Few mountains have a legacy nor iconic presence which can compare to Mt. Hood. Oregon’s tallest volcano has served as a proving ground for the ambitions of every generation of skier since long before most of us fit into our first pair of boots. Beyond its rich history of summer camps, above Palmer snowfield’s varied park shoots, outside of the boundaries of Timberline and Meadows, lingers the upper reaches of the Mt. Hood Wilderness, overlooking thousands of acres of public National Forest land. With the 2011 release of On Top of the Hood, Sammy Carlson cemented his position as the king of the Mt. Hood Wilderness, and not without the efforts of Spriggs, Mike and Tommy E, Tudor, Darcy Bacha, and Nimbus, among many others. Their collective masterpiece has stood unchallengeable as a movie since its premiere, but time has also transformed its legacy into a cornerstone of inspiration now carried on by dozens of crews.
Building the Hogsback jump
Among the thousands who have been motivated by Sammy’s crowning film is Hunter Hess, also an Oregon local and tremendously talented skier. Hunter called me in the springtime to share his idea for creating a short piece with Alex Hall and Owen Dahlberg, specifically inspired by On Top of the Hood. Despite efforts by Hunter to find a sponsor willing to support the project, the crew chose to follow through with the film on their own dime when no funding could be secured. I was upset to hear that no brands valued the idea, continued Mt. Hood legacy, nor potential of Hunter, Alex, and Owen, highly enough to financially back the project, which is a relatively inexpensive project in the first place. Contrarily, I was proud of my friends’ ambition and determination to realize a dream shared by hundreds of skiers and filmmakers despite the added effort and commitment. So, before watching the movie, I think it is important to recognize that Magma is among the purest independent films produced this season; it should be with great pride that Owen, Hunter, and Alex are releasing this project with only their signatures on it.
Life for a month in the forest
Magma opens with an introductory segment, Owen’s minute and a half contemplation of the familiar landscapes accented by little vignettes of personality from Alex and Hunter. The instrumental track he chose compliments the majesty and mystery of the mountain and its forests, softly growing into a crescendo which releases the title of the project before the movie pours into the action without a misstep. Some, if not most, projects as short as 12-minutes should not necessitate an introduction, but Magma’s is critical to framing the film and tactfully setting the scene, building a balance against the following 10 minutes of relatively pure action. Owen’s shot selection cycles through a number of nature scenes, capturing the diversity in a month’s weather in Oregon with eery accuracy, hinting at what it feels like living in Mt. Hood in high summertime; the western cedar boughs and wet mosses break up visions of low hanging popcorn clouds, wispy sun dogs, and lenticular domes obscuring the summit of the mountain, paying some coincidental homage to the name Hood (named for an admiral, not the cloudcap, even). My favorite shot shows the shadow of the volcano cutting horizontally through the thick atmosphere and rich pink sky, suggesting how enormous the mountain really is. Peppered in are lifestyle shots of the boys in moments of joy, excitement, and preparation, building anticipation for the coming action. The introduction may be my favorite segment of the movie, only for the sake that it makes me feel at home again, with my friends, reveling in our youth and the intangible magic of Mt. Hood.
Owen “helping build” with the boys
It is evident in Magma that Owen has developed into his own personal style in both filming and editing. His production now looks less like a replication of similar filmers like Oliver Hoblitzelle and boasts its own proprietary approach and technique. His lo-fi style is consistent through the filming and editing and suits the handmade, raw feeling of the film. Magma’s title card is plain and under-designed, but well compliments the intentional production quality level that Owen chose. The strongest thematic driver of Owen’s production is the music; he weaves in and out of similar downtempo instrumentals that provide a foundation for the transitions between the multiple segments, gluing together the wonderfully varied music he chooses for the skiing-focused parts, tying up all of the scenes into a complete package. I enjoy how diverse his transitions are as well, no transition seems to use the same cut cue as the last, each song change and pause in the video is different and unexpected in the constantly changing and refreshing 12-minute journey of Magma, bouncing between 7 different tracks in its playtime. Owen’s editing refreshingly straddles some line between the style of a traditional edit and a longer film project, specifically with respect to how he chooses to completely replay some shots in slomo, giving the audience a second chance to watch Hunter and Alex’s best tricks. It plays through effortlessly at a thoughtful pace, pulling the viewer along without going too fast or slow. I loved how Owen organized the different spots in his timeline, some features were repeated intermittently throughout Magma, while others had dedicated sections of the movie. It