(Ed’s note: Tomorrow night, Friday, Sept. 9, marks the opening of premiere season. In Denver, you’ve got Level 1 Productions, and in Seattle, you’ve got Poor Boyz Productions. Opening up for PBP’s ‘The Grand Bizarre’ at The King Cat Theater is Seth Morrison’s ‘The Ordinary Skier,’ something of an outlier film in that it’s not one of the annual efforts by skiing’s established production companies like L1P and PBP. Naturally, a lot of folks are keen to see what Seth & Co. have cooked up, and in view of that we’re rolling out this a feature from the Sept. 2010 issue Powder about the film. Meantime, happy premiere season, wherever it finds you.)
Over the Bridge
Seth Morrison embarks on a two-year film project, and learns a few tricks along the way
By Matt Hansen
Given Seth Morrison's last decade of ski film dominance, you might expect him to start slowing down at the age of 36. Maybe he'd finally settle into a cush heli lodge and, between hot tub soaks, ski the longest, sweetest powder lines in the world. He's definitely earned it. But, alas, that's not Seth. He's not in it for the payoff. He's in it for the moment. So when he began planning a two-year film project, to be released in 2011, his ultimate goal was to take himself out of his element—to continue to follow his dreams with the same fervor that first made him famous as the punk kid from Crested Butte back in the '90s.
Which was how he found himself in Chamonix on the afternoon of March 19 , dangling off a rope into the Passerelle Couloir. Despite having little climbing experience, Seth wanted to delve into this ski alpinist Mecca to gain a new perspective on the sport that has shaped his life.
With that goal in mind, Seth, along with the film's producer Constantine ("CP") Papanicolaou, assembled a team of American-based Chamonix skiers, including cinematographer Matty "Moo" Herriger, photographer Christian Pondella, and guide/athlete Nathan Wallace. Joining Seth during two Chamonix trips this spring was Kye Petersen, who in recent years has taken to sleeping on Wallace's floor in order to learn the ropes of the Mont Blanc massif.
"You can see why, after going there, that not much has come out of Chamonix other than the Blizzard of Ahhs," Seth says. "It's a tough place for filming. You're dragging all this heavy gear around. There are a few gimmees off the chairlift, but it's a lot of work and you're always in the danger zone. It's a completely different animal."
After skiing a few well-known lines (the Cosmique, Triangle du Tacul, Chevalier Couloir via the Grands Montets, among others), the crew opted to hit the dramatic Passerelle, named so because it is accessed by rappelling off the bridge atop the Aiguille du Midi tram. While this tight slot is not among the most prized descents by Chamonix's lofty standards (skiable vert inside the couloir is about 800 feet), it is the first "holy shit" view you get when you step off the tram. Vertical rock and ice frame the route while tourists gape (and probably vomit) from above. "I'd never skied that line because I'm not too excited about rappelling off a bridge in front of everybody just to ski something that goes to the Rond Glacier," says Wallace, a Mammoth, California, native who has lived in Chamonix since 1998.
The route required two 60-meter rappels and another 50-meter downclimb through mixed rock and ice.
"It's way more involved than you think," Seth says. "The downclimb alone, everything that you had to do just to make that first ski turn was something I'd never done."
Wallace dropped the bridge first. He would have to wait at the entrance of the couloir for nearly two hours, as Seth, Kye, and Pondella cautiously lowered themselves down the rock face, their skis swinging from their packs as they descended. "I didn't know what I was doing, to tell you the truth," recalls Seth.
Elevating the risk factor was the snow itself. After an excellent winter of snow, in March strong winds rolled off the Atlantic and blasted the French Alps. For the two weeks leading up to the Passerelle, the crew had scratched by on what little soft snow was available, mostly on the Italian side of Mont Blanc. Much of the steeper off-piste terrain was bullet proof, placing even greater emphasis on route selection.
But a few turns into the Passerelle, shading just left of a ramp of blue ice, the skiers found boot-deep powder. It was one of the few times during the trip that they were able to relax into their skis, relishing the opportunity to drift back into their own personal space. When they reached the Rond, the normally stoic Morrison skied up to Wallace and gave him a hug.
"It made me look at skiing completely different," Seth says of the experience. "It was adventure skiing is what it was."