What makes a great snowboarder? To hear pro boarder Rob Bak tell it, “You gotta have a part of you that’s a little bit psycho.” With snowboarding legitimized as an Olympic sport and gold medalist Shaun White enshrined as its first superstar, the days in which boarders were regarded as little more than a nuisance to decent, law-abiding skiers have long since passed. And yet the sport still clings to its outlaw image with one hand while lunging for the mainstream with the other.
Christopher J. Scott’s documentary “Snow Blind” starts by making the case for snowboarding as a “bona-fide professional sport,” citing 9 million practitioners and 20% annual growth. (Can one buy stock in this promising start-up?) But there’s nothing sexy about mainstream acceptance, so the movie alternates demonstrations of snowboarding’s widespread appeal with documents of its extreme edge. One minute, a 91-year-old nicknamed Banana George is offering an enthusiastic testimonial to the sport; the next has back-country boarders Brent and Jeff Meyer showing off their avalanche shovels.
The Meyer brothers call off-trail riding the purest form of snowboarding, but it’s quickly apparent that their efforts to find pristine slopes and dramatic jumps are as much about staging the perfect photo as attaining snowboarding nirvana. Commercial acceptance comes with its own pressures, including the drive to devise ever more dramatic (and, naturally, more dangerous) tricks. Although the film includes the de rigueur montage of off-slope boarders doing face plants on ski-village stairwells, it only hints at the downside of making it big.
Packed tighter than week-old powder, “Snow Blind” tries to touch on every aspect of snowboarding culture, which sometimes makes it feel like a TV travelogue compressed into feature form. The segment on adaptive snowboarders, who use specially designed boards and prostheses to compensate for lost or paralyzed limbs, is tantalizingly brief, and the closing featurette on all-pro siblings Hannah, Abe and Elijah Teter merely feels truncated. It’s understandable that Scott wants to highlight snowboarding’s diversity, but perhaps a winter-sports documentary shouldn’t try to cover the waterfront.
Unrated. Run time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Laemmle’s Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino; (818) 981-9811.