Travis Rice: did a boarder make the best ski movie ever?

snow action team 09.01.2014

Did a bunch of snowboarders make the best ski movie ever?

Owain Price talked to Art of Flight star and co-producer Travis Rice ahead of the Australasian premiere in October 2011

Your last movie, That’s It, That’s All, was billed as ‘the greatest snowboard film in the history of humanity’, which is all good, but does make it a bit hard to top?

Well we kind of shot ourselves in the foot by naming it like that, it was kind of a big inside joke as the first real big project we did, we just named it at the end. But for us there really was a lot of room for improvement.

You lifted the bar with a huge amount of heli time for that film – like 96 hours in Alaska – which was unprecedented at the time.

I think the biggest thing with that is what really makes the last film and especially Flight different is the production values. Before, and kind of historically, ski filming is with two guys, like camera A, camera B, and it’s streamlined, you’re quick, like you’re in and out. But our program we probably run about an 8 person production crew,  usually like 4 cameras, sound guy, back up help. This one we had twice the crew as the last one, just getting the gear in, it was massive.

You had a way bigger budget obviously to do that.

This was the first one of the last 3 films I made I didn’t have to put up a lot of money in the beginning. Red Bull stepped in. They saw the vision, they knew where we wanted to go, they knew we were capable, so they made it happen. We took a whole year to plan it. Then we went in and shot the vision to start.

How did you pick the locations, like Alaska picks itself, but the rest?

Well yeah, the locations did kind of pick themselves. The bigger premise is we did a lot of research and we planned a lot of trips we didn’t go on. We were going to go to Greece and go to Romania, but we would kind of plan like two trips at a time, so we had a fallback. So when Europe didn’t really have a winter we fell back on a plan to go up to Revelstoke in British Columbia. So a lot of locations in a sense picked themselves on the conditions, last minute.

In Alaska that lead shot of 3 guys coming down 3 spines together, that is awesome – if it hadn’t been the movie’s main poster promo shot it would make a great cover for a ski magazine. Looks like there’s a lot of scope for one guy to set something off that takes out another guy as well. I’ve never seen anything like it. Was there a mountain spot that just said ‘hey shit, we could do that?’

Same deal – it said it needed to be done. Where we were we knew conditions were locked up, awesome. We got out to this one zone, it’s manageable size, and there was three spines, and we got talking and it’s like okay, who wants what?

How did you pick who got which one, as the boss did you get to choose?

I think I did. The middle one there’s this pillow I wanted to air off, and the line worked out so good.

At the bottom the crack looks huge?

When you fly round in Alaska there’s so much snow pack, you have your steep part then it’s all the glacial valleys. Almost all the runs up there have bergschrunds at the bottom where the glaciers start, and since it’s always creeping away you always have a big crack. Sometime they are a hundred feet, so you’re always watching out.

That looks like a lot of scope for taking each other out setting something off. How did you co-ordinate the run?

We all drop in, I was in the middle, I was watching both people, I was riding trying to make sure we’re all going at the same pace. I drop in, I do an air, then Landvik does an air, then at the bottom John J airs over the little chute onto my line and we all run out together. We were kind of looking over as much as we can. I actually can’t believe it worked out so good.

My favourite sequence off the trailer is where you come down over some candy-ass skier heli tracks – they’ve paid a lot of money to do a lot of dinky little turns – and you just straightline the whole face of them.

Yeah, we got a permit to go into this area where they operate and we’re flying around and we just see these like huge open faces with those lines stacked wall to wall. We’re like, ‘we gotta go straightline one of those’, we ended up landing and did it.

It’s the best ad for snowboarding or fat skis and freeride lines – it shows the pace you should be skiing those faces, snowboarding pace, and would make a great intro shot to our fat ski section, sums up what that’s all about in one shot.

Ha ha. Yeah it was awesome.

What was the wildest location?

