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Bill Jennings: Miller film’s athletes live our dreams

Tommy Moe tackles Jackson Hole in Warren Miller’s latest, “Line of Descent.” (Chris Figenshau / Courtesy)
Tommy Moe tackles Jackson Hole in Warren Miller’s latest, “Line of Descent.” (Chris Figenshau / Courtesy)

The first mountain snows of the season were falling the afternoon I screened the new Warren Miller film “Line of Descent.” Hoping for a classic Indian Summer once the wildfire smoke cleared, I had been ambivalent about our abrupt transition from summer’s furnace to winter’s doorstep.

I was also somewhat cynical as Active Interest Media, the conglomerate that controls the Warren Miller Entertainment brand, released its 68th annual tribute to snow sports culture, on behalf of the snow sports industry. An attitude adjustment was in order. Fortunately, despite my conflicted psyche, Line of Descent was just what I needed.

In a landscape of extreme sports videos, evoking a broader range of emotions than simple aggression sets the Warren Miller travelogues apart. An effort to tell a story makes the films more accessible to the average enthusiast. Not to say there is an actual plot, but the globe trotting adventures are connected by an underlying theme.

The title is a clever double entendre that refers to the route taken down a slope as well as the transfer of a passion for skiing and riding from one generation to the next. The film begins with 93-year old Warren Miller on camera offering his blessing for what we are about to partake.

He talks about wearing off the wheels on his first pair of roller skates, interspersed with sepia-toned scenes of a boy skating down a neighborhood street staged with old Packards and Studebakers to appear as if from a distant a childhood memory. The voice of former World Cup moguls champion and Olympic gold medalist Johnny Mosely, who has narrated the Warren Miller films since 2008, takes over from here.

Mosely also performs on skis in the film. But instead of bashing bumps or uncorking his signature “Dinner Roll,” he is shown skiing with his two young boys at Squaw Valley. Therefore Mosely, perhaps the coolest dad on skis, is passing his passion’s torch down the “line of descent.”

But you won’t find anything deeper in this film except the snow. The personalities on camera this time around punctuate the fantasy scenes with reflections on how a journey they began as toddlers has taken them to the rarefied heights of skiing on camera in a Warren Miller movie.

As usual, the locations range from exclusive and exotic to previously undiscovered back corners where “skiing is the way it used to be.” Exclusive includes Jackson Hole, Silverton and Steamboat. Exotic includes backcountry in the rugged coastal mountains of Norway and helicopter laps in New Zealand. Back corners are close to home, with snowmobile-assisted skiing in Montana glacier country and the Woodstock atmosphere of Beartooth Pass near Yellowstone in the springtime.

For a taste of exclusively exotic, we join a trio of female pros as they steal hearts and rip arcs on their way to the next bar in the Alpine party paradise of Val d’Isere, France. On the flip side, a merry band of bearded borders straight out of Duck Dynasty introduce us to powder surfing on binderless boards out of Mustang Powder Lodge in British Columbia.

In this segment, athletes accustomed to risking their health with extreme tricks to gain an edge on the competition describe the draw of powder surfing. “To even make it down the hill is an accomplishment,” one said, evoking that feeling of riding for the first time – a means for rekindling the passion that brings us to the mountains.

This comment stood out for me in a film featuring superheroes offering up mystic mountain clichés, such as “that edge where you feel like you might die, but at the same time you feel the most alive,” or “the magic of a mountain pulls people in … the more places you get to go you realize that everyone is just like you.”

But that’s beside the point. What matters is seeing world class athletes reminding you about how it’s done, in dreamlike settings that unfold in slow motion, powered by a great soundtrack that fits perfectly with the moods and emotions intended to be conveyed in each segment.

It works. As I enviously watched these lucky few living my dreams, that tingle so many of us feel in anticipation of the approaching season began to emerge within my innards. Let it snow.



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