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New ski film 'Signatures' soulfully captures spirit of life in the mountains
Forrest Coots in the deep stuff on the Japanese island of Hokkaido in the new film "Signatures," showing Wednesday, Sept. 23, at Vail Mountain School. Tickets are $9.
By Michael Brown

New ski film 'Signatures' soulfully captures spirit of life in the mountains

Latest from Sweetgrass Productions plays Vail Mountain School Sept. 23
By David O. Williams

September 21, 2009 —  I watched the new snow riding film “Signatures” Monday morning in my living room in West Vail, looking out the window every once in a while at fresh snow falling on the next-to-last day of summer, clouds closing in relentlessly on the gold-tinged aspens and obscuring my views of the mist-shrouded Gore Range.

I suggest everyone buy a copy and watch the film directed and produced by Colorado College graduates Nick Waggoner and Ben Sturgulewski exactly the same way – not in my living room, but surrounded by Colorado fall foliage with the first snowstorm of the season swirling in from the northwest.

If you can’t manage that, come see the movie Wednesday night at 7 in the amazing new theater of the Vail Mountain School in East Vail. Tickets are $9.

You’ll be put in the perfect frame of mind for the coming ski season, and you’ll better understand this quote from “Signatures’” opening moments: “When you live in the mountains, your relationship with them starts right at your door, shoveling snow. That same snow leads to the mountains, and I feel that everything, I mean everything, is very closely connected to the mountain.”

Those words scroll in subtitles, the narrator speaking in Japanese because the entire film was shot last winter in the coastal mountains of Hokkaido, where Waggoner and Sturgulewski spent seven months connecting to Japanese ski, snowboard and surf culture in and around the town of Niseko.

It’s a beautifully shot film, with a soulful, mellow, mostly acoustic soundtrack, that speaks eloquently to the cycles of mountain life – riding snow in the winter and fishing and surfing it in the spring. And for me, “Signatures” was a far more rewarding ski film experience than any cliff-hucking, ski-porn extravaganza with a pounding speed-metal soundtrack.

Particularly because the film’s brand of snow riding is exactly where I am as a skier these days – an obsessed denizen of the trees who rarely emerges onto open runs. “Signatures” seems to be almost constantly shot in, around, through, over and under trees that have an alien look to Coloradans used to our aspens and lodgepole pines.

There’s a line in the film about skiing in January being a universal feeling -- like immersion in water or life inside the womb -- and that sensation permeates the film, which metaphorically transports the viewer to a high-alpine clearing during a pounding snowstorm. There’s a closeness, quietude and warmth that clearly comes from the filmmakers’ love for the mountains.

“For the first 10 years of my life, Vail was the only place I skied,” Waggoner, who grew up in New York City, said in an e-mail interview. “It was the first place where I started to develop a relationship with the mountains, to develop a relationship with people in the mountains. There's a unique feeling for me, skiing in the woods in Vail, skiing in Blue Sky Basin or the Back Bowls. It's a feeling of coming home, in familiar woods.”

“Signatures” is the second film for Sweetgrass Productions – which debuted last year with the critically acclaimed “Hand Cut” – and Vail is just the third stop for the latest offering after it debuted at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House over the weekend (go to the Aspen Times for more coverage). But Waggoner is clearly glad to be headed to Vail Wednesday.

“It's surreal to be putting up posters in shops I used to go into as a little kid. I spent so much time as a kid there, buying toys at the toy shop and swimming in the creek with my brother, going hiking. I remember going to ski movies in Vail when I was younger. For us to be putting on a ski film in Vail is pretty special,” he said, adding that’s especially true because of the venue.

“VMS is incredible. It’s such a hidden gem: the quality of the theater, the sound. It does such justice to the film and makes it look so beautiful. And the location of the school is spectacular. There's something about East Vail at that time of year, covered in golden aspen trees and smack dab between the East Vail Chutes and the Gore Range.”

Go to the Sweetgrass website for more information, including a full schedule of Colorado events, or go to the Sweetgrass store to buy the film.



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