Alaska was next level, but I think the wildest one was Patagonia. You’re down there and your pretty exposed to the elements. There’s no backup. There are a few military operations, maybe you could try and get hold of them, but you’re pretty much on your own.

What altitude were you skiing, it’s pretty low?

We were there pretty late in the season, we were kind of thinking it’s like Alaska is heading north, but it’s not far enough south. We found some snow, but it was mostly cooked, so we kept going till we got to the Darwin Range [at the bottom of Tierra Del Fuego above Cape Horn], we knew it was the highest, but it gets by far the worst weather. Terrible weather. We waited a week and a half to get the day and hit the one chute we did.

Got a favourite segment?

The Alaska segment is so like as good as it gets, but the Jackson section is my favourite.

What about scariest? One guy got avalanched on, anybody get hurt?

Mark got slid, he was OK, but he blew his knee filming with us. And Scotty Lago broke his jaw, which is in the movie, obviously injuries is not what we’re looking for, but both of them were kind of freak accidents.

How old were you when you switched to boarding – your dad was a ski patroller?

I was thirteen. I skied since I was a little kid, and any time it snowed I had a blast, but just skiing down the mountain honestly got a little boring. Then I tried snowboarding, and even just turning on groomed slopes was like so fun to me, I was sold. A couple of years later the whole re-revolution of the new skis started happening, but I was boarding.

Snowboarding was not that well regarded a lot of places, especially by patrol?

The thing with snowboard vs skier is that Jackson Hole is like so far out in the mountains. I think one of the biggest reasons that was such a problem for resorts close to the cities was you had skaters and stuff go up to the hills, people that didn’t grow up as skiers, so like mountain etiquette, all that stuff, just wasn’t there. But Jackson didn’t really have that backlash problem. For me nothing really changed except the way I was standing.

You’ve seen the gear improve, you’ve obviously improved yourself, but are there limits to the size of jumps? Like a theoretical limit where the human body collides with the possible?

Honestly it’s not about how big it is, it’s about the geometry of it. It’s all about arc. There’s science behind hang time. You can have a 200 foot jump and go super fast, and you can have a really poppy 40 foot jump with more hang time.

Anyone done wind tunnel models or anything like that to test things?

I think that the wind tunnel wouldn’t do it too good because people wear big old baggy jackets anyway. But actually a German snowboarder named David Benedict made a big push 7 or 8 years ago, started designing these jumps working with a bunch of mathematicians. They were doing the full geometry of it of how to build the jump with the most hang time.

And according to the move you do you’re going to slow yourself down more or less?

Yeah, there was a bit of that. If you’re flipping backwards it helps your momentum, whereas the other way it takes you a bit out further. He went into it a lot, and ended up building some pretty amazing jumps.

What about competitions, are you going to keep going with X-Games and stuff?

I think so. The level of competition has gotten crazy in the last year or two. It’s like seriously next level now.

The Olympics has slopestyle coming in, does that tempt you?

It does tempt me, but honestly I don’t know if I want to go play the FIS game for the next year and a half and deal with them. With everything I’ve been able to accomplish I don’t think it would neccessarily be a step forward for me. I feel it might take a little bit of my joy away from what I already love to do, so I don’t think I’ll be attending the Olympics competitively. I think I might want to go watch.

What about comps like the Heli Challenge in New Zealand?

I’m all for contests held in natural terrain. Quite frankly I feel the resort based extreme comps aren’t cutting it, they are not showcasing the ability of the riders because not enough energy and effort is being put into making sure there’s a window for people to ride, so there’s good conditions. A lot of times they’ll let people ski or ride the course before, or let public on the hill. I feel if it’s like some kind of super crabby icy conditions they shouldn’t hold the contest. Harro’s event [Heli Challenge] I back. They do try super hard, they listen to rider feedback, they have the rider’s interest first and foremost.

Tell us about your own new comp concept?

