Film Review — “From the Road”


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | October 6, 2014      

(Please note, on October 15 you can view a one-day only premier of “From the Road” at Backcountry.com.)

Take one spoon of hippy power, two spoons of endorphin addiction, three spoons of sustainability. Now you’re getting better goods than anyone in a helicopter because you are Human Powered!

Count me guilty. I admit the whole human powered concept sometimes gets a little too elitist, and I’m part of that with basing my whole publishing career on slow twitch muscles, glycogen and climbing skins. Nonetheless the concept is valid. After all, our culture’s addiction to petroleum is a root of much evil; trending our recreation away from “petrotainment” is a positive. Our whole family orbits around human powered skiing and we love it (and yes Virginia, we still like our snowmobile as well — we’re only human!).

It is amusing to watch the ebb and flow of “human power” in the ski film industry. Not long ago most ski movies made helicopters out to be the end-all in hip. Now: slowmo shots of macho men stripping climbing skins like they’re waving a pirate flag; low angle shots of big men’s boots crunching up a trail break like a cut from a Transformers flick; PBR canister toasts to the before and after power of these experiences. That stuff is getting so common in ski films. Some of it is even becoming cliche.

My, how things change!

Eric Henderson in the Alps, 2012. ' From the Road' is as much about his life journey as it is about the Chugach.

Eric Henderson in the Alps, 2012. ‘ From the Road’ is as much about his life journey as it is about the Chugach. Note he is NOT drinking PBR in this shot.

Dynafit helped. Their timing couldn’t have been better. Human powered (as well as cable and diesel powered) adventure skiing is the rage these days. It’s the only part of the ski industry experiencing any significant growth. By being the first alpine ski/boot/binding brand ever to focus 100% on human power (nordic brands have of course been human powered forever), Dynafit got a jump on everyone else. You can watch the catch-up being played by other brands forking for a chunk of the pie. It’s all to our benefit as consumers, but the hype can get tiresome.

The Dynafit and Backcountry.com backed film “From the Road” ties it all together by balancing a modicum of hype with solid story telling. Fair enough.

What makes this shortfilm rock is it tells two solid stories. First, a group of backcountry skiing icons goes to the heli-dominated but nonetheless legendary mountains of Valdez, Alaska. Second, the trip revolves around former heli guide Eric Henderson skiing the run where he broke his neck in 2009. That near tragic event changed Eric’s life. He became a family man, swapped careers to a more corporate gig (PR, marketing). His neck healed and he continued skiing (he’s a beautiful skier), all the while haunted by the “best run of his life” that turned into the worst run of his life.

Sometimes you can’t go back to that same place or situation that changed you through an injurious accident. But the drop on Meteorite peak that Eric fell down in 2009 is skiable — to the extent that you need to beat the helicopters there if you want good (human powered) tracks. While Eric was healed in the physical, to completely heal his spirit the best medicine was to climb up there and ski Meteorite. So he gives it his best shot. That is the other wonderful story threading this flick.

The film is short, at 23 minutes it feels like a tightly wound festival cut. To the credit of Eric’s narration and the film makers-editors, it still does a perfect job of telling both stories. Somehow, in those short minutes they even have time for interviews with Eric’s wife, “He needed to go back, to move on,” as well as a reasonable dose of bro-brah humor.

Speaking of humor, I’ll give the film makers a pass on this one, but it must be mentioned. Even though the overarching premise here is about not using helicopters, it appears at least one ski sequence was shot from a heli. Tell me that wasn’t so, but if true one can only chuckle.

On a serious note, “From the Road” brings up some issues for me. First, it appears to continue the trend of tight groups conga-line climbing directly up avalanche paths, with no spreading out or moving one-at-a-time. The very nature of such terrain of course prevents dealing with this in the ideal fashion (no place to hide, can’t delay the climb by spreading the group out). But in a macro sense, we as a community should question the viability of this style (the list of tragic accidents gets longer and longer). At the least, it’s obvious that smaller groups are better, and that fanatical evaluation of snow stability is your only hope if you make a habit of climbing directly up snow filled avalanche gullies.

The conundrum of groups in couloirs is addressed in the film, when Eric questions climbing Meteorite with a large group of six. It appears they reduced the group to three for the climb. It’s gratifying to see some effort being made to do the right thing, and thus be role models. Nonetheless, if you watch the film with avalanche eyes, it is uncomfortable watching these guys do the couloir comparsa beneath a cornice.

To the film’s credit, it also shows a scary fall and subsequent avalanche ride that Cody Barnhill takes on Diamond Peak — a chilling reminder of why they call this stuff “no fall” terrain. The only real fail of the film happens here in the narration, when Cody says “With some good luck I was fine and walked away from another great day in the mountains.” That doesn’t match up with what you see on film — it looked like near death and not that great a day.

In light of recent tragic events (Dynafit athletes dying in avalanche on Shishapangma) it was extremely gratifying to see a Dynafit sponsored film with solid story lines and personality. If the film had lacked Eric’s story and hyped things up with ski porn fever it might have felt inappropriate or even cruel. Instead, it’s wonderful — even sweet at times. I got chills seeing Eric on top of Meteorite, getting back on the horse.

“From the Road” has been accepted to the Winter Wildlands Film Festival and will be on tour starting November 6th. October 15 you can view a one-day only premier of “From the Road” at Backcountry.com.)



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Comments

14 Responses to “Film Review — “From the Road””

  1. Matt Kinney October 6th, 2014 10:14 am

    That cornice on Meteorite broke loose a few years back and send four locals running for their lives as they were clustered at the base of the Ramp.

    With that said, to do Meteorite “properly” would require a long, long wait on top for your partner, so you have to balance that. I like the guide book route via a hanging valley under Heidi, as it’s a bit safer on the approach than No-Name Creek.

    Can’t wait to see this movie as they were all the buzz of “Tailgate” sledskiers when they were here. Over the years many had began to discount these peaks as not worth skiing from the road, The mechanized ski industry wants people to believe. though that is not true from my own experience and proved in this movie.

    Actually what I understand is a heli landed on their line minutes after they completed their mission and that heliguide promptly got washed off the route. There is a deeper story here than just skiing, so kudos’ to Eric for returning to Valdez in style and purpose. These skiers worked their skins raw and I was tickled over their success. Almost makes me want to switch to Dynafits. 🙂

  2. Lou Dawson 2 October 6th, 2014 10:34 am

    Matt, this should be the main goal of any Dynafit/Chugach action, to convince Matt Kinney to convert to tech bindings (grin). I think you’ll really like the film. Like I said in review, it has some hype but that’s more than balanced by two strong story lines.

    The issue of climbing directly up avalanche chutes is huge. For starters, it’s probably best done as just two people or solo, just to be socially responsible about mitigating consequences. Kind of harsh to even have to think that way, really. Thing is, it’s probably better overall to just focus on peaks that might still have the steep skiing that a lot of guys want, but where the access is via a safe route and the skiers can drop the line one at a time. Thing is, an airbag isn’t going to help you when you’re tomahawking down a huge mountain at 90 mph. A “ski” helmet is kind of a joke in that situation as well… Lou

  3. Jim Milstein October 6th, 2014 11:02 am

    For me, ski movies, even the bestest, most earn-your-turnsiest, are a pathological interest. I try to avoid them, sometimes successfully.

    Doing is better than watching, in skiing as in much else.

  4. Lou Dawson 2 October 6th, 2014 11:10 am

    Right on Jim!

  5. Ali E October 6th, 2014 1:19 pm

    Re: The heli shot thing. Amazing what can be done (and very cheaply) with a drone these days. I suspect heli filming will become increasingly rare as the technology becomes more widely available.

  6. Scott Nelson October 6th, 2014 6:48 pm

    Re: drones, if they work at altitude. I was seriously thinking about getting one for filming BC skiing, but the company I contacted implied that the altitude would be a problem, sounds like an engine power issue. I bet a full on gas motor would do the trick, but that would only add to the petrotainment. But think of the angles you could get, if no one uses it for target practice. Sorry for the digression.

  7. See October 6th, 2014 7:08 pm

    I hope that the explosion in drone technology doesn’t mean that soon one won’t be able to boot up some couloir on a clear calm day without being surrounded by a swarm of virtual mountaineers at the top. It may sound improbable, but I recently met a guy who works for a company that enables this.

  8. Jim Milstein October 6th, 2014 7:08 pm

    Fit your drone with PV cells or maybe a wind-turbine. Problem solved!

    I was going to suggest a small nuclear pile but reconsidered since they’ve gone out of fashion. A pity — it would be good for filming night skiing.

  9. Scott Nelson October 6th, 2014 7:24 pm

    Hopefully, the FAA would not allow that to happen (grin). But, that, unfortunately, does seem totally possible.

  10. mikemarolt October 6th, 2014 8:09 pm

    Nice edit. will look for that one.

  11. lederhosen42 October 6th, 2014 9:15 pm

    To continue with the thread drift…I personally can’t wait for self propelled “sit in your own drone” assisted ski ‘touring’ when the lift and performance potential reaches that stage in the future. Imagine getting a lift up the mountain, landing and sending the drone down via gps guidance to a pre programmed pick up spot. I heard a figure of 15 years being bandied about…just about the time where old agedness for me will preclude thigh deep trail breaking ability…may the deep powder days continue well into old age 😉

  12. Tim October 15th, 2014 9:25 pm

    I am not sure if it was Cody or Donny who took the tumble down Diamond but I wonder if anyone knows why he didn’t deploy his airbag? Most of these guys seemed to be wearing Float 27s and he certainly has a yellow pack in that sequence.

    I hear what Lou is saying about an airbag not saving you when doing the tumble weed at 90mph down high angle, but he had already stopped and it sure looked like he could have been buried.

    I don’t ask in order to say I could have done any better or anything, but I genuinely curious if there was some good reason not to let the airbag rip, or reason it is especially hard after a traumatic fall. I just ordered a float pack and want to understand better the game time realities.

  13. Lou Dawson 2 October 16th, 2014 6:46 am

    Tim, Dynafit told me it was Cody. In these sorts of avalanches it’s the fall that hurts you. Essentially, you are falling down the mountain. The presence of snow in the equation is somewhat of a non issue. That’s the fallacy of airbags, beacons, etc. and why if we’re caught in avalanches we’ll never have a 100% survival rate no matter what the technology. So, with that in mind, when you’re trying to save yourself in a tumbling fall do you really want a big bulky object attached to your torso that makes body control even more difficult? I don’t have the answer, but it’s a valid question and perhaps why guys caught in large “slough” (otherwise known as an avalanche) are not popping airbags left and right.

    I of course like airbags. But I’m seeing a sort of over-optimistic fascination with their use. Reminds me of ski helmets, actually.

    Lou

  14. jim April 15th, 2015 11:09 pm

    further thread drift – anyone know the song/writer ~ 2:10 into the movie as Cody is talking then shown ripping? “my motor is a blowing, i’m a passing heaven’s gate”, dug the tune trying to find it.
    O yeah dug the movie and the idea of hiking/skiing some of those peaks is pretty cool, I got to ski diamond many years ago and think of it often because a picture of it hangs on the wall next to the desk I sit at too many hours of the day. hiking up the face in at least double the time it took those guys to do it in is unlikely in my future but I have immense respect for it!

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