Ski movies are not hard to make.
These days, every 15-year-old kid has the skills and equipment needed to capture their buddies hucking and edit it to the beat of whatever song they're into. The result is called ski porn, and as an art form it's always been pretty one-dimensional.
And that's OK. Because ski movies, since the beginning of time, have existed for one reason: to get you stoked on skiing.
Similar to how very few film professors bother dissecting the acting or thematic resonance of a 1970s pizza delivery man porno, very few people have ever considered ski films to be anything more than pretty-picture, dream-factory escapism.
Say what you want about Warren Miller, for the hundreds of hours of footage he released, he didn't have that much to say about the human condition. (Other than, "Because if you don't do it this year, you'll be one year older when you do." Which is pedestrian at best. )
But times change, and so do ski movies. In the '80s, Greg Stump shook the ski-porn genre up and inspired the generation that would inspire the generation that would eventually, occasionally, infuse a bit of art into their white/blue/faceshot genre.
The Sherpas come to mind, and not just because they are ski filmmakers that can quote Sergei Eisenstein, but also because they have something legitimate to say about what happens in the mountains, and why. Mike Douglas does it on the regular as well, often infusing his ski stories with humanity, introspection and pathos.
And this Saturday night at the Maury Young Arts Centre, the undisputed kings of ski porn are out to do the same with a 120-minute, true feature film from Matchstick Productions called Hoji, which chronicles the gravity-fed life of one of the most interesting two-plankers of the past 20 years (or ever), Eric Hjorleifson.
Directed, edited and narrated by Scott Gaffney (who wasn't kidding when he credited himself with narration; he's seizing Miller's sceptre with this one), the Hoji movie really does chronicle "one of the most impressive career performances in the history of the sport."
Hoji, the person, is like the Bigfoot of skiing—he's elusive, shy, kinda hairy, and has boots that will likely never be filled again. Born and raised in Canmore, Alta, Hjorleifson was given the right amount of freedom to match his energy levels. Alternating between ski racing and OCD-engineering incredibly complex Lego builds (like a functional chairlift and a snowcat), Hoji's early years are beautifully revealed in the film though family footage and interviews with those who knew him best. By his teens, the young phenom had hooked up with his hero, Canadian extreme-skiing legend Andrew Sheppard, and the rest is, as we learn, history.
A two-hour ski film is a tough sell at the best of times, but Gaffney blends inspiring (and sometimes sphincter-tightening) archival footage from Hoji's years of filming with Matchstick with segments captured during a 2018 "dream trip" that saw Hoji bring friends, families, old mentors and shred buddies like Matty Richard, Chris Ruebens and Mark Abma for the ultimate shred trip in his favourite touring zone.
There's a lot to love about the way Hoji skis and his tinkering "modder" spirit has literally changed the sport, but with so much incredible big-mountain footage to choose from, Gaffney's biggest challenge may have been what to leave out.
In the end, he delivers a film that reveals less about its titular subject and more about how he embodies one of the great truths of our sport: no one truly skis alone, there are always family, friends, mentors and spirits along for the ride.
Hoji's skiing is easy to love and standout segments include watching his parents watch their son and Ruebens' climb and ski Canmore's S-Couloir from their living room. Sheppard steals every scene he's in, especially his set-up for the final 10 minutes, which is without a doubt the greatest and most perfect compilation of big-mountain skiing and music ever pieced together.
Hoji plays Saturday, Nov. 10 at the Maury Young Arts Centre and if you miss it there, find it on iTunes as soon as you can. It's the ski movie you need right now.