It’s all about the feeling. A snowboarder or skier knows exactly what it’s like to float through waist-deep powder or stick the landing after a massive trick. Words rarely capture the experience, but video does.
“When everything goes as planned and we capture the trick, there’s no better feeling,” said Eric Miller, a videographer.
“I joke that I, the filmer, feel just as much joy as the rider who lands the trick because I was able to preserve that moment forever. I’ve felt both feelings before, and although their levels of adrenaline differ, the ‘stoke’ factor is identical. I live for the days when the snow, weather, rider and myself are all in perfect sync,” he said.
As long as skiing and snowboarding have been around, people have been documenting them, first with still photos and then with video. Warren Miller (no relation to Eric Miller) has made a tradition of epic films showing the best skiers and riders throwing themselves off cliffs and down unbelievably steep slopes.
Now, with advancements in technology, it’s a lot easier to make videos, and there’s clearly an audience. A yearly epic Warren Miller film is not enough.
A visual sport
A drone hovers in the air, GoPro video camera attached, as snowboarders fly through the air at Stevens Pass, in Washington state.
Nearby, Julian Tracy, of Stevens Pass, directs the drone as riders compete in the Trans-world Snowboarding Transam.
It’s tricky work. He can’t see what he’s shooting. He aims the drone and hopes for the best.
Tracy works for the best shots in the eight or nine minutes he has until the battery gives out. A couple of days later, the video is up on Stevens’ YouTube channel, with the drone footage, of course, and lots of other shots showing some of the best tricks.
“It’s a very visual sport; it’s very aesthetically pleasing,” said Natasha Roskach, a 17-year-old snowboarder and competitor in the Transam who had already been on the slopes 62 days by early March. “And it’s such a beautiful place. I feel like everyone who is up here snowboarding is here for the beauty of the place and to enjoy it.”
Stevens Pass makes a variety of videos. Some are simply to tell skiers about conditions. Some are elaborate productions that showcase a particular event. Mostly, though, Stevens is aiming to produce videos quickly, to post them on YouTube and share them on Twitter and Facebook.
Tracy says they always work to balance timeliness with quality.
While Stevens is making videos on conditions or showcasing an event, it’s also encouraging other videographers — giving them passes and sharing their videos, for example — who are able to communicate the feel of the mountain.
Making videos is often a blast, but the logistics can be rough.
“People think, ‘You have the easiest job in the world,’ but it’s actually a lot of work,” Tracy said.
At the Jim Jack’s Cowboy Up event earlier this year, Tracy spent about five hours a day swimming around in the snow, postholing and sinking waist-deep to find an angle for the shots, all while trying not to throw expensive camera gear down a mountainside.
The drone did take a tumble — 300 or 400 feet down the mountain — but it survived.
Daniel Silverberg, the co-owner of Waist Deep Media along with Joey Mara, makes videos at Stevens. Silverberg, the main videographer, says he may only get in one or two runs a day. He spends a lot of time with a heavy backpack scouting places to shoot.
Then, once he finds a spot, it’s unpacking, setting up, measuring exposures, waiting for the people he’s filming, framing shots, retaking shots and repacking. It takes hard work and patience but is also rewarding, he said.
Miller also works in partnership with Stevens. He’s created “Monthtages” at the mountains, gorgeously crafted videos of snowboarders playing and of the jumps and other obstacles in the terrain parks and deep snow in the backcountry around Stevens. His videos make you ache to get out in the mountains.
Making the videos is thrilling, but it also takes skill and some luck. To make a good video, a lot of elements must come together: location, weather, riders.
“When all of these elements happen according to plan and the rider is about to perform their trick, there’s only one aspect left to this equation: me not blowing the shot,” Miller said. “So when the rider lands their trick and I keep them in frame and in focus, it’s truly an indescribable feeling. Just knowing that I preserved that moment forever is the reason I keep coming back for more.”
Silverberg and Mara, with Waist Deep Media, also showcase plenty of tricks off of cliffs. Beyond that, they bring the landscapes at Stevens to life with time-lapse video and with clever uses of still photos with video.
They also have a sense of whimsy. In one video, an office worker in a tie abandons his desk after discovering Stevens has received fresh snow overnight — in what may or may not have been a dream.
And clearly many people are dreaming about snow. Roskach laughs as she talks about watching snowboarding videos: “What else am I supposed to do when I’m not on the mountain?”