Time for a History Lesson — Teton DVD Delivers

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | February 9, 2007      
New backcountry skiing how-to book is an excellent basic primer.

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.


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10 Responses to “Time for a History Lesson — Teton DVD Delivers”

  1. powstash February 9th, 2007 12:43 pm

    Watched the movie last night at the world premier in SLC. A packed house at Brewvies aplauded for quite some time while the credits rolled.

  2. Derek February 9th, 2007 1:04 pm


    Thanks for the review. I would also like to mention that your book, and Turiano’s were very helpful in our research. And I would also like to thank all the people we interviewed for their generous time contributions, and the donation of their photo collections for us to use. Without their generosity, we could have never completed this project.

    I agree with you that Steve Shea’s skiing in the Tetons and the popularity of Carmichaels film were influential in Teton skiing. Regrettably, we did not interview Steve Shea, and were unable to obtain the classic footage of him skiing in the Tetons. His story became one of the many that we painfully chose to leave out in interest of running length constraints and financial constraints.

    Thanks again,

  3. Steve Seckinger February 9th, 2007 2:02 pm

    I got the DVD about a week ago and found it really enlightening. I had no idea about the “mail run” up and over Teton Pass plus the early development of Snow King. Derek & crew did a great job and the videography is top notch. It seems every aspect of the Tetons is cool in some way.

  4. Mark February 10th, 2007 6:05 am

    Amazing stuff! Can’t wait to get my own copy.

  5. Jay Jurkowitsch February 10th, 2007 3:02 pm

    Hey guys – I got my copy a month or so ago and since I’ve been laid up after knee surgery; it has been a blast to watch. As I feedbacked to Derek, several items, people, events where missing and I understand that the DVD had limited capacity.
    Everyone who see this DVD – let’s demand a Part II. Include: Steve Shea, Patrica Petzoldt, Kristin Ulmer, Steve Kock – avalanche survival, ect!!
    We want MORE!!
    This film is GREAT!!

  6. Lou February 10th, 2007 3:31 pm

    I agree Jay! Part II !

  7. Derek February 10th, 2007 7:56 pm

    How about Part I, “The Colorado Story”? That is an idea we kicked around. Tons of great history in your state. And Lou, you could be the history advisor and writer. Whattya say);

  8. Bob February 11th, 2007 11:31 am

    Can’t wait to see the movie, as the Teton’s have been my favorite range for over a decade…
    On Shea it seems Lou is right; in Tom Turiano’s book on page 47 he cites Shea as the 2nd descent of the Grand in June, 1978. If Turiano is correct, Rhoades skied it (twice) on July 4-5 of the same year (and a 1st descent of the Ford Couloir. ) Thanks for the review and a video lesson in Teton history that I’m looking forward to seeing.

  9. Derek February 11th, 2007 5:51 pm

    I will go back and review the interview log from the Jeff Rhoads interview and then reply back here. I think there was some issue about actually skiing the route in entirety that was taken into question with Shea’s descent. I’m not sure, and I don’t want to stir a pot that is almost 30 years old. But for sake of accuracy, I will look into it.

    Bob, You’re right, Jeff did ski it twice in the summer of 1979.

  10. Lou February 12th, 2007 6:56 am

    Shea told me he skied it, as did Carmichael and one of his crew I’m good friends with. Since the tradition is to do all that rope work in the couloirs below the summit snow, definition of “entirety” was certainly open to interpretation back then during the second and probably still is!

    When they made the movie with Shea, they skied and climbed quite a bit of stuff. They had a small budget and had a crew who hauled the camera gear around. Perhaps since it was a “production” there is some historical bias against Shea, as well as his story fading because he’s unavailable for interviews (not to mention the film footage being unavailable for excerpt), but I used to climb and ski with Shea and can say that he was a straight shooter and definitely one of the top alpinists in the country at that time, and also an excellent skier.

    Whatever the case, the “Fall Line” movie had large impact on ski alpinists and wouldbe ski alpinists OUTSIDE the Tetons. Since the premise of the “Teton Skiing” DVD as stated at the start is: “In the history of skiing, few places have had as much influence on the sport of skiing as the Tetons have,” then Shea’s skiing and the movie are very important, and as Derek wrote earlier he realized that but couldn’t include it because of space/length constraints. If Shea actually did make the second, then I’d hope that would be corrected in further editions of the CD.

    History writing is tough, and I made a lot of mistakes when doing Wild Snow — this sort of picking away at the details is normal.

    Fall Line movie trivia: For years there was a big network television sports show called “American Sportsman.” At the start of the show they had a bunch of movie clips that showed the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. During that segment a film clip of Shea taking a near-death fall down Kochs Couloir on Middle Teton was shown over and over again for years, making Shea possibly the most watched extreme skier in history.

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