"Really good filmmaking can be more powerful than athletic performance."
The Snow Report
Mike Douglas, 43, is widely regarded as the godfather of freeskiing for his role in launching the New School movement. In the '90s, Douglas, then a mogul skier, along with J.P. Auclair, J.F. Cusson, Shane Szocs, and others, led the revolt against new rules FIS had implemented on mogul skiing, which they believed stifled the sport’s freedom and creativity. In response, the New Canadian Air Force, as they were collectively known, pushed into snowboard terrain parks and began hucking massive airs, 360s, and backflips. In an age when skiing was largely limited to moguls and racing, they did with their skis what snowboarders were doing with their boards—and they did it with style and attitude. In doing so, freeskiing was born.
In 1998, Douglas was instrumental in developing and launching Salomon’s Teneighty, the first twin-tip ski, which revolutionized the sport and the way skis are made. With the twin tip, skiers could ski forwards, backwards, and land tricks from either direction. Twin tips opened up the creative doors for what was possible on skis. And if you’ve looked at skis lately, most have some form of twin tip integrated into their design.
In the last several years, Douglas has segued into ski filmmaking and is pushing that genre’s boundaries, too. He’s a director for Salomon Freeski TV and heads up Switchback Entertainment, which released Tempting Fear in October, an award-winning documentary about big-mountain skier Andreas Fransson. Last year, Douglas traveled from Japan to Russia and several places in between to shoot the Salomon Freeski TV episodes. "Vuelo," Salomon Freeski TV’s most recent episode, dropped December 4, and features Leo Aherns, Alexi Godbout, and Vincent Gagnier hammering down in the Chilean Andes. In 2014, Douglas and Switchback will release the documentary Snowman.
Here, Whistler, British Columbia-based Douglas discusses his contributions to skiing, how film is pushing the sport forward, and his mixed feelings about freeskiing’s induction into the Olympics.
When did you start skiing and how?
I was a late bloomer. My first day of skiing was on a Grade 5 school trip to Mount Washington on Vancouver Island. From the first day, I was hooked. The following year, I convinced my family to take up skiing and from that point I was on the mountain every weekend.
You were an important part of moving the sport forward—you've been called the godfather of freeskiing. Looking back now, what do you think your contribution to the sport was?
I'm not exactly sure. I haven't put much thought into it. I've always enjoyed challenging the status quo. Leading the charge with the whole twin tips thing is where the nickname comes from. No matter what I do, I try to break the rules in some way. At the same time, I've learned to compromise to get things done. Looking back now I'd say it's worked out mostly good, but if I could do it again I'd change the way I did some things.
Were you aware of the significance of what you were doing at the time (New Canadian Air Force era)? If so, when did you become aware that you were on to something big?
Not really. The motivation in the beginning was to simply get enough support to continue to live the sweet life of a pro skier. All along in the back of your mind you hope for the best-case scenario, but life rarely works like that.
We were at a trade event in Aspen in 1998 doing a demo for Salomon. A lot of people had heard what we were doing on skis, but few had seen it. As the day went on the buzz was building and by the end we walked through the place like rock stars. That was probably the first time I realized it would be big. The next year of our lives after that was super exciting. It seemed like everyone wanted a piece of us.