When I was writing my ski history book “Wild Snow” twelve years ago, I encountered a troubling lack of regional historical media that covered more then when the rope tows and ski lifts were built, or what ski racer won what medal. Thankfully, inclusive ski history has become more available since then. This is especially true of the Teton region, where a passionate glisse culture has resulted in books such as Tom Turiano’s massive “Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone,” and now an excellent DVD that presents a nicely detailed regional history of skiing in the Teton mountains, with a welcome bias toward ski alpinism and backcountry skiing.
“Teton Skiing – Legends of the Fall Line” begins with a good overview of 1930s and 1940s foundational skiing. A mix of pan/zoom stills and video interviews with old timers, such as Ted Major (Teton skier since 1937) gives life to the early days when mail carriers were the first skiers. The DVD then describes the transition of skiing from transportation to recreation, covers the development of the resorts, then gets into modern ski touring alpinism introduced by a good lengthy segment about Bill Briggs and his cohorts.
In 1971 Bill Briggs made the first ski descent of the Grand Teton. Along with Fritz Stammberger’s descent that same spring of Colorado’s North Maroon Peak, Bill’s descent was most certainly the kick start event in modern ski alpinism for the United States, if not the whole of North America. While this caliber of ski alpinism was not unknown in other areas, the Stammberger and Briggs descents had traction. They were covered in the media, talked about, and opened eyes.
Where the DVD fell a bit short for me was that it didn’t mention what in my view was one of the Teton’s other most important events in becoming a center of ski alpinism. This being the filming of Bob Carmichael’s film “fall line,” the first movie in North America to cover extreme skiing, with Colorado resident Steve Shea being paid to ski numerous Teton range descents for the film, some of which were firsts. Indeed, during my book research I was under the impression that Shea ended up doing the second descent of the Grand Teton in 1978, while the film was being made. “Teton Skiing” differs from this and says the second descent was made by Jeff Rhoads in 1979…interesting trivia that perhaps I can get sorted out with a few phone calls.
Another interesting part of “Teton Skiing” is how it presents the ski resort and resulting resort economy as being the economic base for the strong mountaineering culture of the area. In these days of resort bashing I found that to be a refreshing take.
The film continues with an overview of how in the 1990s the locals began expanding horizons by combining skiing and rope work to descend nearly anything that caught their fancy. A solid segment about Doug Coombs guiding the Grand Teton ski descent ends the presentation, this being particularly poignant in view of his death last year.
In all, “Teton Skiing – Legends of the Fall Line” is a worthy addition to ski history, and continues the refreshing style of historical research that de-emphasises the ski resort industry and instead focuses on people and human powered events.