Shawn Farmer as Himself
Terje Haakonsen as Himself
Nick Peralta as Himself
Hannah Teter as Herself
Shaun White as Himself
At it’s best, “First Descent” manages to capture the acrobatic grace and beauty of snowboarding with some stunning sports footage taken from major boarding events from all around the world, tacked onto the framework of several of the worlds best snowboarders spending 12 days boarding in the Alaskan wilderness.
It does not reach that particular peak very often.
The different personalities are fairly interesting to listen to when they talk about the craft of their sport – particularly Norwegian snowboarder Terje Haakonsen, perhaps the best in the world and one of the few who approaches the sport in an adult fashion – but whenever they start getting into the dynamics of their lives or their philosophy on snowboarding, they tend to flounder in the most inane sort of banality. There is certainly some unintended irony in professional snowboarders complaining about the commercialization of the sport ruining its purity in a movie made by Mountain Dew.
Most of those reminiscences of the purer days tend to revolve around the anarchy of thrashing that used to be a much larger part of the sport and its general place in the counter-culture (which seems to be what most of the older boarders really miss – they seem to be trying to have their cake and eat it too). They tend to sound like children who never had to grow up, with some of the older pioneers just beginning to question if maybe this is a way of life they have outgrown with age. Still, it’s hard to decide whether that particular mindset is a blessing or a curse.
The term first descent itself refers to the first time a particular slope is attempted – in this case a 7,000 foot monster that all of the professional boarders are nervous about attempting, but at the same time anxious to try because there are less and less first descents available as the sport grows older. It’s epidemic of the problems people see within snowboarding itself – the maturation of a sport invented to battle maturity. Naturally the people involved aren’t too sure what to make of that, maybe they never will be.
Despite some moments of truly athletic beauty, “First Descent” is a fairly empty sports documentary that celebrates the gloss of the lifestyle, but doesn’t do much to try and get under its skin.