Local Extremist Scott Kennett Has a Personal Connection
RIDGWAY – Ridgway’s Scott Kennett has been in lots of ski movies, both with his famous wolf-malamute, Zudnik, and without. But this one has special meaning.
Now 55, Kennett stars in a nine-minute segment in Warren Miller’s latest, Flow State, which screens three times (4, 6, and 8:30 p.m.) this Sunday, Dec. 23, at the Sheridan Opera House in Telluride.
In the segment, Kennett and two other skiers, Tony Seibert and Chris Anthony, don 70-year-old wooden skis and leather boots, plus the white canvas anoraks of the 10th Mountain Division, and ski around Camp Hale, in the Colorado high country between Vail and Leadville, where the famous World War II ski troops trained between 1942 and 1944. Some of the scenes are comical, as the modern-day skiers struggle to turn the recalcitrant, seven-foot-long boards. Others offer a more reverent look at the contributions, and sacrifices, made 70 years ago.
Kennett’s connection is more than just an interest in history, or curiosity about the gear. His uncle James Kennett was a captain in the 10th. He trained at Hale and fought in northern Italy as the division chased the last German defenders across the Po River to their eventual surrender in the foothills of the Alps.
Only James Kennett didn’t live to see the surrender. He was riding a bicycle through the quiet streets of a newly liberated village when a sniper, left behind by the retreating Wehrmacht, shot him dead.
Scott Kennett tried for about 10 years, he told me, to get the Warren Miller team, which is based in Boulder, to undertake a piece on the mountain troops and what they accomplished, both during and after the war, when skiing was new.
It was ironic, Kennett said, because “Chris Anthony, a longtime Warren Miller star with connections to the Colorado Ski Museum in Vail, was pitching the same idea. We were both pitching the idea of the 10th” to Warren Miller’s producers.
The third skier in the segment, Tony Seibert, is the grandson of Pete Seibert, the 10th vet who came home from the war to co-found Vail.
An early idea for the segment was to ski, as a few of the strongest skiers in the 10th had done, from Leadville over the Collegiate Range to Aspen. The idea was scrapped, and it was just as well, Kennett said. “The boots were like work boots; they had to be versatile enough for skiing, snowshoeing, climbing, marching. The bindings didn’t release at all. And the skis hadn’t been waxed for 70 years!” They were long, thick and stiff, truly “torture boards” as one wartime draftee famously dubbed them.
Instead, the crew camped out in the meadow of the former Camp Hale (there’s little more than rusty tin cans to indicate the erstwhile presence of 10,000 soldiers) and “attempted to ski” Machine Gun Ridge and Ptarmigan Peak in “old, stiff, manky powder,” Kennett said. He came away with a profound appreciation for the skills his uncle acquired. “Those guys had to really dial in the fore-aft balance. There was no boot tongue to press against. Lean forward and you go over the bars.”
The re-enactors also rappelled some of the rock cliffs the 10th troops trained on. “I swear I could feel the goosebumps like those guys must have felt,” Kennett said.
The terrain around Hale was “not up to the couloirs” demanded of the movies these days, Kennett said. So the Warren Miller crew also shot the three extremists skiing the Shit For Brains couloir at Arapaho Basin. Misunderstanding, I asked if they skied it on the old wooden skis. “I’m not that crazy,” Kennett answered.
That sequence, filmed on a howling April day in 2011, can also be seen in an expanded, 45-minute feature for television called Climb to Glory. “There was so much great 10th content, they decided to expand it,” Kennett said. Ex-freestyle skier, and CU football star Jeremy Bloom narrates and focuses more on the post-war, when 10th vets returned to jumpstart the resorts at Aspen and Vail and Arapahoe, to found a little shoe company called Nike, and the National Outdoor Leadership School, to lead the Sierra Club, and on and on. The Greatest (Skiing) Generation.
Climb to Glory will not screen at the Sheridan Opera House on Sunday; it premieres Jan. 17 at Denver’s Oriental Theater. But Flow State will be there in Telluride. As will a humbled and a grateful Kennett, for all three shows.