The history of Alaska has been written by people out to capture their dreams, often against long odds and always against unforgiving terrain. Whether it was the Klondike gold rush, the salmon harvest, or skiing down a 60-degree slope, the Alaska experience is defined by ideas of big adventure--and having the cajones to go after it--rather than logic.
Since the mid 1990s, no one in skiing has embodied or captured this spirit better than Teton Gravity Research. Alaska is where the founders got their start as heli ski guides for Doug Coombs. With nothing but a dream and a half-baked plan, they became commercial fishermen during the summers to buy a couple of cameras so they could shoot their friends skiing back home in Jackson Hole. Their first film, The Continuum, came out in 1996, and set the company on a path to becoming one of the most successful and respected action sport film companies of all time.
TGR's latest film, The Dream Factory, which premiered in Teton Village on Saturday night, is an ode to the skiers and mountains of Alaska that have made it the greatest ski destination on the planet. With heavy doses of big mountain skiing, and through informative narration, the film attempts to bridge the past with the present. From the mid-1980s when Mike Cozad hired a bush pilot to explore the mountains around Valdez (and then hatched the idea for the first World Extreme Skiing Championships), to the pioneering days of Coombs and the Tsaina Lodge of the 1990s, to the spine-skiing of Sage Cattabriga-Alosa in the 2000s, the film charts a course through the last three decades of skiing in Alaska.
The film shows us where we've been, and, with several new faces on the screen, where we are going. During the premiere, TGR introduced several of the pioneers who made it possible, including skiers in the Jackson Hole Air Force, and Marc-Andre Belliveau, who became paralyzed in a fall while shooting with TGR back in 2006. Marc-Andre, always smiling, got a huge ovation before the crowd, and then performed on stage with his guitar at the after-party at the Mangy Moose.
Daron Rahlves gives the historical perspective a jolt by skiing the same line on Pyramid that was made famous in 1997 by fellow ex-World Cupper Jeremy Nobis. Rahlves gets worked and then shreds it in as few turns as possible. Colter Hinchliffe takes a shot at Dr. Suess, the spine-riddled face which won Sage "Best Line" at the 2009 Powder Video Awards. The new kid nails it. Juxtaposed against black and white footage of Anchorage in the 1920s, Cam Riley shows how far skiing has come by jibbing manmade features in the city.
Then we hop in the truck with Griffin Post and Todd Ligare as they drive 3,000 miles from Jackson to Alaska, stopping in British Columbia along the way and camping out when they reach their destination. Following Jeremy Jones' style in Further, another TGR production that premiered recently, Post and Ligare hike for their turns and produce some stunning footage.
Dana Flahr makes an appearance in B.C., giving props to steep-ski pioneers Eric Pehota and Trevor Petersen. Viewers get the excellent pleasure of watching the smooth style of Chris Benchetler and Seth Morrison. Sage turns in yet another standout performance by making the remarkable somehow appear attainable. Like Coombs before him, Sage makes everything look easy.
Providing the female stoke is Angel Collinson. The 22-year-old, who grew up in the employee housing at Snowbird, Utah, makes her TGR debut by skiing with Seth and Sage. She recounts how she idolized them as a kid and dreamed of someday skiing with them in Alaska. As the film's narrator tells us, "Alaska is where dreams become a reality," and Angel throws down a segment--in the same heli as Seth and Sage--that will make people wonder if she's the new Ingrid.
The closing segment comes from Dash Longe, a skier in his eighth consecutive TGR film who finally gets his due in Alaska. Skiing with Seth and Sage, Longe's first line goes smoothly until a train of slough catches him from behind. It plows over him just as he approaches a nasty bergschrund. From above, Sage looks at Seth and, in perfect dry humor, says, "Don't do that."
Longe more than makes up for it, though, and draws the film to a close with a rousing performance that will go down as one of the best of the year. He spent 11 weeks in Alaska...11 weeks...to get the segment. "It's been a long haul," he says. "But it paid off."
And of course, it all started with a dream.