Archive for September, 2006

  • Interview: Reggie & Zach Crist

    • Crist Brothers

      Feature Article, Winter 2006-07

    Published in SnoWorld, magazine of the 57th annual Warren Miller film tour

    Winter 2006-2007YOU MIGHT THINK after 17 combined years on the U.S. Ski Team, a seven-year domination of X Games skiercross, multiple first descents on four continents for their own burgeoning film company, a trip to the Olympics, and three Warren Miller films under their belts that it would be time for the Brothers Crist to slow down. Hardly. SnoWorld caught up with elder brother Reggie after filming in Alaska for Off the Grid.

    SnoWorld: You and Zach have accomplished nearly everything a big mountain skier or racer might dream of; why are you still in this?
    Reggie Crist: For us it’s what we enjoy doing; and neither of us would be doing it if we didn’t push each other.

    SW: Do you have any advice for aspiring stars of Warren Miller movies?
    RC: If your true passion’s skiing and you stick with it long enough, then you will be successful. That’s something I can thank my parents for: they understood our passion for skiing. When your ski racing career’s over, most parents say, “It’s time to get a real job, guys,” and you have to buckle down and do something else. One of the coolest things was our parents allowing us to follow our passion for skiing.

    SW: What can regular folks do—people who aren’t going to be Olympic caliber athletes, U.S. Ski Team skiers, or movie stars—to get a little piece of that Crist passion for life?
    RC: Don’t be afraid to take an alternative route. If you wanna ski groomers your whole life, then that’s—[he’s at a loss for words]—you ski groomers to prepare yourself for the moguls; you ski moguls to prepare yourself for the backcountry; and you ski backcountry to prepare yourself for a first descent. Don’t get stuck on the groomers.

    SnoWorld: So what really happens behind the scenes when two brothers film for Warren Miller in Alaska?
    Zach Crist: We had fireworks–there were all these munitions laying around the house at all times; it wasn’t uncommon to have a bottle rocket go off inside the house—aimed at you.

  • Off the Record: Stories from the Cutting Room Floor

    • SLEEP DEPRIVED: Typically hard-charging Lynsey Dyer stacks a few z

      Front-of-book Feature, Winter 2006-07

    Edited by Greg I. Hamilton. Published in SnoWorld, magazine of the 57th annual Warren Miller film tour

    Winter 2006-2007MAKING A WARREN MILLER MOVIE IS EXHAUSTING WORK. Consider: months and months of planning, swirling logistics, unforgiving weather patterns, and a whole bunch of goings-on that, thankfully, don’t make the final edit. In the last year, Warren Miller Entertainment saw a brand new $26,000 camera destroyed, a sled-shop owner’s personal ride totaled, some happy coincidences, and a few very unlikely tall tales. Scenes on the cutting room floor, whole segments abandoned for crummy snow, great action that just doesn’t quite fit, exposed film lost for three weeks in transit—behind the scenes with Warren Miller is sometimes a haphazard place where some things are best kept “off the record.”

    “It was darker than the inside of a football, but when you see those guys skiing chest-deep powder, it works.”

    When 96 inches falls on Steamboat, Colorado in 48 hours, there’s no time to consider. You go. Even if it’s November and zero logistics are squared away for the filming of Off the Grid. No matter; call Tom Day in Tahoe, round up some U.S. Freestyle Team members training nearby, including film rookie Arne Backstrom (an untested Warren Miller athlete, but hey, he’s Ingrid’s little brother, so the kid must rip), and get up there!

    Line Producer Josh Haskins says the 24-hour turn was the fastest and most successful he’s seen in all his years on the film. “It was puking snow the whole time, so it was horrible light for filming—darker than the inside of a football,” said Haskins, “but when you see those guys skiing chest-deep powder, it works.”

    Off the grid … but not for long: Krippenstein is one of those ski towns you thought didn’t exist anymore. It has 4,900 feet of vertical drop, mostly ungroomed freeride terrain–rare in the Alps–great snow, no crowds, and it’s easy to get there (two hours from Salzburg). Leave it to a Warren Miller film to spoil all that.

    Rent-to-Own: The Warren Miller crew had completely cleared out the supply of snowmobiles at the local outfitter, KickAss Sleds out of Golden, BC. They were still one short, so the owner, snowed by the crew’s smooth talking assurances, agreed to loan his own personal ride–a tricked-out, $7,000 machine–to the oh-so trustworthy Jamie Pierre. Later that day, while Tom Day’s camera rolled, Jamie came into a tight turn a little hot, got bucked off, and the snowmobile headed straight for Tom—who narrowly jumped out of the way. The machine clipped Day’s tripod and kept going … over a knoll, off a cliff, and into a copse of fir trees. The crunch and telltale smoke plume told Tom and Jamie they had some explaining to do.

