We’re very excited to present a clip from the latest Sweetgrass production, Afterglow. As you’ll see, it’s a completely new take on night skiing, featuring a ton of lighting equipment and some very, very cool outerwear. Check out the video, and read on after for an exclusive short interview with the filmmakers, Nick Waggoner and Mike Brown.
We’ll let Sweetgrass introduce it:
“As our most ambitious project to date, Afterglow is a lifelong dream realized, on an imaginable—but completely ludicrous—scale. From deep pillows to Alaskan spines, it’s all filmed at night, with massive lights, custom-made LED suits, and a national governments’ worth of logistics, planning, and civil engineering. With huge thanks due to Philips TV, Atomic Skis, and the supernatural talents of Pep Fujas, Eric Hjorleifson, Chris Benchetler, and Daron Ralhves, we present you with the filet mignon, the heavy cream, five minutes of glowing, radiant blower, The AFTERGLOW LIGHT SUIT SEGMENT. And, oh yah! You can see the full release here!”
Mike Brown, Co- Director: “I’d say the most memorable moment was at towards the end of production, one of our last nights of filming in Alaska. I was alone with a flask of fireball on a knife-edge ridge after we’d filmed the whole night. Everyone else was going to sleep down at base camp, but I was in a spot on the ridge that you couldn’t ski down from. As the northern lights raged overhead, I crawled into a tiny snow cave to shiver away what was left of the night. It was surreal to be in that wilderness without anyone else around.”
Nick Waggoner, Co-Director: “I think the moment where we’d just spent four months planning, and 10 days of travel and logistics to light up this one face in Alaska. We’d moved 14 people and 9000lbs of gear into place, and almost had to cancel the entire night of filming when we found out we were missing one tiny extension cord.”
Nick: “We had a full time lighting team led by Mark Stuen, Kyle Metzger, and Shane Treat. Those guys worked so hard to bring our vision to life in the snow, positioning and repositioning 6-10 100lb lights for every shot. For certain scenes we’d have 4 different light placements, long distances apart, and we’d “gel” each light with a different colored filter to create a more dynamic and technicolor scene.”
Mike: “The biggest issue with the LED suits is that they’d act like car headlights in a storm anytime the skiers kicked up snow, which in those conditions is pretty much every turn. We had blower snow up at Golden Alpine Holidays, so it was tricky to balance all the particles moving in the air, which produces the best images, with the athletes being able to see where they were going. But guys like Pep Fujas, Eric Hjorleifson, Chris Benchetler, and Daron Rahlves are legitimately that much better than you and I–they could maybe even ski a lot of these lines blindfolded. Their ability to react and readjust in an instant is part of the reason they’re the most iconic skiers in the sport.”
As the most logistically daunting project in Sweetgrass’ history, Afterglow required over 9,000 pounds of equipment shuttled across international borders and chest-deep snow via a wide array of planes, trains, automobiles, helicopters, pulley systems, and gallons of blood, sweat, and tears, reaching locations as far as 70 miles from the nearest town.
Filming during the deepest nights, with temperatures dropping to a biting -15C, the team developed custom camera rigs and lights for the incredibly harsh climate. With the workday beginning at 7:30 p.m. and ending at 7:30 a.m., the crew and athletes had to rely on mental strength and determination to deal with sleep deprivation and the extreme cold.
From researching custom-made LED lights to specially designing LED suits for the skiers, Sweetgrass needed innovative systems to carry lights across such massive environments—and, after the filming was done, to leave them as pristine as they were found. Merging Hollywood-style production with backcountry travel, they aimed to show how wildly different the experience of skiing could be using the power of color and light.
Pep Fujas: With more than 20 film appearances and several X Games appearances, Backcountry.com athlete Pep Fujas is one of the most iconic skiers of our time.
Chris Benchetler: Born and raised in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Chris is a master of style and creativity in the snow. With strong influences in the ocean and surf, he always brings a unique perspective to every slope and turn, in the air on in big mountain terrain.
Eric Hjorliefson: With many ski film credits to his name, Eric is one of the best all around skiers in the world. From his unbelievable cat-like moves down steep technical terrain to his explosive full-speed style, he’s one of the most respected freeskiers of all time.
Daron Rahlves: As the most decorated American Downhill and Super G skier in history, Daron brings his taste for extreme high speed turns in big mountain terrain.