Film captures Aspen ski bums " the next generation
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN, Colorado ” The culture of the ski bum, we have been assured, is dead. Ski towns have become too expensive and exclusive to allow for people who choose to fill their lives with downhill pleasure, and work in their spare time.
In Brendan Kiernan’s view, the ski bum is alive, but the ethos has been adjusted ” and possibly for the better. In the documentary “The Ripple Effect,” Kiernan and Frank Pickell ” who bonded in sixth grade at Aspen Middle School, when they were both the new kids in the area ” focus on second-generation ski bums. The film features the stories ” and even more so, skiing sequences ” of the likes of Chris Davenport, Gretchen Bleiler and Pat Sewell ” athletes who grew up in the Aspen area, developed a love of the mountain-town lifestyle, and opted to stay here. The movie also features footage of Wallace Westfeldt, the 22-year-old snowboarder who was killed last spring in Tonar Bowl, behind Highland Bowl, while the film was being shot.
The 33-minute “The Ripple Effect,” which has two free screenings Friday at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House, might seem more action film than social commentary, and that is by design. Kiernan, a 34-year-old who was born in Telluride and moved to Old Snowmass in time to attend middle school and high school in Aspen, was motivated in part to make a downhilling film that rivaled his favorite surf movies.
“I felt no snow-sports movie had captured the aesthetic that the best surfing films had,” said Kiernan, whose film production company, Futuristic Films, is based in Denver, and who was speaking from St. Louis, where he is working on a project. “We wanted to find that kind of Malloy Brothers, Jack Johnson style, rather than the hard-driving style you see in most ski and snowboard videos these days.” The film was shot almost entirely on 16mm film, to achieve that quality.
But Kiernan was equally motivated to reveal something about where the athletes in those ski films come from, and their relationship to the social environment that nurtured them. Kiernan ” whose father Michael ran restaurants on Buttermilk and Snowmass and now works in property management, and whose stepmother Joy was a ski instructor for some 25 years ” considers himself privileged to have grown in the distinctive atmosphere of the ski resort.
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“I felt so lucky, so blessed, to be part of that community,” said Kiernan, whose previous company, Rattlecan Films, another venture with Pickell, produced “Mountain Town,” which captured the history and character of Aspen. “I felt like I won the lottery to be born to parents who wanted the lifestyle, and allowed me to reinvent it for myself.”
The athletes in “The Ripple Effect” express variations on that sense of appreciation. Davenport, known for having skied all of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks in one year, demonstrates how passion for the mountains was handed down to him, and how he is handing it off to his son, Stian. The story of Bleiler, a snowboarder who has won medals in the Olympics and Winter X Games, is used to show how people who grew up in ski towns can become more than just athletes. “She’s an icon, who’s pushing snowboarding in different directions, developing communities,” said Kiernan.
Pat Sewell, says Kiernan, carries on his family’s tradition of ski-bumming. But the term has a thoroughly positive connotation in the way Sewell lives it.
“He’s one of those people who give ski bums a good name,” said Kiernan, who graduated Stanford University with a degree in comparative literature and handles the production and storytelling side of Futuristic’s films, while Pickell serves the role of director and cinematographer. (Another Futuristic employee, Jasper Gray, as well as Aspenite Steve Metcalf, the Aspen Skiing Co.’s brand director, are credited as producers of “The Ripple Effect.”) “He just rips, always smiles, and does it with passion and style.”
To Kiernan, Sewell is representative of the generation born to Aspen’s first wave of ski bums. “The people we worked with, top to bottom, are just good people who care about each other and their community,” he said, “and happen to be great to watch in action on the mountains. It’s a testament to the environment they grew up in.”
“Ripple Effect” gains depth by including the story of Westfeldt. Kiernan says the death was the “hardest and most inspirational” experience he has gone through.
“It was one of those incredible tragedies you just never get over,” he said. “Getting to know him was an experience I treasure. It’s with me every day.”
The aftermath of the incident, and being able to tell Westfeldt’s story in “The Ripple Effect,” only added to Kiernan’s appreciation of his home valley.
“In its best and worst moments, communities like Aspen offer a quality of life that is unmatched,” he said.