“Snow Day” is a heartwarming and visually gorgeous documentary about “life, death and skiing.” Set against the backdrop of the Colorado Rockies, it’s a deceptively simple, one-hour film about a group of aging friends who travel weekly to a nearby ski resort to do what they love best — ski. But beneath the surface, it’s a beautiful tribute to friendship, compassion, resilience and courage, and a treatise on what it’s like to live a long life and live it well.
The film follows six friends who have been skiing together every winter for nearly 30 years. All in their 70s and 80s, they have seen the kind of loss and adversity that inevitably accompanies a long life. But it doesn’t appear to have dampened their spirits — at least not on the slopes.
Seventy-year old Phil, for example, has had cerebral palsy since birth. He has difficulty walking, and as a skier he’s nowhere near as proficient as the rest of the group. But he shows up every week, albeit with a hefty dose of anxiety each time. And with the help of his good friend Clark (and, sometimes, the rest of the group), he gets up every time he falls. And when he’s not skiing, he runs 2 miles nearly every day. “I had a running coach once who told me just keep moving. I never forgot that,” he says.
The rest of the group is equally as undaunted by the challenges that come with living seven decades or more. Betty Meyer, who was 82 at the time Milsom made the film in 2014, started skiing with the group when her husband died seven years before. At first, she admits, it was hard not to imagine she saw his red ski helmet everywhere she looked. But in the years since she has come to value the group’s camaraderie and friendship as much as she values her time on the slopes.
We also meet Earl Erickson, who speaks frankly about what it’s like to live alone now that his wife is in a dementia care home. And Phyllis, the youngest of the group, talks to us about losing a daughter, a son, a husband and both of her parents within just six years, and the emotional devastation that caused.
And then there’s Roland Bame, the self-proclaimed daredevil of the group. Admittedly a too-fast driver and too-reckless skier, Roland was sidelined by pancreatic cancer when “Snow Day” was filmed. Sitting at home in his recliner, Roland talks with an off-camera interviewer about preparing to move into an assisted living facility. His demeanor is subdued, but he shows no bitterness or despair, just a calm acceptance of the reality that caring for him in his long-time home would be too hard for his wife. In fact, he admits to being more upset about not being able to ski than about dying, and says he asked his doctor if he could just “put me to sleep and not let me wake up.” Ironically, if he had lived a few years longer (he died in April 2014) his doctor might have been able to grant him that wish.
Yet, in spite the sad edge to many of their stories, the skiers in “Snow Day” are an incredibly upbeat group. The grace with which they travel down the ski slopes is an apt metaphor for the grace with which they have handled the twists and turns of their lives. Each one exhibits enormous fortitude and a sense of acceptance that’s truly remarkable. Maybe it’s living in such proximity to the Rockies, a place so breathtakingly beautiful that one can’t help but feel a constant sense of awe. Or maybe it’s their athleticism and physical strength. I can’t say for sure. But I came away from this movie ready to tackle the rest of my life with a lot more gusto than I felt before I sat down to watch.
If you’d like to preview he film, watch the “Snow Day” trailer below.