Photo by Richard Hallman
By Katy Savage
Jim Ryan knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life at age 15.
When he was a sophomore at Killington Mountain School, Kina Pickett, a 1992 KMS alum and Warren Miller star, spoke to his class about starring in ski movies and skiing every day.
“I was like, ‘whoa that’s super cool,’” said Ryan.
Ryan, 27, knew he wanted to be on the mountain everyday, creating content that got people excited.
Ryan had the opportunity to do that his year. Ryan is one of the stars of the new Warren Miller movie, “Face of Winter,” which will premiere at the Snowshed Base Lodge in Killington during the World Cup, Saturday, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m.
Ryan got the job through his sponsor, Marker Dalbello Völkl USA, which has long been part of Warren Miller films. When it was time to consider skiers to star in this year’s film, Völkl Director of Promotions Sarah Lauridsen said Ryan stood out.
“He’s the type of skier that you knew could handle pretty much any terrain,” Lauridsen said. “To be able to have a first timer on the big screen, you have to have complete confidence that they’ll be able to do the task at hand.”
Ryan grew up in the Rutland area. He started skiing before he could walk. His father Harry (a former Olympian and U.S. Ski Team member) carried his son in a backpack down the slopes of Killington until Ryan was strong enough to stand on his own.
Ryan showed early talent and early love for skiing.
“Jim surpassed me when he as 4 years old. By the time was 5, I couldn’t keep up with him,” his mother, Jane O’Neill, said.
Ryan attended Barstow Memorial School in Chittenden, which allowed him to finish classes in the morning so he could leave school around noon to train at nearby Killington Mountain School three times a week.
“He did everything he could to be on the mountain,” his mother said.
Ryan competed on the Division I team at Colby College,which made National Collegiate Athletic Association finals three of the four years he was on the team.
Ryan moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in 2015, shortly after he graduated college, following his love of big mountain skiing and chasing his dreams of starring in movies. Ryan said his type of skiing is unique.
“My style of skiing is hyper-technical,” he said.
Ryan always looks to challenge himself. He has a collection of skis from the 1980s, which he started buying on eBay two years ago. The skis are half the width and twice as stiff as today’s skis, he said. Ryan skis in them just for fun.
“Any turn you want to make, you have to put an extreme amount of energy into it,” Ryan said.
With more difficulty comes more reward, he said. “Good technique is not a choice,” he said. “When you have a good run from top to bottom, it’s so beautiful.”
“Face of Winter” tested Ryan’s abilities. The film was shot all around the world, in Switzerland, British Columbia, Alaska, Chile, Iceland and New Zealand, among other places.
It is the 69th Warren Miller Entertainment film. Ryan’s 12-minute segment in the movie was filmed in Alaska, among some of the harshest conditions.
Ryan and a film crew spent three weeks there, but they could only get two days of filming in. Rain, windy weather and avalanche threats made skiing difficult and filming impossible.
On days he could ski, Ryan tuned his skis as though they were race skis—sharp enough to carve on an icy surface.
The conditions were “rock hard,” said Ryan and the visibility was limited.
Ryan admitted he was nervous. He had never skied in Alaska. The conditions required extreme concentration.
Ryan got to spend his days with world renowned ski filmer Tom Day.
Day has been filming for Warren Miller Entertainment for about 30 years.
Like Ryan, Day grew up in Vermont.
Day, 57, grew up skiing at Bolton Valley, where his father worked for the ski patrol. Day later raced for Champlain College in Burlington and then, like Ryan, he moved west.
Like Ryan, Day decided from a young age that he wanted to ski everyday.
Day starred in several Warren Miller movies, after his friend asked him if he wanted to be part of a segment one day in his early 20s.
“It just kind of fell into my lap,” said Day.
Day later decided he wanted to try being behind the camera. Day has traveled the world. He’s lived a portion of his life in France and has skied as far away as Antarctica. He said nothing compares to Alaska.
“When you hit the mountain range just right, it’s arguably some of the best skiing in the world,” said Day.
“Face of Winter” follows skiers and riders around the world. It is also a tribute to Warren Miller, the ski film pioneer, who died Jan. 24, 2018 at age 93.
While Day travels, skis and films around the world, something Miller said has stuck with him.
“Warren said the best place to ski is where you are that day,” said Day, who lives in Squaw Valley, California.
Ryan will make a guest appearance at the “Face of Winter” premier, Saturday, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m., showing at Snowshed Lodge at Killington Resort.