What You See is What You Get
Seth Morrison arrived in Seattle late on a Friday afternoon, just hours before the Global Storming film showing, with nothing but the clothes on his back no carry-on, no clean socks, no toothbrush.
I was a little nervous about meeting Seth. I had seen him in Matchstick Productions' more recent ski movies, The Tribe, Pura Vida, Sick Sense, and thought he was an incredibly solid, fluid skier with confidence that seemed beyond his years.
A representative from Seth's ski sponsor, K2, was picking him up at Sea-Tac airport and said they would swing by the on their way to the pre-film party. K2 had shown confidence in Seth two years ago by signing him for a pro-model ski called, befittingly, the Morrison. When he knocked on our office door, we greeted him with a beer. Seth was 18 when he began filming with Matchstick's Steve Winter and Murray Wais and Global Storming marks his seventh film with them. In it, Seth shows off his incredibly solid style through both big mountain descents and new school tricks.
Though a veteran to the big mountains in Alaska, while filming the Alaska segment, Seth was caught off guard by a huge avalanche that swept him over a cliff. Luckily he surfaced unscathed.
"It was pretty intense," said Seth. "I was miked up, skiing down and it was super nice snow, and where it started to slide, I had expected that to happen further up because it was a more flattened out area where I was at once I saw all the cracks and everything."
In the film, the audience listens to Seth's breathing over the mike, and when the avalanche hits, the sound of ski equipment clanking together as he loses his gear is unnerving. It was the first major avalanche Seth has ever been in and he hopes it is the last.
Seth has competed on the event circuit and thrice has taken second in the US Extremes in Crested Butte, CO, behind fellow rippers Kent Kreitler, Shane McConkey and Dave Swanwick. At the inaugural Canadian Freeskiing Championships in Whistler/Blackcomb, he finished a disappointing 9th place and at the Jonny Moseley Invitational last year in Squaw Valley, CA, he said he got his butt kicked. So, what makes a skier a celebrity?
Many people have seen Seth charge over the most difficult steeps and cliffs, so it's not a question of ability or strength.
Is it proving yourself to the judges? A bit of luck? Personality? Smashing good looks?
Seth, 25, started skiing in Wisconsin when he was six years old. He moved to the mountains in Vail, CO when he was 11. Prior to that, he had only been night skiing in Wisconsin. But once in Vail, with the Ski Club Vail in which he learned his technique, Seth excelled at ski racing. "That's basically where I got my form and style, learned how to turn and use my edges," he says. He still does the drills and dryland training he did when he was a racer. Seth moved to Crested Butte to go to college at Gunnison. That's when his pro ski career started.
"We'd always get in big trouble," he says, "but we didn't really care, it's what we wanted to be doing anyway."
While living in Crested Butte, Seth made three films, Soul Session, Hedonist and The Tribe, before moving to Jackson Hole, which he claims was a turning point. Once there, he wanted only to ski and get away from filming. "When I moved to Jackson, all I wanted to do was ski. That's when I realized I needed to be making money doing this... I'd spend all kinds of money in the winter time on the credit card and in summer work construction to pay off all my debt. Then when winter came open credit card time to go again."
Seth had gotten used to paying for all his own stuff. In Jackson, he tried to figure out where to draw the line between having to work summers for it versus actually getting paid to do it. He thought what he was putting into it was worth more than what he was getting back.
"That's when I had to get up and start demanding money. It's coming slowly but surely, but it's still... the ski industry doesn't have a lot of money to give to the riders, like snowboarding, because snowboarding is more geared towards the athletes and the athletes get the kids out there riding. With skiing, what we're doing, it's still small compared to the mass of skiers. It will come around sometime. Probably when I'm done doing it, but that's okay. As long as we're paving the way, because that's what Scot Schmidt and Glen Plake did for us, they gave us the opportunity to do what we're doing as a job."
"I think now with this whole trick phenomenon, it's getting more focused because it's easier to show on TV. You set up an event so it's contained, kind of like the X Games, and anything that gets on TV like that is good because it's more people seeing it and more people are into it. The trick aspect of the sport is bringing more attention to what's going on," Morrison says.
Seth spends his share of time in the terrain park. Summers, he coaches at the Camp of Champions up on the Blackcomb Glacier in Canada with Shane Szocs, JP Auclair, JF Cusson and others. He says he loves watching the younger kids go off and sometimes showing up the coaches. The Camp, which was once a relatively quiet summer camp in which the coaches worked and played with the kids, is growing fast due to the growing popularity of big air and jib skiing.
"This past summer it was filled with still photographers and video cameras trying to make a movie of the young groms doing crazy tricks. It's just crazy," he says. "The tricks that these kids are doing, it's amazing. They just pick things up so quickly, and it's like, 'you little bastards, I can't even do that. And that was your first try.'"
As for the enigma that some see as Seth Morrison, we believe it to be false. With Seth, it's simple: what you see is what you get. So what makes a ski celebrity? All of the above.