Before we left the Zermatt Heli-pad Barrymore gave us our only instructions for the day, "Don't lose a ski". "If you do the day will be lost." As I wait my turn at a run before the camera his words reverberate in my ears. My anxiety about skiing these high glaciers of the Monte Rosa (Europe's second highest, 15,203 ft (4,634 m)) is particularly piqued. I've never traversed in this realm of massive seracs and bottomless crevasses before, and I don't want to screw up now for a number of reasons.
Dick Barrymore was the master at capturing the passion of winter on film. He said, "I always loved telling stories and making people laugh. I also loved the sport of skiing. In 1959 I combined those minor talents and took up an unusual profession: a skiing storyteller –with film."
On October 21 legions of friends gathered on his 75th birthday in Sun Valley to celebrate a life well lived (Barrymore passed due to brain cancer on August 1st), and thank him for the impact he had on theirs.
If you were an inspired skier in the 70's, 80's, and 90's you likely were impacted by such Barrymore film greats as Last of the Ski Bums, White Horizons, and High Cost of a Free Ride. For me it was The Performers; a tale about the exploits of five dare devils traveling the country in a van on the edge of a new style of skiing. During the Tribute my mind rewinds those images as if it were yesterday. The visual impact was so grand in the day that I made my way to Sun Valley where Barrymore hung out in the attempt to catch his attention on one of those classic blue bird days. I wanted to live out my dreams as a vagabond skier. As luck would have it, I got the nod from Jim Stelling, one of the original Performers, in a pivotal moment. Now, after two short years of filming with Barrymore I found myself on the high flanks of the Monte Rosa licking my sorry wounds. Our band of six skiers (Wayne Wong, Jim Stelling, Stan Larsen, Jim Garrison, Gordy Skoog, Mike Grazier), fresh from an International Freestyle competition in Cervina - Italy, just skied across the Alps with Barrymore to meet Triple Gold Medal great, Jean Claude Killy, for three weeks of filming Assignment K2; the next Performers installment. Having just made an auspicious start to a life changing experience, I owed Barrymore more, lots more. Dick had a subtle way of directing beyond the camera. In this instance the K2 Ski Corp had wanted to send other team skiers, besides Garrison and myself, to do the film in Europe. Dick argued our case. He recruited his skiers, not necessarily using the flashiest or most stylized skiers, but rather, in his words, someone who gets an "oh-my-God-Ethel-who-was-that?" We were his most reliable talent. At that moment, in spite of K2's strong opposition, Barrymore put me on a life-path of mountains, new places, and outdoor adventure. As the filming progressed, with the script loosely written on a napkin, I redeemed myself as Dick captured the cutting edge of skiing of the time. Always promoting firsts, Barrymore matched up Wong (Freestyle) with Killy (Racing) to reveal the differences and yet similarities of their style. Grazier did the first back flip in a race course, and I seemingly jumped over the Matterhorn.
Over his filming years Barrymore pioneered the first 'Hot Dog' contest, developed the helmet cam, helped pull off an early speed skiing record in Portillo – Chile '63, developed the use of a Military 'Zap' camera for super slow motion, captured the first snowboard imagery ('Ted Shed') during the Monashees CMH promotional film shoot of Canadian Mountain Odyssey, inspired the first duel mogul contest, and shot Frankie Bare's first ever Triple Twisting Quadruple back flip on skis.
For Dick it was all about loving skiing and traveling the globe with a camera and skiing with the world's best skiers. Little did he know that in doing so he was changing lives. As Warren Miller would say in tribute, "Dick, you sure screwed up a lot of peoples' lives by showing your movies to them, showing them that there was a life in the mountains in the winter, a life full of freedom without commuting to a job every day. Now you run off to ski and film in untracked powder snow somewhere and leave the rest of us behind to solve the political problems; Afghanistan, Iraq, and other suddenly very unimportant problems. We all miss you and your endless, funny stories a lot already and will continue to miss them for a long time to come."
For me Barrymore was more than a cinematographer, an artist, a captivating story teller who gave a young Seattleite the chance to live out a dream. He was a mentor about how to live ones life. Through his example and infectious enthusiasm I was awakened to the possibilities. When he recants in his book Breaking Even, "I may have stumbled onto one of life's secrets: Forget becoming a millionaire – just live like one!" I am reminded to make each day unique. Betsy Barrymore Stoll possibly said it best, "In the forty years I've know Dick, I've watched him influence many lives, mine included. He's been a Pied piper, creating adventures and telling us all amazing stories about them. Many of us have accompanied Dick on his adventures and come home knowing we'd probably have never gone there, done that, or even thought it up to begin with!"
"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
In 1990, Dick went out of the ski movie business the way he went in, with nothing—unless you count the experiences. With the price of silver skyrocketing, film developing and production cost just wasn't making much sense anymore. Barrymore's last film was called Scandinavian Ski Safari, with a budget of over $100,000 — "not counting the million in stress," he would reflect. It was then; he decided that after 30 years of making films, it was a pretty good time to quit.
Barrymore would say, "I guess it's like everybody else. 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." "Now I look forward to going skiing every winter with the same enthusiasm I had when I was fifteen. I can't wait to get back to Sun Valley next winter, take in a cool breathe of fresh air. And make some of those high-speed turns on the sides of Mid River. The rest of the year, I'll continue living on one of the most beautiful beaches on the Baja Peninsula, where the air is always clean and the nights clear. I surf when the waves are up, windsurf when the wind is up, and go fishing when I get hungry."
In 2003 I made the sojourn to Cabo Pulmo to pay homage to the Master. Barrymore had landed there, and since worked on developing the unique palapa resort. After a stand-up bus ride, pick-up bed hitch hike, and 20 miles of walking a parched desert road (water is everything - if you go inland you could die), I arrived at a cactus infested collection of buildings that could barely be called a village. Was this what Barrymore traded his skis for? I didn't get it; until after a week of snorkeling, kayaking, desert hiking, surfing, sailing, and canyoneering. Dick once again pointed the way as he stretched his shoulder, testing its strength for a Three-Palms surfing session. The facets of life are many, adventures await, and sometimes it's good to make a change to discover what's around the next bend in the trail. Dick never judged success by the bottom line, "I can always tell a good day if my face comes out looking like a glazed donut." He would say.
Ultimately, "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," Barrymore proclaims in his book, Breaking Even.
Dick, I'll be doing my best not to lose a ski…
Barrymore is survived by his mother, Blanche Barrymore, who turned 97 on Aug. 17. She lives at Andora Villa in Ketchum. His brother Douglas passed away in 1987, but Dick's nephew Alexander Barrymore lives in New York City and works there as a photographer.
Dick's sons are Blake Barrymore of Hailey, Idaho and Cole Barrymore of Cabo Pulmo, Mexico. His first wife and mother of his sons, Sandra Wells, lives in Sunset Beach, Calif.
Blake Barrymore is president of Valley Millworks based in Carey, ID. He and his wife Debbie have two sons, Tai, 16, a Wood River High School student, and 13-year-old Chloe, a Wood River Middle School eighth-grade student.
Cole Barrymore and wife Maribel have two children, Jordan and Marbella. Blake's half-sister Shawna Ward and her husband Eric live in Hailey with their four children.
Date of Birth
1933, Los Angeles, California, USA
Date of Death
1 August 2008, Ketchum, Idaho, USA (brain cancer)
Son of William Barrymore