In North America, the people living the skier’s life are likely people you’ve met before. It might be a passionate backcountry skier living out of her van in Montana, a family on vacation in Colorado or a ski racer trained on the East Coast’s blue ice; familiar faces, familiar stories. With his project Skier’s Journey, Jordan Manley set out to challenge and expand the notions we have about what skiing looks like.
Since 2010, the Vancouver, British Columbia-based filmmaker and photographer has traveled to the most far-flung places you can click in and slide downhill (though whether that’s on snow or sand depends on the episode). The project has taken him and his team, including Chad Sayers and Forest Coots, to Kashmir, La Grave, Baffin Island, Argentina, Dubai, and Iceland (among other destinations). This season will be the final installment in the series, and they’re taking viewers to Iran, China, and back home to British Columbia’s Coastal Range.
We spoke with Manley to hear how the project–which saw a three-year hold due to a head injury Manley sustained mountain biking–has grown and matured since its inception, the many factors influencing his creative process, and what’s next for him.
What does this upcoming season hold, and how does it differ from past seasons?
Iran is a short story about how Iran’s mountains act as a sort of private space for people who live in the city of Tehran. China is about a rapidly changing society: the growth of skiing as a middle-class phenomenon, while ancient skiing is at risk of disappearing. The final film is about the concept of finding home, shot in B.C.’s coast range.
The films this year differ in a couple ways. I have tried to make them more immersive, by capturing better location sound and that sort of thing. I also spent more time talking with local people in the places we visited. I wanted to include their perspectives in the films to a greater extent than previous seasons.
What was the inspiration for and mission of A Skier’s Journey in its infancy, and have those changed over the course of the project?
The landscape of ski films has changed so drastically since we started just six years ago. Story telling is a pretty core part of the medium at this point. Our style tries to put emphasis on the connections between culture and landscape.
These films celebrate the process of traveling to find snow in different parts of the world. I think the goal has always really just been about trying to give the audience context to the places where skiing exists. In China it exists because it’s an ancient form of transportation that allowed people to hunt in the wintertime. In its modern form, it exists because it gives people a great feeling, and people can now afford to go to the mountains and pay to have that experience. I have always enjoyed discovering and sharing that skiing has many faces, well beyond North America and Europe.
How do your mediums–both still photography and film–inspire you?
I enjoy the challenge of trying to communicate, express, or foster a feeling through both. Film and photography are vastly different, though. I think in some ways film is a much more precise instrument, or at least a more complete process and package as an independent filmmaker. I enjoy the process of collecting all these disparate elements, including sound, and mixing them together to create a moment, or series of moments. I enjoy the pace and simplicity of still photography. There is more space to have an internal dialog when making still photographs. It’s more personal.
Of the places A Skier’s Journey taken you, which of those trips were the most memorable?
I think Baffin Island sticks out as the most amazing landscape that we visited, perhaps by far. It was so different; sublime, really.
The most difficult was China. We all agreed we had never traveled around in a more difficult place. From a filmmaking perspective, we continually ran into roadblocks that didn’t match what I was hoping for or expecting. It was an exercise in humility, recognizing that we’re not entitled to be able to capture everything we set out to.
On the note of challenges, can you explain your injury and the way it has impacted your life and work?
I had a relatively small bail on my bike that resulted in a multi-year recovery from post-concussion syndrome. I wasn’t able to work or do much related to sports in that time. I have finally gotten my fitness, energy, and endurance back, and I’m able to work long hours; long enough to get the job done, so to speak. It’s been a really long process of victories and setbacks.
I have a different approach to risk now. I’m not as fast a skier or mountain biker as I used to be. It’s kind of built into my psyche that I don’t take the same kinds of risks. It’s not worth it for me.
I spent a bunch of time listening to radio during my recovery and became more interested in sound design. That’s a greater part of my workflow now. The tone at times is a little more documentary-like, but my goal is to make the films as immersive and engaging as possible.
How did you have to reinvent yourself since the injury, and what major lifestyle changes have stuck with you?
I kind of had to throw skiing out of my head. It was such a big part of my identity: my passion and my livelihood. I had to basically let that go, because I didn’t know if I would be able to go back to it after being re-injured. I spent a lot of time at home, on the B.C. coast, and eventually I was able to imagine something different. I became very interested in our coastal ecosystem, fly fishing, and the human relationship with Pacific salmon. Now I don’t stress about missing powder days, but when I do have them in the backcountry I really enjoy it.