Last week, we looked at the benefits of Level 1 ditching athlete segments for a travel-based narrative. This week, we turn the viewfinder over to an individual who spent ten years trying to break into a film company, only to forgo another year of segment-based filming and focus on his solo project, Conquering the Useless.
In 2014, Townsend pulled off the Triple Crown of Powder Awards, taking home Best Line, Best Male Performance, and the coveted Full Throttle Award. For good measure, he had to pack a tenth place finish in the Reader Poll. His line through The Crack in Alaska’s Todrillos Mountain Range has 1.4 million views on YouTube and, for at least a few weeks, Townsend was on top of the action sports world. With his newfound fame, Townsend followed a path many skiers take—from Tanner Hall and Candide Thovex, to Tom Wallisch and Sammy Carlson—after finding success with a major production company: he went solo.
Where Townsend differs is rather than focus the film as a 40-minute selfie-stick, he takes an existential look at those around him, from his relationship with his wife, professional skier Elyse Saugstad, to a fresh look at Canadians Dave Treadway and Chris Rubens. The film is about an adventure—skiing powder and trekking on sleds across a forgotten land, but it left me thinking about more.
The best winters are the ones that reaffirm who skiers are and, at times, bring them forward to a new, unexpected place. Ask any skier about last winter and hopefully there’s a day that proved pivotal in his or her life. Conquering the Useless looks at the effects of skiing big lines on individuals at different places in their lives. I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say Townsend, Rubens, and Treadway come away with mixed feelings following a climb-to-ski climax deep in the Boundary Mountains on the border of Alaska and Canada. It is refreshing to see the raw emotion captured at the bottom of a run.
Conquering the Useless is not a good ski film. It’s a good film. Period. It’s a narrative piece, aided by the cinematic help of Team 13, that better fits as a weeknight Netflix watch than a rowdy bar room ski movie premiere. If 2015 releases are showing us anything, it’s that the ski film genre has never been better, because the diversity of offerings is strong, thanks, in part, to films like this one.