Matchstick Productions’ ‘Return to Send’er’ on the big screen at The Meeting in Aspen

Matchstick Productions' "Return to Send'er" will play Friday night at The Meeting Filmfest in Aspen, followed by a months-long North American tour.
Matchstick Productions


What: ‘Return to Send’er,’ Matchstick Productions

Where: The Meeting Filmfest, Wheeler Opera House

When: Friday, Oct. 4, 8:30 p.m.

How much: $15

Tickets: Wheeler box office;

More info: Friday night’s program also includes a screenings of ‘Romance’ from Level 1 at 6 p.m. ($15); Saturday’s program includes the NEPSA Awards Short Film Contest at 7 p.m. ($15) followed by a double feature of “Jamie Anderson’s Unconditional” and “Everybody, Everybody” at 9 p.m. and a concert by The Pharcyde at 11 p.m. ($25);

The long-established formula for making commercial ski movies is to shoot segments with a ton of elite pro skiers, get funding from their sponsors, put creative people behind the camera who can blend high-flying ski segments with laughs and a head-bobbing soundtrack, then take it on the road in the fall to get skiers hyped for the coming season.

It’s been the way of the ski porn world since Warren Miller’s first movies in the 1950s. It’s been Matchstick Production’s formula, too, more or less, over 26 years of ski movies.

But last winter, the Matchstick team wanted to try something a little different, selecting just four skiers from their roster — each at a distinct phase in their career — and focusing filming on creating extended personal segments for each.

The result is “Return to Send’er,” which screens Friday night at the Wheeler Opera House as the centerpiece of The Meeting, the Aspen Skiing Co.’s annual industry conference and film festival.

Shot around British Columbia, Jackson Hole, Squaw Valley and Sun Valley, the film bills Mark Abma as “the legend,” Sam Kuch as “the phenom,” Karl Fostvedt as “the innovator” and Logan Pehota as “the legacy,” following them on a winter’s worth of cliff drops, crash reels and backcountry uphills.

Skier Sam Kuch’s point-of-view filming “Return to Send’er.”
Matchstick Productions

“We said, ‘Hey, let’s just simplify it,’ go to these four different personalities and tell them, ‘We’re going to give you 10 minutes of screen time, you can do whatever you want,’” Matchstick executive producer Murray Wais said in a phone interview this week.

Matchstick let the athletes each lead the charge and decide where they wanted to film and how they wanted to hit specific areas. They sought to fulfill these four’s vision for their ultimate 10-minute segment.

At winter’s end, they brought all four together for a heli-skiing trip to Revelstoke, where the film climaxes.

“It’s heavy on the shred and probably the most progressive movie we’ve ever made, in regards to the level of skiing,” Wais said.

While “Return to Send’er” showcases the familiar gravity-defying feats of the veteran Abma, who will turn 40 this winter, and the Pehota family tradition (Logan is the son of mountaineer and Warren Miller star Eric Pehota), this four-man showcase also serves up the future of the sport.

Mark Abma, right, with Chris Ruben and Eric Hjorleifson in the British Columbia backcountry in “Return to Send’er.”
Matchstick Productions

Matchstick believes the film will be a star turn for Kuch, a 21-year-old Canadian who has never had this kind of feature platform to perform on. For “Send’er,” he went to his home ski area, Whitewater, near Nelson, British Columbia, and put on a cliff-hucking show that makes Kuch’s case as a next big thing in pro skiing.

“He stunned minds,” Wais said.

Fostvedt used his long solo segment to display his fourth-dimension downhill style, both in B.C. and in the King and Queens of Corbet’s competition at Jackson Hole.

“He just has a different approach to looking at mountains and coming down mountains,” Wais said. “He doesn’t make a traditional turn — he spins down the mountain.”

Planning its 2019-20 winter, Matchstick is expanding its cast again and planning to shoot with at least 10 athletes. And while the “Send’er” foursome stuck mostly to the backcountry, the next project, Wais said, would return to some resort and park segments.

“Return to Send’er” follows four skiers at distinct points in the big mountain skiing careers.
Matchstick Productions

From Aspen, Matchstick’s tour will criss-cross North America through the end of the year, with some side-trips to the U.K. and Poland.

While ski movie tours are a tradition nearly as old as North American skiing, they’re evolving rapidly with the advent of digital media (the subject of much of The Meeting’s industry conference). The annual ski movie, once the end-all and be-all for skiers and snowsports movie studios, are part of an ever-widening constellation of video outlets. Pro skiers today, of course, cultivate followings on social media while production companies like Matchstick are sharing segments during filming and crafting shorter bits along with the annual features.

“We are loving it and embracing it,” Wais said of the changes. “It gives us another way to interact directly with our fans.”

For Level 1, the youthful and irreverent production company that’s been making features since 1999, this winter marks the end of the road for full-length films. Level 1 is billing “Romance,” with 28 credited skiers on-screen, as “the final chapter.” It’s the 20th and final of its annual film releases, which have documented an era of hyper-speed progression in skiing in street, park and backcountry. It screens Friday evening before “Return to Send’er.”

Along with this weekend’s screenings at The Meeting, several more ski movie tours are making their way through Aspen this fall.

Teton Gravity Research will bring its latest “Winterland” to the Wheeler on Oct. 18, and “Roadless” on Nov. 9. The Warren Miller tour comes to the Wheeler on Dec. 5.


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