How Elyse Saugstad DIYed Her Way Into The Co-Lab

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The final product of one of the most innovative video contests in snowsports - The Co-Lab - is now available on DVD & iTunes. Get your copy now - all orders of TGR movies & merchandise through the end of the day today are eligible for a FREE TGR t-shirt!

Elyse Saugstad isn’t exactly an up-and-comer. The Alaska native has been a known and respected player in the big mountain ski scene for years, having earned a taste for speed and a discipline in steep, fast, high-consequence terrain on the downhill ski circuit – ski racing’s fastest format.

But Elyse was a pure underdog in the Co-Lab. The lone female entrant aside from 9-year old Sofia Tchernetsky, Saugstad hadn’t even thought about entering the contest at the start of the 2013 season. Yet after diving into the Co-Lab, her story came to embody the DIY possibilities of the internet age that the contest sought to capture.

After countless pre-dawn starts in the Whistler backcountry, orchestrating a hodgepodge of filming opportunities with professionals and friends alike (including her own husband), and struggling to secure an editor and music rights, Elyse assembled a jaw-dropping segment. Loaded with balls-out cliff stomps and high-speed grace, her edit emerged as one of only a dozen to make the final film in a field stacked with hungry talent. This is how her triumph came to be.

How did you make the transition from not even entertaining the idea of entering the contest to focusing completely on a Co-Lab edit?

I didn’t set out at the beginning of the season to enter the contest. I mean, the word on the street was that the really high-caliber athletes, even TGR athletes like Sage, were going to be entering, as a female skier, you don’t think much about going up against boys. I had even talked to another female pro and she didn’t event think you could actually enter the contest as a woman.

And it wasn’t until March when I started collecting a lot of good footage that I started to think about it and it dawned on me that it didn’t matter that I was going up against a bunch of guys; why not give it a shot? Why not, what do I have to lose? And it was my goal to make it into the Co-Lab movie; that was my ultimate goal.

Can you walk us through a day of filming out there?

The day would start long before sunrise; we’d be waking up by four in the morning and getting on our sleds by five. You try and get out there and make the most of the day… and there are also a lot of people there who ski and film and who are high-caliber athletes, so you really have to wake up early to get on top of stuff before other people do. And even just to beat the locals – they’re not even filming, they’re just out there to ski – you got to get on it early to get on top of a line before they do. And you’re usually sledding at least an hour before you’re getting to anywhere to ski. Sometimes you go out and it’s an hour of whoops, which is exhausting. But you just put your head down and grind it out.

How long of a day are we talking about?

It depends, it seems like a lot of times this past season, the few sunny days we had in March, more often than not those days would cloud over or milk out, so they weren’t necessarily bell-to-bell days. But you’re not getting back to the car before four, even if it’s a short day. A short day is a ten-hour day.

I just saw a web edit that came out with you and one of the other Co-Lab athletes, Corey Felton, skiing together. Were you guys out there together shooting a lot of the same stuff in Whistler?

Yeah, we were. It was funny because neither of us had talked about doing the Co-Lab. We had talked about the Co-Lab, but unless he was silently planning it the whole time, which I don’t think he was, it wasn’t until the end of the season when both of us decided to throw our hats in the ring and give it a go. So I’m really stoked that he entered because I think he’s an amazing partner, and a good partner to be out in the backcountry with, too.

Can you speak to some of the collaboration, from a filming perspective, that shaped your crew’s efforts?

Well, you want to be in a group that you have a similar risk level with. Not just risk level in terms of what you’re skiing, but also what you’re willing to risk in terms of avalanche conditions and those sort of things. Corey is someone, for instance, that I trust as much as [my husband] Cody. Cody worries the least when I’m out with Corey and his brother and Topher Plimpton and Austin Gibney. And the thing is too, Corey and I have the same sense of the kind of skiing we’d like to do and the terrain we’d like to ski, which is a lot of steep, fast lines and big cliffs.

Once you had all the footage together, what was the process of coordinating the editing and getting the music right, and how would you compare that to being a full-production athlete like your husband Cody?

Well, if you’re on board with a full production film, all you really have to do is show up; everything else is taken care of. But in filming something like the Co-Lab project, everything you do is your own undertaking, and if you want to make it happen and there’s something that is an integral part, you gotta make it happen on your own. So one thing is getting footage. And then once you have your footage, you have to get rights to the music you want, and that’s a whole ‘nother process that was a daunting undertaking.

You don’t often have a chance to make your own edit entirely on your own as a film skier, and music is such an integral part in realizing whatever vision you have for that segment. There’s an element of storytelling to it, which may sound a little silly because the edit is entirely ski porn, but you’re still trying to give a feeling to it. You want it to move people in a certain way, and I wanted to find a song and create an edit that would both get people to jump out of their seats and say, “Wow, I want to go skiing now! I want to jump off some cliffs! So getting rights to the kind of song I wanted was a huge can of worms, but thankfully it got figured out.

Then I was able to connect with Matt Sheridan at Team13 to actually edit the footage. I gave him a little creative direction and let him know what I was going for, but he’s an amazing editor and did an amazing job with it after that.

What has been your takeaway from this whole Co-Lab process?

At the end of the day with this edit, the only thing that I’ve learned in skiing, which is a lesson in life in general, is that you just have to create opportunities for yourself if you want things to happen and you have to go out and get it. And that’s what this Co-Lab edit was all about for me. It was about going after something and doing it and not relying on other people or our sponsors, because I wasn’t really getting any help from my main sponsor.

In life in general, you really have to create your own opportunities. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to do this. It’s just a different style of project and at the end of the day I’m very proud of myself that it all came together and we made it happen and achieved my goal of getting in the film.

Get your copy of the Co-Lab now on DVD and iTunes.

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