Powderwhore Productions “Breaking Trail” review

Image courtesy Powderwhore Productions

“Breaking Trail” is the new ski flick from Utah’s own Powderwhore Productions. Their modus operandi is to make ski movies featuring backcountry skiing, with a focus on the Wasatch Mountains. This is the reason I like Powderwhore’s work, because they shuck the ski porn stereotypes of heli accessed luxury and urban jibbing tomfoolery, and instead celebrate the simple act of traveling the mountains with our own two legs. But as much as I enjoyed the film, “Breaking Trail” isn’t a perfect ski movie.

This year’s offering from the badasses at Powderwhore differs from previous films in that they’ve broadened their horizons beyond telemarking. Yes, the whores are well-known freeheelers in these parts, so much so that a friend could not be convinced to attend the screening at Brewvies because he didn’t believe their new film was anything but another knee-dropping beauty pageant. But indeed, AT and splitboard riders were on full display, choking on some of the deepest powder Utah has ever seen.

Boy, those powder shots were chill inducing, and that’s mostly why I liked the film. Watching skiers rip the same unbelievable snow in the same Wasatch locations me and my buddies skied last season was like having my memories projected on the big screen. It was fun to lean over to my wife in the theater and exclaim, “that’s Monte Cristo! Look, I think that’s Beartrap Fork. Oooh, White Pine!”

The whole movie wasn’t filmed entirely in Utah though. Idaho, Washington, Colorado, and even Spitsbergen, Norway get screen time here. But rather than the globe-trotting Rolodex of celebrity ski pros in major ski movies, the Powderwhores keep their tight group of local skiers in tact, essentially showing us their ski season and everywhere it took them, nothing more.

Of course there are a few familiar faces here, like Drew Stoecklein, Kim Havell, Will Cardamone, Doug Stoup and Andrew McLean (who always entertains with his deadpan humor.) But none of them are painted like ski deities slaying impossible Alaskan lines while downing energy drinks just to keep the sponsors happy. These athletes are again mere humans doing what they love to do and in a way that anyone watching “Breaking Trail” can relate to. The terrain featured in the film is attainable – slopes any experienced backcountry skier could conceivably descend. This alone make “Breaking Trail” more inspiring than most ski porn, and better motivates us to get out there and ski the lines that flickered on the screen.

But unfortunately, much of “Breaking Trail” does fall into the same trap as typical ski movies. You know – repetitive music-video style footage and editing without much context, looping over and over until you can’t recognize one powder shot from the next. Also, there isn’t much of a cohesive theme here other than individual “athlete segments” (another ski movie pitfall.)

Screenshot from "Breaking Trail." Image courtesy Powderwhore Productions.

Although, some segments do have a narrative and are quite good. I really loved Drew Stoecklein’s trip to a remote cowboy cabin in Idaho, where not much skiing went on at all, and the boys were content to instead drink too much whiskey and blow stuff up with guns. It was all very comical and I think I heard the sound of every woman’s head in the theater shake at such blatant x-chromosome nonsense.

But my favorite segment by far profiles Brett Kobernik of the Utah Avalanche Center. I always like to meet and talk to UAC guys and gals and put a face to the voice we hear on the phone every morning when listening to the avalanche reports. But Kobernik is one avy forecaster I’ve not had the pleasure to meet, and gee whiz would I like to. Turns out, he’s the bad boy of the UAC, driving a P.O.S. cargo truck, carrying 10 pounds of snow analysis gear in just his jacket pockets, and Mickey Mouse rigging an iPod for microscopic snowflake analysis. But the biggest surprise for me, is that the dude freaking invented the splitboard! Who knew? This is the kind of stuff more ski movies need – a character who entertains and surprises us between shots of pow surfing. I think half the movie could have been about Brett Kobernik’s adventures in the Wasatch backcountry, and it would have been awesome.

Not many ski movies have soul thanks to the factory-churned soulless corporate flicks that are all too common these days. Luckily there are true ski filmmakers like the Powderwhores out there, creating artful films that convey an immense love of backcountry skiing, and are flat out real.

“Breaking Trail” is now on tour and will be stopping at mountain towns around the country. Check out the tour schedule here.  You can also purchase the DVD at www.powderwhore.com

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