Snow Guardians is a ‘non-bro’ ski film

Snow Guardians is a ‘non-bro’ ski film


US Ski Patrol Documentary

Photo By Travis Andersen

By Rachel Hergett, Chronicle Arts Editor

A different sort of mountain film will premiere in Bozeman on Friday, a “non-bro” ski film.

Instead of huge tricks with sick air and epic crashes, Photographer and filmmaker Carson Garner chooses to marry the imagery of modern mountain films with an educational documentary on ski patrols, search and rescue teams and the instability of the mountain snowpack in one of the deadliest years for avalanches in North America.

“Snow Guardians” comes at a perfect time on the heels of what Garner said is an “explosive interest in the backcountry.”

Garner started with an idea for a 10-minute short on the ski patrol’s morning wake-up.

“I was going to shoot a one-week thing,” he said last week, sipping coffee from a “Snow Guardians” mug at Wild Joe’s Coffee Spot. His large Twitter following had different plans. After Tweeting about his plan on his @F9photo account, Garner’s photographer and filmmaker friends came out in droves, saying they wanted in. Soon, he had close to 40 volunteers.

The one-week idea turned into a multi-year project, shooting in the mountains near Bozeman where Garner grew up skiing his first turns at Bridger Bowl. During filming, his daughter found her own ski legs on Bridger’s Bunny Hill.

The teams of ski patrollers and the mountain rescuers here are world class, he said.

“Where else is Conrad Anker going to come to your rescue?” he asked.

The film weaves images of the lifestyle of the patrollers at Bridger, Big Sky and the Yellowstone Club, with overall mountain and backcountry safety, snow science and stories of people who have been caught in avalanches and lived to tell about it.

“It’s a major lifestyle piece,” Garner said. “It’s in (the patrollers’) “core DNA to do this. They may not have insurance or a huge paycheck, but that sunrise every morning when you’re on top of the mountain – that’s one heck of a bonus.”

Some days, however, the wind can be biting and the sun can refuse to come out. It posed a problem for members of the team used to production schedules. On sunny days, the crew might follow patrollers on that morning wake-up, hiking to the top of the mountain to set off charges that trigger avalanches before paying skiers hit the slopes. In storms, they would stay inside, shooting locker-room scenes or individual interviews.

“You’re at the mercy of nature here,” said Lt. Jason Jarrett of the Gallatin County Search and Rescue team in the opening minutes of the film. “She can be mean and we’ve watched her.”

Garner said this is the first film he’s seen with a focus on patrollers and rescuers, who are often introduced as an aside in other films.

“Snow Guardians” was shot in the freezing cold of the mountains by filmmakers carting full high definition rigs, following the ski patrol and search and rescue to calls in the back country. Specialized gear, such as lighter Kessler Cranes and Mystery Ranch packs to carry them, was created specifically for the crew.

Garner likened the extreme nature of the filmmaking, including job shots at 12,000 feet to the television show “Ice Road Truckers.” It is a product of modern technology.

“Seven years ago, no, there is absolutely no way,” this film could have been made, Garner said.

The film includes gorgeous time-lapse shots of the landscape, and a story told without the aid of a narrator, only through the words of those living it.

“That’s the dream,” Garner said. “When you’re filming people with such amazing stories, the hard part is figuring out what to include.”

F9 Films presents the premiere of “Snow Guardians” on Friday, Dec. 28 at the Emerson Center for the Arts & Culture’s Crawford Theatre in Bozeman. Doors open at 7 p.m. for a reception and the gear raffle starts at 8 p.m., followed by the film at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 and are available on online at or at the door.

The Locker Room Band, made up of ski patrollers and lifties, is playing at the Molly Brown after the film event finishes up at the Emerson.

Then, the film is slated for the festival circuit and possible television broadcast.

Rachel Hergett may be reached at [email protected] or 582-2603. Follow her on Twitter @Hergett.

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