I was raised on ski movie premieres. And, if you’re anything like me, a 20 something who for at least a brief window had aspirations of going pro, you probably were too.
I saw the launch of WE, a Poor Boyz Productions film, at the Neptune theatre in Seattle back in 2012. It feels weird writing this now but I was 14 at the time, barely a teenager, still years away from owning a driver’s license. So, me and my local posse got a ride there from one of my friend's dads. Clad in tall tees and beanies we entered the venue, grabbed a seat, and buckled in. Under the bluish pre-screen lights my eyes caught those of the crowd around us. Familiar faces immediately began to emerge. Freestyle coaches, other friends from my local hill who arrived separately, the older kids who’d yell at us from the lift, and, down near the stage, the cast of the movie. I vividly remember one of the cast members doing a standing backflip on the stage right before the film started. I was in awe. And then the lights drew down, the screen lit-up, and The Heist by Macklemore started playing, which was exciting at the time, because the population of Seattle was not disillusioned with him yet.
WE was one of the last films Poor Boyz Productions produced. Much like Stept, PBP pivoted, and started taking on commercial videography work rather than making ski movies. Similarly, the beloved Level 1 released its final full-length ski movie in 2019. I’m not an economics professor, so I’ll keep my assessment broad, but clearly a shift has occurred (fill me in if you know more). A shift that has reduced the economic viability of large-scale, full-length, ski films. For most production houses, the helicopters, hotel rooms, camera rentals, and plane tickets can no longer be justified with the anticipated returns. While some production houses, like TGR and MSP, have stuck around, I’m probably not alone in noting that since the early 2010’s the fall release calendar for big ski movies has felt different, and, at times, desolate.
Something needed to fill the space that these movies left in the ski community. Enter Instagram (among many other online platforms, including but not limited to Newschoolers and Youtube), an app that is equally adored and detested by snow enthusiasts. Instagram democratized the ski world. Before it’s existence local crews could put together their own videos with a used handycam, but without any production or publishing platform they had no way of broadcasting their content. Now, with Instagram, anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection can create and publish their own video content. The sheer enormity of content now available carries with it a question, a question that not just the ski world is wrestling with; if high-quality content is everywhere, and if high-quality content is free, how can you possibly ask people to pay for what you’re producing?
And this observation doesn’t even include the structure of Instagram itself. Nothing about the app is conducive to holding your attention to a single video or post for longer than a millisecond, which leaves us scrolling endlessly, our brains caught by the constant rush of watching impeccable dub 12’s and spectacular crashes over and over again. Even if the release calendar remained stacked with banger full-length movies every fall I worry that many of us wouldn’t even have the attention span to bother.
But, if you’ve been paying attention, it’s not all bad. While the democratization of the online world has undercut industry stalwarts, and threatened our ability to focus for longer than a moment, it’s also completely blown the door off for a whole new era of film makers. Spurred by the growing dearth of traditional ski movies, small crews throughout the US (and the world for that matter) have begun to produce homegrown films that vary dramatically in length, budget, and general approach. And, perhaps most notably, these movies are typically free.
By the time I was old enough to watch and appreciate ski movies it was clear the industry had adopted a nearly ubiquitous mold. Every movie began with the title card, then a quick montage teasing the excitement to come, followed by rider or location segments broken up by usually trite interviews. If these movies weren’t completely male dominated then they’d typically feature only one or two women, and maybe the odd ‘chick’ segment.
These notes don’t exist to critique what the content world used to be. Rather, they provide additional value to the sheer diversity that is emerging today from a litany of smaller crews. In the past year alone we’ve enjoyed more variability in content than the initial 20 years of the ski movie’s lifespan.
For instance, the release of JYOSEI, in 2020, a movie produced exclusively by women, indicates movement towards content that more accurately represents the universal skiing experience. The editing and filming is top notch, as is the skiing, both firm reminders that old notions of what ‘women’s skiing’ can be were based more in prejudice than reality. A reminder that was reinforced by the rookie Eileen Gu, who took the level of competition to new heights in this year's X Games Aspen.
In addition to opening new avenues for representation in skiing, the democratized online sphere has allowed for greater experimentation in production and cinematography. Now that many filmmakers are no longer forced to recoup excessive production costs by targeting an audience that sits tangential to skiing rather than within it, there’s little pressure to produce work that’s traditionally polished or paced.
Many have turned to a barebones approach, through the use of cameras like the Sony VX1000 or Canon XL1. These cameras offer a gritty look that’s become the hallmark of videographers such as Owen Dahlberg, Oliver Hoblitzelle, and Taylor Bond. While the choice of these cameras can appear merely aesthetic, there’s no denying that their usage in recent movies like Zootspace, Roasted, and Magma II has resulted in a final product that feels pulled straight from the core of the ski world. Through fisheye-lenses these filmmakers deftly document something that doesn’t need to be filmed from a helicopter with a RED camera: the excitement of skiing together with your friends.
Is There Time For Matching Socks was another recent stand-out release. Produced by The Bunch, with Pär Hägglund as the director of photography, Is There Time successfully chronicles the skiing experience through fresh eyes. The film features several unique segments. The first of which, often dubbed the ‘Wes Anderson’ segment, presents some of the most intriguing visuals of the year. One shot opens with a tightly framed door somewhere in Russia that swings open to let in a trenchcoat clad man. The camera lingers on the door after it has closed for a moment, continuing to obscure the context of this little environmental scene, before three members of the Bunch crew rush past, cruising over the snow covered sidewalk on skis. Another employs three jump cuts. The first shot shows Magnus Graner airing through a crowd of bushes towards the camera. Then the lens quickly pans upwards, showing just the blue sky overhead, before Graner airs through the frame, just a blur of green ski bases. Finally the camera pans downward again, catching Graner as he tosses another trick. These shots all blend together seamlessly, creating an illusion that left me simultaneously confused and excited, a digital magic-trick unlike anything I’d seen in a recent ski movie.
But the most poignant moments of Is There Time emerge from it’s seemingly counterintuitive pacing choices. Hägglund, and the rest of the film crew, don’t hesitate to pause on moments that are typically glossed over in the ski movie production process. At one point Graner lines up a particularly gnarly rail transfer. Instead of including this moment briefly in a banger-stacked urban segment, the film makers hold tight, documenting Graner’s internal-battle with the feature for a full five minutes, displaying both his pre-drop jitters all the way to the final ecstatic release of landing the trick. In the background the soundtrack mounts in intensity, reminding the audience of the sheer consequence presented by the urban feature, as the crew banters back and forth in Swedish.
The importance of this moment, among others in Is There Time, is twofold. First, they effectively relate just how terrifying the process of urban skiing can be in a way that few segments have in the past. Second, in an era where the old guard of ski movies is falling away, and online content platforms fragment our attention further and further, they urge us to finally sit still again for once. A reminder that can feel like a long-awaited return to a golden age of ski movies that 14 year old me once knew.
(First time throwing a news/op-ed piece up on the site, hit the comments if loved it, hated it, or somewhere in between. Or if you're just looking discuss and/or correct the statements I made in this article)