Action sports films have become the centerpieces of their respective industries. The defining moments of an entire season are compiled into 60 minutes of adrenaline-pumping cinema aimed at getting your attention. For nearly a decade, PowderWhore Productions (PWP), a dedicated and seemingly unassuming group of snow riders, has been honing their craft and delivering top-caliber films for the discerning public.
“It started out as group of buddies just ski touring around the backcountry. The name was kind of a joke—we just couldn’t let it die. Now we are kind of stuck with it, for better or worse,” says Noah Howell, co-founder of PWP. From humble beginnings, toting around their father’s camcorder, Noah and his younger brother, Jonah Howell, spent their free time training the lens on their friends right here in Utah. “I graduated high school and got a job at Deer Valley. That is when I discovered powder and fell in love,” says Noah. Prior to his foray into skiing, Noah was a church-going Mormon caught up in daily life. With one year to go before his mission, he found something that offered more than religion ever could—deep snow. Over his first real winter, Noah realized the beauty and tranquility of being in the backcountry, and the myriad of experiences it offered for exploration. As he headed off to Montreal for his mission, he thought about what he would have to leave behind. Within a few months, Noah realized that he would rather be knocking down big lines than knocking on doors. He packed up his suit and tie and returned to SLC to pick up where he left off.
“Most of our friends were on telemark ski gear, since that was the only way to access the backcountry. It was the winter of ’99-’00, and we just filmed our buddies and produced a small video,” says Noah. The video must have hit the mark because the footage got passed around. Eventually, they were getting offers from other production companies to purchase their deep-powder footage. Spurred by the thought that they were actually producing something meaningful, Noah and Jonah continued to spend countless hours scouting new terrain and capturing each other enjoying the brilliance of skiing. The original cast also included Andy Jacobsen and Andy Rosenberg. Together, the four amigos tripped around Utah to find the steep and deep in an attempt to capture the essence of powder skiing and illustrate why it had such a stronghold on their souls. The team created some wonderful works of cinematography and was able to continue selling off some of their footage to other production companies. Over time, they upgraded their equipment, improved their editing and dove deeper into the backcountry. “We hooked up with some friends in the free-skiing scene and fully dedicated our time to this. We alternated roles and got better at skiing and filming. Jonah found that he really enjoyed filming, and we figured out our rotation,” says Noah.
Due to the small nature of PWP, each member had to take on a variety of responsibilities in order to make the machine work. From marketing and promotions to filming and snow safety, the Howell brothers have become quite adept at carrying a lot of weight on their shoulders, both on and off the slope.The first major film to be released to the public was PW05. “To see people connect with that film was a surprise. It was all-time,” says Noah. With the added momentum of their first film, the crew was able to focus on delivering a unique product. They continued to build upon the foundation of their company, which was simply to enjoy skiing and everything that comes along with it. They were fully aware that not every day is a powder day, and it takes patience and determination to get through tough times.
Year by year, the filmmakers and their small contingent of riders set out to find the most aesthetic places, the deepest snow and the best stories. “What sets us apart from bigger companies is our ability to be nimble. We have kind of a guerilla style, and we focus on the content rather than how it is captured. That is also part of being on a budget,” adds Noah. Developing the strengths of each team member meant that they could rely on each other and did not have to bring in a huge cast. Keeping their numbers low enabled them to move quickly and change their plans at the drop of a snowflake. Filming in the mountains is slow and arduous, and being able to pick up and leave an area as a storm rolls in is critical. Travelling with tons of equipment and people when things turn for the worst is a recipe for disaster, and can be costly in time, money and lives.
Since 2004, PWP has produced eight films and regaled thousands of people with compelling stories and images. Speaking about one of his favorite trips, Noah recounts his adventure to Norway. It is a place so far north that the sun never sets and you can ski powder at midnight. Their original intention was to spend a couple of weeks on a sailboat, cruising the fjords and picking off first descents. With some extra time on their hands, Noah and his team decided to head deep into the unknown. During their travels, they stumbled upon an abandoned mining town that provided a unique backdrop for their adventure. “The two Russians who were stationed there patrolled around on their ATVs and didn’t speak any English. They didn’t really care to speak to us, and just waved their fingers at us and told us not to go in the buildings. But it was too tempting, and we couldn’t help but go explore,” says Noah. The segment wound up making it into PWP’s latest film, Choose Your Adventure, and further added to the interesting makeup of the movie. Besides their excursions in Norway, the crew also goes to the farthest ends of the Earth, and braves the swells of the Southern Ocean on their way to Antarctica. A seldom thought-of ski destination, the frozen continent accepts only the heartiest of souls. However, those who make the crossing are treated to otherworldly skiing. Steep and technical lines fall from the jagged peaks into the sea. “It’s like you are going to ski directly into the water,” says one of the featured riders. Even the penguins enjoy the colorful costumes of the group as they slip and slide down the precipitous slopes. Other highlights of the movie include snow cave dwellers, a man who has skied for 178 consecutive months, The Wizard of the Wasatch, horseback riding in ski boots, polar bears and some extremely creative subtitles. It is a visually intoxicating film that warrants a closer look. Check out powderwhore.com for more info on the film or to pick up the DVD. The film will also be screening in various Utah venues in November and December.
At the time of this publication, the Howell brothers will have just returned from a month-long road trip across the West, showcasing their latest work to hoards of snow-hungry audiences. Their accommodations are truly nomadic, and their modified utility trailer features handmade bunks and enough space for 45 cases of beer, courtesy of Big Sky Brewing. Returning to Salt Lake, they will re-evaluate what is possible for the coming season and hash out a plan for the next movie. Depending on which way the winds blow and where the snow falls, the PowderWhores may be coming to a mountain near you to find the goods and live the dream.