    Seek Higher Ground in a Hurricane: When disaster struck in 2005, Warren Miller Entertainment, along with local rockers Rose Hill Drive and radio station KBCO, staged a benefit screening of Higher Ground, raising $25,000 for Katrina and Wilma Red Cross recovery efforts.

    “All the film from the Big Sky segment was lost in shipping for three weeks—we had no idea where it was!” –Josh Haskins, Line Producer. “The box finally showed up and sat unnoticed on a desk before we realized what it was.”

    Way off the grid: When spending the holidays in the Middle East, are American troops jonesing for mom’s cranberry relish or fresh pow? Nearly 100 desert-stranded GIs and officers from all four military branches crowded a stuffy theater in the middle of Qatar to see 2004’s film, Impact, on loan from Warren Miller HQ. Meanwhile, after a donated screening on Christmas Eve in Iraq, Green Beret and Physician’s Assistant Jon Christensen took time out from building hospitals to fashion an improvised snowboard and carve up three inches of fresh sand over packed gravel. Hope the hospital’s finished before you start cliff jumping on that thing, soldier.

    To cover the seventh annual Monopalooza, a “fun and festive” gathering of diehard monoskiers, Tom Day’s film crew needed an athlete—a character—who could carry the segment. It seemed everyone they called was “not available.” But then Jamie Pierre signed up with gusto. Within a day he’d scoured thrift stores for the perfect one-piece suit and mirrored shades and was ready to lock his feet together and tear it up. Ten inches of fresh snow fell for the second day of shooting, and Tom called the home office to say: “I hope you don’t think we’re making fun of these guys. I don’t care what they ride or what they wear, this is going to be a rippin’ powder segment!”

    5 odd things found in the Warren Miller warehouse: The “warehole,” as it’s affectionately known among WME staffers, is a receptacle for 57 years of filming flotsam and jetsam. While a major archival project is underway on the old reels of film, some of the other things found in the warehouse are worthy of a place in a museum … and some are not.

    • From 100 hours of footage to a 90-minute film, the hard way – Hollywood Film Company 16mm film power rewinder, circa 1967. It’s still in use as Warren Miller workers prep 57 years of archival footage for up-conversion to HD video. It may take a while, so don’t hold your breath for the DVD re-release of 1968’s Hot Skis, Cold Snow.
    • “Please insert disc #74,565,404 into drive A”Post-production system with 5¼-inch floppy drive, circa 1985. Editing Off the Grid’s HD footage on this beast would require over 74-million floppies, at 360kB each, plus a 36-ton vat of green health-food smoothies for the editor.
    • The show must go on – Kodak Pageant 250-S Sound Projector, circa 1980. In the early ’90s, two projectors replaced this old gem on each road crew; the second projector ran a duplicate copy of the film just behind the lead projector. Should the first bulb explode (or another such crisis arise), the projectionist would (in theory) wake up and switch to projector #2 before audiences noticed.
    • Warren Miller in Vegas! – 3D wirecam and balloon inflator: In 1996 Warren Miller films was commissioned to create a high-tech 3D ride for installation in Las Vegas, New York, and Alberta. Cameras rigged with custom-built lenses raced down the slopes on high-tensile wire to capture the action. The balloons? Well, it looked cool through 3-D glasses when you crashed into them at the bottom.
    • To outer space on rocket skatesZimmo from planet Zorlon, the prototype puppet deemed “too scary” for Zimmo’s series of children’s videos, produced by Warren Miller Films in the ’90s.

    THE HIGH COST OF MOVIE MAKING: “They were filming with a brand new, high-speed Super 16 SR $20,000 camera with a $6,000 lens—my baby,” recalls Line Producer Josh Haskins. “It’s a rig shot, mounted to the front of a snowmobile, the driver hits a bump, bottoms out, the rig breaks, the camera falls, and he runs it over! Broke it in half! This was December, the beginning of the film season, the best camera in the office—you can’t just get these at the local camera store!”

    House Party – Situated at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Sandy, Utah is typically a quiet and mild-mannered bedroom community known for its quick access to downtown Salt Lake as well as to Alta and Snowbird. But things tend to get a little rowdy when Jeremy Nobis fires up the grill, busts out several cases of Corona, and tacks a big white sheet to the back of his house so he can show the latest Warren Miller flick to his friends and neighbors. About 150 locals, including pro skiers Jamey Parks, Julian Carr, Jamie Pierre, Olympic slalom winner Ted Ligety, and some novelty ponies joined the party. Can you say noise ordinance violation.

    Julian Carr kept a running tally of the height of every cliff he hucked in a recent winter. He racked up 2,100 feet that season.

