Interview by Mike Rogge
Photos by Michael Brown
What is the FullCircle Project?
MP (Matt Philippi): The FullCircle Project is a way for my friends and me to help out in the places that we have the privilege to visit, ski and explore. We are lucky enough, as pro skiers, to have the ability to travel across the globe. I thought to myself, “Why not find a way to give back and while skiing and traveling the world?”… and now I am doing that.
AH (Aidan Haley): The FullCircle Project is an effort to start a different kind of relationship between that of the professional skier and the countries and communities in which they ski in. Skiing isn’t just the lifts, slopes and mountain you are on that day. It’s the people that surround the mountains and create each individual community.
DM (Dan Marion): The FullCircle project is a project designed to let skiers continue to fulfill their passions as skiers, while giving back/ rebuilding, communities negatively affected near their skiing. I like to call it hu-shred-itarian efforts.
TF (Taylor Felton): The FullCircle project is an organization composed of athletes, a filmer and a photographer. We are dedicated to skiing and found a way to integrate it and giving back to communities that need help. The purpose of the project was to donate 9 days of work to an organization called Un Techo Para Chile, dedicated to rebuilding for those in need after the massive 8.8 earthquake. The quake struck back in January in the early hours of the morning with a proceeding tsunami a few hours after. It was unclear to us if there was still work to be done in Chile or if we were in fact too late with our relief efforts.
JT (Jack Tolan): The FullCircle Project is a sincere effort by a group of dedicated skiers to both connect and give back to communities in and around the alpine areas in which we are privileged enough to visit and ski. The FullCircle Project crew consists of skiers, a cinematographer, a photographer, and musician dedicated to the goal of participating in community outreach projects in proximity to the alpine ski settings. I think it’s easy to take for granted the unique opportunity we have to travel and ski in remote locations. Often times a ski trip is limiting in the sense that one lacks the time and resources to even get to know the local population, much less participate in service that benefits the community.
MB: A collaboration between a group of skiers who want to help communities in need around the globe. To achieve this goal, we are drawing on our roots within the ski industry to build awareness and support for community service projects which we seek out and execute.
The FullCircle Project travelled to a small town in between Concepcion and Talcahauno called Las Salinas, Chile. There they started a nine day service project to build a new kindergarten and playground for a community that had been displaced by the earthquake and tsunami of last February.
What makes the FullCircle Project different from other organizations like say Alpine Initiatives or Stand Strong Again?
AH: I think what JP and company are doing in Kenya is unbelievable, and if any of you out there haven’t visited their site and know what their up to you should check it out. (www.alpineinitiatives.org)
What The FullCircle Project is more focused on is the creating a connection between skiers and the communities around the mountains they are skiing all over the world.
MP: First off, I think what Stand Strong and Alpine Initiatives are doing is great. I have been a long time supporter of Stand Strong and want to send a big shout out to JOE STUMPF!! One aspect of FullCircle that is different from those two organizations is that because we have a filmer, photog, and musician as part of our team we can create media content and share what we are doing with the ski community. Not only is shooting photos and video a crucial part of our job as pro skiers, but we can use these outlets to bring awareness to the people, places, and organizations that we are helping.
TF: The FullCircle Project like Stand Strong Again and Alpine Initiatives is an organization dedicated to giving back to those who have suffered and lost something or someone they love. We are different because our crew is completely self-sufficient. We have a very tight knit group and everyone here excels at what they love. This year we have a cinematographer, photographer and four athletes, one of which is the music coordinator. We are really focused on getting our stories out to the skiing community thus making more people aware of how these natural disasters affect our sport.
Why Chile? Why this project?
MP: Chile was the right choice for many reasons. I have skied here before and have a good friend in the region (“Chico”, our guide for the trip). When I learned that the area was ravaged by an 8.8 magnitude quake and a 70+ foot tsunami, I knew that I had to go back there and help.
