Snow Blind (2006) / Documentary

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for language
Running Time: 100 min.

Cast: Banana George, Tina Basich, Hannah Teter, Ross Powers, Sherman Poppen, Steve Hayes, Abe Teter, Louie Vito, Brent Meyer, Kier Dillon, Molly Aguirre, Tricia Byrnes, Lindsey Jacobellis, Kimmy Fasani, Steve Fisher, J.J. Thomas, Rob Bak, Jeff Meyer, Elijah Teter, Luke Mitrani
Director: Christopher J. Scott

Snow Blind is a documentary that explores one of the fastest growing of all sports, snowboarding.  It chronicles the sport's origins during the 1960s, the increase in popularity in the 1980s, the resistance to it from ski resorts and other sporting communities, and the current state of the industry, both professionally and recreationally.  It also explores the unique appeal of the sport, as well as the all-inclusive nature of it, where young and old, fit and differently-abled, friends and family can all find ways to do be a snowboarder, have fun, and bond with each other doing it.  Snowboarding isn't just a fun activity -- like surfing and skateboard, the two other sports that snowboarding most resembles, it has its own culture and lifestyle unlike any other.  This documentary is both an exploration and a celebration of the expanding world community that engages in "surfing on frozen water".

Shot mostly on location in Colorado and Utah, the 100-minute film is broken up into several segments.  The first segment primarily deals with the sport's origins, starting off with the first marketed "snowboard", known as the "Snurfer", which made its first appearance in the mid-1960s.  Although somewhat different than what we're accustomed to today, with an odd shape and use of a string to guide the nose of the board (and keep from losing it), it did provide the inspiration for others to make their own modifications to the board, including the use of "binding", i.e. securing one's feet to the deck.  It's an interesting and informative look at the sport, and probably the nest segment to view for those interested in how the snowboarding phenomenon came about.

From its origins, Snow Blind next explores the pioneers of the industry, before it was an industry.  Just as young kids modified and adapted to their environs to take skateboarding to heights never imagined, so too did snowboarding have its roots in people trying new and clever things with their board, including jumps, jibs, and other fun activities.  Although at the time, they were just goofing around, in truth, these were the pioneers that pushed forward  the need for better boards, as well as showed just how fun the snow activity could be.  It offered a much more versatile alternative to skiing, and in many ways, the increase in snowboarding's popularity also is now largely seen as saving the ski resort industry all over the world.

As the sport continued to grow, it didn't take long before competitions were being held for snowboarders to show off their skills in competition, including becoming an Olympic sport today.  While the best of the best show off their talents in very precise areas, there is also an aspect of improvisation involved in "back country" snowboarding, where experienced snowboarders take to mostly off-the-map locations to board through snowy and rocky terrains, performing jumps and slides without always knowing what they might land on, or how.  While not as flashy as heated snowboarding competitions, the back country aspect provides its own unique appeal, with a sense of peace and tranquility in the quiet of the sparsely populated areas, while also allowing for a certain exhilaration and freedom of choosing one's own course.  This segment of the film is one of the longer ones, and probably holds more interest to those who have actually snowboarded than those who've yet to do it. 

From there, the film also explores the appeal of the sport to demographics outside of the usual stereotypes when it comes to who we traditionally think of as snowboarders.  We are first introduced to Banana George, a man in his 90s, able to get out there and have fun snowboarding to his heart's content.  We are also shown how women have risen within the sport as a profession, in many cases rivaling the men at their own game.  Lastly, the film also explores adaptive snowboarding, where people who are blind, born with birth defects, or are amputees are still able to enjoy the sport through prosthetics and board modifications, even engaging in their own competitions, enjoying the sport to a rich and rewarding extent.

The film ends with the sense of family that the sport provides, primarily shown through the Teters, who have grown close together when the siblings turned professional.  Although this segment of the film might appear superfluous, it actually drives home the one theme that Snow Blind seems to be striving for throughout: that snowboarding isn't some outlaw activity primarily done by punks and stoners, and it has a legitimate place in the world community, whether professional, commercial, amateur, or just among family and friends. 

Snow Blind covers a great deal of ground for one documentary, but it does succeed at its goal of looking at snowboarding as a sport that should be respected, as well as something that should be seen as fun for anyone, no matter what walk of life.  As packaged together by Christopher J. Smith, the interviews and snowboarding footage is professional and edited well, with some great scenery, nice footage of stunts (successful and disastrous), and choice interviews from those who spend most of their days engaging in this activity that they'd rather die than give up.  The techno/industrial soundtrack perfectly accentuates the footage, featured songs by The Prodigy, Orbital, and GZA, among others.

While those that are well-versed in the ways of snowboarding may find the material very familiar, for those who are just picking up the sport, or who are completely uninitiated, this is as good a start as any to learn just what makes it so appealing.  It's also perfect for the younger set to show to their parents to give them reasons why their recreational activity is worth the time, money, effort and risk to do.  Whatever the reasons, for the novice, amateur, and even the professional, Snow Blind provides an informative, revealing, and entertaining look at how a counter-culture nuisance has crossed over into a mainstream way of life for millions.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo