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Julie Zell
First time Queen of the Hill
First Descent: Undulations

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Kent Kreitler
and Jeremy Jones
in Valdez, Alaska

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"We busted ass to make these flicks."

"We need reggae, canít go wrong with reggae."

"European resort stuff, big, serious Alaska lines, home turf. Itís all part of our vision."

"At this point we just want to fly around the world and ski with our buddies."

Teton Gravity Research
[click to zoom] Photo: Wade McKoy
Gravity Check
Teton Gravity Research combines
work and play for the good life

They can be found on the tram dock in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, up early like the other hardcores, trying to secure a spot in the first box up the hill.

Only these guys are toting film gear ó not the little home-movie crap your grandparents pull out at Christmas, but the real stuff. The 16mm outfit used to make feature flicks for the big screen.

The Commute
[click to zoom] Photo courtesy of TGR
"They" are the boys from Teton Gravity Research, the newest kids on the ever-growing block of ski film producers seeking to follow the hedonist doctrine and make some coin in the process. TGR, the company, consists of Jackson locals Dirk Collins, Corey Gavitt and Todd and Steve Jones ó a foursome of former Alaskan fishermen who decided theyíd pool their funds and go into business together.

"The idea actually came in the spring of '95," recalls Collins, the only native Alaskan of the bunch. "I had met Todd the previous winter in the tram line and we all ended up skiing and fishing in A. K. (all gnarly Alaska dudes refer to the 50th state as "A. K.").

"We were skiing in the Valley of the Tusk, in the Chugach Range, and thatís really when we pieced together the idea of starting a film company. We each pitched in three to four thousand bucks for the camera gear and spent the whole next winter filming," said Collins.

Because of their relative fast-track to success, many are quick to categorize the TGR crew as some spoiled heli-brats who mustíve received a bucketful of cash from Dad in order to finance their operation. However, a closer look reveals much of those criticisms to be unwarranted.

Steve Jones
[click to zoom] Photo courtesy of TGR
"We performed some of the most labor-intensive work in the world in order to pay for this," Steve Jones says about filming in Alaska. "And we invested it all, pretty much putting our asses on the line. We didnít have it given to us, we created the window of opportunity ourselves."

Granted, the group, particularly the Jones brothers who were already backed by Marmot, had established many contacts within the industry and had little trouble rounding up "talent" and sponsorships. Nevertheless, the knock — that any person who makes a dime off of skiing must therefore love it less than the true skid — seems to ring particularly false in this case. After all, itís not like these guys just woke up one morning and said, "from now on, we are going to be extreme skiing movie stars." Fact is, a person doesnít get as good at skiing as these guys without spending a life making plenty of turns when nobody is watching.

"We busted ass to make these flicks," Steve, the eldest Jones, says. "And weíre still not successful. I mean, weíre successful in that we get to ski a bunch and travel around but itís not like weíre making a ton of money."

Dave Swanwick in the Chugach
[click to zoom] Photo courtesy of TGR
But they are making a ton of fans. Indeed, "The Continuum," TGRís 1996 debut film, did nothing short of introduce the viewing public to the essence of contemporary big mountain freeriding. And the companyís most recent release, "Harvest," follows with more of TGRís bread-and-butter footage ó big air, big mountain, top-to-bottom runs down major peaks and railed couloirs.

"It encompasses a bit of everything," says Todd of the companyís latest release. "European resort stuff, big, serious Alaska lines, home turf. Itís all part of our vision of what makes a great ski movie. Itís like our Ďgreatest hitsí of the year."

Like the rest of the TGR crew, Jones looks and acts every bit the ski bum. Not real organized. Unshaven. Bed head. He walks around their cluttered home like a frumpy frat boy, talking about the movie in broken sentences while tossing out tune options for the soundtrack. "We need reggae, canít go wrong with reggae."

Was TGR surprised by the success of its first film, which has sold more than 8,000 copies to date?

"Letís just say it did what we hoped it would do," Collins said. "And it did what everyone said it wouldnít do."

Despite making plenty of runs down plenty of mountains most of us will never see, the job of movie maker also requires hours upon hours in the editing room. As you might expect, these sessions donít always go smoothly.

"Heavy moments," is how Todd describes them. "Sometimes we brawl, but democracy rules so, if we have to, we vote."

The predominant skiing style in both movies appears to violate many of the long-held tenets of the sport, often exhibiting a laid back, giant slalom, in-the-back-seat sort of style. It isnít the hop-turn, tight-lines technique popularized by the Glen Plakes and Scot Schmidts of yesteryear.

"A lot of that influence comes from snowboarding," Collins said. "and from skiing shaped skis, which make big, fast turns a lot easier on steep terrain."

Doug Coombs
[click to zoom] Photo courtesy of TGR
In addition to Jacksonís legendary riders, like Doug Coombs, "Sick" Rick Armstrong, Micah Black and Julie Zell, the TGR talent has grown to include some of the biggest names in the business. The faces of former U.S. Ski Teamer Jeremy Nobis, female extreme skiing star Allison Gannet and World Extreme Skiing champ Brant Moles all grace the footage of "Harvest."

Zell, a snowboarder and three-time winner of Alaskaís Queen of the Hill contest in Valdez, Alaska, exemplifies one of TGRís grand themes: it doesnít matter what you ride.

"I like working with those guys," Zell says of TGR. "Because I know and trust them in the mountains. Itís also easier for me to work with people who know what I can do. Sometimes people just assume because Iím a snowboarder that Iím going to huck myself off anything. And I donít. Thatís just not what I do."

While entertaining plenty of ideas for future films and enterprises, the members of TGR seem content, for now, just doing what theyíre doing and enjoying the ride.

"Nobody from TGR has much of a grand plan yet," Todd Jones says. "At this point, we just want to fly around the world and ski with our buddies."

In the small, hardcore town of Jackson, people are quick to criticize posers. Most people donít think much of those who do what they do for the cameras and the coin instead of for the love of the sport. Consequently, TGR takes a lot of heat at the local level for the "bro scene" theyíve done much to establish. While much of this can be excused simply as jealousy among the "couldíve-but-didn't" crowd, itís obviously an aspect of the business neither of the Jones boys care for.

"That scene doesn't really fly in Jackson," Steve admits. "And it wears on you because it's so superficial."

Micah Black
[click to zoom] Photo courtesy of TGR
Some Jackson residents are tough on members of TGR because of a snub in the tram line or perceived attitude at the bar, yet Steve is quick to point out that the attitude door swings both ways.

"Iíve got some great friends in this town, but there are a few guys who wouldnít give me the time of day before we started making movies. So now, if Iím not totally cool to these guys, Iím throwing some sort of vibe? Címon, I try to be as humble as I can and maybe that comes off as attitude. Iíve talked to Todd about it. Itís like, how do you conduct yourself to avoid these types of criticisms?"

Todd, himself very conscious about such things as remembering names, knows that people in the public eye are going to be criticized and sometimes thereís not much you can do about it. "It would be naive to think people donít sit around and crank on us," Todd says, laughing. "I mean, they donít know us, but they know a ton of shit about our lives."

True, some members of the "bro" scene (you know who you are) can be seen out at the bars, begging to be made fun of. Decked in shades and the latest happening duds, these guys obviously are into the "scene."

But while none of the founding foursome are generally placed in this category, Steve says the "bro scene" is all part of making a living.

"Unfortunately, what we do needs publicity. Hey, I would love to just ski and forget all the rest," said Jones.

One thingís for sure - TGR isnít in it just to "make a ski flick." They have achieved their success by keeping a collective eye not just on the prize but on the process.

— Tom Bie, Mountain Zone Correspondent

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