Colorado-based ski film company Sweetgrass Productions returns to theaters this year with their Junior production: SOLITAIRE. Filmed in South America, the crew is entirely human powered -- no helicoptered ascents, no snowmobile access, just 100% skin-up fresh-track beauty.
Director Nick Waggoner pitches his films as the antidote to common ski films. These are not movies that glorify switch misty backflip 1080s (though undoubtedly there are a couple sprinkled throughout); no, Sweetgrass is all about the grace and audacity of a slope. Given their 2010 effort Signatures earned 'Best Cinematography' in the Powder Video Awards (beating out industry heavyweights in the process), their unique style has begun to garner attention.
Watching SOLITAIRE teasers one gets the feeling that this is a ski film a la Jack Kerouac or Alan Ginsberg (see episodes 2 and 3 below) -- beat poets addicted to skiing, verse through vivid descent. "Sometimes a bad plan is a good plan — half-baked conviction is flexible," writes Waggoner on the Sweetgrass blog.
Why the title SOLITAIRE? Waggoner told Powder Magazine, "At the core of SOLITAIRE is this idea of the lone, solitary skier, in the middle of a massive darkness, dealing with the tension of the unknown and what lies ahead."
Waggoner had the time in between marathon editing sessions to answer a couple questions for The Huffington Post:
What was your worst equipment malfunction in South America?
I'd say the worst malfunction we've ever had was a hard drive crash last November. The only back up happened to be in Buenos Aires, and a next-day flight down there ended up being cheaper than data recovery. But I flew standby, so a 3 day trip ended up being a 6 day trip, so I was stranded in the airport, sleeping on the floor for 3 nights. Every hotel in town was booked. And you may ask why not FedEx the drive? But even FedEx is powerless to the South American hand, and lots of things get stolen or don't show up, or show up with nothing inside. You can't hide down there...it's always a struggle.
So you have to learn to adapt?
Yeah, one of our crew lost his camera charger in Bolivia, but found a similar model in a bizarre electronics market in La Paz after several hours of sifting through bins. When he got home he realized that the pins didn't line up, but managed with a lighter and a knife to reroute the charge. All in the confines of a hotel bathroom. There's about a 100 stories like that..
Best part of the trip?
The best part of the trip for me was Peru, camping at 14000 ft for 3 weeks. We climbed up to 20000ft, moving across glaciers that would stop your mother's heart, and threatened to stop mine. I guess we never view what we do as dangerous, but then there are moments when you look between your feet at a black abyss, and you realize how far out it is, and the potential there is for death. How most people live most of their lives on paved streets.
WATCH Sweetgrass Productions' SOLITAIRE teasers and a sampling of their other work:
"Introduces Solitaire and some of the landscapes the crew encountered in their first season of filming in the snowbound badlands of the Southern Hemisphere."
"En route to the 20,000 foot peaks of Peru, the crew lands in Huaraz, and a new film is born in the chaos of textures, sounds, smells, and people."
"After the chaos of Haraz, the crew escapes the city with plans to paraglide over the glaciers of the Cordillera Blanca with cameras in hand. At 18,000 feet, it's never simple."
"The Sweetgrass family lands in Las Lenas, Argentina, for several weeks of fending off women, beef, and various strains of the common cold in hopes of actually making some turns on snow."
"In the high desert of South America, winter takes hold, devouring bleached bones and abandoned shacks. Into these most inhospitable of lands, a handful of drifters emerge from the whiteout, ready to cast their lot on forsaken peaks both merciless and magnificent. Venturing beyond the frontiers of most mountain films, Solitaire is backcountry skiing forged in the tradition of Western cinema. Born in the spires of Argentina's legendary Las Lenas, a lonely two-year journey begins through an abandoned world, wandering the length of a continent from Peru's Cordillera Blanca to Chilean Patagonia. Lost in the winds of snowbound badlands and the blizzards of primordial forests; seen from a horse's saddle and a paraglider's wings; ridden on ski and board and telemark... Solitaire fuses western-inspired tales of backcountry gambles into landscapes never before visited on film."
"From the orange and gold of fall to the pink cherry blossoms of spring, Signatures follows an entire winter deep in the hardwoods of Hokkaido, Japan. Deliciously deep January blower to April corn, we bring you a film about expression and the art of riding on snow. Every turn has a personality, and every personality has its own unique style: the air, the smear, the spin, the grab, the laid-out cutback carve. Shot in HD, Signatures is 100% human powered riding in all snow-sliding styles: board, noboard, ski, and drop-knee."
"From the hand-fired railroad days in Revelstoke to the miners of Colorado's San Juan Mountains, Hand Cut blends old-timer wisdom with self-propelled, big mountain lines from Alaska, British Columbia, and Colorado. The Hand Cut release includes endless pillow lines in the BC interior; exposed descents in the Coast Range with ski mountaineering legend John Chilton; brilliantly shot inverts over the old wood mines on Red Mountain Pass, Colorado; and the original deep-country blues of John-Alex Mason. Hand Cut: self-propelled stories brought to life in High Definition and brilliant 16mm film."
"Every spring in Haines, Alaska, a river bulges and rages towards the sea, fed by the thawing of a massive mountain snowpack. These same mountains fuel the hunger of those willing to test their skills against the desolate white beauty of Alaska's high desert-- giving life to river and skier alike."