As CGI gets progressively more realistic—at least where anything except the human face is concerned—it's worth wondering whether it'll eventually doom extreme-sports movies like Steep, which is notable largely for its shots of skiers tackling terrifying near-vertical slopes. As amazing as those sequences are, they already look unreal in this special-effects-driven age, and it's easy to imagine audience interest dissipating as it becomes possible to animate such death-defying sequences, then let lazy viewers experience them personally, in 3-D IMAX with surround sound. Such technological cheating might mean fewer skiing deaths every year, but it'd also just keep heightening the already-considerable disappointment that Steep's extreme-skiing pioneers express over all the people who aren't out making "the choices to live life to the fullest… living like lions, not lambs."
Throughout Steep, longtime TV producer and first-time feature director Mark Obenhaus doles out the actual skiing footage sparingly, filling in the space between with a pocket history of extreme skiing, and plenty of talking-head interviews with extreme-ski heroes like Bill Briggs, the first to ski Wyoming's Grand Teton in 1971. Briggs' story is phenomenal—in spite of a surgically fused right hip that gave him a pronounced limp, he climbed the mountain (alone, after his companions gave up) and made the five-hour descent solo. The stories that follow, from the likes of Doug Coombs, Mohawk enthusiast Glen Plake, The Blizzard Of AAHHH's director Greg Stump, and base-jumping innovator Shane McConkey, become repetitive by comparison, except for those involved enough in the scene to care who tackled what mountain first. While the skiiers' enthusiasm and dedication is infectious, there are only so many possible variations on much-expressed sentiments like "I didn't choose this life, it chose me" and "The closer you come to killing yourself, the more alive you feel."
But every time Steep threatens to get repetitive, Obenhaus cuts in some breathtaking footage of an interview subject taking on a seemingly impossible mountainside. Sports docs like this tend to be either extremely niche-y or generic enough to reach a wider audience, and Steep falls firmly into the latter category. But enthusiasts and neophytes alike should be able to join together in gasping at the sight of people plunging down vertical walls of ice, taking their lives into their own hands for a brief, lion-lifed adrenaline charge.