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Behind the Scenes of “Tsirku” with Sherpas Director Eric Crosland

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Three athletes. Two cinematographers. One wall of spines and 60 kilometres of man-eating terrain between the staging area and the objective.

“I really didn’t think we were gonna make it in there,” says Eric Crosland, the Creative Director who had the bright f*%&ing idea to go “in there” in the first place.

With the right group of people and the right set of circumstances though, the concept of impossibility drops its first two letters and becomes something attainable. What was once an idea evolves into reality. And that’s what happened with Sherpas Cinema’s expedition into Corrugated, an otherworldly chunk of snow, rock and ice that sits on the border between the Yukon, BC and Alaska.

Hadley Hammer is a Jackson Hole local with over 20 Freeride competitions under her belt. Ralph Backstrom, another seasoned freeride competitor, is a hard-charging snowboarder from the Backstrom clan who Jeremy Jones refers to as “The King of the Stomp” for his ability to ride away cleanly from massive airs. And then there’s Sam Anthamatten, the Swiss-born mountain guide with balls of steel who put himself on the line to knock off the gigantic cornices that guarded the entrance to Corrugated.

“We wouldn’t have gotten on the face if it wasn’t for him,” says Crosland. “He basically T-slotted his backpack—you know that shot from the trailer that you can see where the cornice breaks—but he t-slotted his backpack and just belayed over the cornice until it broke.”

Crosland was there to capture the action. And so was Leo Hoorn, a veteran Sherpa whose snowmobiling skill set was instrumental in pushing into the Corrugated area. “Leo was actually the first one to break through to the zone,” says Crosland. “He’s an incredible sledder.”

Corrugated had actually seen tracks before the Sherpas expedition. It was the last line to be ticked off during the filming of Deeper, the first instalment of Jeremy Jones’s human-powered trilogy. Jones, Ryland Bell, Josh Dirksen and Xavier De Le Rue (all snowboarders) were the only humans known to have previously made their way down the face. “If the stars align and somehow we are able to ride Corrugated then this whole project will be worth it regardless if I ride anything else,” wrote Jones in his journal after he’d seen the face for the first time.

“I was on a shoot with Jeremy right before so I had a chance to talk with him,” says Crosland. “It was actually Xavier De Le Rue who opened it—Xav probed the back until he hit rock and they dug a tunnel under and through the cornice.”

Jones goes on in a later blog to say that the lines they rode leading up to Corrugated provided the necessary ingredients for success. “It took all the experiences we had that previous month to ride this line with confidence.”

That’s how it was with the Sherpas’ expedition as well. “To be able to ski Corrugated well you want to go step-by-step and do first some smaller stuff and get used to that skiing,” says Anthamatten. “Because skiing spines looks fun but it’s not easy, it’s technical.”

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Ralph Backstrom, toeside for life. Photo: Eric Crosland.

With the Sherpas crew having to wait out both weather and stability, they camped out in Haines Pass for two weeks, taking advantage of the occasional half day to explore a zone that sits east from the pass towards the Canadian Border. It’s an area characterized by a Continental snowpack and splitter couloirs.

“Every descent is a first descent,” says Anthamatten of their time in that zone.

The Sherpas were lucky to have been doing any skiing at all during that time, especially since they were also trying to shuttle gear in towards their Corrugated camp whenever the weather allowed. And they were even luckier to get a chance to tackle their main objective. “When we got up there in April it was an end-of May snowpack because of that crazy warming trend that happened at the end of March,” explains Crosland. “We basically sat for two weeks sort of skiing and heli-ing the odd half day here and there. And then once we had a proper four-day weather window we tried to assault Corrugated.

But it was a super gnarly 60 km sled ride to get in there. There’s way quicker ways to go than what we did but we zigzagged this super long way through all these crevasses because there was no valley snow last year.”

That temperature spike at the end of March wasn’t just hard on the snow at lower elevations. It also weakened all the cornices in the area, making them especially volatile. The Absinthe film crew had to airlift one of their athletes to Juneau after a cornice collapsed on him a few days earlier, burying him for more than ten minutes.

“It was really nervewracking because everyone had been warned about the cornices all spring and there we were super deep, playing Russian roulette with them,” says Crosland.

“As you can see, cornices are complicated,” explains Anthamatten in the film. “But that’s the only way to get in there so we try to do it as safe as possible.”

You’ll see in the episodes how it all plays out. In any event, Crosland’s stoked to have gotten in there when they did. Permits have been granted to heli ski in the area this year and the floodgates are starting to open for other crews to get into that incredibly special zone. “It’s literally the best terrain I’ve ever seen,” explains Crosland. “I was happy to get that ski-touring, sledding approach; it was an adventure, a real adventure.”

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“It’s the most unique mountain I’ve ever seen.” – Hadley Hammer. Photo: Leo Hoorn.

Check out the full post on the Sherpas’ site here.

The areas in this series are new terrain to most skiers and snowboarders but they’ve been part of an indigenous trail network for centuries. Part of Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park and home to the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations (CAFN), the expedition was granted permission from BC Parks and the First Nations community beforehand. Sherpas Cinema worked with Yukon Heli Skiing and local guides from Haines Pass Expeditions Limited to make this project possible.

-Sherpas Cinema

Featured Image shot by Eric Crosland

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