Hiking 30 hours round-trip in three feet of snow to get 30 seconds of ski footage is just another day in the life of CSU alumni Ellis Smith and Jesse Levine.
The self-proclaimed ski bums who graduated from CSU’s Natural Resource department in 2004 and 2005 respectively now travel the world together risking life and limb to attain an adrenaline rush.
But these two care about more than champagne powder and 20-foot drops. For skiers worldwide, global warming could mean all out extinction of their favorite sport. For these two, dwindling snow packs and shrinking slopes serve as evidence and a reminder that it’s time to affect change.
“We’re showing you an environmental message and hopefully impacting awareness about what’s going on in our audience so they can start making changes in their lives to (soften) their impact on the environment,” Smith said.
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The men’s campaign is aimed at promoting climate change awareness in the ski community as well as bringing it to lower elevations.
Smith, of Alabama, and Levine, of Massachusetts, came to CSU at the turn of the century to study natural resources in an environment where they could live their dream of nonstop skiing.
When they received their bachelor degrees, they spent a lot of time hiking around in the hills, taping ski runs. Friends said their videos were good and urged them to capitalize on their pastime.
“People really liked it and they were like, ‘wow, you should do this more serious,'” Smith said.
The skiers found their big fight when they noticed the snow pack getting smaller by the year. Driven to preserve their winter hobby, they started a company called Thrillhead Creations, and made their main project a country/-wide tour of ski video premiers.
The filmmakers fund the campaign through environmentally friendly sponsors and by doing video marketing and promotion for local companies.
Their two-year-old video project takes them across the country every year and includes stops from Massachusetts to Oregon.
The Keep Winter White Tour had its annual stop in Fort Collins Oct. 17 at the Aggie Theater, where Smith and Levine premiered their new ski video, “Return to Schralptown.”
About 300 community members and CSU students and alumni showed up to the event, Levine said.
The video showcases local and professional athletes risking their lives for the thrill of the ride.
The video campaign promotes awareness about the effects of global warming on Colorado as well as global snow pack by networking with their green sponsors and giving the companies an advertising platform, as well as by showcasing a ski industry that is shrinking with the snow pack.
“We want to preserve our winters so that our grandchildren can enjoy them,” Smith said. “Right now they’re getting shorter and shorter every year and we’re finding that with the backcountry here you (used to) ski into July; now it’s into May or June.”
Behind the scenes
Smith and Levine go to great lengths to shoot their videos, spending more than a year filming and editing their last production.
They face freezing temperatures, avalanches and worst of all, prospective ski lines that turn out to be duds.
Levine went to shoot a ski line in a remote area of the Rocky Mountains this spring for “Return to Schalptown.” The mountain was so deep in wilderness, “we literally had to hike in our skis for probably like eight hours . camp out for five, get up at three in the morning and hike for another seven hours to get to the top of the mountain,” he said.
When they arrived at the line, the crew split up as usual. The skiers went to the top of their line. Levine hiked hours to an opposing peak to get the shot. But he arrived too early.
“I waited up there for about two hours and froze my ass off!” Levine said.
After the line was shot, Levine broke one ski on the way out, so he had to hike the last six miles on one ski.
After all this, they chose to use 30 seconds of the footage in their video.
“We hike for 30 hours for 30 seconds of footage,” Levine said.
The men generally have a crew of about six. The physical danger of shooting with such a small crew is huge, Smith said.
On one filming trip for “Return to Schralptown,” Smith took five professional skiers and their girlfriends into the Colorado backcountry to film.
While he was shooting one of the athletes skiing the line from another peak, a huge avalanche nearly wiped the athlete out. The skier was able to maneuver out of the avalanche’s path just in time. The avalanche footage is featured in the video.
“That’s where it’s really important to understand where you’re taking this . you really want to think about where the avalanche in gonna go because if it does, what if you’re in the way?” Smith said.
“It’s really scary to think about having to dig somebody out who is dead in front of all their girlfriends,” Smith said.
But the two men are dedicated to getting the best shots and hike to endless lengths to do it.
“It’s a logistical nightmare,” Levine said. “(But) it’s just a totally different experience from resort skiing. The skiing is just one small aspect of it.”
Assistant News Editor Aaron Hedge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.