The focus of "Steep," a new documentary about big-mountain skiing that opens Friday at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles, changed dramatically when Doug Coombs, one of the athletes profiled in the film, died skiing with friends in April 2006 in La Grave, France.
"We were very close to being done with the shooting," says executive producer, director and writer Mark Obenhaus. "I was very much prepared to make a film where [death] was in the background, because it is such a large question anyone observing the sport asks. But when Doug died, it just made the film more serious, to be blunt about it."
"Steep" examines the history of big-mountain skiing -- from its beginnings in the early 1970s when Bill Briggs skied down the majestic Grand Teton in Jackson Hole, Wyo., while, in the mountains above Chamonix, France, skiers such as Anselme Baud and Patrick Vallencant also began tackling extreme descents -- to the current day, in which enthusiasts ski remote Alaskan and Icelandic peaks.
Obenhaus and his production team began making "Steep" in 2005. "When I do anything, I look for a narrative that can be run through the film and a cast of characters. When I was with my two producers in Jackson Hole and we interviewed Bill Briggs and then later in the day met Doug, it was very clear that here were two characters and a story that kind of starts with a dream that someone like Bill has . . . and eventually becomes the kind of skiing everyone aspires to do now."