By LJ Strenio
Skiing has led me to some strange places in the pursuit of snow. Last March, I was hired by Sweetgrass Productions and Paramount Pictures to shoot jungle skiing stunts for Vin Diesel's new movie, XXX: Return of Xander Cage. The idea was to find a steep enough pitch in the jungle to ski down, without snow, hitting jumps and sliding logs all along the way.
In October, Sandy Boville, Karl Fostvedt, Cody Townsend, Thayne Rich, and I dressed ourselves in full ski gear in the pouring rain of the Pacific Northwest, shoveling dirt jumps in the middle of the woods with no snow in sight. There's no guidebook on how to build steep ski runs and big gap jumps with no snow, but after shooting for the movie, we considered ourselves the preeminent authorities on the subject. We would visualize a section of a jump or run, argue about the details, build it, and repeat. Sometimes you just need a little snow, though, and a few of our more dangerous jumps required a quick trip up to nearby Timberline Resort on Mount Hood to collect a enough snow for an adequate in-run. We never had the luxury of landing on snow unfortunately, so falling was often not an option.
After weeks of building in the rain, we started testing the jumps and runs we had built. If you gather a bunch of pro skiers in the late fall after a long summer, it doesn't take long for someone to step up and start skiing, even if there's not any snow. Within an hour of booting up, it was business as usual as we tried new tricks and found new lines, feeding off each other and pushing ourselves a little further until the Sweetgrass crew told us to chill out and save it for the shoot days.
After building and testing runs with no snow over and over again, day in and day out, it began to feel as natural as regular skiing. On the final day of the shoot, I found myself at the top of an incredibly steep strip of snow, so narrow that I had to keep my feet tightly clamped together to stay on the track. There was no room to throw my skis sideways at the bottom to test the speed before gapping over a ravine you could drive a car through. It was then that I had a moment of clarity—I was jumping a gap you'd see on the X Games course, except I was in an overgrown forest, landing on the other side of the ravine in a pile of boxes.
Skiing with or without snow is all about knowing your limits and trusting yourself and the opinions of your friends. We decided on a spot that I should start from and when they called, “Action!” I took a deep breath, dropped in, cleared the gap, and we got the shot.