Filming Skiing's New School
Global Storming, Sick Sense, Pura Vida, The Tribe, The Hedonist, Fetish, Soul Session, Nachos and Fear. It sounds like a week's worth of late-night television flicks, but, in fact, this is the filmography of Matchstick Productions (MSP), a seven-year-old ski film company started by Steve Winter.
Having made a triumphant comeback from a 1997 helicopter accident that left his legs temporarily paralyzed, Winter returned to his camera last winter to film Global Storming, the latest and certainly the most intense MSP film to date.
Winter, 31, became interested in ski movies after watching Greg Stump's Maltese Flamingo while studying ski instruction and coaching at Washington's Wenatchee Valley College in the late '80s.
"We all wanted to be in the movies, so the first thing was 'how are we going to learn to ski like that?'" A few video sessions proved one thing for sure: they couldn't ski like that.
So Winter considered his other options. Filming seemed the best vehicle for his two main interests: skiing and traveling. So he enrolled in a video production class at the Seattle Art Institute. But as he stood outside his first class, his second thought got the best of him. He took the money he was about to spend on tuition and bought a used Bolex 16mm camera. "By the time I would have been out of school, I had our first film done," says Winter.
They struck gold; K2 liked the film and ended up hiring the pair to film a product video. "That's kind of where it all started," says Winter. Indeed, this was not just a foot in the door, it was more like a push. The ski company, which MSP is still very much aligned with, became its first sponsor.
Winter and Wais, who still work together, went on to make four other movies: Soul Sessions, The Hedonist, Fetish and The Tribe. But in August of 1997, while shooting segments for Pura Vida, Winter was in a helicopter crash in the Chilean Andes that took the lives of the pilot and T.R. Youngstrom, a well-known and respected outdoor sports photographer. Banking a turn without enough air speed, the helicopter fell about 100 feet before crashing and sliding 200 yards. One of the rotors slammed into the snow, stopping the machine just short of a 60-foot cliff. Winter broke his back, specifically the L1 and L2 vertebra, and was paralyzed for a month.
Doctors in Chile had told him that through intense rehabilitation he would probably walk again. But this prognosis changed once he returned to Seattle, where he was told to come to terms with spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair. "The doctors were like 'oh, you should be happy with whatever you've got, because it's probably not going to get any better,'" says Winter.
But Winter persevered, clinging to the words of the Chilean doctors. "They pretty much nailed it," says Winter. "I'm still doing rehab for my left leg and I've pretty much got the muscles, but I need to make them a lot stronger in order to walk without a cane."
To shoot, he would be dropped off at a good filming vantage point with his camera and then picked up and brought to the next spot. He approached the helicopter with understandable trepidation, but that fear quickly turned to excitement.
"The first time we lifted off and flew over the peaks, my heart was racing and it was really exciting," he says.
Continuing his rehab and getting closer to once again donning skis, Winter hopes to some day get back in a helicopter to do more than just film. But getting back on the snow will start with snowboarding something he did an average of 40 days a season before the accident. And eventually, after he regains enough strength, Winter thinks he'll be skiing again.
Though he loves snowboarding, Winter is emphatic about the fact that he makes ski movies. In fact, only a handful of single-plankers can be found in his films. But, he says, the influence of snowboarding has improved the quality and impact of the type of skiing he films.
"Skiers have learned from snowboarders about tricks and straight-lining things, and I think that as much as snowboarding took from skiing as far as having sidecut boards with edges and stuff like that skiing has thus learned from snowboarding."
The proof is in Global Storming. The skiers, including Dean Cummings, Seth Morrison, Wendy Fisher and JP Auclair, throw huge backflips off 60-foot drops and do helis off cliffs. "They're taking the whole new jib aspect of skiing into the big mountains," says Winter.
But the influence of snowboarding has gone beyond what we see in ski films. Winter points to people in places as non-alpine as Wisconsin skiing on 50-foot hills, people who "build a kicker and get some old skis and just go huck their meat."
It's that spirit of skiing which motivates Winter and his filmmaking, and it's what helped motivate his rehabilitation. And it's ultimately what will get him on skis. He muses on the future. "We're not just making punk movies anymore well, we are, but the general public is starting to notice that and it's getting out there."