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Last season a few like-minded skiers convinced Red Bull it would be a grand idea to make a short film that recreates the iconic eras of skiing; that pays homage to the many eras of freeskiing and the skiers that helped pave the way. As complex as it was fun, it was a project that overcame vari- ous interesting hurdles along the way.
Mogul fields are hard to come across these days. We started shooting in mid April and the last snowfall was long forgotten, as was any hope of finding a natural mogul field. So after consulting the expert, legendary German Hot Dogger Fuzzy Garhammer, we made our own mogul field. Apart from that slight complication, this was by far the most enjoyable segment to shoot. We enlisted Bene Mayr and Olympic Giant Slalom champion Viktoria Rebensburg to weave and spread eagle their way down the bumps. The awesome costumes, the skis, the moves—and the occasional hilarious crashes due to thirty-year old ski bindings—ensured that everyone had a good laugh.
If I’d have to pin point at what time the spirit of freeskiing started to blossom, I’d say the development of Hot Dogging was that moment. While researching for this project it became very evident that ski films from back in the 70’s ticked all the boxes: radical moves and heavy crashes as well as plenty of booze and gratuitous nudity. While we didn’t have the latter two this time, that original spirit was most definitely with us.
While some may posit ski ballet as a vestig- ial organ of skiing’s dark past, I would suggest the opposite. At least in its early stages ski ballet was the purest form of creativity on skis. No jumps, no terrain; just a simple slope and no rules. Decades before Boyd Easely championed them in the legendary Poorboyz movie Session 1242, butters, as well as an astounding array of pole tricks, were performed on low angle slopes from Spitzingsee, Germany all the way to Vail, Colorado. Unfortunately ski ballet fell victim to the rules and regulations of good old FIS and so we came across another problem: finding a ski ballet performer.
I’ve always been a bit of a ski ballet fan, and so—after failing to find anyone better—I volun- teered. We also managed to enlist freeski phe- nom Lisa Zimmerman; who happens to be an ex-figure skater. On the day of the shoot Lisa crushed it with beautifully choreographed pirou- ettes; while I had woken with the heaviest migraine imaginable and lay splayed in the snow with my eyes closed. Pretending to be a profes- sional athlete I tried my best to grin and bear it. After literally falling on my face and head five times I finally managed to land one pole plant front flip. And while dreams of becoming a pro- fessional ski ballet performer will never come to fruition, somehow convincing a Red Bull pro- duction to film me doing ski ballet may be my biggest accomplishment to date.
Originally we had Olympic Aerial skier Travis Gerrits for this chapter and after flying from Canada, he was greeted with three days of fog on the glacier and returned without being able to jump a single time. A week later we had our final chance to shoot the specially made aerials jump and while Travis was unable to come, we found a substitute in Igor Ishutko, a Ukrainian ex-Olym- pian who had recently lost his kiteboarding school in Crimea to the Russians. Needless to say, he had some seriously interesting stories.
We requested that he didn’t jump with per- fect regimented aerial style, but rather, he should try to emulate the somewhat uncon- trolled original aerialists. “You want it look like shit?” he asked in a thick accent, “No problem!” After speed checking the jump twice, he put on his helmet went for a double backflip, under-ro- tated, literally belly flopped onto the knuckle and tomahawked down the landing. Miraculously uninjured Igor got up, proclaimed “Now I know speed!”, removed his helmet and proceeded to land multiple sketchy double flips wearing the old school goggles and hat we had procured for the shoot.
NEON & SCHMIDT TURNS
Sometime in the late 80s and early 90s, skiing got radical. With pioneers like Scott Schmidt (possibly the first professional freeskier) and Glen Plake (who definitely has the longest running professional career in skiing) this may have been the most iconic era of freeskiing—even if it was referred to as Extreme Skiing back then. We tried to get Glen himself on board, but unfortunately he was una- ble to make it. Luckily our fall back was Henrik Windstedt who, with a 1983 birth year, witnessed the era of neon and Mohawks—and was more than stoked to represent his for- bearers.
The director Lukas Tielke wanted me to film a lead cam shot, with Henrik all neoned-up, jumping turns in front of the camera. While I anxiously snowplowed through 15 centimeters of fresh snow on top of a steep, bumpy ice sheet—holding a brand new RED Weapon camera for the first time—Henrik was killing it with huge pole plants and solid Schmidt Turns. Then I got slightly too close to Henrik and swoosh; a huge spray of snow envelopes the camera. Emerging from the cloud of snow, the camera was dead and wouldn’t turn on. Terror. That’s €50,000 right there, and that’s not my camera! Fortunately, after a nervous and careful 40 minute drying process, the RED turned on good as new and Henrik proceeded to slay a heavy couloir with a beautiful mule-kick iron cross over a compulsory 30 foot cliff.