We got a contest called the Red Bull Super Natural. Basically the idea behind it is we spent the last couple of years looking for the location, we found it two years ago at Baldface Catski Lodge at Nelson in BC.

So it gets slammed with snow (Nelson’s smallish but legendary ski hill of Whitewater gets 40 feet a season)?

Oh yeah. Lots of snow. It’s so consistent. We’ve done everything we can do to secure us having good conditions to do the event. We went in with a full crew of bad-ass British Columbian lumberjacks and did 5 months of arborist work up on the hillsides and ended up building over 100 features on this 2200 foot vert run. Then all the natural snow comes in and you’ll end up with something straight out of a science fiction novel.

You’re only inviting 20 riders so everyone’s going to get a clean line?

Each rider will get 3 runs, it’s going to be mental.

And then you come back and re-use it a few times?

Red Bull have agreed to run it for three years.

Will catski clients be allowed in outside of comp time?

Maybe if we let them, I think we’ll actually want some people on the slope pre-season because we have rigourous avalanche control and some skier compaction will be part of that.

How long was that in your mind?

Well I did a contest called The Natural in Jackson about 5 years ago, it was amazing, same deal, it was 18 riders from around the world and everyone said it was the best contest they had ever done. Then it was the economical downturn so we couldn’t rerun it, and since then I’ve put all my energy into the Super Natural. It’s all going to be a test but hopefully we can really start something.

How did that funky sequence you did with Tanner Hall at Snow Park NZ for his Believe movie come about, just chance meeting?

No we actually planned the trip out together. I know Tanner, I know a bunch of the skiers, I’ve been friends with a lot of them for years. But it’s funny because we don’t really interact as much as you’d think we might.

So at Jackson you don’t go out with skiers much? 

No, I’ll go ripping with some skiers no problem, but when we go on film trips we kind of have this family within snowboarding with similar goals so we’re not with the skiers doing that.

How old is your dad, you still get out riding with him when you’re at home? 

Yeah I still get out with him. He stopped patrolling a few years ago because he had a couple of hip replacements. But now he’s rocking, he’s 61 and he still rips, with his new hips he’s charging.

What would you say to the resorts that still ban snowboarding like Deer Valley and Alta? 

I dunno, whatever, they can do whatever they want. There’s so many other good resorts around Utah that nobody needs to go to Alta, it’s like whatever, you can have it.

You have a lot of input into the gear side of things. 

I put a lot of energy into my outerwear with Quiksilver, like the design development, the new goggles [see p170] the whole premise behind it was to create something where you actually had peripheral vision. There’s the gloves, the packs – we have avalanche packs. And the board line, I have a 14 board line with Lib Tech.

What’s your current favourite – the reviews rate the Lib Tech C2? 

The 161 C2 Horse Power Travis Rice model, it’s dope, it’s the hottest shit out there, amazing light weight core, the C2 camber – banana between the feet – camber, so camber – rocker – camber, with the Magne-Traction wiggle edges. Seriously, it’s tough for us – you guys have got two edges, we’re turning on one – so that’s why they developed the C2. It’s almost like the idea of a serrated knife, it holds such a stronger edge. [Also in LibTech skis – it works, see p73]

You have got so much happening business and project wise, including the online photo gallery [www.asymbol.com] that don’t even directly relate to boarding, it’s a long way from the old image of boarders as punks, doing drugs and all that stuff. 

I think it’s evolved, that was like first and second generation snowboarders, I think a bunch of the boarders in my generation are pretty much focused on what they’re doing. I work my friggin ass off with the gallery, and then outerwear and everything, and summer editing the film.

Anymore projects in the pipeline?

The Super Natural is my main focus. There’s a couple of others, but it’s too far out to say anything about that.

Thanks for the interview and the film, you’ve seriously upped the ante for those who follow on skis or boards – it sure makes us just want to dive into the screen and grab a piece of it. Got a sign off for all our ski readers?

Keep your tips up!