Stephan Skrobar woke up early on his last day in base camp on a ski trip to Mongolia. He brushed the ice crystals off his sleeping bag, pulled on his down jacket, slipped on his shoes, and walked outside to answer nature’s call. A storm had come in the night before and it was still snowing as a half asleep Skrobar stumbled a few feet from his tent to relieve himself. A bleak dawn greeted the vast and remote Tavan Bogd Mountains in Western Mongolia, and then, mid-pee, Skrobar looked left and realized he wasn’t alone in this moment of solitude.
“There are four camels kneeling in the snow and looking at you with those stone eyes and watching you take a piss,” he says.
After 10 days of bitter cold, ceaseless wind, tent-crushing blizzards, and skiing first descent after first descent, the camels provided nothing short of comic relief for Skrobar and his team, which is why they are calling the film from their trip “Camels Are Never Cold.” The footage is not ski porn. It’s not a documentary about Mongolia. It’s just four Austrian skiers and two cameramen traveling to the far edge of the Mongolian Steppe and exploring the highest mountains in the country.
“It’s about being able to go through hardship. It’s not your usual ski movie. It’s just a ski adventure,” says French filmmaker and skier Thomas Andrillon.
Andrillon says the film will be out in August and he hopes to submit it to European film festivals, including the International Freeski Film Festival. POWDER caught up with Andrillon and Skrobar over Skype last week. I drank coffee. Eight hours ahead of me, Andrillon drank a beer and smoked a cigarette, and Skrobar dialed in from his home in the green Austrian Alps. Here are a few thoughts about their trip last May to Mongolia from our conversation in California and Europe.
Skrobar: Ulgii is a small town. It’s the westernmost town before you hit the Russian/China border. We initially planned to drive through the Steppe but that would have taken about six or seven days, and we didn’t have that much time. So we flew to Ulgii. That was the last civilization, if you will.
Skrobar: Altogether we had to pay 620,000 tugrik [in baggage fees], which is a shitload of money in your hand. You stack it up and it’s like this much money.
Skrobar: We partnered with a Mongolian expedition agency, which is absolutely necessary. They picked us up in Ulgii and they organized the next part of the trip, and that was driving from Ulgii to the end of the—and I’m using that term very liberally here—road. We left at 10 in the morning and we were at the end of the road at about seven at night. It’s basically just a trek, a path through the Steppe. It’s brilliant. But you sit in the van and it’s just bouncing for hours and hours.
Skrobar: We completely underestimated the conditions up there. We never thought it would be so cold and the weather was changing so much.
Andrillon: When the wind blows, it blows like hell. The cooking tent nearly flew away. The girls’ tent went down, actually.
Skrobar: We skied stuff I would never touch here in the Alps. If we had that much wind and that much snowfall, I wouldn’t go anywhere near it. But it was weird because it held. It was like a complete sheet. It was solid, compressed through the wind. It looks good. But it was shit to ski. It was so sharp and hard you couldn’t get off the edge.
Skrobar:We really had no set agenda. A lot of this stuff you can’t plan ahead. But secondly there was hardly any literature about it. There were no reliable maps. This is a piece of paper that the expedition agency printed out for us. I don’t know what scale it is. It was published in 1969 and it’s a Russian map. We found mountains that are not even on there.
Skrobar: Camels are just such funny animals. They walk amazingly fast. The camels were always there. They play a role in the Mongolian country life. They carried our gear, and they entertained me.
Andrillon: If you’re a ski porn addict, we don’t care about you. Or I don’t. There’s so much else you will love. This is just a ski adventure. It’s just us in the mountains of Mongolia.