I spoke with Chico, and he confirmed that much of coast around his home in Chile had been destroyed. His house on the coast, although still standing, had been underwater during the massive tsunami.
Jack Tolan’s sister, Maggie, told us about Un Techo Para Chile, an organization that is leading the volunteer disaster relief efforts in response to the February quake. I dusted off my Spanish and started writing emails to the Un Techo leaders in the Bo Bo region of Chile. The organization was excited to have us come and help out as well as create awareness about the rebuilding efforts.
AH: The Bo Bo region of Chile was the hardest hit by the earthquake. Even though we were working in Las Salinas with Un Techo helping to build a kindergarten for a community that had been displaced by the earthquake and tsunami, and skiing 100 kilometers away to the east in Nevados de Chillan; the two are intrinsically linked. This disaster has affected the ski industry up here more than any other political change or natural disaster has in the recent past. Not only were employees (12 of which lost everything) of the resort affected, but the fallout from the devastation has left the region not only scarred infrastructurally speaking but also economically. Less people are visiting this beautiful region of Chile and the ski industry is hurting because of it. Nevados de Chillan pays taxes to the Biobio district to help with reparations. If people aren’t skiing at Nevados then less money is going back to the region.
MB: We set out to find a community in need that was also in close proximity to ski-able mountains. When Chile was pummeled by earthquakes and Tsunamis in late February, it was clear that our time would be well spent helping the devastated communities rebuild. Furthermore, Chile was an excellent option for us because of the close proximity between great ski terrain and areas hit by the quake, allowing for a cohesive story connecting the ski and service portions of the trip.
How did you get involved?
AH: Matt and Jack conceived the idea behind The FullCircle Project on their porch in SLC back in December 2009. I was asked by Matt to come on board a month later in January to Direct and shoot the project. As Matt and I talked more, we began to realize the potential this project had and how important it was to follow through and make it happen. I then began to take on a producer role as well and worked with Matt since then to get everything organized.
MP: Well, I was about 2 weeks out of my third ACL reconstruction around Christmas of 2009 (wishing I was skiing)… and I was sitting on the porch with housemate and FullCircle music director/tele-pro Jack Tolan, and we were brainstorming ideas. I was focused on my plans for getting back on snow in the summer. Jack was focused on his music and skiing. An idea for a volunteer/ski trip began to take shape.
DM: Matt had recently conceived the idea of a group of skiers giving back to communities that had been negatively affected in some way. We thought we could help negatively affected communities, while using our skiing careers as a platform, to promote humanitarian efforts and progress our skiing at the same time. Since Matt and I had been longtime shred bud’s we knew we had to be on the trip together one way or another.
JT: The idea for the FullCircle Project was born in late December ’09 on the front porch of our house in Salt Lake City. With Matt’s knee wrapped in several layers of surgical wrap and Ace bandages after a recent surgery, we were discussing the road ahead and exciting prospects on the distant horizon. In the midst of a characteristic monologue from Philippi, the idea to head down to South America for a skiing adventure surfaced. With the knowledge that Matt thrives on enthusiasm and encouragements during a speech, I threw out the idea that we could combine a service project with the skiing adventure. During the weeks prior to our conversation I had been researching means to return to South America, the most promising discovery consisting of participating in some volunteer work. Shortly after our conversation Matt contacted a friend and fellow grad from CC, Aidan Haley, asking if he’d like to join the project as the cinematographer.
In terms of deciding on a worthy service project where we would be able to contribute positively in a community, the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Chile, specifically the region of BioBio, in late February made that decision for us. We contacted Un Techo Para Chile (A roof for Chile), an organization that both aids in disaster relief reconstruction as well as building transitional housing for families who are without permanent homes.
That is how the plan for our current project was created, however, the inspiration behind the FullCircle Project has been cultivating for many years now. Two elements that make this crew and consequently the project so cohesive and self-sufficient are the preexisting friendships that exist between the group and our ability produce the full spectrum of media for the project completely in-house.
