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John Fuller - Cross-Country Challenge: Skiing Mount Rainier
This film is in color, with sound, and runs about 16 minutes. It depicts Steve Barnett and Don Portman making an early ski descent of Mt Rainier on cross-country ski gear via the Emmons Glacier. According to the film, the first cross-country ski descent of the mountain was made in 1980. (I believe that was Doug Robinson's descent described in robinson-1996.)

I borrowed a 16mm copy of this film from Don Portman and had it transferred to digital tape. According to Don, the first minute of the film was damaged through repeated projections. The film opens without title or credits, showing spectacular aerial scenes of Mt Rainier set to music. It appears that only the titles have been lost and the narration remains complete.

The narrator introduces Mt Rainier as Barnett and Portman hike to the base of the mountain. The skiers lace up lightweight XC ski boots (fitted with heel locators) and apply klister to their skis. Portman's skis have metal edges while Barnett's skis appear to be edgeless. The skiers ascend the Interglacier to Steamboat Prow and camp for the night.

The next morning they wait until after sunrise to begin their ascent toward the summit. There are fine scenes of the skiers ascending roped among crevasses. In some scenes they are using ski poles with Ramer self-arrest grips. Eventually they strap their skis on their packs and climb the final slopes to the summit on crampons.

At Columbia Crest they put on their skis and ski into the crater. They continue skiing down the glaciers of the upper mountain. In one scene, Portman provides a boot-axe belay (on skis) as Barnett passes a crevasse. They fight breakable crust, taking a few tumbles, until the snow improves below 11,000 feet. They make fast, graceful, telemark turns, remarkable considering their flimsy gear. A few shots are taken with the camera mounted on top of a turning ski. Near Steamboat Prow the skiers crank a few short radius parallel turns on their XC skis.

Don Portman explains: "The thing is that when you get this basic technique and when you have this basic equipment, you can ski on the golf course, you can ski on the hill in your back yard, or you can ski on Mt Rainier. It's all the same. It's all skiing. And it's fun--it's great fun." (For additional perspective, see uwdaily-1980-oct-09-p21.)

The film was photographed by John Fuller, Steve Marts, Stan Skov and Gray Warriner. Edited by Gray Warriner. Directed and produced by John Fuller. A presentation of Telemark Films (a division of Nordic Mountain Inc.).

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Last Updated: Thu Mar 5 12:57:52 PST 2009