This past winter was the season to be in Europe, with epic, continuous snowfall across the Alps. To catch some powder and culture, Warren Miller Entertainment camera crews headed over to Switzerland to film Kastle athletes Hugo Harrisson from Canada, and Swiss skier Sascha Schmid, on his home turf.
WME arrived in Lauterbrunnen to massive snowstorms, which sounds perfect for ski movies, but there was a hitch. Tons of snow, plus very cold and prolonged temperatures had raised the avalanche danger in the off-piste alpine, but some rare European tree-skiing was discovered, until the skiers could access the alpine.
The crew, including cameraman Colin Witherill, settled in for a quintessential Swiss experience in a small town above Lauterbrunnen called Murren, which is only accessed by gondola. Their hotel, perched a top a 1000-meter cliff, was also located directly across from the north face of the Eiger, which Sascha Schmid refers to as his favorite spot.
In Switzerland to film for the first time, Witherill was really moved by the location. “The region we were in is a place that photographs really do no justice to. The snow capped Alps, iconic chalets, and frequent taste of Swiss chocolate really made for a fairy-tale experience.”
The motley international crew got along great, but left the famed Euro après ski scene alone. “Most of our nights were spent with a large beer and a plate full of cheese and sausage … and that led to heading to bed pretty quickly,” Colin admits. “We never really had any down days while we were there, but when the weather was not great for shooting up on the mountain we took little side trips with Sascha's family and filmed in some other villages. There was also an outdoor hockey rink in Murren that Hugo, (being French-Canadian of course) was really psyched on.”
With two weeks to get the job done, you must keep an eye on the ball, so when the light was good the team was at work – perfect weather or not. For the camera crew, that made for some uncomfortable moments. “We had a few days of shooting and moving around with a heli, which is great, but it was extremely cold and windy at times. When we first lifted off for some aerial scenic shots the thermometer was reading -29 C or about -10 F. It’s hard to dress for that when you are hanging out the side door of a heli. Once we got up to altitude and were flying around the Eiger, we got knocked around quite a bit by the wind. The Swiss pilots took it in stride, but I definitely had my heart in my throat a few times.”
When the work was done, everyone got to play - a nice thing about filming ski movies. “My most memorable skiing of the trip was just a long powder run at end of the day when the light had ceased to be good for filming. With the camera pack your legs are usually screaming on long runs like that, but deep powder tends to make you ignore most everything else,” said Witherill.