Along with skiing in the film, I’m creating the soundtrack for the episodes as well as the larger documentary piece. I recorded the soundtrack literally in-house, in a makeshift studio in my bedroom in salt lake city. Playing several different instruments including acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric bass, mandolin, djembe, and vocals, I recorded a variety of different original pieces. Ranging from single instrumental guitar pieces to full-band reggae-esq songs, my goal is to not only create music that is an expression of myself, but to create music that is an expression of the ideals and principles associated with the project.
TF: Matt Philippi approached me in January, shortly after I herniated a disk in my back. He planted the seed of the idea of traveling with him and the FullCircle crew down to Chile for 5 and 1/2 weeks. I had the opportunity to ski for about a month in the spring and confidently found by body to be in good shape. I thought this project would be a great chance for me to get on snow again before the 2010/2011 season. More importantly, this trip gives me a chance to donate something back to another country passionate about snow.
MB: Matt and I had been discussing the prospect of shooting in South America this summer after his recover from knee surgery. When he cooked up the idea of a project combining community action and skiing, I was immediately excited about the photographic opportunities that would be involved, and also the chance to help communities in need through service.
Follow The FullCircle Team as they have their eyes opened from fellow volunteer Tommy, head to the mountains, and begin their own rebuilding process.
Shot of the Sony HXR-NX5U
What has been the biggest eye-opener on your trip?
AH: Seeing how much work still has to be done. No question. It will be a good 5-10 years before visual signs of the quake start to disappear.
MP: I have seen a lot down here. The actual destruction is staggering. Whether is was the collapsed apartment building or the seven-storey buildings that had their roofs ripped off from the giant tsunami, I have been humbled by the destructive power of the mother nature. We have felt something around seven aftershocks from the quake… providing many reminders of what happened here earlier this year.
TF: The biggest eye opener on the trip has been observing all of the devastation caused by the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis. Our crew gave 9 days of work to Un Techo Para Chile. We had the opportunity to take 2 of the afternoons off and travel into the heart of Concepcion and a small town called Talcahuano . Our first trip led us into Concepcion , a 35 minute bus ride east of our school. Right as we stepped off the bus, there lay before us a 22 story building compiled into 4 stories of debris. I saw holes in the side of the building s from rescuers helping whoever could have survived the collapse. After the initial quake, the people began looting the adjacent market of everything inside.
Our 2nd day in which we had the afternoon off to go explore, our crew headed to the coast. We went to a town called Talcahuano to discover the devastation caused by a series of 4 tsunami waves, the last of which was 22 meters tall. Upon stepping off the bus we were right on the water and in plain view massive fishing boats capsized, beached or even sank only with their masts above water. We saw many roofs collapsed or even missing all together. There were boats in the center lane on the streets and landslides all over the town.
Another big eye opener of the trip has been hearing the stories of the affected. During my experience with Un Techo I had the pleasure of meeting one of the main volunteers, Tommy. He is Chillan and has been giving his time to Un Techo on and off for the past 8 years. Since the earthquake, he has been working non stop. He has no money and was on the coast when the quake struck and the tsunamis hit. He described to us that after the waves came and went he pulled 60 bodies out of the water. Woman, children and babies were all floating lifeless in the water.
He had a lot to say about the incident however the language barrier enabled me from deciphering everything he was saying. I did happen to hear him saying that when the waves came into the towns and cities, they brought with them many varieties of sea life. Stranded and unattended they rotted where they were left. Ultimately, these towns and cities smelled of decaying sea life for a month. There were many stories of how people were affected which I never even though of.
MB: Realizing that the destruction in Chile is still very real, and that we can make a difference.
How much money have you raised? Where can people interested get more information and donate?
