Extreme Skiers Take Risky Runs in Documentary In the documentary Steep, extreme skiers like Ingrid Backstrom take viewers to the world's biggest mountains, where they take risks that seem almost suicidal.
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Extreme Skiers Take Risky Runs in Documentary

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Extreme Skiers Take Risky Runs in Documentary

Extreme Skiers Take Risky Runs in Documentary

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Skiers have reason to rejoice this winter: there's a lot of snow on the mountains — the largest cover in at least 20 years. And for those who live for the thrill of a steep run on good powder, it's heaven.

Armchair ski enthusiasts can experience that thrill in a movie theater now. "Steep," a film about the history of extreme skiing, features some of the sport's most serious devotees — guys like Glen Plake:

Mr. GLEN PLAKE (Extreme Skier): As soon as I got out of jail, I went skiing. Soon as I got out of broken legs, I went skiing. That's where I had to go to make it all right again.

HANSEN: Glen Plake was featured in the 1988 ski movie "Blizzard of Ahhs." A new generation of skiers was inspired by that movie -— skiers like Ingrid Backstrom. She's profiled in "Steep," and she's one of the world's best free skiers, and, as they say in the movie, she rips.

Backstrom is on the line from Haines, Alaska. Hey, Ingrid.

Ms. INGRID BACKSTROM (Free skier): Hi, Liane. Thanks for having me.

HANSEN: A pleasure. You say us because you're joined there by Scott Gaffney. He's the creative director for Matchstick Productions, the man who discovered you. Hi, Scott.

Mr. SCOTT GAFFNEY (Creative Director, Matchstick Productions): Hi there.

HANSEN: All right. So what are you two doing right now in Haines, Alaska?

Mr. GAFFNEY: We basically woke up early this morning. We are prepping to go out for shooting day if the weather holds for us.

HANSEN: A shooting day. You're making a movie?

Mr. GAFFNEY: We are making a movie. It's kind of our annual thing. Each year, we're just trying to gather as much footage throughout the year and put a movie together through the summer and release it in - around in September.

HANSEN: Okay. So it's ski movie season and the star of this shoot is you, Ingrid?

Ms. BACKSTROM: Well, I'm here. There's a couple of skiers here but I'm lucky enough to be one of them.

HANSEN: All right. What are you going to be doing for this movie?

Ms. BACKSTROM: Hopefully, get on some cool mountains with good features, lots of nice powder and hopefully make it look good and look fun and make people want to go watch it.

HANSEN: I'm trying to imagine where you are. I mean, Haines, Alaska. You've got your ski gear on. What are you looking at? What are the mountains you're looking at right now?

Ms. BACKSTROM: Well, it's sort of not quite light yet so we can't really see many mountains at the moment. But when it gets blue later on today, I mean, there are just the most stunning mountains here.

HANSEN: Everyone in the movie and in the extreme ski community, I imagine, they all talk about what a powerful experience it is to be in the mountains.

Mr. GAFFNEY: When you're always in that element, the vertical world, either skiing or climbing, moving through the mountains, not just being in them but actually moving through the mountains and with the mountains, you're only a guest.

HANSEN: Ingrid, how would you describe your relationship with a mountain?

Ms. BACKSTROM: Well, to me, mountains give me the ultimate sense of freedom. You take responsibility for all of your own actions but yet you get to pretty much do whatever you want. The sky's the limit, I guess.

HANSEN: Yeah. We see you in "Steep." It's 2004 footage and it was shot in Bella Coola, British Columbia. It's an incredibly steep run and you blew everybody away.

Ms. BACKSTROM: Well, it was my first film shoot with Matchstick and I was just, I guess, kind of eager to get out there. And we had perfect conditions that day. And Scott actually helped me pick out that line. So I got up there and I don't know, everything just kind of fell into place. It was a great run.

HANSEN: Yeah. You have to choreograph these runs before you actually do them. Is that right, Scott?

Mr. GAFFNEY: Yeah. You pretty much have to study - when you're at the bottom of something, you're looking up and you see all these rocks and your ways around the rocks or ways off the rocks but then you get to the top and it's a totally different perspective. And so you have to have this mental image in this mind of exactly what you're skiing or else you're going to get lost. And instead of going off a 20-foot cliff, maybe you go off an 80-foot cliff.

HANSEN: Ingrid, I still have to ask you about that 2004 shot. And your partner goes down and he starts cartwheeling down the mountain, the same run you're going to take. What was going through your mind when you were watching that?

Ms. BACKSTROM: Well, I think before that I was just kind of just looking around at the scenery, like, this is going to be fun. And then when I saw Hugo, you know, cartwheel off the bottom, all of the sudden it made me realize, okay, this is serious. I need to focus and concentrate here. Because Hugo, who never crashes, just crashed down this steep run. I think it helped me, you know, get my mind in the right place.

HANSEN: Yeah, 'cause really, I mean, you didn't really have an alternative but to go down, right?

Ms. BACKSTROM: No. there wasn't really any other way down.

HANSEN: Right. Now, you're not doing the kind of stuff that we see at the end of the movie where, oh, you know, we're going to go down this run and it looks good but there is the cliff at the end of it so let's put a parachute in our ski gear.

Ms. BACKSTROM: No, I'm not doing that.

HANSEN: All right. Scott, have you filmed that? That's some of the most…

Mr. GAFFNEY: Yeah, I've filmed a lot of that. That's another guy, Shane McConkey(ph) and Ricky Holmes that we work a lot with. And you're around all these mountains and you see these lines that go down the mountain and then just end this terminal cliff. There's no way to ski that line that's above it.

And as a base jumper, he just figured let's combine the two and ski these lines that no one has before.

HANSEN: Ingrid, you're one of only a handful of women in this world. You're referred to as a big mountain skier chick, and that's a compliment. Has gender ever mattered?

Ms. BACKSTROM: Well, no. I've been really lucky. I have great people to work with and a great crew. And when I think about going on skiing in the morning, it's not, like, what would a girl ski today? I just think of it as what I want to ski and what looks fun to me, and I'm lucky I have great support from my family and Matchstick and everyone involved.

HANSEN: Yeah. Are you seeing a lot more women when you're big mountain skiing?

Ms. BACKSTROM: Oh yeah. There are so many great women right now doing it. And the free skiing contests are getting more popular. It's just awesome. It's a great time to be a big mountain ripper chick, as you say.

HANSEN: Ingrid Backstrom is one of the big mountain skiers featured in the movie "Steep" from Sony Pictures. Scott Gaffney is creative director for Matchstick Productions, an extreme sports film production company. They're both in their ski gear, and joining us from the snows of Haines, Alaska. Thank you both. Have a good run.

Mr. GAFFNEY: Thank you very much. We'll hope for the best as well.

Ms. BACKSTROM: Yeah, thanks, Liane. Enjoy your weekend.

HANSEN: To see some excerpts from "Steep," you can check out our Web site at NPR.org.

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