You might not know that before he became a legendary ski filmmaker, Greg Stump was a two-time national ballet (skiing) champion in Maine. Or that he turned down a $50,000-a-year job as a radio DJ for KBCO in Boulder when he was 19, because he wanted to go to college. Or that he rates Blizzard of Aahhh's, which changed a generation of skiers' lives, only his fourth-best film. (Groove Requiem is No. 1, he says.)
After some delays to ensure the film's singular quality, he is eyeing a fall release (he'll open it in his hometown of Portland, Maine, then show the commercial premiere at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen). But first, there will be a secret screening of the work-in-progress later this month at Mountainfilm in Telluride.
We caught up with Stump -- who's been working like a mad scientist at his 2,000-square-foot studio in Victor, Idaho, on the west side of the Tetons -- by phone as he prepared for a long night of editing. Sitting by the fire, watching it snow outside, he was as honest as ever.
ESPN: So how old are you now?
Greg Stump: I am 49 years old. I turn 50 in September, but I am dating a drop-dead-gorgeous 29-year-old. Who's very hot. Extremely hot.
How'd you meet her?
I knew her in Maui. She used to manage a restaurant there. Now her mother has an organic farm in Oregon, so she helps her mom run that. It's been really cool, really wonderful. We went to see a doctor the other day because she was really sick, and as we left, he was giving her a prescription and he said to me, "Well, this is good. You can have some get-to-know time with your daughter." I was kind of thrilled. I thought that was really cool.
How many ski days did you get this year?
I skied one run.
What's up with that?
Well, I lived for a decade at Whistler Creekside, walking distance to the lift. I don't dig driving to go skiing. It's just a waste. But the big reason is, I've been working on the film. I work on the film every day. And the free time I do have, which is very little, I'd rather lace up a pair of running shoes and knock out five miles, even in the winter. And again, living at the base of Whistler, I was spoiled. I was skiing 140 days a year. I got 100 powder days a year for a decade up there. I really wasn't working. I'd do an occasional commercial just to make money, but I'd just ski every single day, or snowboard every day. And this year I skied one run.
How was it?
Oh, it was good. These guys at the Yellowstone Club were giving me guff, this investment guy from the East Coast who thought he was a big shot, thought he was a great skier. Like "Oh, do you still know how to ski?" Yeah, pretty sure I do. So I got my stuff, and I did one run just to shut 'em up. Afterward they were like, "Oh, I guess you still have it." And I go, "Yeah. Don't mess with me. Two-time national champion, buckah." Then I went down to the lodge and sat by the fire, talked to my girlfriend.
How long have you been working on Legend?
Two years now. There's nothing like it, I don't think in any sport. The closest thing is maybe Dogtown and Z Boys, or possibly Riding Giants. But this is much more creative and eclectic and ethereal and moody and artistic. It's a really beautiful piece. Very, very personal, very musical. Not to sound arrogant or anything, but I don't think there's anyone else in the world who could make this film but me. Just because I'm this age now and I've lived through these different eras of skiing. From being a freestyle competitor when I was nine years old back East, to, you know, I was junior national champion when I was 18, in '78. Won a U.S. championship in '79 and also the first-ever North American (combined) championship. Then I went pro and I started skiing for Dick Barrymore. I knew him really well, went to New Zealand with him for a summer. Skied for Warren Miller. And then, you know, went to college, was involved in the early marketing of Swatch. Started making my own movies and those finally became big -- I made ski movies for five years before Blizzard of Aahhh's. And the people I've worked with, like Willie Nelson. You'll see in the film, I've had a really colorful life.
Who's the movie targeted toward?
I don't think it's gonna be for everybody. Steve Jones from TGR was over here the other day; he's one of my neighbors, and he only comes over when I've got hot chicks hanging out. But he watched 10 or 15 minutes of it and was like, "Wow, I'm blown away. I don't know how many people are going to be blown away, but as a filmmaker, I'm blown away."
Is it autobiographical by definition?
It's a thinly disguised memoir. The real storyline of the movie is, it's the history of ski films. From the 1930s in Nazi Germany through what the kids are doing today, and pretty much everything in between. And the way that those films helped perpetuate and promote big-mountain skiing, and really this whole extreme-sports movement. It really did come out of skiing, and it came out of the French "skiers of the extreme." That's where I stole the word. Before Blizzard of Aahhh's, you never heard the word "extreme" used to describe anything. But after Blizzard, it became the most overused marketing word in the world, or in the English language for sure.
Do you take pride in having been the one to introduce guys like Glen Plake to the ski world?