THE SNOWBLADE INFLUENCE
Another chapter of our history that some freeski aficionados may wish to forget, snow- blades—or skiboards as the devotees usually called them—experienced a major spike in popu- larity in the late 90s. Legends like Eric Pollard, Skogen Sprang, Jason Levinthal and even Nico Zacek spent a season or two cruising around on planks that were one meter or shorter in length. While some may wish to deny it, snowblades undoubtedly played an integral role in freeski- ing’s development; the first misty flips and rodeos were predominantly performed by bladers.
Newly employed by Downdays, Roy Kittler was basically forced to strap on snowblades for this segment; but he played his part in good spirit. Not one to miss out on the fun, Bene Mayr also decided to join—a few misty flips and awkward grabs later and the segment was in the bag.
Backcountry Jump Session
The schedule for the entire project couldn’t have been any tighter. We only had a total of nine days to shoot ten different segments. Back- country jump sessions were such an integral part of freeskiing (and still are) and our big prob- lem was that there was no fresh pow for a decent landing. After a load of scouting, we found one viable spot that had an untracked landing. With a big warm weather front approaching, we only had one chance to make it work.
This chapter aimed to emulate skiing from circa 2003; when backcountry jumps took cen- tre stage in ski movies. While the jump could not be built as big as we wanted and the landing was definitely sketchy, Fabio Studer and Bene Mayr managed to land a few iconic tricks from that era before the weather rolled in. Fabio busted out textbook cork 360 no grab a-la Tanner Hall and Bene landed a swell flatspin 360 japan grab— good enough to get the message across.
After Tom Wallisch won Level 1 Productions’ famed Superunknown video contest in 2006, countless aspiring skiers tried to emulate Tom’s silky smooth style. While Tom was not the only one to thug it out while skiing, he definitely brought it to the masses; the gangster style took hold in parks around the globe. This movement brought a well needed focus on style and while some may have been less convincing with a forced gangster steeze, the reaction to this was for skiers to develop and refine many other styles of riding.
Kitted out in a massive triple XL long cut t-shirt, bandana and headphones, Kai Mahler definitely looked the part. It also helped that Kai is a pretty damn steezy skier as it is and so when we asked him to thug it out even more and After- bang [essentially overstating a relaxed landing] everything, it all came naturally to him.
While not so much an era of freeskiing and more an integral facet of it, while planning the shoot we nevertheless felt it vital to include urban skiing. Had we known the complications involved, we may have planned differently. Due to time constraints with the athletes and filmers, we had to film the segment on Stubai Glacier. As luck would have it, the new Eisgrat lift was being constructed and presented dope location. Gathering snow, sorting logistics, clearing con- struction rubble and building the features turned out to be far more strenuous and difficult in practice than in theory.
Yet thanks to untiring crew and a few gypsy ploys we got three features set up for Jesper Tjäder and Nick Goepper. As usual, Jesper looked at the features we built and hit them completely differently to how we had intended. Heart migrated to throat as I watched Jesper 180 onto a 4 m high railing and switch backflip into a super sketchy landing. After a few groan inducing crashes, Jesper nailed it, and we had another segment wrapped up.
One Of Those Shoots
The advent of the affordable POV camera had an undeniable impact on skiing. Not only could everyone shoot themselves shredding, but a certain culture of one-upping other peo- ple’s POV runs developed. Everyone started to link together gnarlier and longer lines as well as adding more and more creativity into their runs. Then came Candide Thovex and not only raised the bar, but launched it out of orbit.
While attempting to recreate the feel and vibe of Candide’s One Of Those Days edits, we came to truly realize the hard work and genius that went into these videos. Easily the most com- plicated scene of the whole film was the goal of getting Jesper Tjäder to ski into the gondola base station, slide a rail, make a quick turn, jump onto a ledge and front flip down 5 meters into a stack of boxes. Apart from not having enough boxes— leading to a last minute IKEA mission—coordinat- ing all the people walking around the action was like trying to get a bunch of kittens to take a bath. Nevertheless, by around 10pm we had it all fig- ured out and finally got the shot in the bag.
The Grand Finale
The final shoot involved trying to get every skier and skiing style captured in one shot. As the sun had melted away the jumps and any hopes of finishing the project in April, we post- poned until November. The only way to get the epic shot we envisioned was to shoot at sunrise and somehow we convinced the athletes and crew to stay on the glacier to be ready to shoot at 5:30 am. Even though we witnessed a phe- nomenal sunset over Tyrol’s stunning peaks, lying on the cold ground at 3000 m in a room with twenty snoring, farting individuals is not a night I wish to repeat anytime soon. Mother nature continued throwing curve balls in the form of wind and clouds, but against all odds, even the final shot was captured more or less how we had imagined.
At this point there is no way of avoiding a massive thank you to the 40+ people involved in the project. It was a bit of a behemoth, but we I think we may have managed to put something quite special together.
Want to find out? Watch the final film and accompanying documentary Right HEre