This fall, MSP Films will release their annual ski movie, just like they've done for the past 26 years. It'll contain deep powder shots, steep lines, big airs, and showcase some of the best skiers in the world charging down snow-covered mountains around the globe. Here's what will be different about the company's fall 2018 release: Women will steal the show. But not in the way you'd think.
"We want nothing to do with women in the title. No sparkly, pink rainbows," says pro skier Angel Collinson, who will be featured in the film. "It's a kick-ass ski movie that happens to have more women in it, but it isn't just a women's movie. I like to think of it as the first truly co-ed ski movie, with a more equal girl-to-guy ratio than ever before."
The still-untitled film, which will debut in September, will spotlight four men—John Collinson, Mark Abma, Wiley Miller, and Cody Townsend. Five women are slated to appear in the film—Collinson, Michelle Parker, Elyse Saugstad, Ingrid Backstrom, and Tatum Monod. Backstrom and Monod both suffered injuries this winter and withdrew for shooting in Alaska, but there's a plan to film with the two of them in South America this summer. Considering MSP hasn't included more than two women in a single film amidst a roster of a dozen or so male skiers for the last several decades—and roughly the same with TGR and Level 1—this officially counts as groundbreaking.
And yes, there is something absurd about the fact that it's big news that a major ski movie is finally including more than one or two women. Certainly there have been all-women's ski movies made—like Grete Eliassen's 2010 film, Say My Name, Lynsey Dyer's 2014 film, Pretty Faces, and three separate projects by Austrian freeskier and filmmaker Sandra Lahnsteiner, plus, of course, a slew of high-quality women's web edits. But never before has a mainstream, co-ed ski movie included this many hard-charging women on the big screen at the same time.
Here's the truth: When a film is marketed as a women's ski movie, like those mentioned above, it appeals more to a women's audience. Which is great—it helps bring out new viewers and builds a sense of community—but that means a lot of male movie-goers are skipping it. Plus, these women's centric films have been self-produced by the athletes starring in it and in most cases haven't had the promotional machine and big-budget backing that comes from a major player like MSP or TGR. But in this case, the MSP movie isn't being touted as a women's film. It’s a ski movie. And it will attract the same sold-out, multi-generational crowds that flock to fall ski movie premieres every year. Once they're seated in that theater chair, they'll be treated to an onslaught of high-quality women's skiing.
Collinson, Parker, and Saugstad spent most of April in Alaska, skiing and filming from a home base in the town of Girdwood, alongside longtime MSP cinematographer Scott Gaffney. Earlier this winter, Parker and Saugstad shot around Pemberton, British Columbia, and Collinson joined them—along with her brother, John, who served as the trip's token male, on another trip near Revelstoke, BC.
It all started a couple of years ago, in a group email between a handful of female pro skiers. Tired of always being the lone girl on a trip with a bunch of guys, they talked about wanting to produce their own ski film. "When I was growing up, I begged MSP to go on a trip with Ingrid [Backstrom]. I'd ask every single year. They never did it. It's always been a token girl thing," says Michelle Parker, a pro skier since she was 16 who's been filming with MSP for years. "So we finally wanted to come together on our own."
Murray Wais, co-founder of MSP Films, says it was never their intention to exclude women from their films. "One reason our films feature primarily males is because that is the talent that's coming to us and saying they want to put out footage," says Wais. "We don't choose the cast for our ski films in a void. We work with people who approach us, have vision and insight, and want to get segments done. People need to know that MSP films aren't a formula and we don't believe in just having one token female. We want to work with ripping skiers who want to have fun and are down to inspire other skiers to get excited for winter."
Collinson sides with Parker on this one. "There's a lot of token female stuff going on and we never get to go on trips together," says Collinson, who's appeared (often as the only woman) in TGR films since 2013. "We all just wanted to ski together. As we were continuing the talks, it started turning into a bigger project."
They had a crew and an idea, but they needed funding. Backstrom pitched the film project to MSP and they wanted it. "This group of women came to us and said, 'Let's make something kick ass,' and we said, 'Hell yes,'" says Wais. "We really liked the idea and found it interesting that a film like this hasn't been done before. Films either feature one or two females or female ski films don't feature any males at all. This film seemed to be the best of both worlds."
The timing for a women-centric film project couldn't have been better. Across the ski industry, more and more brands are shifting their marketing dollars to appeal more to women and put women on equal standing. Take REI's Force of Nature campaign, which launched in 2017 and put women at the forefront of the retail giant's storytelling and marketing push and donated $1 million to community organizations creating opportunities for women in the outdoors.
There's The North Face's spring 2018 global campaign, called Move Mountains, featuring stories of women athletes that's reportedly the biggest monetary investment the company has made in a campaign ever. Or look at Blizzard and Tecnica's Women to Women Initiative, which launched in 2016 and set out to change the way women's skis and boots are designed—using actual input from women. That shift is driving the change at MSP, too: More sponsorship dollars for female athletes means more companies helping to nudge their athletes in front of the big screen.
"Clearly there's been a shift in brands focused on women," says Parker. "But we're still facing an industry that's run primarily by men and a lot of the ideas are coming from them."
Collinson says the shift has happened—women skiers are getting the same opportunities as men—and now, she says, it's time to treat everyone the same. "It's important to get women to that place, to get us those opportunities. I think we're there. The movement is there, the support is there, the consciousness is there," says Collinson. "Now it's on us to say, this isn't just about women, this is about skiing. We're not women skiers. We're just skiers."
So after this film, will more major ski movies include not just one woman but a whole crew of them? Will this single film change the status quo for the gender ratio in ski movies across the industry, or is this movie just a one-off? "If these women want to do it again, I would be surprised if my team said no,” says Wais. “Hopefully this film will show other women what's possible and we will get more women knocking on our door who are interested in filming."