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Teton Gravity Research takes on Olympic aftermath

November 20, 2014

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Every fall dozens of ski movies with high-production values are released as foreplay to the oncoming winter. Most these movies are largely ignored by or totally obscured from those who don’t get their kicks in the snow. Most of the movies also shy away from being political—viewers tend not to like mixing politics with their porn.

But one ski movie released this fall, “Almost Ablaze” by Teton Gravity Research, stands out for peeking behind the Olympic curtain. Amidst the normal jaw-dropping fare of heli-skiing in Alaska, waist-deep powder in Wyoming’s Tetons and elsewhere, TGR takes cameras and a gold medalist to an Olympic wasteland.

A few weeks after the $51 billion Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, slopestyle gold medalist Joss Christensen went to the Balkans. The juxtaposition between Sochi and the ruins of the Sarajevo 1984 games is striking. After Putin and his oligarchs spent lavishly to show the world Russia’s ideal self, 30-year-old vacant buildings covered in graffiti and speckled with bullet holes make up a large part of the forlorn Olympic infrastructure in Sarajevo.

Christensen and skier Karl Fostvedt tool around in the ruins of what was the first Olympic games to turn a profit since 1932, in communist Yugoslavia no less. After bringing in dump trucks of snow to create small takeoffs and landings in the otherwise snowless landscape, the two throw big airs and aerial acrobatics off an Olympic medal podium. Christensen states he heard the podium was used as an execution site during the bloody civil war just moments before he’s shown hucking himself off it.

The five-minute segment in the 77-minute film cuts in footage from the Sarajevo games, news clips from the civil war and 22-year-old Christensen giving a little history told to him by locals, but it’s far from being overtly political. Although, Christensen did muse, “getting home from Sochi last month and experiencing the whole Olympics and then come here and see what happens to them 30 years later is, I mean, pretty breathtaking.”

While Sarajevo, a city that sustained the longest siege in modern warfare, is the most extreme example, what happens after the Olympics is a big question people around the world are asking these days. More and more, the sentiment on hosting the Olympics seems to be souring. Currently only China and Kazakhstan, have cities still willing to host the 2022 Winter Games after the voters of Krakow, Poland overwhelmingly rejected the city’s proposal and Oslo, Norway decided tthe games were not worth the cost.

Some Olympic games do make the hosting city money, most recently London and Beijing, many other times taxpayers must foot the bill for decades. It took Montreal three decades to pay off its billion loss on the 1976 Winter Olympics. Greece lost nearly $15 billion on the 2004 summer games, and while far from the deciding factor, it was not insignificant in the lead up to the country’s economic free fall.

If ski movies do take a stand it’s normally in the form of environmentalism: speaking out against practices propel climate change and protecting undeveloped tracts of wilderness. Teton Gravity Research makes a point to tout its green credentials: one percent of its profits to environmental causes and buys carbon offsets for its productions. While many carbon offsets might be climate snake oil, short of no longer chasing powder across the globe and taking helicopters to remote peaks, they’re doing what they can.

As noted earlier, ski movies are a lot like porn, or maybe fetish porn to be more precise, if it’s your thing you can’t get enough of it. In this case with people scaling steep peaks, charging deep crevasses, limbs disappearing and reappearing in deep pockets of powder. If it’s not your thing you still might look at it in amazement like, holy shit, I can’t believe they did that. And also, like porn, one ski movie tends to blend into the next with little differentiation between scenes, performers and locations.

Following the Sarajevo segment is another where skiers descend on the Alps in La Grave, France. The head cams on the skiers show them traversing vertigo-inducing steep slopes where one misstep would be fatal. The shot made my palms clammy and increased my heart rate a few ticks—yeah, it’s my thing. Now I’m praying for snow so I can thumb my nose at my carbon footprint making the 400-mile round trip multiple times a month to the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. A site where they omitted bobsledding because of the costs and skating events took place on an open-air field at the base of Squaw Valley, and still lost money.

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