It’s a familiar sight: skiers perched atop the mountain, staring down the crest, ready to launch into the abyss. What goes through their mind? Are they studying the mountain, addressing curves and paths, considering their descent? Do they foresee victory and triumph? Or, are they blinded by the possibility of failure and crippling disaster?
These are not moments cluttered by words but by raw emotions. Skiing documentary Days of My Youth lives inside these moments. A co-production from MSP (Matchstick Production) Films and Red Bull Media House, Days of My Youth “examines skiing as a way of life, offering a glimpse into the journey of self-discovery that every skier takes,” according to the press release from Red Bull.
Shot over two winters, Days of My Youth takes place in the mountains of British Columbia, Peru, Alaska, Utah, and Colorado.
“The result is a film that truly captures the feeling of being a skier and why people dedicate their lives to it in a way no other movie has done to date,” Scott Bradfield, head of production for Red Bull Media House, says.
Days is one long meditation on what compels a person to ski at the highest levels, risk life and limb, and plunge down the mountain. There is no real story or plot to be found, but there is a climax and plenty of reflection. This is not a narrative designed to entice the public at large. No, this is a movie made for and by die-hard skiers.
The framing device finds former skier Bobbie Burns (now 82), the so-called “Father of Free Skiing,” puttering about his cabin, looking at pictures, and reflecting on his past while various skiers tackle and conquer a myriad of mountain ranges.
This dreamy association not only connects Burns’ groundbreaking approach to the sport with the present, but it also functions as Burns’ memory. He remembers the days of his youth while famed philosopher Alan Watts tosses off motivational one-liners on the soundtrack. These audio snippets are charges to the youth, charges that Burns once heeded: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” We see the skiers doing it. Apparently, their dreams are boundless.
Who are these skiers, these masked men and women of the mountain? Titles with their names flash on the screen briefly: Richard Permin, Mark Abma, James Heim, Michelle Parker, Cody Townsend, Markus Eder, Bobby Brown, and Sam Anthamatten. We learn little from them and less about them, but that is more than enough.
The vast majority of this movie, like so many others, was shot with small prosumer cameras, helmet-mounted Go-Pros to give the skiers’ perspective. The more this technology advances, the closer we get to virtual reality, which is precisely where this type of movie is headed: All of the thrill, none of the spill. Sure, some of the runs—especially the climactic one through a narrow mountain crevice—make your stomach rise, but none of them will twist your knee or break your ankle.
What matters here is not the reality but the show. And what a show. The camera work is exquisite, jockeying back and forth from the helmet cams to handheld photography and the latest in aerial filming technology, the Cineflex Elite. These multiple perspectives provide each descent a cubist approach, allowing the audience to take in all angles of the performance. Slow-motion is used to heighten the skier’s skills while also providing them, and their run, a sense of poetry.
Days of My Youth (2014)
Directed by Scott Gaffney, Murray Wais, Steve Winter
Written by Murray Wais
Produced by Scott Gaffney, Mike Hans, Travis Pastrana
Red Bull Media House, Not rated, Running time 62 minutes, Premiered Sept. 12, 2014 at the Boulder Theater
A version of the above review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 22, No. 6, “Days of My Youth explores the bliss of freeskiing.”
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