A film shoot is an exercise in patience, hard work, and
luck. We spent the week before we left making phone calls and
trying to organize everyone who would accompany us. Its
not an easy task, as everyone has different work schedules, budget
limitations, and goals for the trip. As things came down to the
wire, we delayed the departure by one day to finish up all the
last minute details. The schedules were solidified, but they
would need a lot of planning to maximize our productivity as
skiers came and went. Arriving on the night of Thursday, June
20th, after a ten-plus hour drive, we set up camp at Trillium
Lake Campground. Skiers Ben Dolenc, Scott Murray, and Max Mancini
joined us on Friday morning, and Pete Gallup arrived Friday night.
Mark Sanders would fly in Sunday night, while Murray and Dolenc
would leave the group Monday morning, followed by Gallup Tuesday
afternoon. Finally, on Wednesday afternoon, Sanders, Mancini,
Bones, and I would wrap up the last filming and leave Mt. Hood.
With that schedule, we had a very narrow window of time to shoot
specific segments for each skier.
With plenty of powder runs, big-mountain lines, and other
winter footage already under Bones belt, we planned to
shoot park and backcountry jibbing, along with humor segments
and instructional footage for another project. Complicating everything
was the issue of weather. In ski filming, the weather window
is the dominating, all-powerful force that makes or breaks the
film shoots success, for cloudy skies and rainy days produce
awful images lacking in contrast. No amount of planning can salvage
a bad weather spell, and this time, we lucked out. It had rained
for three days before we arrived, but we were blessed with 6
days of blue skies, bright sun, and temperatures that soared
into the 80s. We couldnt ask for much better conditions
to film in, except for the high temperatures. Long days out on
the slopes-often from 8 or 9am until 7 that night-with the hot
sun beating down and reflecting off the snow, left us feeling
totally baked. By the end of the week, we referred to the Mt.
Hood glacier as The Frying Pan.
Spending the first day of the shoot in the Timberline
terrain park served two purposes: it gave the skiers a chance
to warm up and get comfortable, and it gave us the opportunity
to shoot plenty of tricks, quickly and easily. Bones set up the
Arriflex on the tripod, and I moved into position with the Bolex
camera to shoot secondary angles. Variety was the key with each
jump, so I had to move camera position and change the angle,
frame per second rate, and aperture to ensure that little, if
any, footage looked the same.
For me, it was an immediate immersion into filming. While
I logged a lot of hours shooting with a digital video camera
back in high school, I had only shot one test roll of actual
16mm film on the Bolex before we left for Mt. Hood-and we left
before I even got the chance to review it.
The floating 360s, backflips, rail slides, box grinds,
and Maxs switch rodeo 540s punctuated the first days
action, but Bones was looking for something else. While productive
and easy, filming in a public terrain park means having other
skiers, snowboarders, chairlifts, and resort buildings occasionally
appearing in otherwise beautiful shots. Bones was after something
more unique and impressive than the terrain park tables, and
there was no place better than the gullies and ravines outside
Timberline Ski Area. Our second day on snow found us hiking and
skinning up from the parking lot early in the morning to scout
out possible locations. After climbing for a little while and
ruling out a few options, we found a feature that had some promise.
One gully had a small, secondary ridgeline that dropped to the
floor, creating a gap between that ridge and the main wind-lip
over the gully. After a test of the in-run, it looked we could
build a step-up gap jump where the skiers would drop into the
gully, speed up a jump carved from the smaller ridge, jump over
the gap between the ridges, and step-up onto the
main ridge. With the slow snow, it was a gamble, and it would
require a lot of work to build it.
The area of the step-up jump, where the wall of the gully
has slid off (almost dead center). Looking closely just below
that, you can see the shape of the big kicker between the two
islands of dirt.
Unlike little backyard kickers and jumps that Ive
built in the meadows and hills back east, this was a full production.
I didnt realize how much work a jump like this required.
Without the benefit of large snow shovels, plywood forms, or
even a level working area, we set to work carving the jump into
the wall of the gully and building it out, using our skis as
forms and our avalanche shovels to move snow. The project required
more than just carving out a lip to jump off of; we had to build
a level platform for nearly half of the in-run. As the afternoon
grew later, we decided to try it out. I started rolling the camera
as the first skier dropped in, sped along the in-run, hit the
lip, and-SPLAT-failed to clear the gap. We had a few problems
having to edge hard around a corner on the in-run cost precious
speed; similarly, a big dip before the jump meant losing a lot
of speed climbing the lip.
