September 27, 2013

Review: Valhalla by Sweetgrass Productions


Valhalla, by Sweetgrass Productions, goes well beyond what one would expect from your typical ski movie.  The Sweetgrass crew has already established a reputation for this because they entrench themselves in areas for two year projects, as they did in Solitaire (South America) and Signatures (Japan).  This year, however, they upped the ante by bringing a few of the biggest stars in skiing to a fictional script into the temperate rainforest of the Vahalla Range in British Colombia.  It works very well.

The film centers on an adventurer named Conrad (Cody Barnhill), who leaves the desert of Utah and drives north in search of “great things that were happening that I could not miss.”  He aims to recapture the same feeling of wonder and joy that a child experiences in the simple act of playing in the snow.  His Volkswagen breaks down in interior British Colombia, where he happens upon a hippie village in the middle of the woods.  The people he finds there, including the likes of Sierra Quitiquit, Eric Hjorleifson, and Pep Fujas, pursue a winter of powder-induced pleasure.  “The only difference between us and the wolves is a couple hairs,” explains Quitiquit.

The skiing is amazing.  The likes of Hoji and Pep bring a talent element that was not before seen in previous Sweetgrass movies.  Jaw dropping pillow lines in the best conditions on earth get the viewer incredibly stoked to go out and ride.  Then they get naked for one of the more memorable ski movie scenes ever.  One skier even throws an enormous natural flat three in nothing but an avy beacon.  It’s a must see.  As the winter closes, the crew celebrates the winter in a segment that makes you wonder if perhaps your friend next to you slipped LSD in your drink.

The morning after the party, Conrad hitchhikes north for a last hurrah of winter in Alaska.  He joins the likes of Carston Oliver, Zach Griffin, and Pep Fujas to take advantage of a three foot storm.  You think the movie is over, as Barnhill and Quitiquit return to Valhalla in the summer.  Then skiers start skiing and jumping in the dry forest.  I thought it was special effects, until Sweetgrass director Nick Waggoner explained that they indeed hauled snow into the middle of the forest.  It is unreal.

Overall, the movie went beyond my expectations. It definitely isn’t ski porn, although the skiing is good enough to be.  It may be a little long, but credit goes to Waggoner and crew for creativity (and gnar points) through the roof.  We look forward to seeing what the future holds for this still budding company.

About the Author

1. Ed Dujardin
After moving out west for college, Ed took summer school so he could spend winters in Crested Butte. These days, he coaches the Western State Colorado University Freeride Team, and spends as much time as he can fishing the incredible rivers of the area.