Warren Miller’s No Turning Back: A Review

WME_PosterWhen it comes to shooting, producing and generating hype around the ski season, the Warren Miller crew knows how it’s done. For the past 65 years, the annual releases are billed as the ski event of the season and make no mistake, the latest film, “No Turning Back” is well worth the wait.

Directly from the start, the filmmakers present a tour-de-force featuring big-time skiers skiing big-time lines spanning five countries and four states.

The first ten minutes will have you running out of the theater to do the snow dance in the middle of the street after watching Ingrid Backstrom and Jess McMillan ski 1,800 vertical feet at a sustained 57-degree pitch on a remote peak in the Chugach Mountains of southern Alaska.

Other names and sites include Heather Paul, Seth Morrison, Miles Smart and Tim Petrick rappelling into couloirs on Chamonix and on Mont Blanc; Rob Kingwill and Seth Wescott carving snow-bound mountainsides in Niseko, Japan; and Tyler Ceccanti and Josh Bibby laying down fresh tracks on the snow-capped summit of Mount Olympus in Washington state.

When casting the film, director Chris Patterson said the producers were looking for people that brought more than high-level skiing talent.

“Obviously we’re looking for people that can contribute their skiing and riding abilities,” he said in a recent interview with Vermont Sports. “At the same time, we also want people to observe the dynamic between two or three people. By the end, we want the viewer to feel like you actually get to know these people. They’re no different than you and I, they just perform on a totally different level.”

At other times, the film takes a more cinematic approach. In one example, a dreamy Montana sequence features Julian Carr and Sierra Quitiquit shooting pool and exploring the small-town vibe of ski towns and smaller “mom-and-pop” sized areas in Montana.

Aside from fearsome lines on big mountains, “No Turning Back” has fun in a few freestyle scenes, showing what you can do with a mechanical winch and a well-positioned kicker in front of a football crossbar, windmill or apartment balcony handrail; and there’s a segment in Beaver Creek, Colo. reflecting the racing heritage of the region with American and European stars going head-to-head at speeds of 70 to 100 mph downhill toward stands packed with screaming fans at the bottom.

In between the stylish shots, “No Turning Back” takes some introspective turns with vintage footage from the 1950s,’60s and ’70s. A central theme to the film is progression and the film pays homage to the earliest days of the sport in all of its zaniness, while looking beyond the horizon to what the unpredictable future might hold.

In one of the film’s final segments JT Holms and Ulei Kestenholtz blur the line between big mountain skiing and flight by soaring over cliffs in the Swiss Alps with the aid of parachutes. The parachutes, GoPro cameras and entire arsenals of new skis have expanded the way we enjoy and share our enjoyment of the sport.

Using the latest in camera technology and techniques, the film is impeccably shot hundreds of feet above the action on helicopters and with GoPro cameras mounted on the chests, helmets and ski tips of the pros. Chris Patterson says the tiny, mountable cameras have revolutionized the way ski movies are shot.

“The equipment has been amazing for us,” he said. “We’ve been able to do things like that scene with JT and Ulei in a way we would have never been able to do before. It’s like a frozen version of Star Wars.”

The latest installment of the Warren Miller ski film dynasty continues to share stories of experiences in the mountains that most of us only dream about — and that’s the point. It’s a movie that seeks to fulfill our dreams, that sparks desire and anticipation, that lets us hoot-and-holler in an adrenaline rush just watching these athletes fly off 30-foot cliffs, dodge avalanching powder stashes on 50-degree slopes, ride rails and hit jumps in ways that make our palms sweat. It’s our aspiration to be so good that we’d be paid to spend a few years skiing and riding around the world, even if the reality is that the biggest jumps of the year for most of us might be leaping out of our theater seats in the excitement of the upcoming ski season and viewing this year’s Warren Miller thriller.

“No Turning Back” will be screened in Middlebury at the Town Hall Theater on Dec. 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. and at the Flynn Center in downtown Burlington at 6:30 p.m on Dec. 5.

And by the way, Vermont Sports will be there too, giving out issues and high-fives. If you’re going to be in town, come by and stay hello.

Evan Johnson

Evan Johnson

Evan Johnson is the staff writer for Vermont Sports Magazine. The native Vermonter enjoys steep and deep skiing and wandering all over the state by Subaru. Find him on Twitter at @evanisathome.