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Higher on the Mountain
by Straight Up Films


Higher on the Mountain
Altai Expedition
Photo: Ace Kvale
Higher on the Mountain is a ski documentary that asks today's hard-core athletes, "Why do you do what you do?" The movie follows early pioneers of modern skiing and snowboarding, as well as up-and-coming athletes, chronicling the growth and change in mountain sports over the past decade. What makes this film different is the focus on the athletes as people and the passions that drive their lives.

It's true that over the past 10 years we've seen an exploding popularity in outdoor and mountain sports, partially driven by, and partially driving, advances in ski, snowboard and mountaineering technology. More people are performing bigger feats than ever have before and, as Adam DesLauriers' says in the narration, "what a handful of people were doing a decade ago is almost mainstream today."

We can see by mainstream advertising in the automobile and Internet industries, and even on Wall Street, that radical sports are becoming part of American pop culture. But Higher on the Mountain brings us closer to the people who perform inspiring acts of strength (both physical and mental) and athleticism in remote places... where no network cameraman or consumer will be there to hold your belay when you fall.

The biggest coup of this film is in the Russian Altai Mountains of Siberia. cybercasted this ski/snowboard expedition in April '99, and to see the footage that made it into the film brought the entire experience full circle.

The expedition was conceived by adventure photographer Ace Kvale, who also organized the trip. Led by guide John Falkiner, the team climbed, then successfully skied, snowboarded and telemarked down Mt. Belukha (14,783ft), the highest peak in the Altai Range.

This was expedition member and ski pioneer Scot Schmidt's first time on a large-scale ski mountaineering expedition, and his first visit back to Russia after filming Greg Stump's Siberia in '96. Schmidt, who skied in his first Warren Miller film, Ski Time in '83, and pro snowboarder Jim Zellers, who has been riding since '78, talk about their personal growth after spending most of their lives in the mountains. Adventures that were once fueled by the quest for adrenaline have now evolved for them. Both now married with children, Schmidt and Zellers admit the adrenaline rush has remained constant, but the balance of new adventures, including family, has made the risk factor the object of change. They still like exploring, they still like adventure, but they take fewer risks as they begin to appreciate other areas of their lives.

The shots from the Altai are breathtaking. The cinematography fully documents the feel of this area, from flying on old kerosene-powered Russian helicopters, to the Base Camp barrels, to cold nights in an igloo and ultimately to spectacular ski and snowboard descents.

Other segments include new school snowboarders Megan Pischke, Jay Nelson and ski speed demon Jeremy Nobis tearing up the terrain (and trees... don't worry, there's no logging going on here) in the Canadian Rockies. And, the ski mountaineering sequence with Hans Saari and "Sick" Rick Armstrong ice climbing and skiing with Alex Lowe shows the yin and yang of how wisdom and experience, partnered with youthful enthusiasm and ability, breeds mutual respect. This sequence is some of the first footage of Alex Lowe to be released after he was killed by a massive avalanche on Shishapangma in Tibet.

The grand finale of the film features most of the film's athletes combining old school and new school skiing in one of the hardest of hard-core places in the world: Alaska. Due to bad weather and avalanche danger, there were few opportunities for rock-star shots, but the film doesn't suffer. Waiting out dangers is a reality you usually don't see in the money shots ubiquitous in mountain sports films and advertising. The fact that it's not easy though, is part of the magnet that pulls these athletes into doing what they do. And in the end, they get one good day, and sweet turns, that make it all worth while.

Higher on the Mountain comes complete with a chase scene and car explosion that would make Starsky & Hutch proud.

A film showing is taking place in Seattle, WA, on Friday, Nov. 5 at the King Cat Theater. The party starts at 7:30pm, the movie is at 8:30pm, and tickets are available via TicketMaster or at the door.

Michelle Quigley, staff

Higher on the Mountain Videos fill those long, painful months when the sunshine has gone away and it has not yet been replaced by any white stuff. In fact, this video might just be the only thing that gets you through the fall. Think of it this way: you can either watch videos every day until the snow falls, and then go run around in the rain, or you can spent the whole day inside, jumping around your bedroom with your board(s) strapped to you feet. The second option presents a very high rug-burn potential. Don't do something you'll regret. Check out this vid.

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