skiing, backcountry, ski film, Warren Miller, Jon Long

The Reason We Ski

Jon Long on the inspiration behind his latest film, The Search for Freedom

 
The new multi-sport film The Search for Freedom will be screened at 75 theaters across the United States on June 10. While the latest passion project from director Jon Long mixes footage from snow, sky, land, and sea, there are plenty of pow shots for skiers to gnaw on. At its core, Freedom is a film about why skiers ski, or why any of us do any of the things we do. While much has changed in the ski industry over time, the reason we drop in really hasn’t. We have an undeniable human desire to live in the moment and do what makes us feel the most alive.

Packed with striking cinematography and the wisdom of industry pioneers like Warren Miller and wonder-boy skier Logan LaPlante, Freedom will appeal to skiers of all abilities—and anyone else with a passion for pushing their limits. Moving footage of the late Shane McConkey serves as a stark reminder of what we risk when we straddle that line.

POWDER caught up with the director/skier to find out why he was so determined to tell this story and why skiing is a major part in it.

POWDER: You directed the action-packed IMAX doc Extreme in 1999, which was also filled with footage of skiing, big-wave surfing, ice climbing, snowboarding, windsurfing, and rock climbing. What pushed you to revisit this genre and create The Search for Freedom?

Long: The traditional IMAX audience isn’t action-sport based, but I knew because action-sport imagery is so powerful that I could cross over from one audience to the other. It worked well with Extreme, so I wanted to try creating something feature length, with a true narrative arc and a storyline that could work for the sports’ core enthusiast and also someone who doesn’t normally watch that type of film. I wanted to tell the story of an evolution that I’ve been a part of. I’ve seen how much the digital revolution has changed filmmaking and how the culture surrounding actions sports has grown so much, and I wanted to tell that story for a long time.

As you put this film together and reflected on your own experience as a skier, what has changed and what has ultimately remained the same?

The digital revolution is a huge change. There is so much more media and imagery now. When I started, there was very few imagery, especially motion pictures. Now anybody can make a film. That is the biggest shift, and I think it’s great—the more people that can share images, the more people we share the experience with.

For all that has happened and changed, the reason why we do it is the same. From the first time I ever skied, that’s the thing that has stayed the same, even though the surrounding industry has changed so much. For 99 percent of people, it’s just about that experience and the other stuff doesn’t matter. There is a tiny group of people that can now pursue these sports as a career, but that wasn’t an option before, and for most of us it still isn’t. For most of us, it’s just about the experience and that’s the message of the film.

The Search for Freedom is the story of a cultural revolution fueled by the human desire to live in the moment and do what makes you feel the most alive. For us, it happens on skis. PHOTO: Courtesy of Jon Long
The Search for Freedom is the story of a cultural revolution fueled by the human desire to live in the moment and do what makes you feel the most alive. For us, it happens on skis. PHOTO: Courtesy of Jon Long

How important was it to include the voices and stories of industry pioneers like Warren Miller and others in the film?

Their stories were an important part of telling the evolution story. Talking to a lot of people involved in the early days, I wanted to know what their motivation was. They have lived a long time and have so much experience and wisdom they can share. Juxtaposing that with the young people in the film and being able to see the message for a lot of them is the same. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how much experience you have, they were all saying the same thing. The reason they do what they do is the passion they have for the experience of living in the moment and freeing yourself. Whatever the sports, it allows you to connect to and focus on that moment. It’s a powerful experience.

The film addresses an important issue skiers face every time we’re on the mountain—the balance between pushing your limits and staying safe. Have you had an experience that pushed your limits too far?

Absolutely. I’ve had moments skiing something that was too steep and the consequences were too much. It’s definitely traumatic and eye opening when you realized what is happening. But more so, I’ve experienced it while filming. When you’re pushing your boundaries to try and capture that perfect image, that means getting onto a slope or dangerous place and that’s pushing it hard.

Shane McConkey has a major role in the film, shot before he died attempting a ski-BASE jump in 2009. What are your thoughts about people dying doing the things they love?

I think those people know what they’re doing and they understand the risk and the consequences. They’re making a personal choice to push the boundaries and I celebrate people who do that. I wouldn’t say that everyone should follow in their footsteps at that level of risk, but each individual makes a personal choice and their friends and family have to understand it and love them for it. That’s who they are.

The Search for Freedom includes footage from a range of sports. What unites so many different kinds of athletes?

It comes down to that moment we all connect to. Truly, you don’t have to be doing an action sport. It could be planting a garden or doing yoga or painting. There are lots of different ways to be immersed in something that makes you completely connected to a moment and makes you really feel alive. It’s unlimited in terms of how people can relate to that moment.

Click here to find out where you can see The Search for Freedom in theaters on June 10.