(Please note, on October 15 you can view a one-day only premier of “From the Road” at Backcountry.com.)
Take one spoon of hippy power, two spoons of endorphin addiction, three spoons of sustainability. Now you’re getting better goods than anyone in a helicopter because you are Human Powered!
Count me guilty. I admit the whole human powered concept sometimes gets a little too elitist, and I’m part of that with basing my whole publishing career on slow twitch muscles, glycogen and climbing skins. Nonetheless the concept is valid. After all, our culture’s addiction to petroleum is a root of much evil; trending our recreation away from “petrotainment” is a positive. Our whole family orbits around human powered skiing and we love it (and yes Virginia, we still like our snowmobile as well — we’re only human!).
It is amusing to watch the ebb and flow of “human power” in the ski film industry. Not long ago most ski movies made helicopters out to be the end-all in hip. Now: slowmo shots of macho men stripping climbing skins like they’re waving a pirate flag; low angle shots of big men’s boots crunching up a trail break like a cut from a Transformers flick; PBR canister toasts to the before and after power of these experiences. That stuff is getting so common in ski films. Some of it is even becoming cliche.
My, how things change!
Dynafit helped. Their timing couldn’t have been better. Human powered (as well as cable and diesel powered) adventure skiing is the rage these days. It’s the only part of the ski industry experiencing any significant growth. By being the first alpine ski/boot/binding brand ever to focus 100% on human power (nordic brands have of course been human powered forever), Dynafit got a jump on everyone else. You can watch the catch-up being played by other brands forking for a chunk of the pie. It’s all to our benefit as consumers, but the hype can get tiresome.
The Dynafit and Backcountry.com backed film “From the Road” ties it all together by balancing a modicum of hype with solid story telling. Fair enough.
What makes this shortfilm rock is it tells two solid stories. First, a group of backcountry skiing icons goes to the heli-dominated but nonetheless legendary mountains of Valdez, Alaska. Second, the trip revolves around former heli guide Eric Henderson skiing the run where he broke his neck in 2009. That near tragic event changed Eric’s life. He became a family man, swapped careers to a more corporate gig (PR, marketing). His neck healed and he continued skiing (he’s a beautiful skier), all the while haunted by the “best run of his life” that turned into the worst run of his life.
Sometimes you can’t go back to that same place or situation that changed you through an injurious accident. But the drop on Meteorite peak that Eric fell down in 2009 is skiable — to the extent that you need to beat the helicopters there if you want good (human powered) tracks. While Eric was healed in the physical, to completely heal his spirit the best medicine was to climb up there and ski Meteorite. So he gives it his best shot. That is the other wonderful story threading this flick.
The film is short, at 23 minutes it feels like a tightly wound festival cut. To the credit of Eric’s narration and the film makers-editors, it still does a perfect job of telling both stories. Somehow, in those short minutes they even have time for interviews with Eric’s wife, “He needed to go back, to move on,” as well as a reasonable dose of bro-brah humor.
Speaking of humor, I’ll give the film makers a pass on this one, but it must be mentioned. Even though the overarching premise here is about not using helicopters, it appears at least one ski sequence was shot from a heli. Tell me that wasn’t so, but if true one can only chuckle.
On a serious note, “From the Road” brings up some issues for me. First, it appears to continue the trend of tight groups conga-line climbing directly up avalanche paths, with no spreading out or moving one-at-a-time. The very nature of such terrain of course prevents dealing with this in the ideal fashion (no place to hide, can’t delay the climb by spreading the group out). But in a macro sense, we as a community should question the viability of this style (the list of tragic accidents gets longer and longer). At the least, it’s obvious that smaller groups are better, and that fanatical evaluation of snow stability is your only hope if you make a habit of climbing directly up snow filled avalanche gullies.
The conundrum of groups in couloirs is addressed in the film, when Eric questions climbing Meteorite with a large group of six. It appears they reduced the group to three for the climb. It’s gratifying to see some effort being made to do the right thing, and thus be role models. Nonetheless, if you watch the film with avalanche eyes, it is uncomfortable watching these guys do the couloir comparsa beneath a cornice.
To the film’s credit, it also shows a scary fall and subsequent avalanche ride that Cody Barnhill takes on Diamond Peak — a chilling reminder of why they call this stuff “no fall” terrain. The only real fail of the film happens here in the narration, when Cody says “With some good luck I was fine and walked away from another great day in the mountains.” That doesn’t match up with what you see on film — it looked like near death and not that great a day.
In light of recent tragic events (Dynafit athletes dying in avalanche on Shishapangma) it was extremely gratifying to see a Dynafit sponsored film with solid story lines and personality. If the film had lacked Eric’s story and hyped things up with ski porn fever it might have felt inappropriate or even cruel. Instead, it’s wonderful — even sweet at times. I got chills seeing Eric on top of Meteorite, getting back on the horse.
“From the Road” has been accepted to the Winter Wildlands Film Festival and will be on tour starting November 6th. October 15 you can view a one-day only premier of “From the Road” at Backcountry.com.)
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.