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Dick Barrymore Audio/Video Interview with Dick Barrymore
Doing It All And Breaking Even
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Dick Barrymore had already been making ski films for nearly 20 years when in 1979 he invited the then 19-year-old Greg Stump to ski in his new film.


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Stump had grown up watching Barrymore's movies at a small ski shop in Maine and was ecstatic at the opportunity to ski in one, freely admitting Barrymore was his mentor. And what came around went around when, a decade later, in 1989, Stump paid homage to Barrymore in the narration of his own movie, Blizzard of Aahhh's.

Barrymore's films span three decades and touch on practically every aspect of skiing — the equipment (Ted Shred on the original Burton snowboard), the adventure (big mountain plane-accessed skiing in '61), the competitions (the '66 World Championships in Portillo, Chile), and the heroes (Jean-Claude Killy and Wayne Wong, among many others).

"I wouldn't trade one moonrise over the Aiguilles in Chamonix, one sunrise from the summit of the Matterhorn, or one choking powder run in the Monashees for a basket full of General Motors blue-chip stock certificates," says Barrymore in his book, Breaking Even. He wrote the book in a tiny village at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico where he now runs a small fishing and windsurfing resort.

Barrymore's attitude is perhaps even more admirable than his filmmaking feats — you don't have to be a millionaire, you just have to live like one. And he's lived his dream — skiing, telling stories, making people laugh, all the while getting paid for it.

In what he calls the perfect job, Barrymore's done it all and managed to break even. He doesn't judge success by the bottom line, and, as he said in the film, Canadian Mountain Odyssey, "I can always tell a good day if my face comes out looking like a glazed donut."

Barrymore's pure love of skiing was the natural lead-in to making ski films. "In those days it was a sport that took over your life. That's all you could think about," he says.

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In the late '50s, television shows such as I Search For Adventure gave people like Barrymore a chance to show their films on TV. After seeing the show, and early films by Warren Miller and John Jay, Barrymore knew that he wanted to make a career out of going on adventures and making documentary films about them.

"I loved skiing so much," he says. "When I heard that the Olympics were going to be in Squaw Valley I thought, 'Gee, that would be good movie.' So, that was what kind of kicked me over the edge."

As much as he's been attracted to the mountains, Barrymore has also been drawn to the beach. While in the Air Force, he attended survival school in the Idaho Wilderness before being stationed in Hawaii. He surfed on the North Shore of Oahu with friends, including Bruce Brown, maker of the preeminent surf film The Endless Summer.

"I used to go next door and borrow surf shots from Bruce and put them in my film to dazzle people, just for a few minutes, to break up all the white on the screen, and Bruce used to come over and borrow footage of skiing from me, so we traded back and forth," Barrymore reminisces.


"Those days were really the beginning of it all..."

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"Our criteria was, recoveries score high..."

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"There was a lot of snow up there. Alaska is pretty big..."

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"My friend Bob Smith, the guy that invented Smith goggles, he went up there first..."

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"If you don't have the right ingredients, nobody can make a cake..."

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In his early days as a filmmaker, Barrymore was a one-man show. He traveled around in a '57 Chevy pickup with a camper on the back, his 16mm projector, sound system and screen, doing all his own promotion. He mastered the process of making ski films and marketed himself by, year after year, showing his films in ski towns, and meeting skiers while he was there. His audiences may have been smaller than some of today's premieres may command, but they were no less passionate — a hungry bunch of skiers who went from the mountain to the bar to watch a 90-minute movie about skiing.

"That was in the early '60s and those were the greatest audiences. You couldn't do any wrong. You'd just show skiing and you were a hero," Barrymore says.

He charged a dollar to get in. The bar owner would be happy because he would sell a lot more beer that night, and Barrymore would make enough money to get from one ski resort to another.

"You pulled into a town, you'd advertise your movie, you'd get a guy to sell a beer, and you'd have a place to show and you'd meet people that wanted to be in the ski movie," he explains. "They wanted to help you, plus you'd make some money — $100 a night — which in 1960 was pretty good money. You could go skiing the next day and you'd meet people from ski clubs that wanted to book the film the following year. So it was a great circle. It was the perfect form and a perfect system. If you could have charged $10 to get in instead of a dollar, I'd probably still be doing it."

And when Barrymore came to town all the good skiers would come out of the woodwork and say, "Hey, I want to be in your movie." Just as Greg Stump did in 1979.

But it was six years prior that Stump, who learned what was cool from Barrymore's films, was devastated at the realization that his brand new boards were out-of-date before they even hit the snow.

"I was 13 in '73 and I was really impressionable," explained Stump. "I just loved those K2 movies, and when Winter Heat came out, and the red white and blue bottom skis — I just about sh*! myself, because I had spent all my money on a pair of K2 Competitions with black bottoms.

"I had them on layaway the whole summer, and I get to the ski shop, and [in the film] they've got red, white and blue bottoms, and I'm like — you're kidding — I'm never going to meet new girls!"

Stump finally met Barrymore at dinner one night during a ski show in Boston. "It was after his movie; he did his whole lecture film that night, and I just started bugging him, just like people started bugging me years later, 'Awww man, I've got to be in your ski movie.'"

Stump doesn't remember exactly what he said, but by the end of the dinner Barrymore told him to get a sponsor and come on up to Sun Valley. Stump called Salomon and they gave him $500. He bought a ticket and went.

