Pro skier Josh Daiek was in the Jackson Hole backcountry last winter when he realized he’d missed about six calls. He called back and got the details: almost seven feet of snow was forecasted for Chamonix, France, in the next two days, and he needed to catch a flight out tomorrow.
The only problem? Last-minute flights from the U.S. were more than twice the cost of flying out of Canada. So Daiek had to drive 12 hours through the night to Calgary, Alberta, to catch a flight to Europe. Within a day, he was chest deep in some of the best snow of his life.
The resulting footage—over-the-head whitewash, an endless stream of bottomless French powder—appears in a Salomon Freeski TV episode released last week called “Moment’s Notice 2.”
If you’ve ever wondered how pro skiers and ski movie companies always seem to show up in a place just as a giant storm is dumping feet upon feet of blower snow, then here’s your answer: They plan trips at the very last minute.
“Everyone’s always like, ‘What do you have planned for this winter?’” says Chris Rubens, a pro skier from Revelstoke, British Columbia. “The truth is we don’t have anything planned. Your job as a pro skier is to not commit to anything for as long as possible. That way, we’re eliminating the roll of the dice when it comes to snow conditions and you’re making a more educated decision about where to go.”
Rubens starred in Salomon Freeski TV’s first “Moment’s Notice” episode in 2014, which showed the filmmakers calling athletes to invite them on a storm-chasing trip to Japan, departing in less than 24 hours. The footage captured in Japan again showcased the kind of deep, light snow most of us only fantasize about. It wasn’t the first time a movie company captured a last-minute trip, but it did pull back the curtain on how those trips are orchestrated.
A lot of companies will give themselves a seven-day range in which conditions may be right to shoot, which makes booking expensive, but ensures that they actually show up when the forecast says powder is imminent. The Salomon Freeski TV crew—which is small and nimble with just a handful of people—can move quicker than other, bigger film crews. “Everything fits on our back, and we have a dozen or so athletes we can call at any given time,” says Anthony Bonello, a filmer and producer from Switchback Entertainment, which produces Salomon Freeski TV. “The technology has changed so much now that you can bring high production value in a suitcase. Instead of booking a heli, you can use a drone to get a good aerial shot. You can bring GoPros instead of importing a Cineflex.”
Salomon certainly isn’t the only company waiting as long as possible to ensure top-quality snow. “I would say about 90-percent of my ski film trips end up being last minute and condition dependent,” says Tahoe-based pro skier Amie Engerbretson, who has filmed with Warren Miller and shot with countless ski photographers for advertising and editorial imagery. Even planned film trips can change at the last minute if conditions aren’t right. Bonello says that for the Salomon crew, expense isn't a huge issue since resorts often help with costs. And snagging that footage of a dream day in perfect powder can mean dollars in the bank for the company promoting the resulting viral video.
“The difficulty for us is, how do we measure impact on sales when you have a program like web TV? We know how many people we can reach [on Salomon Freeski TV], and that ultimately can drive sales,” says Benjamin Aiden, Salomon’s global marketing and communications director. Each Salomon Freeski TV video brings in upwards of 400,000 views, which Salomon bets on as potential new customers. “After that, we say the more powder, the more sales you’re driving.”
But sometimes, a trip is planned in advance and you’re forced to take whatever nature deals you. “We certainly don’t always have epic conditions,” admits Daiek. “But we still do the same thing we always do—look for fun features to play around on or find unique lines to ski. So long as there’s a good storyline behind the trip, it can be worth it even if the conditions aren’t great.”
Rubens says as pro skiers, they have to learn how to make even mediocre conditions look desirable. “Sometimes it’ll be dust on crust, but we can make that look good on camera, even if underneath we’re scraping ice,” he says. “People think I just ski powder all winter, based on the footage and my Instagram, but you have to understand I get paid to make it look good.”
Engerbretson calls that “milking it,” but it's less smoke-and-mirrors than finding the right setting and being a really good skier. They’ll find hidden pockets of north-facing snow, she says, or dramatic-looking wind ridges above ski lifts and cat tracks. If all else fails, skiers can find an untracked patch of snow, ski one flawless turn, and send up a cinematic wave of snow. “If there is absolutely no fresh snow to be had, then you better be good at getting some spray up," Engerbretson says. "Because if you can find some sunshine and get a little snow in the air, it will go a long way.”