Ski mountaineering might be commonplace these days, but back in 1978 it was still very much cutting edge. So when backpack and climbing gear manufacturer Lowe Alpine made this short film featuring ski mountaineer Steve Shea, it created a sensation. Filmed over the course of two winters, the short went on to earn an Oscar nomination at the 1981 Academy Awards.
The idea was to depict a “day in the life” of a ski mountaineer, by documenting Steve’s ascent of the iconic Grand Teton peak above Jackson, Wyoming. The idea that someone could ski a mountain like that was pretty novel – the first ski descent had only been made two years previously – but it was the access the cameras had that made the movie really stand out. This was of course before the days when everyone on the hill was carrying a GoPro. Camera gear was heavy, bulky and not the kind of thing you’d ever want to take climbing.
“This was before the days when everyone on the hill was carrying a GoPro. Camera gear was heavy, bulky and not the kind of thing you’d ever want to take climbing.”
It helped that the filmmakers – Lowe Alpine founder Greg Lowe and Bob Carmichael, were climbers themselves and more than happy scaling the steeps. But the movie was still difficult to shoot – not least because it was made on a shoestring budget. In an interview with the Adventure Journal, Steve remembered: “We’d stay up at the lower saddle of the Teton for a week or 10 days at a time. Then we’d come down for food, maybe or maybe not take a shower, and go back up for another 10 days.”
And then there was the incredible fall that Steve took (skip to 9 minutes 26 to watch it) tumbling for hundreds of vertical metres down a couloir. “How I survived that, I’ll never know,” Shea said later. The crash – and the film as a whole – still look pretty gnarly all these years later.
Lowe Alpine, the brand that Greg founded with his brothers, have re-released this classic to celebrate their 50th anniversary. You can read more about Lowe Alpine’s history here and check out their latest superlight mountaineering backpacks here.
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