Super-Fat Days, Coma Nights, and the Quest for Tearjerker Footy

A tight crew of out-of-bounds crazies has been working overtime to turn the snow-flick world upside down with its relentlessly spectacular reels. Is it art or is it ski porn?

Nov 1, 1999
Outside Magazine

The Dream's engine finally turns over, and the four of us—the Joneses, a friend who's driving, and me—move our Wyoming double date inside the Budweiser-scented Stagecoach Inn. During a film's editing stage, the boys view footage during the day and alternate nights partying or falling into imperturbable comas. Last night was a coma night, the gang having partied so hard the night before that the Teton County sheriff eventually had to break things up. The boys—we'll use the "s" even though "boyz" seems the preferred usage for describing guys who congregate in small, ganglike clusters—constitute a uniquely Jackson Hole mix. The primaries: Corey Gavitt, 30, a well-off and gregarious New Englander whose dad used to manage the Boston Celtics; Collins, 29, a transient kayaker's son who spent his formative years as the token Caucasian in the two-room schoolhouse of a remote native village in western Alaska; and the Jones brothers, Steve, 29, and Todd, 27, who blame the mountains and bars of Jackson for their inability to graduate from college.

Tonight, like most nights, the Jones brothers represent the public face of TGR. The recently married Collins is serving time on the home front. Gavitt, a ski bum who happens to be good at marketing and thus looks after TGR's clothing line, is out of town. So it's just the brothers Jones—again. Nearly identical tan faces. Lower lips bulging with snuff. Thick hair tucked under baseball caps with the TGR insignia. Mercurial, malamute-blue eyes. In Todd's case, the face bears a goatee; in Steve's, a pair of beater eyeglasses held together by a twisted paper clip. "Steve is kind of TGR's business lawyer," says friend Micah Black, who's skied in all three TGR films. "He works out all the angles and negotiates the deals. Todd's the technician. They get along by making little bargains with each other. Maybe Steve takes Todd's trash to the top of the stairs, but he wants Todd to take it the rest of the way to the dumpster. You hear Todd say, 'Man, that's your deal.' Then Steve: 'No, man, I'm locking the door.'"

Both Steve and Todd stand five feet, seven inches tall. It's a good height for ski filmmakers. They move with agility in the tight confines of helicopters. They curl into luggage carts and then tear around airports to get wacky point-of-view "footy" (footage) on the digital video camera. Many mistake the brothers for twins, although Todd outweighs Steve by 35 pounds. Small-boned like his mom, Steve stretches ritually to relieve a bad back, which wasn't helped at all by an avalanche that buried him in '98. Steve begins many sentences with "I'm claiming...," a not-so-subtle command to listen up, even when what follows is truism: "I'm claiming your socks reek." Todd takes after his barrel-shaped dad and sometimes answers to "The Stomach Muscle."

Natives of Cape Cod, Steve, Todd, and younger brother Jeremy (now an elite big-mountain snowboarder) grew up like many boys in sisterless households: with behavior falling just this side of Lord of the Flies. The older boys forced a young Jeremy to walk back and forth like a duck as they shot him with BB guns. The baby-sitter once tried to make a citizen's arrest. Todd first dabbled in cinematography when he and a buddy made a Sixteen Candles rip-off "fueled by and starring a big bag of weed."

The elder Jones brothers attended prep school in New England—different schools, however, because Steve raised so much hell at his that the faculty barred Todd from enrolling. No matter. Both graduated and emerged with the same belief. Namely, that bonding with other guys in tight groups gives you courage to take risks that you wouldn't necessarily take if you were out on your own. Hence their decision to start a ski film company, though neither they nor Collins had ever used a 16mm camera. TGR's first cameras and film were financed by the ultimate men-in-close-quarters summer job: commercial fishing in Alaska. The $90,000 earned in one season by Collins and the Jones brothers seemed like enough to pay for Continuum. But, says Collins, "We blew through 30 rolls of 16mm film before we finally figured it out. By then we were $20,000 in debt. We kept the company solvent, but we all ruined our individual credit. We haven't been able to get credit cards since." Not until last summer was TGR approved for a company card. The bank that issued it ran the numbers and set the boys' credit limit at $500.

Continuum earned nice reviews. Rob DesLauriers, a longtime professional skier who now films backcountry expeditions, says, "Continuum was dripping with soul. Everyone—sponsors, skiers, magazines—wanted to contribute to their scene." So they did. Today, TGR boasts corporate sponsorships and a talent roster that includes gold medalists Tommy Moe and Jonny Moseley. A staff of 11 looks after the TGR clothing line and videotape sales, the latter of which have climbed from 6,000 to 20,000 units in three years. Plus, there are stock footage sales, a rainmaker of revenue. TGR's library is constantly growing: more aerialists doing skull-first landings, more freeskiers attacking rocks like suicidal lichen. The avalanche reel alone has made Fox television a loyal customer. All told, TGR's 1999 revenues should approach $1 million.

Still, the boys have yet to turn a profit. It was only a year ago that they were working out of their house, forced to use pages of the Jackson Guide for toilet paper. Says Steve, "We started TGR as a means to support a lifestyle, not necessarily to make a ton of money." Here at the Stagecoach, the boys line up to exploit my expense account. Top-shelf drinks all around. "TGR is going super-phat or it's going to crash and burn," intones Steve, locking his knees as insurance against the wobbles. He adds that while they've always paid their bills and their employees, they didn't pay themselves a cent till late 1998.

Todd leans in, a little Red Bull and Absolut—a drink the boys have dubbed an "Uprising" after their third film—splashing out of his tumbler. "Dude, people look at us when we're gigging hard," he says, waving a hand at the assembled Jacksonians, "and they think we're trust-funders. They don't know we spent four months a year in fish guts for this. It's great, though. I like jawing on the cell phone with Jonny Moseley while I'm driving around in my $400 Honda." In the quasi commune that is TGR, they share the way that fraternity brothers do, the way that ski mountaineers must. Steve puts it this way: "None of us are geniuses, but if we build a strong enough collective, we'll be unfuckable-with." As he speaks, the bent paper clip that holds his glasses together wiggles in the air, like the antenna on a persistent little bug.