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First Descent

Big Mountain Skills or Hospital Bills

For years snowboarding was a fringe sport. Oft maligned as the redheaded stepchild of skiing, devotees were scorned, ridiculed, and marginalized. An explosion in popularity in the 90's brought snowboarding to the mainstream and things have never been the same. Even if you've never strapped on a board before, Kemp Curly and Kevin Harrison's First Descent will likely give you the jones for fresh powder.

First Descent is largely a documentary about the origins, evolution, and revolution of the sport of snowboarding. From its initial beginnings on the margins in the 1970's to the X-Games and Olympics today, there's little question the sport has come a long way.

Framing this history is a journey five of the world's greatest snowboarders take to the backcountry of Alaska. These five uber-boarders make the average weekend boarder look like a toddler that can barely manage training wheels. The beauty with which they carve up the slopes is jawdropping. This is to say nothing about their freestyling repertoire which includes backflips, 360s, 720s, and everything in between.

Complimenting the beauty of their mastery of the sport is the frightening beauty of some of the most ferocious runs ever captured on film. Just seeing some of the slopes these boarders tackle is enough to induce vertigo if not nausea. There are no lifts for these slopes. This crew of snow carving artists travel first class in a helicopter to the top of the mountain.

Rounding things out is a cast of characters that no screenwriter could dream up. Farmer is an eclectic (to say the least) 40-year old who is considered a pioneer of the sport. Two teenage wonders (Hannah and Shawn) bring a youthful fearlessness and immortality borne of naiveté. Terje is a combination of staggering technical skills and tenacity. Nick plays the relatively subdued den mother for this motley crew.

While each boarder has their own distinct personality and style when it comes to snowboarding; all of them share an undying passion for the sport. These are athletes who clearly would snowboard for the rest of their lives even if it never paid the rent. In the age of the narcissistic athlete (T.O. anyone?), it's refreshing to see athletes who truly do what they do simply for the love of the sport.

First Descent is perhaps a love story more than anything else. Kemp Curly and Kevin Harrison's passion for snowboarding is boundless. Curly and Harrison manage to tell a compelling story with remarkable characters and visuals that rival any FX shots thrown together with CG. Redheaded stepchild no more, snowboarding has come of age.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars