When Ian McIntosh took a 1,600-vertical-foot tomahawking tumble down a steep mountainside in Alaska’s Neacola Range while filming for Teton Gravity Research’s 2015 film, Paradise Waits, he was lucky enough to walk away with just a stiff neck. When it was over, TGR’s filmmakers had a great clip of a spectacular fall on their hands.
TGR co-founder Todd Jones, who called the fall “the most terrifying crash I’ve ever seen,” suggested putting the clip into the final film. But McIntosh said he’d rather it not make the movie. “We said okay to that, but we told him we were going to put it online,” Jones says. “Ian was fine with that.”
TGR posted the clip of McIntosh’s fall on YouTube in early November with the title “Skier Miraculously Survives 1,600 Foot Fall,” and it immediately went viral. McIntosh was invited to appear on Good Morning America, Fox Sports, and other news programs around the country to talk about the fall. The video has since racked up over 2.5 million views, more than ten times the number of views of the average TGR segment. “I actually stomp stuff a lot,” McIntosh told Outside shortly after the video went up. “It’s entertaining to watch that, too. It doesn’t have to be catastrophic falls only.”
Crash segments and blooper reels have been a part of ski movies since day one. But now, Jones says, production companies like his are much better at recognizing the value of that content and getting it out into the world in a more mainstream way than ever before. “We’ve always released clips like this.” Jones says. “But the shift, in the last two years specifically, is that we’ve gotten really sophisticated at media distribution. There’s so much gold in all this content we acquire. So a lot of what we’re doing is looking at our content and saying, ‘What has appeal? What has a story behind it that people are going to want to get behind?’”
Jones figures the crash video is just bait for mainstream media, a way to grab public interest. “We get everyone’s attention, like with Ian’s crash video. Then we have a whole set of other video assets of that skier really ripping,” Jones says. “So when The Today Show shows up, we can go, ‘Hey, there’s more to this story.’”
Take, for example, the shot of skier Cody Townsend straightlining a narrow couloir in Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountains, released by Matchstick Productions in 2014. That short segment landed Townsend on CNN, Good Morning America, The Today Show, and even a news channel in Hawaii. It scored over 9 million views on YouTube and earned Townsend the unofficial title of most insane skier ever.
“Ski movie companies release crash footage for the simple fact that it’s visually exciting and emotionally stimulating among skiers and non-skiers alike,” Townsend says. “It makes for compelling content in my eyes because it strikes an emotional chord with everyone.”
Townsend, for his part, says he wouldn’t necessarily want a video of him crashing to have the same online impact. “Crash footage of me going viral wouldn’t do anything in terms of furthering success in my career or my sponsors’ bottom line,” he says. “The only thing viral videos of crashes do is up the total view count of ski media sites so they can pitch to outside industry sponsors for digital advertising.”
Take Angel Collinson’s crash video from Paradise Waits, released last month by TGR. Collinson wound up on Good Morning America and her clip has over 700,000 views. Like McIntosh, she skied away unhurt. Collinson, who recently won multiple best female performance awards for her skiing in Paradise Waits, says she’s not concerned with this footage affecting her reputation. “I hope my skiing speaks for itself and I’m not thought of as reckless, because I’m not,” Collinson says. “I don’t want people to think that we as action sports athletes are reckless hooligans.”
Collinson’s crash video was released as part of TGR’s safety week, where the athletes spend time discussing mistakes and learning critical rescue techniques in the mountains. That’s the part of the story that doesn’t get clicks online, Collinson says. “I think the conversation that isn’t being had in the media is the bigger backstory of how we calculate our risks and just how much thought, effort, and training goes into being as safe as possible in the mountains.”