Ben Dolenc (top) and Scott Murray (left) with the super-kicker
(this was taken before it melted and we rebuilt it even bigger
the next day.
The whole crew set to work, raising the level of the transition
by over two feet, and building a banked berm on the corner. After
nearly eight hours of work, the skiers tried again, with disappointing
results. It was faster, but not fast enough. Ready to get off
the hill, we decided to return the next morning, on firmer snow
to attempt it one last time before moving on to other things.
Early the next morning, we headed up again, and after several
attempts it became final. The first few skiers cleared the gap,
but it wasnt the shot Bones wanted. Without enough speed,
the jump lacked the height and the distance to make it look truly
impressive. This time, the gamble did not pay off for us, and
we desperately needed a productive spot to make up for lost time.
A nearby cornice-drop provided a fair number of goods,
but it was a large kicker above a steep gully where we finally
struck gold. Arriving at the jump late in the afternoon, it only
required a little shaping and scouting before the skiers could
hit it. Then, everything clicked and came together. Bones and
I set up the cameras, hurriedly changing position and re-rolling
before we lost the light to an encroaching cloud. We rolled the
film as Murray, Dolenc, Gallup, and Mancini put on the show,
drawing a crowd down in the parking lot to watch the tricks.
Eventually the light and energy ran out, and we headed in to
Portland and civilization for the night, determined to hit the
jump again the next morning. Overnight, the snow never froze,
and with the sun beating down the next morning, we returned to
find the jump drastically smaller in size. We again set to work
shoveling, cutting large blocks of snow and piecing them together
in a way that would have made a mason proud. Unfortunately, we
waged a war of attrition with our avalanche shovels over the
week, one that we lost. By the end of that day, only one survived,
and the rest-lexan and metal alike-all failed with cracked or
broken blades and handles.
During the construction, other skiers and film crews arrived
and joined in. Before long, we completed the kicker, taller and
wider than before. With more people moving cameras around and
trying to get their own perfect shots, the scene was a lot more
hectic than the night before. For me, growing up on the East
coast without this kind of skiing and publicity, it was great
to witness the event, but it was even more impressive to watch
telemarking hold its own. Among a bevy of floating 360s
and tweaked grabs from the alpine skiers, many of them with big
names and big achievements, I got to film Mancini and Gallup
flying 30-plus feet through the air off the jump, spinning 360s,
720s, and even a backflip. When all was said and done,
they hiked back up to compliments and a sense of recognition
and respect that telemark skiing increases to earn. As the evening
faded away, Bones and I had the solid footage he wanted, allowing
us finish out the week with humor segments, supplemental park
tricks, and instructional footage. That one day of shoveling
had set us back, but the trip remained a productive success.
I learned a lot about making ski films on our trip up to
Mt. Hood. Its not glamorous work. Theres not much
skiing when youre filming; for several days the only skiing
I did was the one run back down to the parking lot after a full
day on the hill. Rather, its long hours and hard work,
shoveling, directing, and moving under a bright sun. There were
no luxurious hotels or meals for us. We spent most of the week
camping on an abandoned airstrip for free, sleeping bags sprawled
on the ground, and the one night we spent in a Portland motel
involved 7 people in 2 double rooms, sneaking in and out of the
window. On the hill we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,
and off the hill we bemoaned the one greasy-spoon eatery in Government
Camp. But the essence of the trip was not the work, the food,
the lodging, or the snow; it was the people.
The best skier in the world can make for a miserable film
shoot. We werent the only group filming at Mt. Hood, so
we got the chance to observe and work with other production companies
up there. I certainly dont mean to take away from the incredible
skiing the others were doing or their interactions, but they
just didnt have the same bond as our group. And thats
what made the trip a success and a great time for us; we had
a group of great skiers and great people that all chipped in,
in work and in play. We had to be productive at Mt. Hood, but
we wanted to have fun doing it. At the end of the day, we didnt
go our own ways; we all sat around the dinner table, campfire,
wherever, just enjoying being out there.