A Backcountry Film"
by Mitch Weber
With last year's film the Powderwhore
crew probably took the telemark-specific film genre about as
far as it could go. "TeleVision" may have had an, ahem,
somewhat less than original title, but it had an imaginative
storyline, fine tuned humor, as well as lots of footage that
once again redefined the limits of freeheel skiing. And about
those limits: It would seem that market size was clearly making
it increasingly difficult for the brothers Howell to justify
continuing on the path they were on; Noah put it to me this way
on the phone last fall: "Somebody's gonna get really hurt,
and we're not TGR." Ah, the passing of the innocence of
youth. Once you've got something of value that can be taken from
you, one's perspective tends to change, and 'sustainability,'
that king of all buzz words from the 00s, becomes much more meaningful.
Just insuring a high-risk adventure sport endeavor doesn't come
cheap. Even the good folks at TGR would probably be under similar
pressures if not for their reportedly lucrative stock film business.
Happily for our digital celluloid
heroes, this inevitable evolution in the Powderwhore outlook
the recent mainstreaming of the backcountry.
Aforementioned budgetary constraints meant that the Powderwhores
were already making backcountry ski films of the 'earned turns'
variety, and for some time they had been featuring ski mountaineering
and short bc snowboard segments, so it's likely that with a little
encouragement from sponsors and would-be sponsors, all that really
needed to change was a tweak to the emphasis. And so the subtitle
"A Telemark Film" this year became "A Backcountry
Now happily for us, the change provides
a deep breath of fresh
not exactly air, but
certainly context. Skiing and snowboarding in general are remarkably
resistant to sucking, so I will not go so far as to directly
apply the amazing wisdom of Beavis and Butthead when they famously
noted, "if nothing sucks, nothing rules," yet the basic
concept certainly applies. "Breaking Trail" goes much
further in documenting the continuum of human powered winter
backcountry travel than all of the six previous PW films combined,
and the result is that the grace, rhythm and beauty of the telemark
turn is showcased like never before.
The film begins with an outstanding
big line and deep powder freeheel segment featuring Paul Kimbrough.
Fluid and strong, Paul paints a portrait of telemark skiing worthy
of the spectacular mountain canvas upon which it is presented.
Interspersed are interesting comments and wise words from Paul's
father Tom Kimbrough, an Alta ski patroller for nearly two decades,
and later a veteran avalanche forecaster, as well as the longtime
voice of the Utah Avalanche Center. It's a great start.
jarring, especially for my
horse loving 11-year-old daughter. Especially given recent events
here just up PCH.
Next up is an unpretentiously soulful,
"to let people know these kind of places exist" Will
Cardamone backcountry cabin segment. This is a beautifully filmed
reminder that leads into a kind of strange Idaho piece with horses
and stuff. The horses were cool, kind of like riding a bike to
the trailhead, only better. However I could have done without
the guns. I'm no anti-gun kook, I grew up hunting and shooting
trap and skeet with my Dad and his buddies--we even reloaded
our own--but the really gnarly looking assault rifle was a little
Gnarl of a different sort follows.
I know it's a lot sexier than light touring, or some of the other
aspects of the sport, but to me this kind of 'ski mountaineering'
is to backcountry skiing what technical rock climbing is to
mountaineering and cross-country
wilderness hiking. A sketchy traverse leading to 40 or 50 sidesteps
down to a bolted rappel over a cliff band, to a ramp where the
turns finally begin, has never really seemed like a 'line skied'
Though I respect what's being done,
it's not exactly my idea of backcountry skiing. I sometimes carry
a rope and harnesses for a quick, easy rap and a safe exit over
a waterfall at the bottom of one of my favorite bc runs, and
yet like crossing a steep, exposed snowfield while hiking, it's
not the day's raison d'être.
In any case, this divergent take
on the bc skiing experience is acknowledged in the film with
an assessment that rang true: "It's a different kind of
skiing that's not always about the turns. It's about pushing
yourself, not falling, and holding an edge."
That's fair enough, and this scene
will definitely get the juices flowing.
Getting back to the telemark turn
stoke, the always dependably entertaining Andy Jacobsen delivers
some big lines elegantly skied, along with some of that really
fine 'you are there' helmet cam footage he does so well. Then
a little more avy awareness slips in practically unnoticed, followed
by a segment featuring splitboard pioneer Brett Kobernik. I really
enjoyed hearing his story, and the part Voile played in the development
of the first splitboards. I remember some of this stuff going
down, and even a do-it-yourself splitboard piece in the old Couloir
magazine, probably close to 20 years ago now, so it was very
cool to see Brett's original prototype.
Jake Sakson's segment is next. It
sure has been fun to watch this kid develop as a telemark and
backcountry skier in the last three PW films. Compact and super
athletic, Jake seems born to the role, and man can this
dude ski. As a recent backcountry convert,
he freely acknowledges that he still likes to pound the resorts,
and yet it's clear that
he's hooked on the beyond. A dreamy sailboat-as-basecamp trip
through the fjords around Spitsbergen Norway adds a little old
school ski travel flavor, and another splitboard segment leads
into the big, send 'em home with a smile and a serious powder
jones ending. Presented in black and white and featuring copious
amounts of that legendary Wasatch powder, it definitely made
me ache for winter.
Noah Howell in the "Breaking
Trail" end piece
Although not as much fun as last
year's "TeleVision" ("Breaking Trail" is
the most serious, least humorous PW offering yet) I'd have to
say that this is my new all-time favorite Powderwhore film. Beyond
the real treat of the available HD digital download format, it
really is a matter of context. Bookending the AT, ski mountaineering
and splitboarding scenes with superb, athletic tele skiing simply
serves to underscore what many a freeheeler has known for a very
long time: There is simply no more elegant or stylish way to
get down a mountain. The essential beauty of telemark has never
been made clearer, a turn most worthy of nature's finest creation:
wondrously spectacular mountains and deep powder snow
Video Film Review: "Breaking Trail"
rating: "G".......Length: 5:42