Go to the Mountain

by Christine Benedetti, Time Out Staff Writer
In the opening scene of “Vaya a la Cumbre,” Toni Sponar says that “if you think of building a ski area, and you’re not a billionaire, you have to go look for way-out places and that’s why I’m here.”

Here is not Aspen. Though Sponar is a ski professional for Aspen/Snowmass during the winter, his heart belongs in Chile where Ski Arpa, a humble ski operation, resides. The area exists in the shadow of Aconcagua Mountain, and its terrain is accessed only by guided hikes and snowcat rides. Here, he has actualized a dream and now his son Anton — who also splits time between Aspen and Chile — will be left with the so-called legacy of owning a South American ski resort.

The younger Sponar summited Aconcagua a few years back with friend-turned-filmmaker Ollie Neuwland-Zlotnicki. Immediately attracted to the Sponar story, Neuwland-Zlotnicki teamed up with Zach Ornitz, a former photographer for the Aspen Daily News, to tell the tale of this hidden gem deep in the Andes.

“Ollie and I, in our joint venture, want to try and tell real stories about people who live a life less ordinary,” says Ornitz. “There are a lot of production companies that shoot beautiful footage of professional athletes doing something amazing. We are putting the stories first.”

“Vaya a la Cumbre” is a unique tale, told in 22 minutes of captivating and honest film. It’s not big lines and powder shots, but it is a realistic, raw and beautiful look at what it means to make dreams reality — even when they’re not shared by everyone.

The movie’s alternative perspective made it a natural fit for 5Point Film Aspen, the inaugural one-off from Carbondale’s annual film festival. 5Point’s main focus is film, but the flagship event integrates conversation, performance and education into its format to meet the organization’s mission.
Hayden Kennedy on Ogre

“We’re bringing up an evening of 5Point to give the Aspen audience a taste and feeling of what we’re doing,” says Julie Kennedy, 5 Point’s founder. “They may see how it’s a little different than a Banff festival on tour. We have our own personality, and we want the community to test-drive what we’ve got going.”

On Saturday evening, 5Point Film Aspen will feature nine films. These include short, inspiring snippets, and others will be longer narratives. Alex Honnold, a big wall free solo climber who has broken several speed records, will discuss his new film “Honnold 3.0” and father-and-son team Michael and Hayden Kennedy will share their thoughts on risk and reward when mountaineering above 20,000 feet.

Ornitz and Neuwland-Zlotnicki are pleased to be screening in front of their hometown crowd; both have since moved, but still have deep ties to the area. They’re hopeful that showing now means they’ll be included in the 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale this April.

In the meantime, they’ll continue to apply to other festivals.

“We didn’t know what the story was when we went down there,” says Ornitz. “We knew there was a father and son that had a ski resort that was struggling. So we went down there and shot everything under the sun.”

Ten cumulative weeks in Chile, 200 hours of footage and a year later, they had their story.

“Talk about tenacity,” says Ornitz, “just look at Toni. He’s spent 30 years of his life dedicated to not working for the man, but becoming the man.”

But, as film-goers will learn as the documentary unfolds, the story’s not over yet.

Some call it inspiration and others call it action, but after watching all of the films, 5Point attendees will leave the theater with a feeling of unfinished business and infinite opportunity.

Editor’s Note: Christine Benedetti recently joined the board of the Wheeler Opera House, which is hosting 5Point Film Aspen.

5Point Film Aspen
Saturday, Jan. 19
Wheeler Opera House
6 p.m.: Burritos, Cheetos and New Belgium
7 to 10 p.m.: Film and stories