In Praise of the Cheesy Ski Movie
In the classic South Park episode “Asspen”, Stan and his friends unwittingly stumble upon the tropes of a hallowed movie genre. They go for a weekend ski trip in Aspen, where unbeknownst to them a rich developer is trying to buy the area’s slopes and turn it into a swanky resort. Stan, from a humble background, becomes romantically entangled with a rich girl. There are practical jokes on skis. The orphanage needs to be saved. There will be an epic ski race to determine the fates of the characters and resolve any loose threads.
This is the plot of a Cheesy Ski Movie (CSM), which first flourished in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s with movies like Hot Dog… The Movie, Better Off Dead and Ski Patrol. Will Stan survive his race down the incredibly dangerous mountain that has claimed the lives of scores of skiers? Will the poor kids win out against the evil and rich developer? Of course — the genre requires it.
If like me, you find the CSM to be the apotheosis of late 1980’s, early 1990’s trash cinema, then you can appreciate the ways in which these movies comfortingly wrap up according to formula. How they feature footage of sweet shreddage. How they seem to always involve so called financially disadvantaged kids going up against rich kids in a sport in which only rich white kids can afford to take part in. And the 13 year old boy in all of us can especially appreciate how often female breasts are bared in these movies. (Seriously, in the cold mountain air, the filmmakers had to think of very creative scenarios for breasts to appear.)
Cases in Point
Here is the trailer of one of the classics of the genre, Hot Dog… The Movie.
Note how in a pre-PC time, a male character can remark upon a passed out-drunk female character, “Now that’s a woman I can take advantage of.” This is one of the CSMs strengths — it just doesn’t give a fuck. Note how Playboy Playmate of the Year Shannon Tweed bares everything for the movie.
Here is the trailer for another pillar of the genre, Better Off Dead, in which John Cusack must learn how to ski in order to win back his ex-girlfriend, who has just gotten with the best skier in town. Because that’s what love is — half-assedly learning a skill in a training montage, just so you can impress a girl.
Note how Booger from Revenge of the Nerds is the skiing expert who teaches John Cusack how to beat the rich blond kid in the ski race. Awesome!
Early 2000’s Resurgence
The CSM appeared to be dead by the late 1990’s. Maybe people lost interest in watching young people act stupid on ski slopes. Maybe it was because our country was enjoying a period of unprecedented economic prosperity and military peace. Something changed in the culture around the turn of the century, however. We needed the CSM again. We needed to take our minds off of political incompetence, endless wars and economic instability — and one of the ways we did this was by harking back to a more innocent time in which young people could get drunk, indiscriminately hook up with each other and shred a powdered mountain with no other cares in the world.
Out Cold is now most remarkable for an early scene-stealing performance by Zach Galifinakis, but it is also a legitimate successor to the CSM tradition of the 1980’s and 1990’s. In fact, Out Cold updated things by making it about snowboarding, instead of about skiing.
Thankfully, Out Cold doesn’t mess with the formula. The young people still drink beer. They still get into trouble. There is still a contest at the end in which the fate of the resort is on the line.
Out Cold was followed by a series of American Pie-like movies like Winter Break, Frost Bite and Ski Trippin’.
In 2010, the CSM was sent up again, this time by the movie Hot Tub Time Machine, which stars John Cusack — one of the pioneers of the genre in Better Off Dead. The movie features the familiar elements: skiing, fights with rich kids (only this time with time travel,) bringing the genre full circle.