Legendary ski family hopes to start a movement

Warren Miller's son turns attention to athletes with disabilities in new film

Rick Finkelstein monoskiing
Steve Weishampel | Boulder Weekly

Stories about people overcoming obstacles are uplifting and inspirational and all that. A new film on people with disabilities aims higher: It’s designed to start a movement.

The Movement, coming to the Boulder Theater Dec. 7, follows a former skier who returns to the slopes years after an injury caused paralysis. But its subtitle — “One Man Joins an Uprising” — points to a larger purpose, chronicling and encouraging a trend of people with disabilities building confidence through sport.

The film covers the sport of monoskiing — or sit-skiing — which uses a single ski with both feet attached and smaller arm-mounted stabilizers. Athletes must keep their balance while seated on the way down the mountain.

It’s produced and co-directed by Kurt Miller, son of famed ski filmmaker Warren Miller, whose charity Make a Hero helps connect people with disabilities to organizations that can help them participate in the sports they love.

Kurt Miller hopes the documentary will cause able-bodied people to reconsider how they view people with disabilities.

“A lot of times people look at people with disabilities and they look away,” he says. “[The movie is] almost saying, embrace them: ‘Hey, that’s great, you’re going skiing.’ Reach out to them and say, ‘That’s exciting.’ It really gives them the confidence to do other things in their lives.”

The Movement follows Rick Finkelstein, a Hollywood executive paralyzed from the waist down, as he learns to monoski at the Snowmass resort in 2010. For six years after his injury Finkelstein didn’t return to skiing, a sport he once enjoyed. Miller says he wanted to help Finkelstein get a chance to return to the slopes.

“Through luck I met Rick and began selling him on the concept of, ‘Hey, let’s take you back to the mountain,” Miller says.

“For all of the years that I owned Warren Miller Entertainment, we would also have a segment about people with disabilities,” Kurt Miller says. “It’s something we thought always inspired ablebodied individuals to appreciate what we have and motivate people with disabilities to go to the mountains.”

One of the instrumental members of Finkelstein’s team was Matt Feeney, an experienced instructor in monoskiing. A Colorado skier who’s been paralyzed since 1988, Feeney has taught about a thousand people with disabilities to ski with adaptive equipment, he says.

Miller says Feeney’s experience was invaluable to Finkelstein’s learning.

“It was great because he could speak to Rick from a disabled point of view, like, ‘Hey, it’s not going to be easy,’” Miller says.

Feeney says Finkelstein’s age could have been a factor, but Feeney didn’t think it slowed him down much.

“Even at 62, he had some athleticism, and I really think he had the desire and the passion of skiing and wanting to learn how to ski,” Feeney says. “He even says, ‘I don’t have the fear anymore. I just have the frustration.’” Miller says Finkelstein’s return to skiing is a dramatic moment in the film, but he’s also happy with sequences of accomplished monoskiers shredding at the Canyons resort in Utah.

“People are blown away with the true athleticism of these individuals,” Miller says of long-time monoskiers Chris Waddell, Mike May and Jim Martinson.

Finkelstein’s story, meanwhile, is about overcoming obstacles and regaining control of one’s life. Miller says audiences so far have embraced that message.

One of the struggles that newly disabled people face is with building confidence to rejoin activities they once loved.

But there’s no doubt Feeney has some of that confidence and is an inspiration to all those he taught. After his 1988 accident, he started racing competitively as a monoskier, but he soon followed his passion for teaching and joined the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, where he now makes his home.

Feeney wasn’t exactly joining a massive staff of monoski instructors.

“At that time, there were very few. I may have been the only one in a monoski teaching,” he says, noting that disabled instructors were so rare that he was taught by able-bodied people. “I think I kind of opened the door so others could see what was possible. In 1993 there might have been one other guy, but I was the only one in Colorado and the only one at the National Sports Center for the Disabled.”

Miller says the 40-minute film will be preceded by a 15-minute presentation, and a 20-minute question and answer session will follow the movie.

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On the Bill:

The Movement screens on Wednesday, Dec. 7 at the Boulder Theater. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $14. VIP tickets are $50. 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030.