Touchstone and Beyond: A History of Disney’s “Aspen Extreme”

Winter has come and for those who love to ski, it’s time to hit the slopes. This week a look back at the Hollywood Pictures ski saga, Aspen Extreme.

The Plot

T.J. and Dexter are ski bums who see no purpose in their daily life. T.J. is prime for a promotion at the auto plant, and Dexter likes working on the local ski hill. Worried he hasn’t lived enough, T.J. encourages Dexter to quit his job and join him on the road.

Where do two ski bums end up when they hit the road? Aspen, Colorado. In town, they sign up for a coveted position in the ski school instructor tryouts. T.J. gains a position and through his power of persuasion, so does Dexter.

Finally with some purpose T.J. and Dexter chart different paths through their life in Aspen. While T.J. gains acclaim, and the interest of a powerful and wealthy skier named Bryce, Dexter starts down a darker path of addiction.

Robin, a local radio station announcer, helps bring the two back together, and it is Robin who reminds T.J. and Dexter about their friendship. They may have traveled different paths since coming to Aspen, but T.J. and Dexter are getting ready to compete in the Powder 8 competitions. Tragedy is stalking the mountain as well, and T.J. is going to have put himself back together again if he wants to succeed.  

The Good

Paul Gross is excellent as T.J. He’s got the charm and charisma to be the perfect leading man, and the angst to be the young guy trying to figure out his life. His chemistry with Peter Berg is excellent, and they have the perfect best friend/brother relationship which makes the rift that develops between them believable.

Peter Berg never gets enough credit for his acting. He is witty and charming as Dexter, while at the same time providing a depth and background to his character that would be easily glossed over in many other films. Dexter isn’t someone to pity, rather, he’s the guy that anyone could be friends with, and that’s why his friendship with T.J. makes sense.

Teri Polo is great, and the moments she gets on screen are perfect which add the ride depth and heart to the story that we never get from Finola Hughes’ Bryce. Robin is the perfect person for T.J. to be with, because she is the only grounded person in a town that lives in the clouds.

The Bad and the Ugly

This is essentially Top Gun. I saw the headline from the Seattle Times that said it was “Top Gun on the ski slopes”, and I wondered how on earth this would be a quote about a movie that is centered on skiing. The Seattle Times is correct. The main characters of T.J. and Dexter mirror Maverick and Goose. Both sets of characters are a part of an elite school, and there is a hotshot who is competing with T.J./Maverick. The competition turns deadly and the main character has to find their way back to success.

Imagine Top Gun then picture it on the Aspen ski slopes in the world of skiing, and that is precisely what you get with Aspen Extreme. Don’t get me wrong, I love Top Gun, and if you love Top Gun, then you will definitely like Aspen Extreme.

Beyond the Film Facts

  • The radio station that Robin works for is a real radio station in Aspen.
  • Some of the skiing scenes where T.J. and Dexter are in the backcountry were filmed in British Columbia, not in Colorado. This would also explain why T.J.’s fall into the crevasse is impossible, because there is no terrain in Colorado that is glaciated.
  • The film had multiple filming locations from Aspen to Brighton, Michigan, and Los Angeles. They even shot some scenes in Los Angeles.
  • Skiers Scot Schmidt and Doug Coombs were the stand in skiers for the challenging parts of the film.
  • Writer and director Patrick Hasburg developed the screenplay for the film based on his life as a ski instructor in Aspen. It just so happens that Michael Eisner was one of his clients who agreed to produce the film.

The Streamy Award

{The following four categories are based on a Film Reel scale.

1 Reel-Bored and Killing Time, 2 Reels-When You Have Some Time, 3 Reels-Make Some Time, 4 Reels-Big Screen Event}

If you like skiing, then chances are you will enjoy Aspen Extreme. If you enjoy the standard run of the mill adventure drama, then you will like this film as well.

Aspen Extreme is a good film, and if you have some time then sit down and watch out, but don’t cancel your plans for this ski fest. Aspen Extreme gets a 2 Reels rating. You won’t be disappointed, but you are not missing anything if you don’t see this movie right away.

Cast and Crew

  • Paul Gross as T.J. Burke
  • Peter Berg as Dexter Rutecki
  • Finola Hughes as Bryce
  • Teri Polo as Robin

Directed by Patrick Hasburgh

Produced by Hollywood Pictures / Touchwood Pacific Partners 1      

Release Date: January 22, 1993

Budget: $14 million

Box Office Gross

Domestic: $8,041,049

Coming Soon

Next week, John Cusack learns that found money isn’t free in Money for Nothing.