By Rob McCormick
I was thirteen years old when the ski comedy Hot Dog was released and the movie pretty much set my course in life to end up in Tahoe. I watched the film and wondered to myself, “where is this magical skiing playground with tons of snow, radical terrain, and residents whose primary goal in life is to ski hard and party harder?” I was not alone. Many of my impressionable young peers also worshiped the film from the first time they saw it. Filmed entirely in Squaw Valley and North Lake Tahoe during the impressive snow year of 1983, Hot Dog delivers a colorful cast, raunchy screenplay and some very good skiing for it’s time.
The movie begins as newcomer Harkin Banks visits Squaw Valley to compete in the World Cup Freestyle Championships. After picking up feisty hitchhiker Sunny they settle into Squaw and quickly meet veteran freestyler Dan O’Callahan who introduces them to the Rat Pack, a group of fun loving, hard charging locals. They also meet the arrogant yet talented Rudi Garmish from Austria. Rudi has his sites set on winning the World Cup of Freestyle for the umpteenth time. Oh and let’s not forget Sylvia, played by 1982 Playmate of the year Shannon Tweed. It’s not long before Harkin and the Rat Pack are competing against Rudi and his gang both on and off the slopes.
So begins an hour and half of deliciously inappropriate humor including wet t-shirt contests, broomball matches, raging parties, gondola blowjobs, plenty-o-hot tub sex scene, drug use and references and of course the infamous Chinese Downhill. Let’s not overlook the sexual and racial stereotypes. All types of women appear topless throughout the movie and of course the trophy blond sleeps with the all the best skiers. Kendo, the Japanese freestyler, opens peanuts by karate chopping them and incorporates kung fu into his dance moves. Hot Dog also has a bevy of priceless one liners. The screenplay, written by Mike Marvin, gets away with a level of raunchiness not often seen by today’s standards.
If the story line and cast don’t have your attention yet, stop the presses because Hot Dog contains some of the best ski footage shot in the 1980’s. Many sports films come up way short by not accurately portraying the sports they feature. For example Sylvester Stallone free climbing with a full rack of gear in “Cliffhanger”. Hot Dog portrays the sport of skiing as it existed in the 1980’s perhaps more accurately than any other media at the time. Released in an era in which you had to watch ski racing to see skiing on television, Hot Dog showcased the Rat Pack simply destroying Squaw Valley both in competition and free skiing. Harkin Banks ski double Robbie Huntoon impressively rips classic Squaw lines including Beck’s Rock, The Alternates, Rock Garden and Broken Arrow. Other Rat Packers tear up the Box, the Light Towers and Enchanted Forest. The ski competition scenes, which include ballet, moguls and aerials, were filmed with real freestyle competitors during the Annual Winter Snowfest (yep, it’s been going on that long). Multiple camera angles used for Harkin’s “Kissass Blaster” may have over dramatized the jump a bit, but all of the action features real skiers in all of their helmetless 1980’s glory.
The highlight of the movie is the International Chinese Downhill…an every man for himself race to the bottom for $2,300 and the title of being the best skier on the mountain. Aggressive racers wear full motocross gear and employ dirty tactics including bludgeoning devices, blunt force weapons, and turbo smoke screens. Filming the Chinese Downhill combined legitimate skiing with impressive stunt work. At one point Harkin’s character skis through the Gold Coast mid mountain complex and crashes through a massive plate glass window before slicing through a picnic table and continuing down Mountain Run. Perhaps even more impressive is stunt skier Lane Parrish getting kicked off course and flying about thirty feet up into a pine tree.
Hot Dog is not the best movie ever made. If not obvious by now, it barely qualifies as a B class movie by any standards of film making. Though not well received by critics, the film was a hit with audiences and did very well at the box office. Closer to our neck of the woods, the movie really resonated with passionate young skiers nearly thirty years ago and is still good for a laugh today. Sure it glamorizes the rambunctiousness of ski town living to the lowest common denominator. However, it succeeds in painting an image of immense fun, athleticism and natural beauty that remain in North Lake Tahoe today. In no way do I regret moving here because of Hot Dog, rather I am very grateful for it.