The Powderwhore crew, Utah’s telemarking bad boys of the back country, kick out the jams one more time with Breaking Trail. With skis, skins, armament and ammo (and with tongue firmly planted in cheek [kind of]), these modern mountain men venture to places that would scare the crap out of most city dwellers and that’s just how it should be. How else do you keep the untracked, chest-deep powder all to yourself?
As with last year’s offering from Powderwhore, Breaking Trail opens with a fine sequence featuring Paul Kimbrough and his prodigiously graceful form on the steeps. In a terrific interview with his father, Tom, you get the “making of” on how Paul was raised to ski at the same time he learned to walk. I’m as impressed with Tom’s child-rearing approach as I am of Paul’s skiing and I have to figure any hardcore skier who didn’t have that upbringing would certainly have appreciated Tom as a dad.
As seen in their previous movies, there’s something about the rawness of chief Powderwhores Jonah and Noah Howell’s camera style that showcases the courage needed to ski lines like you see in Breaking Trail. Without the flashiness of the type of shots that can be had from a helicopter, those long distance telescoped shots of massive mountain lines drive home emphatically how huge these skiers are going as they rip the mountain faces. These athletes have balls and bags of Ernest Hemingway-sized courage to put themselves in situations that they may not get out of alive. Want to see what I mean? Check the segments featuring Jason West and the run down the North-East Couloir of the Pfeifferhorn in the Wasatch Mountains with Noah Howell, Andrew McLean and Andy Jacobsen.
Jake Sakson continues his trajectory as a legend in the making. As with his debut in last year’s Tele-Vision, his sequence in Breaking Trail shows Jake taking on huge challenges in the fewest turns possible. Whether he’s zipping through trees or tearing down vertical faces of white dust, Sakson’s talent is undeniable.
As cinematographers, the Howell brothers set up their shots in a classical, linear manner, which are well planned and well executed. The Howells favour shots that are composed of a series of vertical and horizontal lines that are enhanced by the diagonal action of the skiers. Put plainly, they’re a real pleasure to watch. And while much of the movie is rendered in a kind of ghetto way with a real analog video look that streaks on the screen with the direct, natural lighting, the editing flows smoothly and carries you through the scenes as effortlessly as the Powderwhore skiers are whisked through the backcountry on waves of white powder.
Similar to last year’s Warren Miller film, Wintervention, there’s a trip to Norway’s Spitsbergen Island where Noah Howell hitches up with Doug Stoup’s expedition company. Travelling to the available peaks via a large sailboat, the crew is able to run ashore in zodiacs to make their turns. That’s a pretty civilized way to ski in the Arctic because after a day’s adventure you can return to the boat for hot food and a warm bed. You have to hit “Like” on that one.
Breaking Trail’s soundtrack comes across as fresh as the powder that fills this movie. Whether it’s Honey Claws’ Peter Gabriel vibe in “Pemporer” that underpins Jason West’s sequence or The Starlight Mints’ “Zoomba” that provides the tunage to Andy Jacobsen’s turn at shredding, there’s a vibrancy in the music throughout this movie that’s the product of the variety of genres and the careful curating. The only annoying musical moment comes right at the end with the jokey rap video from Jake Sakson that goes on way too long. It’s funny for about 15 seconds and after that I almost threw what was left of my drink at the screen, but then I realized I’m at home not in a movie theatre.
Breaking Trail might not be the most cinematographically advanced movie this season but that’s a tough thing to even attempt in a year when a movie like All.I.Can. is released. But it’s got heart and it’s got powder and those are good things. By Mark “The Attorney General” Quail