Update from Chris Davenport, November 27 2006:
Wow, what a breathtaking set of comments to this thread. Let me do my best here to set the record straight, as there is quite a bit of misinformation in these comments.
First off, I was irritated by a certain posters comment about me being some “millionaire” with helicopters flying around skiing and filming in the wilderness. As anyone who knows me can attest, this is very far from the truth. I live my life humbly and with respect for life, Mother Nature, and the mountains. My goal in life is to raise my two boys to love and appreciate all of the beauty and potential of the mountains, just as I was raised. If I was to quit being a sponsored pro skier tomorrow, I would still be climbing and skiing peaks, because that is who I am.
When I set out to climb and ski all of Colorado’s 14ers last winter, my goal was singular; to challenge my skills and abilities with a difficult goal. I did not seek fame or fortune, or even hope to make a statement to the world, I simply wanted to take a break from years of doing the same thing and try something different. Though I won’t claim to be indifferent to all the positive media coverage my project has garnered, the goal was pure and straight from the heart. My friend Ben came to me after I had begun the project and asked if he could film some of the peaks and document the project. I agreed and he began climbing peaks and filming my skiing. In the last ten years I have been involved in over twenty ski films by several different companies, and never once has any of these companies (the largest and most successful in the industry) gotten a permit to film anything.
There is a precedent out there, and while it may not be right, it exists. But I chose to take the higher ground with my project and follow the correct procedures. When Ben and I decided that we actually had enough good footy to make a film, I went to the Forest Service, sat down with them, told my story, and they provided me with the proper documents to fill out and file with the head office. It was not until almost two months later, when I received a scathing letter from the forest supervisor, that we realized we could not use the peaks which lie in the wilderness in our film.
Now I will be the first to admit that had we done our homework more closely we probably could have determined that this would be the outcome. On the other hand, we could have just released the film and dealt with the consequences later, but I would never have chosen that option. I am currently working with the forest service to resolve our differences and find some common ground. Any money raised from the sale of this film was going to go directly to the Wilderness Workshop, the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, and the Roaring Fork Avalanche Center. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is “commercial” value in the film, and that is the sticking point.
We hope to have a resolution this winter and I will keep everyone informed as to the outcome of this situation. The bottom line is that, film or no film, the project has been an amazing personal journey for me. I will work all summer on my book about skiing the 14ers and that should be out this fall. (don’t get me started on shooting digital stills versus video in the wilderness) I am touring around the country speaking about my project with a great slideshow at REI stores, and will be in Denver tomorrow evening at 7:00 p.m. if any of you would like to come by and ask questions.
Thanks to all of you for your support and concern, and have a deep and safe winter.
Update from Lou, November 27 2006:
First, let me thank all you blog readers for taking the time to make comments about this issue. That said, I’m concerned about comments that are potentially libellous of Chris Davenport, and make statements about his income and lifestyle that are unsubstantiated and untrue. I’m considering deleting the more nefarious examples of that (for reasons of both legality and propriety), and would ask that you all would temper any personal attacks in the future. Let’s keep to the issues, and the issue is not what kind of living Chris makes, but rather if the USFS is being fair in their Wilderness filming policy and enforcement thereof.
I just got off the phone with Chris and he clarified a few things. First, he and his film maker went to the Forest Service soon after they started filming, when they knew they had a viable project going (not when they were done.) According to Chris the Forest Service appeared to be ready to work with them, and it was with great surprise they received a letter from the USFS telling them they would not be able to use their footage shot in legal wilderness. What’s frustrating to Chris and to myself is that many movies have been shot in legal Wilderness over the years in Colorado, and few if any have even bothered with any permitting process. (Not to mention the weird difference in enforcement between still photography and motion, when they’re more similar than different.) Chris took the time and effort to put the permitting process in motion, and not only that, when he started his film making project he planned to use any profits to support local environmental organizations such as the Aspen Wilderness Workshop. What’s more, all of Davenport’s filming was done with great sensitivity to the environment. As I alluded in my rant below, any impact from human powered filming of ski mountaineering pales in comparison with common Wilderness activities allowed by the Forest Service.
Lastly, I can say from personal knowledge that Chris is a good man who means well, and nothing about his fourteener skiing project involves any kind of undue commercial aspect or hype. It is indeed quite the opposite, and celebrates the history of 14er skiing and general Colorado mountain culture like few things ever have. Chris deserves our support in this.
Original Post from November 23, 2006:
The debacle started a while back, but was a dark-room issue for a while. Now it’s public. Turns out that Chris Davenport’s nearly miraculous Colorado 14er skiing movie has been declared persona non grata by the U.S. Forest Service. What!?
No kidding. Turns out you can shoot still photos in legal Wilderness, such as those frequently in the Aspen newspapers and visible in thousands of other places, but string together a bunch of stills into motion (which is all a movie is), and you’ve violated some sort of imaginary Wilderness boundary. Thus, after the incredible amount of work and risk Davenport and his companions exerted to produce a movie that celebrates respectful human powered climbing and skiing down our Wilderness peaks, said footie is required to remain available for private views only.
Regular blog readers know I’m no fan of Forest Service management of legal Wilderness. In my view, Davenport’s situation is yet another example of the incredible ineptitude and downright weird interpretations of the Wilderness Act that the Forest Service exerts in fascist style on the public — we the public who actually own the wilderness! Oh no no no, don’t makie no little movie, but go ahead and ride your horse up those trails and turn them into quagmires of equine feces, go ahead and produce nature porn and publish enormous tree consuming coffee table books that celebrate “the wild” with a nauseating drone, feel free to ride your snowmobile in legal Wilderness off the Independence Pass road in Colorado (with a one in a million chance you’ll be caught,) go ahead and climb the peaks in summer ’till you’ve eroded a network of trails that will require years of work to repair. But oh you little sinner you, don’t publish any footie.
Word is that Chris has a lawyer working on this. Outcome uncertain. If you’re a knee-jerk fan of legal Wilderness and have never seen a Wilderness law you didn’t like, you might take a second look at what’s going on here.
Should we just convert all our Wilderness into nature preserves and be done with it? No skiing, no hiking, no people? Or can we have some balance?
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.