Places to Go: A Jim Harris Story

Short film documents a Powder photographer’s road back from spinal cord injury

In the documentary Places to Go, Jim Harris compares his road toward recovery from a spinal chord injury to the ultimate expedition. Like a long tour or climbing a couloir, he says he focuses on close landmarks—on reaching an obtainable goal and only then looking forward to the next waypoint. “It’s not the expedition I expected to get,” he says in the film.

Before suffering a spinal cord injury, Jim Harris was an active photographer and skier. PHOTO: Places to Go
Before suffering a spinal cord injury, Jim Harris was an active photographer and skier. PHOTO: Places to Go

In November 2014, Harris, an esteemed outdoor and adventure photographer, and two friends were preparing for the trip of a lifetime—a 330-mile traverse of the Southern Patagonia Icecap using skis, traction kites and pack rafts. While practicing with his kite in a grassy field in South America, Harris was picked up by a gust and slammed to the ground. He broke his spine around his rib cage and lost feeling in his legs. The ski community, led by Jim’s brother Kyle, rallied to help him get to his parent’s home in Cincinnati. A grant from the High Fives Foundation paid for a medical flight to the Craig Hospital in Denver, one of the nation’s premier spinal chord recovery centers, where he started a rigorous rehab program.

Work on Places to Go: A Jim Harris Story began almost the moment Harris landed back in Cincinnati. Harris’ mother started shooting video and photos the day he went into surgery. “So many people shared their sympathy, love, and concern for me in the first days after my injury that my family and I felt obligated to keep everyone updated once I began to heal,” says Harris. “Most of those people were extended family and friends at first, but then increasingly the people commenting on my Facebook updates were strangers who were connecting with my story.”

In eight months, Harris has progressed from barely being able to get out of bed, to walking. PHOTO: Places to Go
In eight months, Harris has progressed from barely being able to get out of bed, to walking. PHOTO: Places to Go

Shortly after Harris’ injury, Mike Rogge, a POWDER senior correspondent and co-founder of the Tahoe-based media house Verb Cabin had a chance meeting with High Fives Executive Director Roy Tuscany in the Salt Lake airport. High Fives had already started supporting Harris, and Rogge and Harris had an existing friendship through POWDER. “Roy asked if Verb Cabin was interested in looking into a film,” says Rogge. “Jim and I spoke on the phone and the next thing you know Verb Cabin’s co-founder, Blake Kimmel, is hanging in Craig Hospital, shooting Jim’s recovery and getting to know the Harris family.”

With narration from Harris, the film chronicles a very personal and difficult segment of his life. “I wasn’t looking for that attention, but it wasn’t unwelcome either; I figured I should take all the good vibes I could get,” says Harris. “Now it feels like I have an obligation to be candid about this process I’ve been going through because it’s become meaningful to people who are going through analogous life trials.”

The short film—about 17 minutes—will premiere in Salt Lake City this fall, dates and location still to be determined, followed by showings at key locations across the country. Rogge says they are hoping to hit the film festival circuit as well.

As for Harris, the healing process continues. In eight months, he has progressed from barely being able to get out of bed, to walking and even doing some kayaking. “I sure hope this film accomplishes something positive,” he says, “but it’s not quite finished and I’m not through recovering.”