    OLDEST THEATER – The Music Hall, Portsmouth, New Hampshire: When the hall opened in January, 1878, the doors were large enough for horses and elephants. Through the years those same doors have admitted fans of John Philip Sousa, Al Jolson, Buffalo Bill (his indoor rodeo, horses and all), and, more recently, capacity crowds for the Warren Miller film. Please check your saddlebags and sixshooter at the door.

    Runners up: There are at least two other 19th century theaters currently on the film tour: Wheeler Opera House (Aspen, Colorado – 1889), and Hotel Colorado (Glenwood Springs, Colorado – 1893).

    Wish granted: “I want to work for Warren Miller films and snowboard in their movies,” says Idahoan Wes Dykman. Yeah, who doesn’t? For 15-year-old Dykman, however, at least part of that dream has come true. During the filming of Off the Grid, Warren Miller Entertainment teamed up with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to make it happen. Dykman, who has cystic fibrosis, got to hang with the crew while they filmed the Montana segment. After making turns at Big Sky Resort and sharing après-ski meals and campfire laughs with the crew, Dykman says now he’s really gunning for a job at WME. – Estella Allen

    HIGHER RATINGS DOWN UNDER: Warren Miller’s Higher Ground debuted in Australia in May, 2006 (that’s winter, mates) with a top-10 all-time opening weekend screen average. Also in the top 10, ahead of movies like Shrek 2 and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, are no fewer than five other Warren Miller releases. Impressive, considering that Crocodile Dundee came in at number 38.

    The first time ex-U.S. Ski Team bumper Freddy Mooney skied moguls at Mary Jane, he took the run in the fetal position. That’s because his mom, Laurie, who coached bumps for all of the resort’s 30 years, gave Freddy a very early start. Off the Grid Director Max Bervy says, “I remember watching Laurie ski all the classic Mary Jane bump runs—Derailer, Drunken Frenchman, Railbender—when she was eight months pregnant. She has influenced thousands of kids. She just flows like water in the moguls.” Her son’s early training paid off: at 26, he shines in his first Warren Miller film segment this year.

    Ex-Olympian ready to fill big shoes—er, ski boots: When not on the football field, Jeremy Bloom has been known to mingle with Hollywood stars and supermodels. So why would he want to spend time in a recording studio with scruffy, unshaven Warren Miller sound techs?

    Apparently, when Warren Miller is one of your personal idols, you make sacrifices. Bloom, 24, has stepped in this year as Off the Grid’s primary narrator, and he does so with a healthy reverence for the filmmaking legend.

    “When I was 12, Warren asked me to be in his movie [Snowriders, 1996],” he recalls. “After I woke up from passing out, I became the coolest kid in fifth grade.” He says his role for Off The Grid is one of his all-time favorite gigs. Aside from his heli segment in Higher Ground and his stint in Snowriders, he appeared in Ride (2000) and Storm (2002).

    Warren always said you only have a limited number of bump runs in your knees. Two months after he finished sixth in moguls in Torino, the Philadelphia Eagles picked the Colorado football standout in the fifth round of the NFL Draft and signed him to a four-year, $1.72 million contract.

    Although there isn’t a no-skiing clause in the contract with the Eagles, Bloom doubts he’ll see much powder this winter. “I probably won’t be going anytime soon because I have a big enough challenge making it in the NFL right now,” said Bloom, who’s nursing a strained hamstring. “But I can still dream about it.” – Brian Metzler

    WHO LET THE DOGS OUT? It’s been said dogs can teach you a lot about their owners. While their masters worked their tails off at WME headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, these pooches slept, scratched, ate, hiked, ran, and slept some more. We think you can learn something about WME staffers from their canine cohorts:

    1. Tristan, miniature cocker spaniel (age: 3) Owner: Kristi Armijo, financial analyst. Kristi snowboarded 60 days last year, leaving little time to re-dye Tristan’s Mohawk.
    2. Floyd, French bulldog (age: 1) Owner: Ginger Sheehy, manager of TV program development. Sheehy traveled all the way to Moscow, Russia to assist in Floyd’s defection to Colorado and gave up skiing for snowboarding when she returned.
    3. Murray, chocolate lab (age: 1.5) Owner: Doug Sabanosh, director of digital media. Murray, who is named after former Baltimore Orioles star Eddie Murray, held down the fort last year when Sabanosh skied Valle Nevado, Chile where it snowed 42 inches in two days.
    4. Dougal, bichon fries/fox terrier mix (age: 1.5) Owner: Marcus Fox, producer for “Destination Wild” TV show. Fox adopted Dougal as a puppy after rescuing him from running in Los Angeles traffic.
    5. Summit, Brittany spaniel (age: 9 months) Owners: Blair Bucklin, production coordinator and Rob Hudson, publicity manager. Bucklin and Hudson, who collectively logged 125 days of skiing last winter, also climbed two 14,000-foot Colorado peaks with six-month-old Summit.
    6. Hobbs, English springer spaniel (age: 1) Owners Dave Taylor, film tour director and Megan Campe, business manager. Taylor skis, Campe rides, and Hobbs talks like Scooby-Doo in the morning.
    7. Blue, English springer spaniel (age: 11) Owner: Chris Keig, head of TV production department. Keig has no problem admitting his best ski day last year was when his two-year old daughter made her first tracks in April. Blue has trouble with thunderstorms and often hides in the bathtub.
    8. Kaya, Australian shepherd (age: 6) Owner: Craig Oberlink, film tour operations manager. Oberlink often played hooky from school to ski at Oregon’s Willamette Pass and Mt. Bachelor; he now shirks work to play frisbee in Colorado with Kaya.
    9. Piper, yellow lab (age: 10 months) Owner: Alisa Van Vliet, graphic artist. Van Vliet enjoys throwing snowballs to Piper, a.k.a. fetch with a brain freeze. – B.M.