MP: A big THANK YOU to Chris Adams and Jeff Curtis at Volkl for helping make this project possible. Volkl/Marker has supported me throughout my entire ski career. To have them backing this project is awesome. It shows that they are a company that not only supports their athletes, but also their ideas! Also thank you to DNA and all of our individual donors, friends, and family who made this possible.
AH: Like Matt said, a big thank you to our sponsors and the public donors without you we wouldn’t have been able to make this happen.
Where do you see the project going in the future?
AH: The potential for this is really limitless. That’s clich, but in our case it’s true. We want to take The FullCircle Project back to South America next summer, but realistically could be taken anywhere in the world where people like sliding down snow. Jack will be scouting for projects and locations this fall in Bolivia and Argentina. But it’s not just going to be a summertime thing. We hope to start doing some projects in the winter while Matt, Dan, and Taylor follow the competition circuit or are filming in the States.
MP: Like Aidan said, we are already thinking about next summer and trying to put together a project for the winter in the states. We are excited to make our organization a non-profit and also to facilitate direct donations to the organizations we are helping. There is a lot of work to do but one thing is for sure: this is the first of many FullCircle Projects.
JT: One of the many things we’ve learned since our arrival in Chile is that the project is not a one-time adventure but rather an inaugural experience that has set the stage for continued projects in both the northern and southern hemispheres. After the project comes to a close here in Chile, I plan to travel up to Northern Argentina and Bolivia in search of potential service opportunities for next summer’s FullCircle Project. I see the Project not only continuing, but growing and gaining momentum in its effort to make a positive impact in communities that are in need.
TF: I see this project becoming an annual experience. I see the FullCircle crew getting larger and pursuing more countries that have snow and need help. Maybe include a surfing side to the story, I don’t know, we are open to new ideas.
DM: As long as there is skiing and a way for us give back to the community the project can go anywhere. We have some ideas already but we have been giving 100% to the project at hand and making all that we’ve hoped it could be.
MB: As a team we have built a foundation of knowledge about how to make the FullCircle concept work. We are all very excited about putting that knowledge to use in the future, building towards bigger projects and increasing the amount of service we can provide for those in need. I see FullCircle growing into a larger non-profit that draws on visual story telling to build awareness and support for communities in need.
And finally, how’s the skiing in Chile?
AH: Pretty variable, but we have more snow here at Nevados de Chillan than anywhere else in South America (supposedly) and a big storm just rolled in and is supposed to drop 60cm. So the boys are stoked and itching to go, before we head back to the Coast for our last week.
DM: We have been shredding a resort called Nevados de Chillan, in southern Chile, and at this point they have the most snow of any resort in South America. Its got to be the best spot, I just saw Travis Rice take off in his heli the other day from the base. All around the terrain is amazing, tons of great jump spots and big lines on all aspects, waiting to be skied. Tribulations with the weather have been present, as with any ski trip. This area of Chile is smack dab in the middle of the lower 40th Latitude, (aka. “The Roaring 40’s”) where some of the largest and most powerful storms pass through. We’ve had some great days completely blue bird and our fare share of blown out down days. Overall this trip has been one of the best trips of my career and I look forward to further endeavors with the FullCircle project.
MP: Skiing has been AWESOME! I just spent the last year getting knee surgeries and spending way too much time in the gym. To be back on snow and skiing with my best friends… it couldn’t be any better. We have had huge temperature gradients and high winds, but we have made the most of it. We built some pretty large jumps and have found the stashes. After working with earthquake and tsunami survivors for the first part of our trip, hard snow and strong wind aren’t so bad!!
MB: We have been skiing at a resort called Nevados de Chillan, located about six hours south of Santiago by bus. Created by volcanic activity, the terrain here is very playful, and when the snow drops the skiing is amazing! Nevados is also unique because it’s slopes are bordered by a lush temperate rainforest. Driving to the hill, we pass through amazing stands of moss covered old growth trees and giant ferns backlit by the morning sun- an awesome place to ski and shoot!