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Catch a different kind of ski film

Stina SiegGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Courtesy still
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – The trailer for “Hand Cut” is a bit of a mediation. While haunting bluegrass plays, skiers and snowboarders barrel down powdery mountains. Close-ups of falling snow and dilapidated buildings flash by. The grizzled voice of an old miner describes Colorado.

“That’s what it is now, recreation,” he says. “But mining is what made these towns.”This doesn’t sound like your typical ski film, does it?Director Nick Waggoner hopes not. When he and cinematographer Ben Sturgulewski, both 22, set out to make it, they weren’t about to create another loud, adrenaline-soaked sports movie. They wanted to go deeper.”There’s as much of a focus on art and the film itself as there is on skiing,” explained Waggoner. “It’s a lot slower – in a good way.”The movie they’ve ended up with is part skiing, part history and part John-Alex Mason, who lends his homegrown musical style to the images. While the film has footage from a collection of famous skiers (like Nick DeVore), it also focuses on small-town greats, athletes audiences may never have heard of. Mixed into the action shots are interviews with various mountain people. Along with the miner, there are conversations with Joe Ryan (owner of San Juan Hut Systems), mountaineer John Chilton and an old railroad worker. Folded into all this are visuals of backcountry skiing from Alaska, British Columbia and Colorado. The point is to tell a real story – not just of sports, but of people and land and the traditions of rural places.”It’s about something larger,” said Waggoner. “It’s about culture, about history.”

It gave him a window into worlds he wouldn’t have known about otherwise. He liked hearing about the past and celebrating a time when people had to work so much with their hands. He felt this honor when speaking with old-timers who might not be around in a few years. It seemed important to be part of these people’s stories, to hear the connection between them and the mountains they love. As a skier almost all his life, he understood just where they were coming from.”It almost made my hair stand up on end when they’d say certain things. And it would just click,” he went on, reverently.Of course he’s hoping that his audiences feel the same electricity. He knows it’s possible – it happened to him. When they were freshmen at Colorado College, he and Sturgulewski were two of hundreds watching Bill Heath’s movie “Sinners” at a festival. The little ski film wasn’t chock full of big-time stars or crazy jumps. It focused instead on the humanity behind the sport. It was total departure from anything the guys had seen.”It caused a reflection in every viewer that was watching it,” Waggoner said. “You just left the theater being wowed.”Before that, he’d never worked with movies, but soon after, he had changed his major from economics to film. Sturgulewski ending up adding a film track to his English studies. “Hand Cut,” made through their relatively new Sweetgrass Productions and sponsored by Patagonia, marks their debut onto the national scene. Since September, they’ve been on tour with their movie and taking to it film festivals and small-town screenings across the country. Wednesday’s Glenwood showing is just one of the 35 or so they’ll get to before their journey concludes on Waggoner’s birthday, Dec. 13, in his hometown of New York City.Until then, “our permanent address is pretty much a Dodge Colt,” he said.



Of course it’s scary to show his work to so many people, he went on, and there’s anxiety about getting them to come out these shows. But, at the same time, there’s always that possibility of movie magic, as well. When there’s good energy at a screening room, his work is worth it to him, and it makes a career seem possible. He and Sturgulewski have dreams of doing feature films, maybe even owning their own movie house someday. As soon as this tour is over, they’ll be moving to Tokyo, where they plan on making another ski movie – one that melds the Japanese ideas of nature with the pair’s special brand of film aesthetics.But that’s all in the future.”I guess right now we enjoy being 22, being on the road and peddling our film and not having a lot of responsibility and stuff like that,” said Waggoner.He sounded like he was on a great adventure.


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