    Roadie Stalkers: Follow the Warren Miller road crews across the country to all annual screenings and you’d travel 30,792 miles.

    Born: July 31, 1977 (Roseburg, OR) Home Mountain: Alpental, Washington Discipline: big mountain ripper

    “It’s not like I have to have a cover or anything. All that stuff kinda comes,” says 29-year-old Bryce Phillips who was featured on the cover of Skiing last December.

    The southern Oregon native who grew up skiing nearby Mt. Ashland didn’t make a serious commitment to the sport until moving to Whistler. Needing a break from college, he found his higher calling. Says Phillips: “I didn’t know anybody there, but being able to ski out my back door was unreal. I skied every single day.”

    That may not sound like hard work, but Phillips applied himself relentlessly and was soon one of the most fearless skiers in an area where that sort of praise doesn’t come easily. “Bryce surprises you as a skier,” says Dan Treadway, whose own list of movie and magazine appearances would seem haughty if he hadn’t earned it with broken bones and stomped airs. “You think Bryce is a super mellow guy until he jumps on his boards and back flips off an 80-footer.”

    “You think Bryce is a super mellow guy until he jumps on his boards and back flips off an 80-footer.”

    Phillips took this go-for-it dedication and applied it to life after college, creating Evo, a sports gear e-commerce site that he started on a shoestring. Today he juggles life as both a pro skier and the CEO of his multimillion dollar company that is still expanding.

    With the opening of a new store and warehouse this year, will the boardroom beckon him more than the boards? Well, for one, Evo’s more about barbecues than boardrooms. And for another, last season’s skiing took him to Chamonix, France; Cordova, Alaska; and Engelberg, Switzerland, to name a few—and Bryce isn’t complaining. “It was my best pro season ever,” he says. – Eric Segalstad

    SnoWorld magazinePROFILE: TOBY DAWSON
    Born: November 30, 1978 (Pusan, Korea) Home Mountain: Vail, Colorado Discipline: Olympic mogul specialist

    Some might think it a little premature for twenty-something Olympic bronze medalist Toby Dawson to retire to the quiet life of golf. Retire, did you say?

    Hardly. “I’m on the four-year program to make it on the PGA tour,” says Dawson. Known on the U.S. Freestyle Team for his analytical approach to moguls, it’s not surprising that he’s applying the same skills to golf. “Toby puts in a lot of repetitions and is quite smart about how he trains,” says the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team’s Liz McIntyre, recently named USSA Coach of the Year.

    About the challenge of golf, Dawson says: “Two back-to-back swings that feel the same can have very different results.” Don’t worry, his Rossis haven’t become lawn furniture just yet: “I’m still skiing, you know, I just need a break from competitions. And—I’m kinda on the old end of mogul competitors,” says the 28-year-old.

    Away from the Freestyle Team’s rigorous training schedule, he hopes to have more time for ski films and freeriding. “In my early twenties, I rebounded a lot quicker from injuries, so I plan to spend this season figuring out if I want to shoot for the Vancouver Olympics.”

    His last trip to the Torino Olympics, in addition to netting him a bronze medal, brought him world-wide fame. This, unfortunately, attracted a slough of would-be fathers. Dawson, you see, was adopted from the streets of Seoul, Korea. Thankfully, the greedy would-be parents have crawled back in the woodwork: “They disappeared as soon as I asked for a DNA sample,” says Dawson. – E.S.

    SnoWorld magazinePROFILE: SIMON DUMONT
    Born: July 9, 1986 (Bethel, ME) Home Mountain: Mammoth, CA Discipline: park and pipe specialist

    “I get excited to hit stuff,” says Simon Dumont. The 20-year-old Maine native soars higher over the pipe than anyone else on the circuit.

    “I’m so comfortable skiing pipe; I know where I need to pop, and going eight or 20 feet feels the same,” he says. In the 2004 Winter X Games Superpipe competition, he boosted 22 feet over the pipe with a smooth corked 540—a spectacular feat that earned him gold and a slot on ESPN’s “Top Ten Plays of the Week.”

