January 12

John Christie: Maine’s Stump takes skiing, filmmaking to the extreme

It's a peak performance in both endeavors.

When Greg Stump was inducted into the Maine Ski Hall of Fame 10 years ago at its second annual induction ceremony, he was honored, for among other achievements, as a pioneer of what has become to be known as extreme skiing.

Before he burst on the skiing scene at Bridgton’s Pleasant Mountain (now known as Shawnee Peak), extreme skiing was known only to a handful of adventurers who ducked the boundary ropes to explore ungroomed terrain.

As a member of the Junior Masters program at Pleasant, he won his first competition at age 9 in 1970 at Sugarloaf, and his technique at that young age led him into mastering freestyle skiing, a discipline that exploded in the 1970s.

A scant eight years later, he won the Junior National overall freestyle championship, demonstrating his superiority in his favored disciplines, moguls and ballet, accentuated by ground-breaking aerial feats.

It was truly a family effort, as his sister Kim and brother Jeff both won in their age groups, thus becoming Maine’s First Family of Freestyle.

The following year Stump won the North American freestyle championship in Ontario, his first international championship. Then he was off on the professional freestyle circuit, where he won even more titles.

This led to what has become his lifelong passion and profession, starring in and ultimately producing groundbreaking ski films that have been viewed by countless millions and honored for their cinematic superiority.

He was featured in the legendary Dick Barrymore’s last film, leading to a friendship with, and mentorship under, Warren Miller, in whose work he also starred. This would lead him to produce films that would set the new standard for snow cinematography.

Not content with just displaying pretty skiers in powder and snow bunnies falling off the chairlift at Mount Snow (as had been the ski film tradition), Stump’s movies combined offbeat skiing and rock soundtracks that appealed to a whole new and emerging audience. In his first movie, he focused his cameras on snowboarders as well as skiers, and his tour of more than 100 colleges was instrumental in the explosion of that sport.

His early films featured some extreme skiing, but it was his groundbreaking and award-winning “Blizzard of Aahhh’s,” produced in 1988, that held, and still holds, audiences in thrall. With his experts descending terrain that would terrify the average skiers – near vertical chutes and improbable cliffs – audiences held their collective breaths as his unique camera angles and creative sound tracks set the new standard.

Some 18 years after he made his last significant ski movie, he released his “Legend of Aahhh’s” after two years of editing, resulting in a 93-minute masterpiece. The film toured North America last year and is now available on DVD (www.blizzardsnowstore.com). Stump has reappeared on the ski movie scene after a long self-imposed absence provoked by the near-death of two of his stars in an avalanche in 1995. He hasn’t been idle during the hiatus, however, making a name for himself producing music videos and doing commercial work.

John Fry, a former editor of Ski magazine, recently reviewed the film in Skiing History magazine, and remarked that “Stump has really produced two films in one. Legend endeavors to tell the history of ski movie making as well as the cultural history of extreme skiing, powerfully visible today on magazine covers and in equipment and resort advertising.”

For those of us whose first ski movie was John Jay’s early work in the late 1940s shown at school auditoriums and YMCAs around the country, followed by our obligatory attendance every fall when Warren Miller came to town, the evolution of these films is mind-blowing.

The first, and arguably only, commercially successful Hollywood ski movie, one with an actual story line, was Michael Ritchie’s “Downhill Racer” in 1969, starring Robert Redford and Gene Hackman.

Stump pays appropriate tribute in his movie to his filmmaking antecedents, beginning with Arnold Fanck and Leni Riefenstahl in Europe, and then on to Americans Jay, Miller and Barrymore.

While all of them can be credited with creating the genre and then sustaining it, an argument can be made that Maine’s Greg Stump stands atop Olympus as the most important player in the history of ski movie-making art, and while many fans might refer to the “Blizzard of Aahhh’s” as the greatest ski movie ever made, his delineation of the history of ski and snowboard cinematography stands apart as a timely study of how snow sports movies have helped shape the winter sports we love so much.

John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He and his son, Josh, write columns on alternating weeks. He can be reached at:

jchristie@fairpoint.net

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