Every spring in Haines, Alaska, a river bulges and rages towards the sea, fed by the thawing of a massive mountain snowpack. These same mountains fuel the hunger of those willing to test their skills against the desolate beauty of Alaska’s high desert-giving life to river and skier alike.
Photographer Oskar Enander and DPS Skis founder Stephan Drake have been exploring the majestic Chilkats behind Haines for the past five seasons. In 2005, Drake and Enander, along with Gavin Cummings and photographer Mark Smith journeyed on a two-month skiing road trip that began in Colorado and parked for an extended stay in Haines. The foursome produced the timeless coffee table book, The Powder Road , as a result of the journey. The crew had previously visited mountains all over the world, but the Chilkats elicited something special. Enander describes the Chilkats as, “a place we have come to call our winter-spring home. We plan our year around being there. It’s a dreamland of mountains, a puzzle of route and terrain selection; it’s a lifetime of challenges wrapped inside the best skiing in the world.”
In the spring of 2010, Sweetgrass cinematographer Ben Sturgulewski and DPS skier/ambassador, Jon Larsson joined Enander and Drake for the four weeks of Chilkat exploration and descents. The result was unexpected: it was a colossal physical struggle, full of folly and impending doom mixed in with a few sweet spine descents. The team of four was plagued with regular injuries, sickness, mechanical problems and horrible weather through a season that featured amazingly deep snow in the upper alpine, but unseasonably warm conditions and challenging travel at the lower elevations.
The crew playfully blamed their troubles on a mysterious dark force they called, “The Great Magnet.” (Read Drake’s meditation on the Great Magnet on Patagonia’s The Cleanest Line).
Despite struggles, the crew emerged with a few short sessions of skiing and filming. The Desert River was captured in three afternoons of skiing, and a stint of glacial camping. The five-minute release comes at the halfway point of Sweetgrass Production’s two-year South American feature project to be released in the fall of 2011.
Desert River was a 2010 finalist at the prestigious Banff Mountain Film Competition.