Throughout my heli-ski guiding career, I’ve had a few opportunities to work with film, video and still photography production teams. My responsibilities usually include snow stability evaluation, assistance in run selection and emergency back-up. Today, in Haines, I found myself on the other side of the camera with First Ascent ski guide Reggie Crist and SEABA guide Scott “Sunny” Sundberg, while photographer Will Wissman and videographer Vinny Urgo shot our action.
When I’m heli-ski guiding, I enjoy calling the shots and being in charge. I ride in the front seat, pick the ski areas and manage the risk. Today, as the “talent” in the back seat, I gave up a lot of that control. And I liked it! Will, Reggie, and Sunny chose the lines and all I had to do was throw huge sprays and look cute!
But this was no small task. I was self-conscious about being on camera. I’m a guide, not a professional athlete. I make guide turns. Would they send me blind into mandatory air? Was I expected to rip these Alaska spines a la Seth Morrison, Kent Kreitler, or Zach and Reggie Crist?
I kept telling myself, “Don’t do anything stupid for the camera.” For our team, trying not to do anything stupid turned out to be the theme of the day. It was our first session since a recent storm dumped up to 3 feet of new snow. Stability was poor. We opened up steep terrain, but we chose tight, confined lines with lots of features to prevent fractures (avalanches) from propagating, and we pulled the plug on a couple of suspect runs.
On sunny, bluebird days with high avalanche hazard, production crews expose themselves to elevated levels of risk. Our team, however, played it smart and safe. We communicated well and made sure our concerns were out in the open. When one said, “no,” the team listened. We developed viable alternatives that kept us out of exposed terrain, but into the shots that Will and Vinny needed.
In the end, Reggie and Will assuaged my fears about being on camera by picking clean lines and micromanaging me (even as I skied by using radios!) through the terrain. On a day when numerous other parties triggered a multitude of avalanches, we flew out of the mountains with nary an incident. I chock this up to the skill, experience and good communication found on our guide team, of which I’m proud to be a part.
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