‘Smoke & Mirrors’: Free-heelers on film
October 5, 2006
Telemark skiing is hardly the dominant force in snowsports as a whole, but it enjoys a fierce fan base that gets bigger every winter. The new film “Smoke & Mirrors,” premiering Friday at Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, captures the essential grace of telemark skiing and mashes it up with the “go-big” ethos of extreme skiing and snowboarding videos. The results, like telemarking itself, are mixed but often thrilling.In their second film, co-directors Ben Dolenc and Max Mancini of Falling Forward Films took their team of 10 freeheel enthusiasts to powder stashes in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, Washington, Utah and Idaho. Along the way, they carve first turns, pull tricks, huck off cliffs and find a little time to mug for the cameras.Telemark’s elemental features are the long, languid turns, performed with dropped knees and in sweeping arcs. Because the discipline requires precision of technique, a lot of emphasis gets placed on perfecting and finding beauty in the form rather than reveling in sheer backcountry trickery. What likely feels like ecstasy to the skiers doesn’t always translate perfectly to film, and long stretches are spent watching turns, turns and more turns through perfect powder. I’m sure it’s an amazing sensation, but it’s probably better experienced than watched.But that doesn’t mean “Smoke and Mirrors” doesn’t have its adrenalized moments. Often, just after the film has lulled you into a bemused powder buzz, a freeheeler will wake up from his wax-on-wax-off Zen state to rip a vicious turn around a rocky rib, shoot down a chute and launch off a crumbling cornice, landing with an authoritative splat.Skier/CRMS alumnus Austin Corry, in particular, steals the glory in Jackson Hole and in the Bridger Range of Montana. In Jackson, he catches an edge, skates past narrow rock ledges on one ski and calves mini-avalanches all in one run, while in Montana he and Robbie McMahon nail super-steep lines through dizzyingly high chutes. A potentially deadly fall down one of these narrow channels turns into a successful negotiation, and scores them the most memorable moment from the entire film.Other crashes are, of course, highlights, and a ramp jump up a stone chimney makes for a silly but interesting trick. An entire section in Utah focuses entirely on rail grinds – one in which snow was clearly brought in to cover a section of grassy hill and pavement.For music, the film eschews the loud punk rock and banging hip-hop found in many snowcore videos and instead employs the detached vibes of indie rock and hip-hop artists. The fringe sound complements the “outsider” feel of the sport – it makes you want to join the club but also keep it a secret.While a few black-and-white segments feel like iMovie test pieces, the filmmakers generally do a great job of employing atmospheric cinematography and gentle editing to create that Polaroid-warm, endless-winter fuzz that makes you want to quit your job and buy a beat-up pickup to chase snowstorms.Though “Smoke & Mirrors” feels a bit incomplete, it is an important step forward for a group of talented filmmakers and skiers who will help shape and define their ski-scene as it grows from marginal to mainstream. If nothing else, it succeeds on two basic primal levels: 1) I can’t wait to see what comes next from Falling Forward Films, and 2) I can’t wait to try telemarking this winter.
Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale premieres the telemark ski film Smoke and Mirrors at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6 in the CRMS Barn.The film, hosted by Freeheellife.com, was co-produced by, and prominently features CRMS alumni Max Mancini (2000), Robbie McMahon (2000), Austin Corry (2002) and Cody Smith (2004).Tickets are free for all CRMS students, and $6 for the general public.The film also shows Saturday at Vail Mountain School.