"We ended up going to Jackson Hole and just filmed, and he liked my footage. Even more than that, I think he really liked underdogs, unknowns. And I must not have been too offensive to him. Probably, being 19, I can't imagine I wasn't."

Later that same year, Stump went to the Southern Hemisphere with Barrymore to film Vagabond Skiers in New Zealand, Australia, Tahiti and Hawaii.

Through his films and his friendships, Barrymore, whose passion comes from inside, has inspired others to follow the same quest for adventure.

Gordy Skoog, who appeared in Winter Heat and Assignment K2, among other Barrymore lecture films, had rearranged his college schedule so he could spend winters in Sun Valley. There, he met members of the K2 demonstration team who had skied in The Performers, the first film to feature hot dog (freestyle) skiing.

"In Sun Valley I skied with (Jim) Stelling, (Bob) Burns — those guys were the ski gods. The Performers was a big deal. I saw that movie and knew that was what I wanted to do," Skoog says.

"It was easy for me just to make a film about every skier's dream — to get on a bus and travel all over the United States and ski everywhere for free and get paid for it..."Dick Barrymore

With Performers, filmed in '71, Barrymore for the first time had the budget to make a film. He had done a couple of small budget films already for K2, and they were so popular that people called the company wanting to order them. K2 saw the potential and, along with other sponsors such as Roffe, Smith, and American Airlines, threw in more money to make a better film.

"The Performers was the great mix," Barrymore says. "You make a cake out of the same ingredients, but if you don't have the right ingredients nobody can make a cake. We had a good budget. Well, then we got five guys who were so different, and such great skiers. It was easy for me just to make a film about every skier's dream — to get on a bus and travel all over the United States and ski everywhere for free and get paid for it."

They didn't get much, but at least they got their expenses covered. The skiers worked three months and earned around $1000.

"So, those are just the ingredients of the cake and I just kind of mixed it up and threw it in the oven and it came out The Performers. The five guys that we had, they were the creative force behind that film. Not me. I basically just put together what I saw."

Skoog later went to Europe for the K2 follow-up film Assignment K2, in which the skiers, mostly freestylers, met up with ski legend Jean-Claude Killy in Zermatt, Switzerland. In one scene, Killy falls during a ski ballet lesson taught by Wayne Wong, and the K2 guys point and laugh, but only until he gets his chance to beat them all through the slalom gates.

But out of all his experiences, whether it was making product films or shooting an alpine race for ABC's Wild World of Sports, Barrymore says that heli-skiing was the best part of the job. His first deep backcountry experience was in New Zealand's Southern Alps in '61. He had been flown by ski plane to mountains of Canada, had skied powder in Alta, Aspen and Sun Valley, but New Zealand was one of his greatest adventures.

"When I quit, I just closed the door and walked out to Mexico..."

"It could have gone the other way. The Tasman Glacier was really kind of, at that time, not very well skied, and it was quite dangerous for what we did. But it was so incredibly beautiful," he says. The footage from the trip ended up as a 20-minute sequence in High Skis.

Then in '77, once again, Barrymore was pioneering new areas, this time by helicopter in the Chugach Mountains of Alaska.

"The helicopter had to actually design a rack and weld it onto the skid so that we could put our skis in it. The pilot had never done that before. And he'd never gone up and landed in those mountains in the wintertime. And so it wasn't like there were known landing sites. So, that was a little dicey."

But after having experienced similar situations in New Zealand, and in British Columbia, Barrymore was smarter by the time he got to Alaska. He and his team were all experienced skiers, and they were more aware of snow conditions and avalanche conditions and dangers. "We stayed away from dangerous spots and we picked our slopes very carefully and our landing spots very carefully. It was exciting," he says.

The filming in Alaska was also special for Barrymore. Some of his best backcountry shots were with his son, Blake, a.k.a. Ted Shred, a.k.a the Shred Baron. For a while they lived together, doing a lot of heli-skiing and always looking for new ideas for the films. They brought a collection of snow props to the Monashees in British Columbia and Blake decided to try a new Burton snowboard they had bought at an instructor's discount of $40.

"The Burton board had little fins on the back. It's nothing like a snowboard today. It had a rope on the front that you held onto with a handle on it," Barrymore explains. Blake took out his Sorels, jumped on that board and took off. "He never had a bad turn on it," says Barrymore.

Barrymore's last film was called Scandinavian Ski Safari, and the budget was over $100,000 — "not counting the million in stress," he says. After this, he decided that after 30 years of making films, it was a pretty good time to quit.

"I guess it's like everybody else. I mean, other than George Foreman, boxers quit because they can't keep up. Athletes quit because they can't keep up. And I didn't have the mentality to keep up with what was going on in skiing, like people risking their lives to make bigger cliff jumps and steeper slopes — I didn't have that. I was afraid someone was going to get hurt," he says.

"When I quit, I just closed the door and walked out. I walked out to Mexico. I didn't leave anything behind. And I didn't have to fire anybody."

So what does a person do after he's done it all? "I like to surf and I like to skin dive. I like to windsurf. I like to sail my boat around and look for desert islands and palm trees that I can sit under and contemplate life," Barrymore says.

You deserve it.

— Michelle Quigley, Staff


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