    He also has a reputation for consistently delivering the goods when it matters the most. “I’m a competitive guy to begin with and once I’m on top of the gate I just go for it,” he says. But medals aren’t everything. “I’m trying to be an overall skier, not just a competition skier.” It’s a dangerous line of work. A year and a half ago, he overshot a tabletop by 100 feet in the Utah backcountry and fractured his pelvis. It took him only two months to recover, but he skied away with a hard-earned lesson. “I speed check more, take more caution. I still charge and go big; I just try to be a little smarter in the process.”

    “I’m so comfortable skiing pipe: going eight or 20 feet feels the same.”

    Last season Dumont applied his new-found smarts, along with his trademark ability to go large, at the inaugural Orage European Freeski Open in Laax, Switzerland. He landed his first slopestyle win by linking together a cab d-spin 7 with his signature cab d-spin 10, beating X Games winner and slopestyle favorite TJ Schiller. “He really charged it, flying 15 feet in the air,” says Schiller. “Simon’s definitely The Man.” – E.S.

    World Record – Jamie Pierre’s Cliff Jump, Life-sized: Stitch together the screens from every showing on the Warren Miller film tour and you’d have a screen 493 feet wide and 277 feet tall: just high enough for a life-size image of Jamie’s world-record 245-foot jump. Now, where are we going to get a 1.21 gigawatt projector bulb bright enough to fill that screen?

    OUCH! While filming in Disentis, Switzerland, snowboarder Julien Haricot was lucky to come away with just a flesh wound. He and fellow riders Nicky Wieveg and Stephan Maurer had built a kicker that launched them to the roof of a chalet. On his first attempt, Haricot stomped the landing but didn’t check his speed and careened into the woods, fending off a tree with his forearm. “It was gnarly,” says cameraman Josh Haskins, “He went sailing full-speed, head-first into a drop-off. His board caught something and stopped, and his head plopped down four feet from a boulder the size of a house.”

    Get in shape with the WM road crew: Between projectors, HD playback systems, displays, and boxes of this magazine, roadies lift 172 tons over the course of each fall’s tour.

    Got any Chips Ahoy? Cameraman Tom Day in India: “We stopped at this little snack stand while skiing from the top of Gulmarg to the town of Tangmarg. The kids were fascinated by us. Mostly by sign language, I asked if I could film inside the shop. The guy agreed. We didn’t rehearse the shot before filming: I just wanted Manu to come up and buy some cookies or something. He was fumbling getting his money out while the camera ran and ran and eventually I had to turn it off. We all had a good laugh—even though we didn’t share a language, we all shared in the humor.”

    SnoWorld magazinePROFILE: LYNSEY DYER
    Born: March 13, 1981 (Sun Valley, ID) Home Mountain: Jackson, Wyoming Discipline: professional freeskier

    How does a hottie freeskier get an invite to the Playboy Mansion in the middle of the summer? It has to do with one of her film projects but it’s not what you might think.

    “I can’t really talk about it yet,” Lynsey Dyer says, but she will be fully clothed. Come winter, Dyer will be back in familiar turf: clicking into big mountain boards of her own design (an accomplished artist, she’s done graphics for Rossignol’s Scratch Girl BC and others) and charging lines everywhere from India, the Alps, and Alaska to her home in the Tetons.

    “My riding really progressed last season,” she says. “I worked on taking more risks comfortably, knowing where I can push it, while trying to be smarter at the same time.”

    Between laps on the slopes, she keeps busy sketching and taking pictures. “I bring my Canon digital camera everywhere I go; it’s the closest thing to a purse I’ll ever get.” She’s shot weddings, covered the Jackson Hole Film Festival, and documented ski trips for online magazines.

    And to stay on the good side of Karma, Dyer finds time to give something back. Having recently volunteered to teach ski lessons for “She Jumps,” a charity that teaches young girls how to go big on skis and in life, she says: “Skiing has been my means to open up these other incredible experiences. I’m extremely thankful I was born into this. Pretty much everything I’ve ever learned I learned from skiing; I learned how to get hurt, lose well, win well, make friends, and get over boyfriends.” – E.S.

    U.S. Freesking Open: 2006 was not the year of the dark horse at freeskiing’s biggest competition. Tanner Hall defended his 2005 Superpipe crown, reaching his 10th podium (including five firsts) in seven years at the Open. T.J. Schiller threw a huge switch 1440 (a crowd-pleasing first at the Open) to clinch a second consecutive Big Air win. Sarah Burke also defended her 2005 pipe victory, earning four first-place finishes and eight podiums (between pipe and slopestyle) in five short years.


    “There were these big slabs ripping out with skiers on them.”

