Last April, Whistler cinematographer Athan Merrick suddenly found himself traversing the rugged Alaskan backcountry by snowmobile with fuel, wine and film gear trailing behind him.
The Dendrite Studios co-founder was approached by ski and snowboard film veterans Teton Gravity Research to shoot footage of skiers as they trained in the Whistler area ahead of the atheletes' trek up north for the production of the forthcoming Dream Factory. But when TGR asked Merrick last minute to join the Alaska crew and camp out for a month on glaciers, capturing the athletes careening down the fabled, untouched mountains, he was quick to jump on board, despite the challenges.
"People who haven't sled-skied before think it's relatively easy — just pin it and go — but it's very difficult," Merrick said over the phone from a shoot in Vancouver. "We had gear strapped all the way on the back, on the front, on the seat. We had sleds tomahawking down the hill, gear flying everywhere, ratchet straps snapping, gas pouring everywhere, boxed wine busting inside bags over everything."
Though he laughs about the frustrating setbacks now, Merrick admitted pressure was high for his first-time shoot with the film producers. "It felt like there was more on the line," he added. "TGR is a company I've respected and looked up to since I was a little kid. I had their VHSs when I was 10 years old that I wore out because I watched them so many times. It was pretty cool to work for some childhood heroes of mine."
The film will be screened on Sept. 29 as part of local freeskiing magazine Doglotion.com's 10-year anniversary celebration. Also part of the event: the premiere of TGR's Further, the second installment of Jeremy Jones' backcountry snowboard trilogy on Sept. 28.
"Almost every other film is an annual production where they get what they get whether there's snow or not," says Jamie Bond, co-founder and editor of the magazine. "Further, which is the [sequel] to Deeper, they're both two-year projects and they're entirely backcountry based. It stands out as a different kind of film."
Since co-founding his publication a decade ago, Bond has watched the pre-season become flooded with films to amp up restless riders. That's not a bad thing, though. "With technology now it's so easy to put together a high quality video or webisode," he said. "It's pretty cool to see how there's so much excitement about the skiing and snowboarding industry that we could watch a new premiere from now until December if we wanted to."
Catch this first pair of premieres at Millennium Place. Tickets are $16.50 for each or $25 for both films, online at artswhistler.tix.com or by phone at 604-935-8410.
Rounding out the 10th anniversary celebration is a party, Saturday night at the Longhorn Saloon where the best "Gaper" costumes will win prizes. "For the last 10 years," Bond says, "it's been all about keeping it real and keeping everyone excited about skiing and having a goofy, fun time."