by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hen Warren Miller's parade of pilgrims lines up outside the INB Center next Friday night, they'll be renewing their near-religious vows of winter. The Warren Miller film has been kicking off the winter sports season since 1949, when it was the only ski film made. This year, nearly 30,000 ski and snowboard films have been made, but there's still only one original.
To keep up with the competition, Warren Miller films have had to up the ante every year, and this year's offering -- Playground -- is no different. Warren still offers some voice-overs, but the bulk of the narration is handled by Olympian Jonny Moseley. The music is all cutting-edge, too, with Queens of the Stone Age, Maroon 5, Linkin Park and even a little Brooks and Dunn. And to top it all off, the whole shebang is filmed in high-def. Snow-capped mountains look really, really cool in high-def.
Playground runs from the sublime to the ridiculous, taking you on a globe-trotting trek to wherever precipitation piles up as snow. We start with a couple of redneck shredders, Eric Pehota and Dan Treadway, who compare chain saws, shoot skeet, ski and snowmobile around Whistler, B.C. Later, in footage they claim was sent in, a bunch of BYU students ride a giant water weenie down Grizzly Gulch in Utah. It's a ride that ends in disaster each and every time. Then you get to meet the Burton Smalls Team, a bunch of snowboarders between the ages of 9 and 14 who not only have the skills necessary, but who have also already perfected the snowboarder slouch.
You'll see the sublime as Bode Miller screams down Europe's downhill tracks and describes his full-speed-ahead philosophy. And the Chugach Powder Guides operation in Alaska hauls Chris Davenport and Cody Townsend up to some unreal terrain in the Tordrillo Mountains. With the blue sky above (they had 12 straight cloudless days), the boys cutting turns in slow-mo and Pacific waters miles below, it's exactly the kind of scene they created high-def to capture.
As for the globe-trotting, Playground takes you to Sweden, where Jon Olsson's own personal freeskiing competition is held, and to Japan, where Sean Pettit and Chris Benchetler sampled sushi and tree skiing.
But the highlight, and one of the oddest trips in any Warren Miller movie, is to Dubai -- yes, you read that right, Dubai. The equatorial port in the United Arab Emirates may not strike you as a ski destination (it was 111 degrees out during the filming), but enough money and imagination can fix most things. Andreas Hatveit and Austin Ross are quite a sight, fully geared up, skis over their shoulders, walking through the Mall of the Emirates to Ski Dubai, an indoor ski hill, where the snow and the mountain are both man-made. The pair drop some tricks while shoppers look out from the windows in the mall. Hatveit, a Norwegian, and Ross, a Canadian, are a couple of regular emissaries of awesomeness -- and they even get to ride real camels.
"We were as different as possible," Ross said of his adventure in Dubai, "but our common ground was a small ski hill."
And for one night, Spokane's snow sports lovers' common ground is a movie that is huge in every way possible.
Playground shows at 8 pm, Friday, Nov. 16, at Spokane's INB Center. Tickets: $18.50. Your ticket also gets you four free lift tickets, one each to Sun Peaks, Big White, Silver Star and Apex in British Columbia. It also gets you two-for-one lift ticket vouchers to Schweitzer and Whistler and a discount coupon for REI, where you can also buy tickets.