Nothing less than a soul-skiing hippy’s wet dream, Valhalla is the ultimate ski-bum movie. Practically unheard of in ski films, Valhalla actually has a plot, or at least the sketches of one as Cody Barnhill plays “Conrad”, a questing ski-bum (and there’s nothing pejorative in that term, it’s a badge of honor so don’t send me emails complaining) who finds a tribe of like-minded snow chasers camped out in the mountains. He settles in, enjoys the winter, finds himself, finds a girl and finds the next stage of his life, his legacy.
In addition to adding a plot to the expected slate of action shots, directors Nick Waggoner and Ben Sturgulewski also chose not to add the usual ski movie titling to name their riders as they whip down the mountain faces. That anonymity aids in perpetuating the element of freedom that Valhalla pushes and it’s a pattern seen in Sweetgrass’ other films. The skiers become an “everyman” and that offers the illusion that that could be you even though there’s a 99% chance that you can’t ski like Pep Fujas or Eric Hjorleifson.
And therein lies a good part of Valhalla’s difference from the usual output of ski movies this year. It’s an attempt to capture the “religion” of riding, the soul of skiing as opposed to a sports broadcast-like outing chronicling the number of spins now required to be considered an elite pro rider. In that respect and in respect of the directors’ ability to nail the action footage, Valhalla is a welcome entry to the ski movie market and enough of a good thing that the jury at the Powder Video Awards deemed it 2013’s Movie of the Year.
The other difference on offer with Valhalla is the unadulterated late-1960s feeling throughout. You almost expect Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper to emerge from the woods and burn a fat one with the skiers. Sierra Quitiquit’s character barely says a word but she doesn’t need to in putting across that solid Peggy Lipton/Mod Squad/Woodstock Festival audience member vibe. Waggoner and Sturgulewski’s writing, as delivered in the narration, is sufficiently mystical so as to qualify as Topanga Canyon metaphysics but it never descends to embarrassing air-head hippy poetry.
So, OK, “Movie of the Year”? I’m not going to argue. Fresh in perspective and delivery, with Grade A back-country footage, Valhalla delivers what cannot often be put in words: that feeling of the mountains as the snow falls in the quiet amongst the trees and the freedom to glide through it all. The soundtrack is on-point and it even manages to work in an obligatory Alaskan shred-fest sequence. Great ski movie in a year of great ski movies. By Mark “The Attorney General” Quail