Sure. Everybody says, "You made Glen Plake," but Glen Plake made Glen Plake. He would've made it anyway -- although, maybe not. When I was making movies with Glen it was basically just my film company, and Warren Miller. And I don't think there's any way Warren Miller would've touched Glen until he was a commodity. In fact, they didn't. He started skiing for them, but only after he became an entity, a commodity. I don't think they ever would've been able to deal with him when I was dealing with him. Which is part of the movie, part of the story. I didn't want Glen around.
How close are you to finishing the film?
I keep telling people three or four weeks, but it might be eight weeks before that happens. And then I have to master it. It's a really intense project. I mean, I have something like 150 hours of interviews and 100 hours of action footage in the computer, at my fingertips. And I'm doing the edits -- I work alone, man. This thing's massive. We have a big theater deal in the fall -- it HAS to be good. And it's most likely my swan song.
Yeah. I'm gonna get into comedy after this.
No. Cinema. I'm a pretty funny guy. (Laughs)
Take me through a typical day in the life of Baron von Stumpy.
Well today, I was up at 6 a.m. and by 7, I was out on the river working with the Teton land grant people, a crew of about 40 of us were out there planting aspen trees and willows on this river that's being reclaimed. We did that till about 5 p.m., came home and made a fire and had some hot tea and food, and now I'm going to go into the studio and work till about 2 a.m. I'll probably sleep in till about 7 a.m. tomorrow, watch Meet the Press, then go for about a 5-mile run -- and this is all because my girlfriend is in Oregon; when she's around, there are a couple of other things I get around to doing quite a bit. Then I'll edit all day tomorrow. I might watch a couple quarters of the basketball game, but I generally put in 10- or 12-hour days in the studio.
Top three ski movies of all time, not including your own.
Downhill Racer. (Pause.) Not including mine? Maybe Bill Kerig's Edge of Never, I thought that was well done and Trevor Petersen was actually a good friend of mine. And I really, really liked Steve Winter's movie this year [In Deep by Matchstick Productions]. I don't even remember what the name of it was, but I saw it in Aspen at the Wheeler and I was just like, thank God I'm not trying to compete with a guy like that on a yearly basis. He's got some creativity, it's not just bad music with big jumps.
What'd you learn from working with Dick Barrymore?
That there was one guy, with one camera, shooting a film, hiring the skiers, getting the sponsors, dealing with the travel, figuring out the music, cutting the movie, narrating the movie -- he did everything. I saw that one guy COULD do it all.
Do you still feel like a ski bum?
No. Not at all. I feel like a filmmaker that has his own studio finally. Ski movies are only one part of my work.
When you think back to when Blizzard first came out, was there anything that made you believe it could have this cross-generational influence?
Yeah, I thought that when I was making it. Nobody else knew; in one of the interviews with Scot Schmidt, he said, "We didn't know it was going to be that big." Well, I did. I was so sure I had this huge hit in the can that when I got back from Chamonix that spring, I sat down with my best friend and I went over, scene by scene, exactly how I wanted the movie to be put together, in case something happened to me. Nobody thought we had enough footage, but nobody was living inside my head. It's a scary place.
How often do you talk to Plake, Schmidt and Hattrup these days?
I talk to Glen and Scot at least once every other week. We brainstorm all the time. Mike, it's more e-mails because he's so busy with his kids. I talk to Glen the most.
If a young film student asked you what makes a good ski film, what would you tell them?
I'd like to see the films get back into something more story driven, with a beginning, middle and end. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe that doesn't matter. You go to so many movies now and kids are just going nuts. There's no story, there's barely any narration, what interview there is, it's all bro-speak. [Changes tone to imitate bro-speak] "Oh, it's really cool to be here with all my bros, living the dream" -- it's just like, shut up. I think the filmmakers aren't adept enough at getting the subject conversational. But they're not concentrating on that, and I don't blame them, they're concentrating on big jumps and big moves and putting them to music. (Pauses) I don't really care for any of the ski movies except I really liked Steve's movie this year and I liked Bill's movie. I love the TGR guys, those guys are my neighbors here in town and we hang out a lot, I love those guys socially and personally. But I pretty much can't sit through any ski movie. I made ski movies for myself, to entertain me first and foremost. But maybe I'm jaded. It's like, do lions eat their young? Maybe I'm just old now and I don't get it. It's possible I've turned into what I was rebelling against.
How do you want people to talk about you in a bar 50 years from now?
I want them to go, "Wow ... I can't believe that dude's still alive."