    Avalanche! After 10 days of filming on wind-crusted snow and ice in Alaska, Reggie Crist, his brother Zach, fellow U.S. Ski Team alum Daron Rahlves, and the omnipresent Jamie Pierre all vowed to return for redemption. In April they found epic powder on top of the same treacherous layer they’d left a month earlier. It made for extremely high avalanche danger, unlike Reggie Crist has seen in nine consecutive seasons in the Chugach. He recalls the harriest day of filming:

    “We were feeling really confident, so we moved to a remote zone. Zach went first and aired off a cornice, landing hard. The whole thing ripped out under him, and he had a head-over-heels, thousand-foot tumble. Next, Daron took two turns on his line, and the whole thing ripped out under him. He was on top of the slab, trying to traverse off. He managed to work his way off and avoid a bunch of rocks and ice below.

    “I was next. Somehow I didn’t pull myself off the line; I totally expected it to rip out, but I had an escape route where there were two spines; I was going to work one until it ripped out and then jump over to the other. I dropped in on the first turn and got a huge face shot that blinded me. I jumped to the second spine, and that caused it to rip out. I took a pretty major fall and narrowly avoided a big crack in the ice.

    “It’s easy when you’re caught up in the moment and the cameras are rolling and you’re staring down at 50 degrees of perfect powder. You see exactly where you want to go and somehow you find a way to justify it.”

    Clearly, when redemption’s on the line, it’ll take more than three “small slab avalanches” to keep these guys from it.

    No Rest for the Weary: Yep, it’s already time for the Warren Miller films crews to gear up for the 2007 opus. As the crew wrapped Off the Grid‘s most intense week of post-production, editor Kim Schneider joked: “Next week we kick back, right?” Yeah, if kicking back means getting up to four hours sleep each night. By the time you’re reading this, film crews should be rested up and ready to pounce on the first big snowfall.

  • Interview: Jenn Berg

    • Greg researched, wrote, and edited other writers

      Edited special magazine section

    Published in SnoWorld, magazine of the 57th annual Warren Miller film tour

    Winter 2006-2007THE 1999 NATIONAL FREESKIING CHAMP, appearing in her fourth Warren Miller film, once donned a greasemonkey suit and wielded a wrench for her role in a film segment. For Off the Grid, she got back to her pure skiing roots.

    SnoWorld: This year you skied with Jeremy Nobis and an all-guy crew—what happened to the ‘Warren’s Angels’ all-girl crew of a couple years ago?
    Jenn Berg: The ingredients were different. I was the only girl with these amazing guys; all my previous segments have been girl-oriented, girls ripping it up together—smiles and cuteness and all that. I’m so stoked to get a segment that is strictly about the skiing.

    “I grew up with Warren Miller films thinking: ‘Wow, Glen Plake, the Egans …’ and I don’t remember a whole lot of girls.”

    SW: So you’d rather ski with the guys?
    JB: The dynamics are different: there’s less “Where are you going? What are you skiing? Should I go first or you?” You just kind of do it—which I prefer! (laughs) But it’s really important to have women in the film. There are a lot of little girls in the audience who need to be inspired, just as I was. I grew up with Warren Miller films thinking: “Wow, Glen Plake, the Egans…” and I don’t remember a whole lot of girls. It was probably the girl with hair flying—more for the cute element than for the skiing, for the athleticism.

    SW: Where do you find inspiration?
    JB: Just looking at the mountains inspires me. I sit in the Snowbird parking lot and just look at Mount Superior and I’m in my own world. I’m picking lines, thinking: “What would be my mark on this mountain?”

    SW: You just turned 30. Is there an “over-the-hill” in this sport?
    JB: It feels like I’m kind of peaking right now. It takes years to accumulate knowledge in big mountain skiing: you’ve got to understand the variables. If you’re an up-and-coming 15-year-old park skier, you can hit that same jump all day long—it’s not going to change much. With big mountain skiing, everything is changing: the sun, the texture of the snow…. It takes years to get comfortable enough to read a mountain. I think, “There are the trees, there are the anchors in the snowpack, here’s my safe zone, there’s a blatant danger zone …” Age comes into play; the older you are, the more aware and patient you are. But then again, you don’t see a lot of 50-year-olds crashing big lines.

    SW: Go ahead and make us jealous about how great your conditions were for filming.
    JB: (laughs) Everyone had blower overhead pow; I call it the white room. You open your eyes immersed in your own face shot! I get so spoiled, but to see through heli-virgin eyes is amazing … I was with Julian [Carr] and [Chris] Ward on their very first heli drop. I loved seeing their smiles, like kids in a candy store. They had skinned and climbed to these same lines for hours and days, and now they were saying, “Wow, that took three minutes instead of three hours!”

