Winter Grit

We thought this post from Idaho Public Television’s “Behind the Scenes” diary offered great insight into what it takes to make an outdoor-focused TV show happen, while at the same time giving readers a taste of Idaho’s back country adventures.  Enjoy!

All of the stories in this show have two things in common: adventure and grit. I came up with the name for the show after shooting a Skijoring competition in the Wood River Valley, where teams made up of a horse, a rider, and a skier race down a snow packed track over jumps and around gates, sometimes reaching speeds up to 40 miles an hour. It takes grit to do that. When I first started planning the program, I knew that I wanted to find winter activities that not only involved adventure, but daring and determination by the people who undertake them. Skijoring, heli-skiing, back country skiing, and ice climbing all fit the bill.

The first story we shot was heli-skiing. Outdoor Idaho did a piece on heli-skiing about 20 years ago, so I figured it was time to update it. With a blessing from Bruce Reichert, Outdoor Idaho Executive Producer, I set about to find a heli-skiing operation that would play with us. By play with us, I mean a company that would let us ride along on one of their outfitted trips for next to nothing, or at least give us a deep discount. We’re not Warren Miller Productions here at IdahoPTV, so we look to the kindness of strangers to tell many of Idaho’s stories.

Currently, there are only a few heli-skiing operations in Idaho, so the choices were limited. Since the story 20 years ago was done out of the Sun Valley area, I chose to go with an operation out of the Teton Valley on the Idaho side of the Tetons. High Mountain Heli-Ski partners with Teton Valley Lodge and Spa in Victor Idaho, which is a pretty upscale year-around resort. I couldn’t get through to the Heli-ski company at first, so I gave the Lodge a call. They were very excited to help us out, and even offered complementary rooms for the crew. It would be good promotion for them, after all. The Lodge was a little more swank than Outdoor Idaho crews are used to, so we wiped off our boots and accepted the offer graciously.

Luckily, High Mountain Heli-Ski was willing to play with us. What we wanted to capture was the excitement of a skier and/or snowboarder being dropped on a remote mountain top for the first time. Jon Shick, the owner decided he could fit two photographers into the helicopter with two guests and a guide. The Lodge found the guests; now I had to find two photographers. They would have to be good powder skiers and be able to handle the shooting conditions on the mountain. It wasn’t hard to convince Jay Krajic and Jeff Tucker, who also poses as our production manager, to get on board. A free heli-ski trip! You bet. Little did they know the challenges that awaited them. I was a little disappointed there wasn’t enough room in the chopper for me. Oh well.

The winter of 2010-2011 was one for the records. Massive amounts of snow were dumping all over the country, and Idaho was no exception. Trying to find a clear weather window for flying proved tricky. The shoot was postponed twice, and then finally a small window opened. Keep in mind that we don’t all just sit around and wait to jump in the car and go. Every postponement meant rearranging everyone’s schedules, again. Our crew needed to drive from Boise to Victor, about 6 hours, so our plan was to arrive the day before the shoot so we would have time to meet all the players and plot out the next day. When we finally arrived late afternoon it looked like a new front might be moving in. (Expletive, expletive) Winter shoots can be especially difficult because of weather.

We all gathered early the next morning to assess the weather. Our trip was one of several scheduled that day, so about twenty guests had also crowded into the waiting lounge. Lots of logistics going on with paying customers, and a camera shoot to-boot. A weather postponement would make a lot of people unhappy. When I watched the sun creep over the ridge, I breathed a sigh of relief, but I soon found out that the weather gods were going to mess with us all day. All I could keep thinking about was how I could make a story out of this if nobody could ski. We couldn’t camp out here for days waiting for the weather to clear.

As the guides closely tracked the weather on their computers, for what seemed like an eternity, the clouds magically parted. Here we go!

Special thanks to guest blogger Sauni Symonds.