Alaksa, Japan, Iceland are destination trips for film companies that promise predictably good snow and a hopefully an incident-free trip (save for hangovers). Soulryders, a film production company based in Salt Lake City, did the opposite. Last winter, they headed to Kashmir, India, to hunt for Himalayan powder and steep lines with a crew including Vanessa Aadland, Thayne Rich (posterboy of Sweetgrass’ nude segment), and Kalen Thorien. Facing not only technical ascents and descents, they met political unrest in a state that has been a hotbed of conflict for many years. The first episode of the six-part Lines of Control web series documenting their journey dropped last week, so we caught up with Soulryders founder Mark Kogelman about their wild rides in Kashmir.
The idea to go to Kashmir came from the owner of Grace Skis. He had this great hookup through the Adventure Project. What attracted me to filming in Kashmir was the chance to film in the Himalayas. Gulmarg is the perfect location for several reasons: It has the highest gondola in the world, accessing great side country. The backcountry alone is so incredible, you’d be perfectly happy never buying a lift ticket. And the heli skiing is like nothing I’ve ever seen.
Our guides were super well versed in the backcountry; really fun and hilarious to film with when it was safe, but real serious when there was some danger. They are well known and well liked among the locals…[and] they have a unique knowledge of the mountains and town.
My favorite moment in that trip was definitely skiing the line I just described [a heli-accessed line in a zone named after Soulryders]. On a houseboat in Srinagar a few days later over dinner we all went around the dinner table like at Thanksgiving telling everybody what we were thankful for on that trip. I was so thankful for that line and that I had such an awesome group of people with me to experience Kashmir.
The biggest challenge traveling there was definitely the camera gear. We had a Red Epic with us and it seemed to baffle many of the custom agents and general security. They just didn’t know what it was. I’ll say the funniest moment was watching Thayne down a bottle of Jack while dude with an AK supervised in the security line at Indira Gandhi International Airport. We all became the center of attention as we helped the poor guy out.
We’re an underground company. We like to film athletes that aren’t big names, people that are just stoked to be out there doing it, who’d be doing it without the cameras on them. I was skiing a lot at Mount Baker and in Utah [the season I founded Soulryders]. I hear this term all the time: soul skiing, soul riders. And I’m looking off the lift at these guys and girls skiing and snowboarding with no one watching them, just doing it for the love of the sport. They’re just doing it for themselves. And they’re out there killing it.