  • The Fifth Element

    • Greg

      Feature Article, Winter 2006-07

    Published in SnoWorld, magazine of the 57th annual Warren Miller film tour

    Winter 2006-2007What Does it Really Take to Bring a Warren Miller Film Segment to Life?

    WARREN MILLER DIRECTOR MAX BERVY is limping around the fabled Warren Miller Films closet. This heavily guarded armorer’s stash is a goldmine of gear and garb that will appear in the upcoming film. Max hobbles between shelves piled with newer-than-brand-new equipment that ski shops haven’t even seen yet. Having abandoned his crutches at the door, he steadies himself on a department-store rack stuffed with ski jackets and pants. A hooded snowboard jacket hangs open to reveal SAMPLE stamped in large purple letters on the liner. When he spots me, he gives me a pained smile that engages sun-baked laugh lines around his eyes.

    “Nice cast,” I say. “What’d you do?”

    “Waterskiing. So much for my Summer.” We both frown.

    On the way back to Max’s office, I bring up a cheerier subject. “What goes into a great Warren Miller segment?” I ask. I’m in search of the elusive thing that has made Warren Miller fans so fiercely loyal for 57 years.

    “Four elements: light, snow, cameras, skiers,” Max tells me.

    “Just those, huh?” I ask with a grin.

    “Correction,” Max smiles, “good light, good snow, good camera work, and good skiers.”

    Light The First Element: Light
    caption: “I see a hole in the clouds—we’ll have good light any minute now!” New Zealand, 2000

    Max explains that without proper light during filming, the image just doesn’t do the sport justice, especially when projected on huge HD screens. You know how frustrating low-visibility days on the hill can be? When snow and spray and sky all appear the same shadowy white, it’s tough enough to see each mogul, much less film-worthy turns. Hollywood film sets are littered with high-powered lights and concert headliners face blinding spotlights, but Warren Miller crews travel with none of this. It’s up to the sun and forgiving clouds to light every segment just right.

    “a six-day relentless blizzard is no excuse to come back empty-handed”

    Sounds good on paper, but Mother Nature isn’t always so cooperative. When you’ve splurged on airfares, travel expenses, athletes, film-crew day rates, gear, film stock, and all the time to set up a first descent in, say, New Zealand, a relentless six-day blizzard is no excuse to come back empty handed. In 2000 that’s exactly what happened while filming Ride. The crew had so much footage of playing cards and cooking ramen in the half-buried hut on 10,000-foot Mount Aspiring that the segment was looking better suited to the Bachelor’s Cooking Channel than the next Warren Miller flick. Finally, on the last possible day for shooting, the clouds broke. With just minutes to limber up, the crew and athletes had a few hours to get seven days worth of shooting. And they did.

    So, yeah, you need good light. But without patience, foolish optimism, and a whole lot of ramen, there would never be a Warren Miller film.


    The Second Element: Snow
    caption: “The fresh stuff’s just over that ridge.” Russia 1999

    Seth Morrison once called snow a sort of painter’s canvas. Like kids with crayons, skiers can’t wait to leave their mark on all that pure white. And when it’s kids like Seth who are drawing, we can’t wait to see.

    But who likes to draw in a used coloring book? Film crews aren’t the only ones racing for first tracks. And then there are hot days that melt the fresh stuff before cold nights turn it to frozen chickenheads. Max can spend hours listing the nightmare snow conditions he’s had to contend with in his 17 years on the film. The snow is as much a star of Warren Miller films as the athletes—and neither of them have makeup artists.

    So to get the freshest snow, athletes may have to hike over frozen mud fields, ski the most remote parts of the mountains (rarely with the luxury of helicopters or snow machines), or simply do the best they can on a few inches of crud over rocks. How many skis and boards did the Courcheval crew wreck on the rocks in 2005 for Higher Ground? Four (all of them). Ask veteran Warren Miller athlete Chris Anthony how thick that gorgeous snowfield was in Dizin, Iran (2001: Cold Fusion). Three inches. And how many U.S. dollars did it take to rent a salvaged Russian military chopper to find freshies on that same trip? One hundred.

    “I’m starting to think there’s much more to it than just these four elements. But how do you plan these things?”

    And when you don’t have three inches, backup skis, or a rusted-out surplus heli? Make do. Shoot establishing shots. Do the snow dance. Time-lapse shots of those menacing clouds, local flavor, athlete antics—it takes more than patience to make the most of bad snow; it takes creativity. In Africa, after days of hiking and climbing 17,000-foot Mount Kenya, the glacier turned out to have enough passable snow for about five turns. Watch the finished segment (from Cold Fusion, 2001), and you realize that it works because of masterful editing, a relentless cameraman (Chris Patterson), and athletes (Kristen Lignell and Justine Van Houte) willing to crisscross crevasses and seracs to get just enough footage. That’s improv. That’s hard work.


