VAIL – Earlier this fall, extreme skier Glen Plake practically became a household name after surviving an enormous avalanche on Manaslu in Nepal.
In the week that followed, Plake’s name was plastered all over the press wires and his face became ubiquitous on television news. As Anderson Cooper interviewed Plake on CNN, people who had never heard of extreme skiing wanted to know who was the Bible-reading American mountaineer who had survived while 11 others perished.
Those who did know Plake learned of his prowess on the snow in mostly the same way – through the 1988 ski film “The Blizzard of Aahhh’s,” where we watched a young, mohawked ski rebel from Lake Tahoe introduce himself to the world on the slopes and in the streets of Chamonix, France.
In the decades that followed, Plake continued to extreme ski around the world and appear in ski movies. In the 2000s, he appeared in four Warren Miller movies and made three first descents in the Himalayas.
In September, while Plake was wrapped up in his sleeping bag in his tent, clutching his Bible as the Manaslu slide carried him nearly 1,000 feet down the mountain, filmmaker Greg Stump – the director of “Blizzard of Aahhh’s” who discovered Plake – was sitting on a completed follow-up to that movie, a documentary of sorts about the movie itself entitled “Legend of Aahhh’s.”
That movie, which premieres in Vail on Monday, details the discovery of a different Glen Plake than the one who emerged from that slide on Sept. 22.
“Glen has certainly matured as he’s gotten older,” said Stump in an interview on Friday. “He’s quit doing all drugs and quit drinking. Of course, part of that was forced upon him by the state as he was up for a third felony, looking at 12 years. It was more than just suggested that he change his ways.”
But in “Legend,” we get to see a lot of footage and stories of the old Glen Plake, the “drinker, bonger, partier,” as Stump described him, who Stump didn’t want around due to the fact he was such a
“One of the first times I had him around, I walked into the lobby of the Cliff Lodge where we were staying at, and I could smell pot coming from one of the rooms,” Stump said. “I said, ‘Oh, God, please don’t tell me that’s coming from one of our comped rooms.’ Of course it was. He’d wear these orange bad boy pants, and he’d get so drunk he’d pass out and piss himself and leave an orange stain on the carpet from the die in the pants.”
In addition to a bio of the nearly deceased Plake, “Legend” also features interviews with members of the ski community who have been dead now for years, including ski filmmakers Otto Lang and John Jay.
Stump said in the interview-heavy format that he was trying to make more of a documentary than a traditional ski film.
“I’ve heard criticism that there’s not enough action in it, but that’s not what I’m trying to do here,” Stump said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go out and shoot a bunch of new footage with Glen Plake and Scot Schmidt, that just wasn’t gonna happen.”
“Legend” takes viewers on a fun-filled family journey back to the olden days of ski films, a behind-the-scenes rip down memory chute. It examines the impact “Blizzard” had on the ski-movie industry, looking at things like the progressive soundtrack the film employed and how that created a mold for the films of the future.
In “Legend,” Stump said he wanted to feature a band whose music he felt strongly about, so he went with a personal friend, Lukas Nelson. Nelson and his band, “Promise of the Real,” are no strangers to the Vail Valley, headlining the Yarmony Grass festival at State Bridge this summer and also playing in last year’s Underground Sound fall concert series.
“He’s gonna be a superstar,” Stump said.
Edwards resident Barry Levinson makes an appearance in the film, talking about how he helped Stump connect with artists and managers from the ZTT record label, which was featured in “Blizzard.”
“It was real music, from real musicians as opposed to just some kind of soundtrack or Muzak music,” Levinson said. “And from that point on, I think even Warren Miller switched over to using real music in his films. That created a change in the landscape of ski movies from that point on.”
Warren Miller is featured prominently in the movie, talking about the split of his company and other issues you don’t get to hear the godfather of ski films speak on very often.
In “Legend,” Miller admits to hanging on to symphonic music for way too long in his films.
“As music was radically changing, I was so busy making movies I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening in the musical genre,” Miller said.
Stump said admissions like that one helped him realize his interview with Miller was something extraordinary.
“Everybody thinks Warren Miller is Santa Claus, but he can actually be a pretty cranky character,” Stump said. “In the interview, he started talking about his company, so I just went with it … at the end of the interview, he said it was one of the better interviews he had ever had … once I got that, I was high-fiving myself and jumping around in the parking lot, because I knew I had a movie.”