-charging fashion provide the needed stoke for the upcoming winter. Commence attacking the fall line.