is easy to forget that the movie was only filmed by one person, the diversity in angles and perspectives Owen chose are complimentary and it is clear this was on his mind while he was in the field filming. I’ve got high respect for his filming choices, I feel as though his perspectives do a great job at showing the skiing from the boys in its entirety as well as the context of the scene and feature. My singular criticism of the production of Magma is in the sunset scene, where the variety stagnates for a short minute as we see Alex and Hunter repeatedly tossing into the redness above Zig Zag glacier and disappearing into the silhouetted slope below. This might be the only point that reveals the limited scope of the project, I’m sure Owen was constrained in his ability to move around and refresh the perspective without an alternate support filmer. My focus in criticism is the final train shot, where Hunter and Alex follow each other off of the jump and over a red penny sun that you can only witness from the western flank of Hood. The beautifully composed shot, reminiscent of the magical clip of LSM jumping over the sun in Interpretation, is not tempered in its patience and wavers away, breaking the focus and visual balance to track to the invisible landing of the boys in the shadow below. Despite my gripes, the sunset segment is in exactly the right placement within the short; using it as a capstone would have been predictable, using it as an opener would not do justice to the flow of the movie. Contextually, the segment is spot on, but it lacks the developed rhythm of the rest of the movie. Overall, Owen’s work on Magma is subliminally deliberate; the raw, loose style of his filming, camera, and editing can betray the reality that Owen is constantly thoughtful about capturing and representing the skiing as it deserves to be displayed, which I think works wonderfully to his advantage. Owen is discovering a style that is so naturally watchable that it calls minimal attention to the production itself and focuses singularly on the most important aspect, the skiing.
Wait for the sunset
It could go completely without mentioning how impressive Hunter and Alex’s skiing is in this project, and I’m sure most people who’ve seen the trailer are prepared for that. Still, their efforts far surpassed what I expected from a hand-built, monthlong movie. One of my favorite aspects of how Hunter and Alex approach skiing in their own pursuits is that they both still embrace the DIY backyard build despite (or maybe because of?) touring the worlds’ greatest parks many months of the year. Magma infuses their minispot affinity alongside traditional Hood stepups and stepdowns to create a well rounded mix of different features. Among their larger features are a number of familiar settings, notably the Hogsback jump and their Zig Zag step up, paying respect to some of the iconic spots championed by legends (SIP Heff, Hunter well honoring with his c7b on the Hogsback), but they include new imaginations, too, like their rock stall to step down line. From the opening clip to the closing trick, both Hunter and Alex clearly had no restraint during their month on the volcano. Their styles and tricks are consistently complimentary, but each displays crazy range, too. It would be exhausting to break it all down, here are some of my favorite highlights:
Hunter’s flat 3 japan to zero on the guac bowl
Alex’s r cork 7 lead mute and l cork 9 nose combo on the step up
Hunter’s cork 10 blunt on the stepdown
Hunter’s duez rodeo 10 safety on the step up
Alex’s sw r doe 9 on the stepdown
Alex’s hand drag cork 7
Hunter’s overcooked doe 10 japan to opp japan
Alex’s sw 9 dub nose on the qp/hip
Anyone who remembers On Top of the Hood couldn’t forget the handful of triple attempts, right at the dawn of triples being thrown in our ski community: Tommy E’s tre front and Sammy’s tre cork attempts. If you’ve seen the trailer from Magma, you know there’s a surprise in this vein waiting to finally be achieved since Sammy set it in motion some years ago. On a jump half the size? Skiing’s come a long way in 8 years...
Way too late in the summer to still be hiking this shit
There are parallels and similarities between Magma and On Top of the Hood, but the two projects are not really meant for comparison so much as they should be viewed in sequence. OTotH was Sammy’s crowning home mountain film, he and his crew established themselves as the kings of Hood. Magma represents the next generation of skiers adopting that inspiration and legacy in a way that reveals how accessible it really is to broaden the boundaries of skiing on Hood. What made Magma so special itself is, of course, the unique touch in skiing and production from Owen, Alex, and Hunter. And, while nobody can reflect the specialized talents of Magma’s crew, anybody can match their effort. With enough motivation to camp for a month, hike/ride above TLine, and recruit a handful of friends to dig under the sun, any crew has the tools to make their own mark on the rich history of Mt. Hood, and Magma embodies that possibility.
Magma is my favorite film I’ve watched in years, without exaggeration. I hope that it sparks, for many of you, the same youthful freedom and joy that it has inspired within me. Hunter, Alex, and Owen, thank you guys for creating and sharing Magma with us.
ONLINE RELEASE THURSDAY NOVEMBER 14, 2019
Last sliver of the red penny