    The Third Element: Cameras
    caption: Helicopter guide Bob Rankin learns never to touch the camera EVER again. 2002

    If all it took to capture the action was a camera, then every weekend warrior with a camcorder would be another Warren Miller. For 57 years, Warren Miller’s crews have been packing the right gear and the right gang with the right training. They use real film rather than video. (Video, despite major recent advances, still can’t capture the high-speed action and snow’s difficult lighting contrasts in a lightweight package.) They make their own custom riggings for tracking shots and those vertigo-inducing mid-air shots. Nowadays they shoot with Arri SR2HS cameras and Super 16mm film for realistic detail and better latitude in subpar light. The camera crews cover all the terrain the athletes do—while packing 40 pounds of gear on their backs.

    “The cameramen are the key,” Max says, “They have to juggle so many variables everyday in the field.” I can’t help thinking of the film crew that got all the way to Kazakhstan before realizing the film was sitting back at the office in Boulder. One humiliated long-distance phone call and an astronomical express-courier bill later, they were on their way to making one of the all-time great Warren Miller segments (for Snowriders 2, 1997), just a few days later than planned.

    When the cameras are rolling, every action and antic has a chance of becoming a memory shared by hundreds of thousands of people. That’s the lure of celluloid: It’s not simply that the cameras are there to capture what happens; it’s that great things seek out the lens. It’s as if a little horned demon tells the athletes: Go big or go home; this one’s for the cameras!

    Max can’t count the number of times a local has yelled, “Hey, watch this!” from some cornice and pulled a stupid maneuver for a shot at ski-movie infamy. These local yahoos don’t generally get filmed, but their motivation isn’t far from that of the athletes, each vying for a few seconds of immortality. Some are after sponsor dollars, some hope for an admiring pack of fans, some just want to deliver when it counts most; but every Warren Miller skier, rider, and camera crew understands the lure of the camera.

    “If all it took to capture the action was a camera, then every weekend warrior with a camcorder would be another Warren Miller.”


    The Fourth Element: Athletes
    caption: J.P. Auclair goes to 11 (his bindings were set on ten) British Columbia, 1998

    The lure of celluloid has attracted a virtual ski and snowboard hall-of-fame to Warren Miller films through the years: Jean-Claude Killy, Stein Eriksen, Scot Schmidt, Glen Plake, Donna Weinbrecht, Craig Kelly, Seth Morrison. Just about anyone who ever did anything brilliant on snow has been in a Warren Miller flick. But it’s not about their names; it’s about what they did for the cameras—and even then, it’s not always about going big. Jim McKinnon won audiences around the country in 1996 (Snowriders) for his homemade backyard ropetow, blue jean ski fashions, and lopsided spread-eagle off an eight-inch jump. The Schrab brothers similarly built their own snowmobile tow-in gap jump, hucking legitimate world-class inverts on their grandparents’ Wisconsin farm (in 1999’s Fifty).

    “After  seven years of planning, tests, preparations, and liability releases, it was still gonna take one huge sack of guts to huck off that edge.”

    Max tells me about this year’s biggest stunt: Jamie Pierre’s jump off a 245-foot cliff. After all the planning (no less than seven years), tests, preparations, and liability releases, it was still gonna take one huge sack of guts to huck off that edge. Max cues up the scene and rolls an early edit. Now that’s heart and guts and a complete disregard for everything else we were ever taught. How is it that Jim McKinnon and Jamie Pierre can both be standout Warren Miller personalities? Ah yes, personality.

    article in Warren Miller's SnoWorld magazine

    The Fifth Element?
    Yet, there is something—a fifth element—that makes a segment work even if it doesn’t have all four of the others. Like China [Snowriders, 1996]—that one was about the smiles of the local kids who sledded with the crew. And the ski patrol segment [Snowriders 2, 1997] worked because of that one huge, hilarious jump the patroller took while pulling a sled. And Africa worked, not for the snow, but for the culture, the exotic animals, and the fascinating scenery. Rhetorically, I ask Max: “But how do you quantify luck, persistence, improvisation, and winging it?”

    Max is beginning to fidget; I can see that his phone’s red voicemail light has caught his attention. “Are you going to tell me?” he asks.

    “Well, you aim for good weather, snow, athletes, and camera work. But you really need patience and creativity, right? You need that lust to be immortal on film, right? To make a better movie every year, you’ve got to connect with a hunger in everyone who sees it: maybe that common thread is passion. Maybe it’s heart.”

    “Whatever it is, I know without the first four elements, we wouldn’t have a movie,” Max says. “Which reminds me, I gotta get back to making this one.”

    He picks up the phone. Someone is calling with an idea for a segment that no doubt promises all four elements. But what about that elusive fifth element? If you can name it, capture it, or—most important—deliver it on film, well then, perhaps you ought to call Max.