Last week ski film auteurs Sweetgrass Productions released their film Afterglow, which had a very sexy looking night skiing segment featuring pro skiers lit up like LED Christmas trees. The three minute video of the Lightsuit segment went viral, clocking up 1 million views in just five days. Not bad for a project that was filmed in a little over three weeks.
But that doesn’t mean it was an easy task. Sweet Grass are used to taking up to two years to produce their features, most recent being their seminal film Valhalla, which included the famous nude skiing segment at Whitewater resort. For Afterglow, producers Nick Waggoner and Mike Brown had to coordinate moving over four tonnes (9,000 pounds) of gear in order to power 30,000 to 40,000 watts of electricity to light up the mountains near Golden Alpine Holidays and Alyeska. That meant a lot of helicopters and a lot of all-nighters for film crews and athletes. The skiers; Pep Fujas, Eric Hjorleifson, Chris Benchetler and Daron Rahlves, all wore backpacks with LED panels or full lightsuits, which gave the footage its distinct and colourful flavour.
The Afterglow project came about when Swedish creative agency Ahlstrand & Wållgren approached Sweet Grass about directing a short film for electronics company Phillips. The idea was to promote Phillips’ Ambilight Technology (used in home theatres) with a night-skiing segment.
Sweetgrass came away with a fresh look at how to film big mountain lines like those found in Alaska. Getting all that lighting equipment in the exactly right position by helicopter was crucial, as it was too heavy to be moved by hand once set in place. Getting the equipment itself to the filming location was a logistical nightmare, having to be flown from across the U.S. and crossing the border at a specific location eight hours drive from the base of operations in B.C.
But for Sweetgrass Productions, the challenge was worth it.
“From a photographer and filmmaker’s perspective, it’s kind of what we live for,” producer Nick Waggoner said in an interview with Powder Magazine. “Those moments of light that are absolutely special. That you know are fleeting and only there for a couple seconds or a couple minutes and that’s what ultimately leads you to spend time in the mountains. You’re in search of those peak moments. Whether it’s the ultra deep powder day that only comes every 20 years or the light that only comes for three seconds every winter.”
Afterglow is a perfect marriage of ski film creativity and new-school corporate marketing. The project would have been far too expensive and difficult had not Phillips been willing to foot the bill for all that lighting equipment. Though the athletes and crews at Sweetgrass were ridiculously overworked and over stressed for those few weeks, they get to reap the reward of capturing those special moments in the mountains. Moments that make me feel like skiing at night under psychedelic lights, or at least watching it on a fancy Ambilight TV.
This opinion piece first appeared in my Outsider column in the Whistler Question on October 29, 2014.