Judge William Lee is intrepid on the bunny slope.
Exploring Tuckerman Ravine, the mecca of backcountry extreme skiing.
Standing 6,288 feet above New Hampshire, Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States. On its southeastern flank is Tuckerman Ravine, a steep bowl that attracts extreme skiers in the late spring. Since the early 20th century, enthusiasts have hiked up the bowl, a 55-degree slope at its steepest, for a chance to ski the treacherous chutes. This imposing ski spot is for experts only and, since the weather can change quickly, prudent skiers must be prepared to call off their attempt at any moment.
Director Erik Osterholm and film students from Boston's Emerson College have put together the short documentary Intrepid Descent. It's a brief examination of the history of skiing at Tuckerman Ravine and the personalities that flock there. There is some good ski footage, but that isn't the focus of this film. It's the sense of danger and the seductive aura of the ravine that resonate.
Osterholm and crew hike up the steep ravine along with adventurous skiers and that sense of height and fatigue comes across in their camerawork. They also insert some archival film footage from the 1930s of a race up and down the ravine. Commentary by experts and historians help instill a sense of respect for these daredevils on their low-tech wood planks. Another element of history comes from a veteran skier who talks about how he developed techniques suited for such steep descents.
There is a constant reminder of how dangerous the ravine can be, however, the piece of history that's missing from the documentary is the record of tragedy, either realized or narrowly averted. At the risk of sounding morbid, the story of Tuckerman Ravine needs a dark side. The people interviewed say the ravine isn't meant to be built up for any average skier, but this film will probably attract more thrill seekers. A practically unoccupied slope with powder conditions under sunny skies, as the ski footage here often shows, can't help but look mighty welcoming.
The DVD presentation is respectable. The outdoor footage is especially good considering the intense reflection of sunlight off the snowy terrain. These scenes are never overexposed and subtle variations can be discerned on the blanket of whiteness. There are occasional aliasing problems that are visible when dark subjects are contrasted against the snow. The interior footage is less attractive due to inadequate lighting. Brief talking head interviews are either slightly dark or too grainy. The simple stereo audio mix is passable. Narration and interview subjects can be clearly heard but sometimes the voices compete with the background music.
The disc also contains a photo gallery and some text screens about the director and the production. "A Visit to the New England Ski Museum" is a short promotional video for the museum that likely provided assistance with the research for the film.
The main feature clocks in at 26 minutes and the meager extras add little to the viewing experience. As a full price title, Intrepid Descent is tough to recommend as a purchase. The content is interesting enough in its short form, but plays like a promotional piece for a ski destination rather than an in-depth look at the extreme skiing scene.
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