Last Wednesday, the RPI Ski & Snowboard Club, along with Red Bull, sponsored a screening of The Art of FLIGHT, a snowboarding movie produced by director Curt Morgan and pro boarder Travis Rice. The Art of FLIGHT is more than just a snowboarding movie, however. It showcases some of the most remote—and beautiful—uncharted areas on the planet, in addition to showing off the impressive skills of several of the best riders out there.
Now, I’m not really a snowboarding person, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It falls short of the mistake of showing too many similar clips of people obscured by weather protection gear doing seemingly random tricks down mountains that all look the same. Instead, nearly every shot, every location, is memorable, even if it’s still difficult to tell who’s who under all those coats and goggles and gloves and boots.
The Art of FLIGHT follows a changing group of boarders centered around Rice as they travel around the Western Hemisphere “chasing winter.” The first location showcased is the Tordrillo Mountains in Alaska. According to the movie, this, along with almost every other place the crew visited over the course of the story, was virgin territory—no human had set foot on these peaks before. Narration from the boarders about what the sport means to them interspersed with a musical backdrop overlays shots of Rice and his fellows busting some serious moves as they shred down the slope over and over, getting around by means of a helicopter, which also doubled as a mobile camera doing plenty of filming.
Downtime between trips up to the Tordrillos was spent doing all kinds of wacky things. They held firing practice with rifles—shooting skeet made of snow and even in one case chopping down a thin tree by shooting it repeatedly—and what appeared to be an RPG launcher. They also practiced axe throwing.
The next area to be visited after Alaska was the Andes mountain range in Chile, South America. The group was only able to get a small amount of boarding done here, however, as a volcanic eruption soon interrupted its joyride, coating everything with a layer of ash and making conditions dangerous. The country’s authorities asked the group to leave the area.
From the Andes, Rice and another rider went further south to the Patagonia region, near the southern end of Chile and Argentina. This landscape was the most memorable for me, and it can be summed up in one word: jagged. Everything there was jagged, from the juxtaposition in areas of several different terrains—snow and ice, forest, rocky, lakes, and more—to the mountains, eroded to thin, sharp edges that seemed to ripple upwards from far away, to the snow and ice itself, grooved and carved similarly to the ground it covered. In a few areas, lone pillars of frozen snow stood as vanguards to ice fields which lay beyond, almost seeming like tombstones.
Here, the riders caught wind of a set of mountains dubbed the Darwin Range and spent a considerable amount of time convincing their pilot to take them out there. When they arrived, the area was “gnarly” and supremely wild, with rocks more common than snow. Determined not to waste the opportunity, however, Rice spotted one line, a deep indentation between two peaks, that could offer a trip down. After being dropped off on the mountaintop, he and his fellow carefully rode down the line they’d found, having to slow themselves considerably in order to avoid the rocks. At the bottom, they had to slog through a nearly-frozen river to get to their pickup spot.
From Patagonia, Rice picked up a few more riders and headed to his home turf of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Here, countless trees made boarding a challenge. Many were clipped, and one even felled, by the riders as they made their way down the slopes over and over. This segment of the movie illustrated one of the major hardships that come along with the thrills of snowboarding—injury. One of the riders wiped out spectacularly after attempting too wild of a trick off a huge jump, and had to be taken to the hospital for treatment. I’m not exactly sure what happened to him; it wasn’t clear. He did make it out all right, however.
The next stop, one of the last on the tour, was Revelstoke, British Columbia, where the hardship theme continued. The Canadian mountains were in prime fog and avalanche conditions when the boarders arrived. Their first foray out into wild territory nearly ended in disaster as encroaching fog, solid like ocean waves, forced their chopper to land precariously on one peak, with a few of the riders hopping out to hold it steady and keep it from tumbling down the cliff until the fog cleared enough for them to make their escape—after using shovels and whatever else was handy to chip away the ice now coating the helicopter’s blades, of course.
Their next attempt to go out and shred in the mountains was only marginally more successful. Though the fog was thankfully absent this time, they still had to contend with the real and very dangerous possibility of avalanches. The boarders thoroughly tested the peak they landed on, jumping up and down and pushing at the snow, which caused large, thin sheets of it to fall away down the slope and accumulate huge clouds of debris before finally reaching the bottom. The first boarder to attempt actually riding down the mountain caused another smaller avalanche, and barely avoided being caught in it himself, stopping halfway down. The group was forced to admit that it was not safe and return home. Toward the very end of the movie, however, Rice and company were able to revisit Revelstoke when conditions were better and make up for this disappointment.
All in all, The Art of FLIGHT is enjoyable far beyond a mere snowboarding action movie. It offers glimpses of breathtaking natural beauty, and gives the viewer personal accounts of the world of boarding, what drives and inspires riders. I heartily recommend checking it out to anyone with even the least interest in the sport. It will certainly be worth your time.