Review: The Ordinary Skier

Seth Morrison stomps the big questions - thoughts on a thought-provoking film

By John Clary Davies

Seth Morrison is not an ordinary skier. There is nothing normal about the skiing he does for a living, even when he gets out of his comfort zone and is shown the ropes in Chamonix by some of its most experienced ski-mountaineers for an expensive, two-year movie production. No, that’s quite extraordinary.

It should also be said that the resulting film,The Ordinary Skier, which premiered Friday night in Seattle, isn’t an ordinary ski movie. There isn’t much skiing footage, and what we we do see is Morrison and others skiing hardpack, the result of a couple of really bad snow years in Europe. One could argue, in fact, that the film isn’t really about skiing at all. It’s a movie that uses Morrison’s courage as a lens to look at life’s big questions.

‘THE ORDINARY SKIER’ – TRAILER #1

It’s bold for Morrison to ski Cham with local zealot Nathan Wallace, but even braver to allow his family to speak honestly about their concerns for him in front of the cameras. The movie cuts between a Morrison biography—interviews with his mom, step-dad and sister—to his exploration of Chamonix with Wallace and at times J.P Auclair, Kye Petersen, Dave Rosenbarger and Glen Plake. The film shows that Morrison, despite twenty years of films and accolades, is not ordinary, but human. Wallace talks about seeing Morrison’s hands shake before skiing a particularly risky line—a good sign from Wallace’s perspective. (“If you aren’t scared, you’re a little dumb,” Wallace says.)

The humanization of Morrison comes through the strongest in the interviews with his family. It’s incredible and impressive that a professional athlete—especially Morrison, with a legacy already cemented as one of skiing’s great heroes after such a long and successful career—is so candid. His family speaks honestly about his setbacks: the abandonment issues with the biological dad he never heard from; the season-ending ankle injury in the prime of his career; a helicopter crash in the Andes that resulted in two deaths; a DUI/stolen car arrest after his first big pay day; and his inexperience ski mountaineering Chamonix.

While these are all significant coming of age events in Morrison’s life, it seems like the director used them as pretentious devices to overdramatize his story. Single-parent homes, injuries, and run-ins with the law are all pretty standard fare for American boys, and yet we hear the perspective of a number of industry professionals in regards to the impact of each event. The director is trying to connect the audience with Morrison through these travails—to make him seem ordinary because he suffers like everybody else—but it comes at a cost when profiling royalty.

The low point in the film is when Morrison, in discussing another difficulty in his life, laments the trials of his job. It’s repetitive. He’s always performing for somebody else. He feels used. The fun has been taken out of it, he says. But is anybody really going to sympathize with these woes? Surely, being a professional skier (especially of Morrison’s caliber) has to be one of the most fun careers on the planet. (Meanwhile, photographer Christian Pondella goes as far as to say that he bets half of professional skiers wish they could go back to just being ski bums. I don’t picture Sammy Carlson working a dishwasher in Government Camp for minimum wage anytime soon.)

The strength of the film is when its context grows greater than Morrison. As Morrison gets gritty in Cham, he, Auclair, Wallace, Rosenbarger, Petersen, Tanner Hall, Plake and Blake Jorgenson all offer genuine and articulate takes on some of skiing’s, scratch that, life’s biggest questions. Are you taking enough chances? Is all this risk worth it? Is it natural? Is it selfish? The answers all come from extraordinary people, but the questions, for skiers and non-skiers alike, are quite ordinary.

‘THE ORDINARY SKIER’ – TRAILER #2

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  • http://www.kimkircher.com Kim Kircher

    Thanks for the review. Sounds like a great film, moving beyond the glam shots and to the heart of a skier.

  • Tess

    In regards to Morrison speaking to the pitfalls of doing what you love for a living, I don’t think the film seeks sympathy from the audience. Morrison is simply telling the other side of the story, one that doesn’t get portrayed too often. He honestly misses a mid-winter powder day with no responsibilities. And Pondella’s comment is a well-founded opinion that could be more accurate than we know.

  • ccb

    are you saying skibums are irresponsible?

  • Kelly Fuk

    I agree with Tess, Morrison really just sheds light on the side of free skiing us no-pro’s never conceive possible: that, at times, it can be monotonous. And that the business aspect can be draining.

    Still, this was an excellent review, and a GREAT movie.

  • bob

    I didn’t much appreciate the I’m pro skier boo hoo take on things but it is what it is I guess he could of went back to working at taco bell if it was that bad. I was wondering if his head injury from the crash affected his personality at all like in depression and it seemed like there was a lack of helmets at some points in the film.

  • Arkstorm

    I didn’t get the feeling of pretentiousness while watching the film but having read Davies’ review, the point is well-argued. Nonetheless, this film is phenomenal.

    I’ve never seen better production value and storytelling in a ski movie. This is no Warren Miller movie — no cheesy pseudo-comedic narration. This is also not one of those “look what I can do on skis” movies. The film transcends having to be a skier to appreciate it. It’s actually more engaging for its human story than the skiing.

    Sure, Seth Morrison gripes about some things that seem ridiculous to those of us who have to pay to ski rather than get paid but that is just one facet of a complex personality. He also demonstrates a degree of humility that is very unexpected from a guy who used to have purple hair — who just so happens to be one of the best skiers in the world.

    I think you gotta dig deep to find many negatives about this film.

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