Mike Douglas’ Snowman film is a love letter – to Whistler

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I’ve interviewed Mike Douglas a couple of times (for Skier and IF3 publications), and more recently, I’ve worked with Mike and his amazing crew at Switchback Entertainment as a partner in crime on several Origin Design + Communications projects for Whistler Blackcomb (Embedded, The Wonder Reels, The Beyond Series).

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So when our Origin team went en masse on Sunday night to see the World Premiere of his debut feature film, Snowman, at the Closing Gala of the Whistler Film Festival, I wasn’t going as a film critic, or a cultural commentator, or any kind of kinda-journalist that I’ve played at being over the past decade.

I was going as a creator, cheering on a fellow creative who had stepped beyond his comfort zone, who was putting himself out there to attempt the next level. I was in awe and a little bit jealous of his cojones.

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I’d also forgotten the full extent of the biography by which he’d earned the moniker of Godfather of Skiing (ie he didn’t give birth to skiing, but he sure as fuck ensured it got its spiritual education.)

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Here’s what I discovered in the semi-dark, inhaling popcorn by the handful, as I watched a deeply personal debut film about growing up far from snow, dreaming of a bigger life, and learning the price of risk-tasking:

The single most important step in your evolution as a creative person is owning your high school years. (Cheers to Lena Dunham, David Sedaris, and now, Mike Douglas. I can say that i’m light years away from sharing pictures of my high school year book as a way of connecting with an audience. Guess it’s time to call a therapist.)

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There’s so much talk in marketing these days about being soulful and authentic, but it doesn’t get much more legit that reconnecting with your high school best friend, 20 years later, after you both sold out on each other and (spoiler alert) became neighbours and ski buddies once again.

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If you want to be a craftsperson, you have to be willing to blow up your ultra-cool persona. Douglas has cred – his Salomon Freeski TV is not only groundbreaking, it’s mindmelting content for snowfiends. Shane McConkey was one of his bros. He practically reinvented skiing when it was at its most uninspiring.

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But in Snowman, he completely owns his vulnerability: he was adopted, he didn’t finish University, he is sometimes scared of the stuff he has to do as a pro skier. And his best friend in the world is a geek. A really really endearing, but in no way a leading man, weather geek. Who almost died in a terrifying helicopter crash in the biggest mountains imaginable.

When I lost Shane he was the first really close friend that I lost and we had kids the same age and we had so much in common, and I can’t even imagine if I would have lost Kevin that day. That would have probably changed my life even more dramatically. But I think stepping behind the camera and focusing on storytelling as opposed to just doing the coolest, latest trick – there’s risk involved in that, in just putting yourself out there and making things that people are going to see and judge. But at the same time that physical risk has been reduced now that I focus much more of my time on filmmaking. And that has been a product of what’s happened to my friends.

Because, for a bit of an epilogue here, Shane’s death was just the first domino. I’ve lost so many friends in the last five years, it’s absurd. I’ve become a pro at doing media eulogies for my friends. I just lost two – JP Auclair and Andreas Fransson back in the end of September, and Sarah Burke was like my little sister. JP was one of my dearest friends; he was at my wedding and has been through all these milestones in life with me. Andreas was the subject of my last film. So it’s been incredibly difficult. As my kids grow up, it definitely weighs on you for sure and focusing on the filmmaking side has been a little safer, but also therapeutic in a way. As a filmmaker and as a writer, you actually can take positive things out of the roller coaster of life. This is what life is and it’s not always going to be perfect, and sometimes it’s messy and sometimes there’s beauty in that as well.

~Mike Douglas talks to Marsha Lederman of the Globe and Mail

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So he told Kevin Fogolin’s story. And there were no rock stars to lead the charge. On the contrary – just a reluctant, intensely private, kid from Campbell River. And a former pro skier turned filmmaker digging into the beautiful mess of it all.

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I love watching Abma or Petersen or Backstrom slay a line as much as the next person. But maybe the ski world needs more stories like this… of regular folk, who love snow, and who realise, at some point in their lives, that sharing little moments on snow with your family might, ultimately, be the most important measure of things.

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Not everyone can move to Whistler. (Or any other awesome ski town. But Whistler is, you know, extra creamy.)

But there’s something beautiful in the stories of all the people who have. Because it required a great leap. And I’m super grateful to Mike Douglas for reminding me of that. That, at some point, we were all goofy-looking kids writing “Go skiing” in our high school year books. And, for better and worse, some of us actually did.

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