Posted by Ann Hofer
The past heli season at Northern Escape Heli-Skiing saw the return of celluloid and the antics of a strong crew of filmers, riders and athletes or proskiers. There were familiar faces from Standard Films Travis Robb and Ondo filming as well Mads Jonsson, Lonnie Kauk, Torstein Horgmo, Mathieu Crepel all familiar with the style of riding and snow conditions of the Skeena Mountains. It is always a relief to see familiar faces cause our guiding job includes developing a profile of each individual rider. This allows us to chose appropriate terrain that meets their style. I’ll talk about terrain later so for the moment I’ll mention the newbies that showed up. Mark Carter, Sammy Luebke, Aaron Bittner, Blair Habenacht and lastly perhaps the most performing rider Kazu Kobiko. Yes, as Mads stated and proclaimed he has a new found belief that Kazu may be the most talented rider he’s witnessed of any style. Honestly we were all taken aback by Kazu’s choice of lines, be it tech pillows or big mountain spine freestyle. Wow! To be present and witness 80 foot trick airs to stomp. Individually these riders are all world class and the NEH team had the their work cut out for them.
The synergy between the riders we met this season was exceptional, as the senior or more experienced riders often shared opinions on terrain choice. This exchange builds confidence in per say a line choice as quite often unknowns are always present. The key element for a rider is to remain calm and not get frustrated in times when things aren’t falling in place perfectly. A perfectionist that is hard on himself can often fall out of balance if too critical of oneself.
The man Finding new lines such as the Samurai Spines and revisiting Hell’s Gate a pillow zone that has epic sized drops that are hard to comprehend until your standing in the drop zone. The other challenge we faced was of course the weather. We started the month long tour with some clear, cold bluebird conditions which made for long days. This high pressure system blew in from the North with some severity which affected most every piece of exposed terrain so we were forced to move to sheltered tree runs. Here’s a couple tricks the riders use to maintain there energy on icy cold days. Pack and extra pair of goggles and mitts instead of gloves, snack often and stay hydrated.
What makes Northern Escape so desirable to film crews is the diversity of terrain. In any condition we can get into the mountains and put together a day of filming. Mark Carter stated “ It’s like being in AK but you have the advantage of having reference points so things aren’t so scary.” The guiding policy when things are tough and we are getting pushed around by weather is to break the terrain down and isolate features instead of looking at a whole mountain.
TB20 will be released for premiere viewing in Sept. so stay tuned for the trailer. Standard Films has always been known for putting together solid productions with a compliment of great music and historical footage. This DVD will be a must for your library.They have also made a huge production change and are shooting mostly digital, so your wide screen TV will transport you to the scene. Riders were also shooting POV with Contour so you’ll feel vertigo all in the comfort of your couch and bowl of buttered popcorn.
Our season was just about done and we were down to the last couple of weeks when John was contacted by Matchstick Productions. Alaskan Ranges had been subjected to the same cold fronts we experienced in
Terrace although they were severely short of snow and spines and the mountains were wind raked. After crunching a budget John told us it’s on. Two weeks of film with producer cinematographer Scott Gaffney and Mattias Fredriksson, Swede shooting still and Fred Arne Wergeland from Norway shooting RED.
My first question to John was okay who is skiing? That question wasn’t answered until I was at the airport picking up the crew and delivering them with there private chef from Crested Butte Colorado. Kevin this dude can cook ribs and has inspired me to make my own rubs and make the best breakfast sandwich on the planet.
Back on track, I could easily turn this blog into a foodie column, Cody Townsend with his oversize mustache was familiar to me, as he skied with Team 13 and had the opportunity to be in the Skeena Range for one bluebird day during our premiere season back in 2005. We actually got his segment done in one day production quality was more of B Movie style at Team 13. Also at the airport I greeted Henrik Windstedt from Sweden, as the pro male model... He does the role justice. I’m talking about skiing, he is a Big Mountain Free ride skier to the bone. He and Cody met on the World Free ride Extremes circuit in Europe some years ago and have been doing segments for Matchstick for the past couple seasons. For the first week our crew consisted of two skiers and three crew. Quantum Helicopters flew a B2 A Star for us. The last member to join us was Rory Bushfield , he had been here in Terrace twice before. Rory is big on freestyle tricks, jumping off structures such as bridges into freezing cold rivers or crashing through some kind of inferno.
The highlight of the trip in my eyes came down to the crunch. It was like a play at a baseball game. The base were loaded and we had the star batter in the box. The pitcher had a huge wad of chewing gum and was a cool player under pressure.
So let me summarize a day in the life of a Rockstar skier. The guides made arrangements to lift early with the heli as the weather was the most promising we’d observed in two weeks. We lifted to the sunrise morning glow inbound to Umpa Lumpa Spines while the skiers discussed line choices. I flew with the pilot to establish landing zones on a knife edge ridge at the entrances for Henrik, Rory and Cody. This ridge is notorious for having huge cornices so it’s actually a invaluable to observe conditions without pressure from the skiers. It was a go, with skiers in place and filmers ready a cloud built between skiers and filmers obscuring the view so we played the waiting game. All the skiers acomplished the lines after some patience was practiced from ridgecrest. Just over the ridge in the adjacent valley I was able to keep an eye on the weather pattern so we moved to Wonderland Spines and slaughtered the zone. As filming was about to end we went for a check flight to the north which led us to the Star Creek headwaters. West Hustler Peak and a new zone waiting for a 1st descent was in perfect light so line choices and logistics were the task at hand.
Light was moving quickly on the east face of the new spine zone so we chose to get this in the can. Establishing a new zone is always exciting, the unknown always has a certain appeal although this piece of terrain I’d been observing and photographing for several years already. Present conditions being stable from avalanches and daylight being optimal although fading due to moving shadows we had to be hasty and get the job done. Cody dropped in from the highest landing and skied an obvious spines in classic big mountain style and transfered onto a lower angle spine to hit a couple pillows off the main spine. Minimal sluffing occurred on his descent so we had good information about the face so with greater confidence we proceeded with Rory’s descent which was more face skiing with a trick feature. The next skier was Henrik who was posted on a pillar landing with terrain falling away from him in all directions. His line choice was an esthetic, spine to short couloir to another major spine and a final transfer to a third spine to the valley bottom. Naming rights always come in the event of a first descent. Saucerboy Spines is the newest film venue at Northern Escape. If you don’t understand who or what signifigance Saucerboy has in this game you should watch the film called Gnar. Soon to be another classic film production from MSP visit skimovie.com for to build your DVD collection.
Scott Gaffney made the call to shoot from the heli for this feature so you’ll be on the edge of your seat watching this production. POV headcams are a mainstay so check out the action packed trailer called - La Nina The Bitch is Back.
BY THE WAY! I CAN’T BELIEVE CODY TOWNSEND IS A PRO IN THIS FILM. I’m a way better skier than him.
Yvan is a founding guide at Northern Escape Heli-Skiing and has been instrumental developing and guiding the film program and ensuring the evolution of the sport and film productions..