I think we can all agree that winter holidays are basically made for cozying up and watching a good film. My family always opts for adventure documentaries when we get together because of their universal appeal and appropriate nature (i.e. I’m not sure my aunt would love me showing Training Day to my young cousins, despite Denzel’s magnificence). It’s a tradition I cherish and a fantastic way to stay abreast with the impressive feats of brave men and women who explore the great outdoors in ways we will never ourselves experience. To get you hooked on this goodness too, I’ve compiled a diverse list of fantastic documentaries to watch this holiday season. The recommendations are organized by sport and a nice mix of classics, top 10 films, and smaller indie releases – so there is something for everyone!
SURFING: UNDER AN ARCTIC SKY
Holy cow – I would never do surf trip in Iceland wintertime but I’m sure glad these crazy guys did! The wildly talented photographer Chris Burkard teamed up with filmmaker Ben Weiland and a crew of badass surfers to ride frigid waves in the remote parts of Northern Iceland… all during the worst storm the island has seen in 3 decades. Expect lots of nail biting, ripping waves and extraordinary cinematography. Available on iTunes.
DOWNHILL SKIING: MCCONKEY
It’s in every skiers best interest to know who Shane McConkey was. The short story is that he was an insanely talented freestyle skier who had a profound impact on the sport and ski fans everywhere, and died too young. The longer story is told much more beautifully in this film, which balances raucous race footage with intimate portrayals of his complex relationships and passion for living to the fullest. If you’ve already seen this but still want a ski film, you can’t go wrong with anything from Warren Miller’s filmography, especially his later works like Freeriders and Journey. Available on Amazon and iTunes.
SLED DOG RACING: THE GREAT ALONE
This award winner tear-jerker tells the dramatic comeback story of champion sled dog racer Lance Mackey. Sled dog racing is an incredibly athletic endeavor that challenges racers in very unique mental and physical ways. The Great Alone teaches us about that world, the trauma that the sport’s leaders have endured, and the people and dogs that make it so magical. Available streaming on Netflix, Amazon and iTunes.
GENERAL ADVENTURE: 180° SOUTH
As you may know, the North Face and Patagonia gear companies are leading advocates for environmental protection and preservation. That passion comes from their founders and the remarkable expeditions they’ve completed around the world. 180° South documents their illustrious trip to South America’s Patagonia, where they climbed, surfed and skied in some of the most stunning settings you’ll see. Beyond the beauty, the film delivers a moving call to action for sustainable living delivered through the men’s eyes. Available streaming on Netflix, Amazon and iTunes.
For once, an epic mountaineering movie that is NOT about Everest! Meru is a gnarly 21,000ft mountain in Northern India whose Shark’s Fin route is considered the ultimate test in the high-stakes world of big-wall climbing. The views and unrelenting battles with Mother Nature that that Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk encounter are sure to raise every hair on your body. More than that, I appreciate the candor with which these incredible athletes discuss the route, their fears and their plans. and fill your brain with ideas of crazy exploration. This is one of my favorite adventure documentaries ever. Trust me, watch it! Available on Amazon and iTunes.
Love this one! Shift is a short documentary profiling indigenous youth from Yukon, Canada who transform old hiking trails into world-class mountain biking trails. Expect epic riders and inspiring reflections from the teenage girls and boys whose pride for their land brings new significance to the sport of mountain biking and adventure tourism. Free stream the film here.
ROCK CLIMBING: VALLEY UPRISING
This is a must-see for any sport rock climbers or anyone who has/will visit Yosemite Valley. My brother showed it to me years ago and I still remember the incredible stories, engaging graphics, oral histories and climbing inspiration the film delivers. Every generation of climbers has made a different mark on the sport and the rules around climbing; this film will school you on all the biggest influencers in each decade and the essential dirtbag terminology to know. Available on Netflix, Amazon and iTunes.
This 2014 documentary is the first (and best) in what became a series following the incredible feats of badass backcountry snowboarder Jeremy Jones. You’ll see him carving beautiful lines down untouched slopes, evading avalanches and honestly discussing the challenges that come with living a risky adventurer’s life while married with children. Available on Amazon and iTunes.
Feature image by Chris Burkard