By: Sean Zimmerman-Wall
Transcending genres and generations is something you don’t expect from a ski film. However, that is precisely what Sweetgrass Prodcutions has achieved with their latest movie, Valhalla. Producer Zac Ramras and Director Nick Waggoner have come together for a fourth time to create a unique adventure for your viewing pleasure. Their vision for Valhalla was born out of a desire to portray winter through the eyes of the youth. “It is about living the free life and finding happiness,” said Ramras. Casting for the movie found a variety of interesting personalities that were perfect for creating a unique look into a world seldom visited.
The opening scene illustrates the wonderment experienced by a child during the season’s first snowfall: intricate crystals falling from the heavens that pile up on their surroundings and create the ultimate playground. In the next instant, skiers and snowboarders are shown plowing through the perfect powder landscape, thousands of tiny snowflakes exploding with each turn.
An intriguing twist greets the audience when the film transitions to the desert. They are then introduced to the main character Conrad, played by Cody Barnhill. He awakes on a rock ledge overlooking a giant canyon and begins his journey north. Long on time and short on money, Conrad loads up his vintage VW Beetle and travels in search of moments lost. His pilgrimage to the snow-covered hills of Canada finds him on a lonely roadside somewhere deep in the woods. A seized engine forces him to human-powered modes of transportation and he takes to his skis. Winding through a blinding snowstorm, he stumbles upon an enclave of mountain dwellers who have found the simple freedoms he is in search of. The camp leader is an affable, bearded gentleman named Rasheek. He has an affliction for canned herring and enjoys the finer elements of golf. Rasheek welcomes the newcomer to their hidden commune and the friendship between Conrad and the campers grows deeper than the snow that surrounds them. Conrad soon turns his attention to a young lady named Ayla, played by Sierra Quitiquit. The two find love in their tiny powder kingdom and their relationship flourishes.
Ramras and company wanted this film to be happy and exciting to watch. Their previous film, Solitaire, was a dark look into skiing less than stellar conditions throughout South America. Valhalla is all about finding simplicity and powder. “We spent two years in the woods getting weird,” said Ramras.
The weirdness is exemplified in sections such as the naked powder session and the physcadelic firework night skiing scene. Each segment takes the audience on a visceral ride through the lives of these young castaways as they grow from birth to adulthood, and legacy to rebirth. The spiritual journey finds each character reconnecting with the youthful self that was lost so many years ago.
The team at Sweetgrass has always lived the films they shoot, and this was no exception. They spent weeks at each location, from Nelson, B.C. to the Tordrillo Mountains of AK. For two years the crew worked tirelessly to capture action-packed ski footage and cinematic content. “I shot for the first year with them just getting ski shots. Then, at the beginning of the second year, they asked if I wanted to be the main character. I said ‘sure,’ even if I didn’t know what it meant,” said Barnhill. His continued involvement with the production process and storyline development helped create a fun-loving movie that defies convention. More art than skiing, the movie captivates the audience and keeps them wondering what is next.
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