Eagle Pass Heliskiing VP and Lead Guide Scott Newsome has logged a mighty resume taking pros and film crews into his Monashee, B.C. home peaks. Legendary storms, deep and dry snowpack, and a massively cinematic 270,000-acre tenure has attracted top-tier filmers in recent years—including Brain Farm, Absinthe Films, Candide Thovex, Red Bull Media House, and Sherpas Cinema. We spoke to Scott recently for the Mountain Life Ontario Fall issue about taking athletes and crews deep into high-alpine lines, wind-carved features, old-growth red cedar forests, and mammoth spines.
By Bill Shelley.
It must take a lot of planning and logistics to get the film shoots to happen in a timeframe with the right conditions.
It does take daily if not hourly planning to stay on top of the weather forecast and avalanche hazard especially during a storm cycle. Sometimes the best way to deal with the variables is to actually get out into the mountains and feel and see conditions first hand. Sitting in the valley looking at the computer screen is not always the best use of time. It can often look really shitty in the valley, when in reality up at elevation the storm has much less aggressive precipitation amounts and consistent winds.
How do you decide where to shoot? Do you have reliable pillows/spines/couloirs/trees you return to, or are you always looking for something new?
Typically we have a lot of the historically good film terrain photo-catalogued for the athletes to pre-scope zones that they and the guide feel comfortable with, given the current snow conditions and weather forecasts. That being said, guides and athletes are always looking for new lines or new variations of old ones; there is no shortage of mountains in our tenure and each athlete sees terrain differently for their own style and risk tolerance. It is not uncommon from year to year that certain features and zones fill in totally differently due to prevailing winds and snowpack depths.
What is a shoot is like for the filmers? Do they have the hard job, sitting in the snow waiting for the right shots?
Filmers usually carry around very heavy packs with cameras, lenses, batteries and tripods. Trying to walk through waist-deep snow to get a better angle with a 50lbs on your back can be very exhausting. Cold hands are a daily standard for any winter camera person. Filmers often have to put themselves at risk for avalanches and other hazards when finding the best angle, whether that means hanging out the door of a helicopter, or shooting on a big slope or knife-edge ridge top. Most filmers I have worked with are very strong skiers or snowboarders with previous mountain experience plus basic first aid and avalanche training. Although filmers are usually preoccupied looking to capture the best shot, they do however manage to get some of their own great turns in, before and after the shot.
Could you describe what you do during the shoot?
My job in a nutshell is to be the safety coordinator who oversees all movement on the mountain with the athletes, filmers and helicopters. First we scope the lines from the helicopter or on a lower landing with clear views of the targeted feature. Athletes then explain to camera operator the basic line in which they intend to ride; it is then up to the camera operator to decide what is going to be the best angle or angles for that specific athlete’s shot—often having to take into consideration moving positions for other athletes’ lines. It is then my job to ensure the filmer is in a safe position on slope or harnessed securely to the helicopter’s tie-in hard points if shooting from the air. After we have camera crews set up and in position, we get the athletes safely to their start location. At that point I want to position myself where I feel I am best suited to perform in any type of rescue situation that may occur during the athlete’s line. It varies for me where I want to
be; sometimes I ride in the helicopter or post up on the top of the run, or at the bottom beside a heli pad pickup. It is best to have eyes on the athlete if at all possible. As guides we will also help instruct athletes safely into a line or discuss additional hazards, and how to mentally prepare an escape route if something does go wrong.
Do you ever look at a face and say “Nobody should ski that”?
I tell athletes no all the time. It is my responsibility to understand the current avalanche conditions. So during periods of unstable snowpack layers there are places or certain terrain features that we will simply avoid. Ultimately it is up to the athlete to ensure their own safety and make sure they are riding lines inside their comfort level for the conditions.
Can you talk about shoots you have lined up for this season?
We have already confirmed the Eddie Bauer team will be back in March, and we’ll also host the Von Zipper eyewear team. Currently we have several film crews looking to come back this winter, including DCP and the YES snowboard crew (after just releasing their first film Balance. We will also see the return of the Legs of Steel crew from Red Bull Media House. The majority of film crews wait to see what conditions are like around the world before making any solid plans; it is the classic stormchasing scenario.