While no two snowflakes have the same pattern, it’s safe to admit that the annual snow-obsessed ski documentary from Warren Miller Entertainment follows a sure-fire formula: Just mix some nuggets of ski history, occasional moments of comedy and plenty of scenic schussing. Flow State, the 63rd entry from the Miller empire, makes sure those components are in working order for this globetrotting go-round, as visuals of downhill racers carving tracks through virgin powder often alternate with spectacular wipeouts, if only to prove the all-too-human wisdom that whatever goes up a slope can often come crashing down.
The disorienting opening shot says it all: The camera is on the forest’s ground and looking straight into the sky to glimpse a hawk way up in the air--until the idyllic image’s perspective is altered by an interloper skier who somersaults into view. Other wild visuals will follow during the next 101 minutes, especially some first-person thrills courtesy of skiers sporting camera-equipped helmets that capture the zippy action.
Operating under the mantra, “Have ski wax, will travel,” returning director Max Bervy again showcases the far-flung destinations of his happy athletes, who will ski on just about anything. In Niseko, Japan, for example, there’s the adjunct sport known as fence skiing, where Tyler Ceccanti and Roman Rohrmoser jump down a series of fluffy snow-covered avalanche barriers that protect the roadway below.
Skiers will also go to extreme lengths to extend their endless winter. A summertime journey to Kings & Corn, Alaska, offers salmon fishing, whitewater rafting and, via a helicopter ride to the top of the world, the opportunity for World Cup ski champs Daron Rahlves and Marco Sullivan to hurtle down the frigid terrain of the Tordrillo mountain range.
Bridging the action sequences are some mildly contrived storylines from screenwriter Micah Abrams. In a prelude to the adventures at Colorado’s San Juans, ski pro Jess McMillan is running out of time to reach an airport for a helicopter ride, so NASCAR racer Regan Smith comes to her emotional rescue by giving her a high-speed lift. Another segment features World Cup racer Travis Ganong being forced to wash dishes as a down payment for having fun at a helicopter ski resort in Cordova, Alaska. The best vignette, however, features 11-year-old cute kids Toby Miller and the appropriately named Aspen Spora, two junior snow shredders who cajole their parents into allowing them to skip school and enjoy the Northstar resort in Tahoe, Calif., where every day is a snow day.
Much like his previous efforts for the Warren Miller filmmaking folks, Bervy’s assemblage of Flow State is made easier thanks to some key contributions. Chris Patterson and Tom Day, the co-directors of photography, have enlisted a platoon of camera operators to ensure a consistent catalog of crisp visuals, from sun-kissed snowy valleys to slow motion details of fluttering flakes. Ski veteran Jonny Moseley encores as the series narrator, always lending much enthusiasm even when Abrams’ script sometimes trends toward clichéd observations. The music track, with its just-right blend of dreamy and pulsating soundscapes, is always a fun listen; artists represented include Coldplay, Jack White, Low, and The Hives, along with oldies from Dr. John (“Big Shot”) and even Johnny Horton (1960’s “North to Alaska”).
Bervy also manages to find some wiggle room for comedic detours, such as a talking salmon gag that recalls a bit of business from an old Bob Hope-Bing Crosby movie, and a breaking-the-fourth-wall interlude in which skier Colby West temporarily wrests the narration chores from Mosley and then expounds about the art of freeskiing in Austria. Moseley, incidentally, hams it up during a Squaw Valley segment devoted to ski ballet, which also features Bob Howard and Thom Brisson handling breakdancing and moonwalking chores while strapped atop their equipment.
For the series’ annual history lesson, Flow State salutes the Army’s 10th Mountain Division during World War II, when soldiers trained in Vail, Colo., for subsequent combat deployment to Italy’s snowiest regions. Archival footage details the rigors of boot camp, augmented by poignant recollections as surviving soldiers wax nostalgic. Meanwhile, newbie skiers Chris Anthony, Scott Kennett and Tony Seibert attempt to recreate what those veterans experienced while aboard seven-foot-long hickory skis and carrying 90-pound backpacks and rifles. The greatest generation, indeed.
And while Miller movies often climax with a tribute to a recently departed skier, Flow State ends with a cautionary warning about the realities of global warming, especially timely in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Even in the Norwegian Arctic, the scenic region that closes this travelogue, troubles loom. “It’s easy not to think of climate change,” narrator Moseley says, “when you’re standing on top of a few thousand vertical feet of untracked snow. But you have to wonder: If the arctic ice is gone, could the snow be next?” Cold comfort for sure.
Flow State will be screened on Wednesday, Nov. 21,
7:30 p.m., at the Landmark Theatre, 362 S. Salina St. Tickets are $20,
available at the Ski Company, 3401 Erie Blvd. E., Ticketmaster, and at
the door. Ticket holders also receive lift-ticket vouchers for Greek
Peak and Sugarbush resorts plus Ski Company and Snow Ski & Board
discounts. For details, call (800) 523-7117 or 475-7980 (Landmark), or