Ever since first being contacted by the guys making the now legendary movie “Steep,” I wondered where they got their point of departure.
Principles at PJ Productions (the movie makers) told me they’d studied my “WildSnow” history book and used my online chronology extensively (server stats seemed to back that up). Yet from day one of meeting those guys I wondered how the movie was birthed, as my involvement was peripheral and it was obvious they knew nothing about ski mountaineering.
Enter Bill Kerig and his new book, “The Edge of Never.” Under the covers you’ll not only find Kerig’s foundational role in the origins of “Steep,” but excruciating details on the life and death of Canadian extreme skier Trevor Peterson, and the subsequent entry of Peterson’s teenage son Kye into the world of real extreme skiing.
Why excruciating? For starters, it is heart breaking how Trevor became such a master of mountains and skis, only to die in an avalanche at his prime — leaving a family behind. Reading the details of that is something I find to be tough because the scenario is close to home. More, for a variety of reasons author Bill Kerig, along with ski celebrities Glen Plake and Mike Hattrup, hatch a plan to take Trevor’s son Kye down the same run where Trevor perished — only Kye is 15 years old and has no experience with extreme skiing or alpinism.
If you’re thinking WOW, you’re right.
Kerig begins his tale by relating how “Steep” began with his own idea for a movie about the “tribe,” and extreme skiing. Relatively clueless at the start, he phones Glen Plake and suggests filming a “seminal set piece” in Alaska. Plake responds by pointing out that movie making and most skiing in Alaska is about helicopters and thousand dollar days, while “real and true big mountain skiing is Chamonix. Period…ski mountaineers…pay for your turns in sweat…it’s not Alaska, it’s freakin’ Chamonix.” (So perhaps Plake is actually the originator of what we finally saw in “Steep” ?)
The pair speak about getting up-and-coming skiers involved. One name stops the conversation. Kye Peterson.
From there the story diverges a bit. We’re treated to excellent biographical material about Trevor. As for the movie, we read about Kerig’s involvement with Steep and how the flick became something much different than the story of Kye Peterson going to Chamonix, or a basic documentary of ski alpinism. But still, Kerig and Plake’s “madman’s scheme” is what drive’s the book: “A daring young man, aided by the elders of his tribe, faces the demon that destroyed his father and either dies or becomes a man.”
After convincing PJ Productions to buy the the idea of taking Kye Peterson extreme skiing in Chamonix, Kerig realizes they may be proposing risking the young man’s life for the sake of a film, and can he ask Kye’s mother to support such a scheme? So Kerig and others from PJ Productions go to Canada, where they get Kye and his mother on board. Even so, while reading the book I got the impression no one involved in that initial decision knew what they were really getting the kid into.
The story twists and turns. We eventually find out how the the movie evolves into what became the “Steep” we saw in theaters. But not before Kerig, Plake and Hattrup (along with the “best guide in Chamonix”) have a gripping epic guiding Kye down the same run his father died on, Exit Couloir on the Glacier Rond, Aguille du Midi.
After reading the account of how poor conditions were for their day on the Glacier Rond, how Kye was belayed down much of the run, and how they ended up skiing hours too late and nearly getting taken out by an avalanche (just as happened to Trevor), I had to wonder: Was all this worth it — or even borderline appropriate?
The book implies yes, Kye being rafted through a gnarly big-mountain extreme ski was somehow valuable because the “community” and “tribe” are what it’s about. Kye is a member of that tribe because of his budding pro ski career as well as his father Trevor, so being initiated into tribal manhood was just, well, the right thing to do.
But with all the associated hype, cameras, movie making and etcetera, my mind kept coming back to the question. So I asked Hattrup the other day if he honestly thought what they did was good, and honoring of the sport and Trevor’s family. Hat said “yeah, I totally feel it was.”
So I thought about it some more and asked myself: Would Trevor Do It? Or, more clearly, would Trevor support it? If what happened to Trevor had happened to me, and Trevor, Plake and Hattrup wanted to take my 15-year-old son down a run like that, as a ski mountaineer I’d think that was a beautiful thing. Though I’d have questioned safety being compromised by wrong timing due to too many participants and cameras. And my wife would have to approve.
So yes, Trevor would do it. And that’s good enough for me.
Good book, check it out.