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Digital Prospector: The life and death of X Games snowmobile champ Caleb Moore

This documentary short by Lucy Walker (Wasteland, Devil’s Playground) examines the brief life and tragic death in 2013 of Caleb Moore, the first competitor ever to die in the 20-year history of the X Games. Moore was a four-time medalist in the snowmobile competition, which involves hurtling a 450-pound hunk of machinery off a series of jumps and then twisting it through the air. The very idea is absurd, since its only attraction seems to be the nail-biting possibility of being crushed to death upon landing.

Moore came up short on a flip and tumbled helplessly downhill as his snowmobile cartwheeled toward him and then, in the nauseating loop of instant replays to follow, appeared to gore him like a bull. He died in the hospital a few days later. 

Walker talks to Caleb’s family and teammates, probing delicately into a world (organizers like to call it “action sports”) where daredevilry can be a euphemism for a death wish. But this film is only a prelude to her feature length The Crash Reel, an in-depth profile of snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a practice run for the 2010 Olympics.

That film follows Pearce’s remarkable rehabilitation, after which he convinces himself he can make a full comeback despite his now permanent impairments in vision, memory and balance. The film charts Pearce’s dispiriting realization that his extreme sports days are over. 

But Caleb Moore’s snowmobiling younger brother Colten was anything but daunted. In the recently completed 2014 X Games, he won a gold medal in the same event that killed his brother. In one spectacular moment that seems suspended in time, he dangles from a pair of handlebars as the killing machine pirouettes above him. Action sport? Extreme sport? Let’s just call it terrifying.

For more nuggets from the Digital Prospector, go here.

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