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Mike Douglas's secret to ski film soundtracks

Whistler filmmaker and freeskier talks about choosing songs for the screen


Mike Douglas has a long list of titles to his name: Pique readers' favourite Whistlerite, the Godfather of freeskiing, inventor of the modern twin-tip ski and founder of Switchback Entertainment, where he serves as director, producer and editor.

While Douglas says he doesn't listen to music and ski, he explains that songs play a huge role in the films he makes. We caught up with him recently to chat about selecting tunes for ski clips, why they're important and which ones work best.

Pique: What role does music play in ski films? 

Mike Douglas: It's huge. Music helps bring out the emotion in a segment. Because ski films don't usually feature dialogue, or much talking at all, it's really the music that helps you feel what you're seeing.

Pique: How do you select the right songs? 

MD: First of all, we figure out the kind of mood we want to convey, then it's a painful process of wading through a sea of crappy indie music in search of hidden gems. It's probably my least favourite part of the job. Luckily, Jeff Thomas and Blair Richmond at Switchback enjoy the process more than I do. Those guys scour the Internet and always manage to find some good stuff.

Pique: Is there a musical genre you're most often drawn to? 

MD: Not really. We typically choose music based on emotion. Variety keeps it interesting.

Pique: Have you ever been turned on to a musician/band through a film? If so, who? 

MD: For sure. So many times. I think the one that stands out most strongly was hearing Seal for the first time in Greg Stump's Groove. I've been a fan ever since. The most common question we get after an edit comes out is, 'What's the music?'' It makes us laugh because we always put the artists in the credits. Lots of people tell us they got turned on to a band through one of our edits. It's always good to hear that. It's fun when the bands are happy we used their song as well. Our Whistler Blackcomb: XXS video won Best Use of Music in a Commercial at the 2011 Hollywood Music in Media Awards. The band (White Apple Tree) was pumped!

Pique: In terms of skiing and listening to music (although you're not keen on it), have you noticed more people donning headphones when they ski? What do you think of it? 

MD: More and more people are using music when they ski or ride. That's fine with me, but I don't do it too often. I find that my ears are a really key part of my safety gear — especially in the backcountry. I also find it a bit anti-social when on the lift. 

Pique: You said you rarely ski with music. The odd time you do, what are you listening to? 

MD: I might put on some music if I'm going for a cruise on a mellow day or if I'm doing a ski tour in safe terrain. The music totally depends on the mood I'm in. It's usually something I'm listening to for an upcoming edit or something I've heard in a ski movie though. Biking is a different story. In the summer I'm almost always listening to music when I'm riding single track.

Mike Douglas's top ski film tracks

(All songs can be found in his Salomon Freeski TV episodes)

1. "Genosha" by Judgement Day

"I didn't even know what string metal was before I stumbled across this band. Years later, this track still sticks in my mind. Power!" Douglas says.

2. "Everyone Around You" by Mattafix

"We've used Mattafix a few times over the years and they are one of my favourites," he says. "Great beats and melodies."

3. "Summerlong" by Xylos

"We spent a lot of time searching for the right song for our season six teaser. With the clock ticking, this was the one melody we could not get out of our heads. The lyrics don't really fit with a winter edit, but nobody complained."

4. "Warm Day, Cold War" by Bronze Radio Return

"Occasionally, it's the lyrics of a song that make it work perfectly in an edit," Douglas says. "I knew this was it from the first time I heard it. Bronze Radio Return is my favourite new band of 2012. I had their album playing on repeat for a lot of the year."

5. "Road Regrets" by Dan Mangan

"We've used this one in our Roots: Austria show, which comes out in mid-January," he adds. "Dan Mangan's folky sound just makes me feel good — and he's Canadian!"

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