On skiing: Catching up with Greg Stump

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One week ago, I got a call from Greg Stump. He had heard about my book on Shawnee Peak and Pleasant Mountain and was looking for a copy.

Most Maine skiers familiar with Stump’s films and background know that he grew up skiing at Pleasant Mountain, where as part of a Junior Masters program, he became a National Freestyle Champion. I sent him a copy, and he sent me what he called a “care package.”

The package was a collection of four of his films: “Blizzard of Aahhhs,” “License to Thrill,” “Groove, Requiem in the Key of Ski,” and “P-Tex, Lies & Duct Tape.” An added bonus was “Greg Stump and Friends Reunion.”

I had video tapes of all of his films and had attended most of his premiers, which he’d held in Portland, but I hadn’t viewed them in a while. Also in the package was a single DVD, “Legend of Aahhhs.”

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This is the one I dropped into the computer and watched. What I discovered was the evolution of Stump as a ski film maker. I knew a lot of the story and had interviewed some of the characters, but this gave me a lot more depth. It included the Pleasant Mountain days showing Greg as a teenage freestyle skier, with a special emphasis on ballet, which was his specialty. That bit explained how an 18-year-old kid from Gorham wound up traveling the world with veteran ski film maker Dick Barrymore.

The film continues with various interviews interjected throughout. Warren Miller offers a number of views, along with movie makers, Barrymore, Otto Lang, John Jay and Dick Durrance. The main focus of the piece is the story of the making of “Blizzard of Aahhhs.” After hitting college campuses with films such as “Maltese Flamingo” and “Time Waits for Snowman,” it was time for the film that would bring about a new genre for ski films.

Blizzard introduced extreme skiing to ski films with a pair of anti-heroes. Scot Schmidt is the ultimate quiet hero, unassuming and letting his skiing do the talking. Glen Plake with his foot high Mohawk is the opposite, always talking irreverently and punctuating his points with a cackling laugh. Mike Hatrupp, a U.S. Team freestyler with ski film experience, was along for the ride.

In one of the first Miller bits, that great film maker states, “If you started after age four, you can remember your first day on skis, where it was, the car you rode in, everything about that day.”

I don’t recall the exact day. Our family didn’t have a car so that was not part of the memory and none was needed anyway. There was a hill behind the house and I found some old skis in the barn. Somehow I made it to the bottom of the hill and realized I had to climb back up the house. According to Miller, that first day on skis was your “first real taste of freedom.” 

Miller’s observation was followed by a segment showing Greg along with the rest of the Junior Masters skiers at Pleasant Mountain performing first their disciplines and finishing with the free run. The kids performed their final forms and added tricks. This was the beginning of freestyle, ballet, moguls and aerials.

After winning national and North American titles, Stump was invited to join Harry Leonard’s (Now Bernie Weischel’s) ski show where he, along with freestyle legend John Clendinin, demonstrated their moves on moving ski decks.

This led to our Pleasant Mountain skier being invited to a tryout at Jackson Hole for ski filmmaker Dick Barrymore and a tour of Hawaii, followed by the movie “Vagabond Skiers.” They skied in New Zealand, Australia and the Alps. In short, this was Greg Stump’s journey from learning to ski at Pleasant Mountain to making his own ski movies. One of the more hilarious pieces about the film is an appearance on the Today Show with Bryant Gumbel by Plake and Schmidt.

Gumbel spent the entire segment expressing his incredulity at extreme skiing, and how casually Plake and Schmidt described their descents. The TV host described it as simply falling down the mountain. He couldn’t understand how anyone could ski off a cliff at 60 miles per hour and expect to land in one piece. “Blizzard” had its tour, but it was the Today Show and other mass audience TV shows that exposed extreme skiing to the general public. “Legend of Aahhhs” not only illuminates the making of “Blizzard of Aahhhs,” but it ends with a look at the new extremes of today’s ski movies. It’s fitting that among the spectacular jumps in the last twenty minutes is another Maine skier, Bethel’s Simon Dumont.

“Legends of Aahhhs” provides a real insight into Greg Stump’s film making ideas and his deep emotional attachment to his sport. For DVDs of this and other Stump films, along with posters and other paraphernalia go to www.blizzardsnowstore.com.

I’ll be returning to the mountain where Greg got his start next Saturday. This is the 80th Anniversary of the opening of Pleasant Mountain, and you can join the celebration. There will be a day-long scavenger hunt with numerous prizes, followed by a cocktail party in Blizzard’s Pub. There will be a brief presentation along with a band, and you can find me signing books.

See you there.

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