Think Thank in Russia

words: T. Bird

photos: Huggy, Mike Yoshida, and Aaron Blatt

Water evaporates. Clouds form. Life begins. A snowstorm atop high peaks falls heavy, settles, melts, flows through tributaries, streams, into rivers, and finds the sea and returns to the air. This process we follow, this cycle we ride.

What are we in this for? It’s a hypothetical question but as snowboarders, it’s essential to ponder at times, and there is arguably no snowboarder on earth that forces the question to be answered than Travis Rice. Is it a sense of community that we desire, or is it a more individualistic ideology that you search for? Is it a sense of adventure that drives you to save up all summer in order to travel the world in search of snow or is are you content simply lapping your home mountain year after year, discovering new zones, tree runs and sidehits? Is it the perfect powder day that fuels your passion or is it finding the perfect handrail and filming with your friends in the streets? What is it exactly that makes up our DNA; the fabric of who we are as a culture? Seemingly, there is no correct answer to these queries. However, after watching Travis Rice’s newest film, I’m nearly certain that I know what his answer to those questions would be.

Travis Rice

Travis Rice lurking in the shadows. p: Blatt

Travis Rice

Ben Ferguson sends one in the Tetons. p: Blatt

The Fourth Phase World Premiere

The line up of riders assembled by Rice for the film was legendary. p: Huggy

On Thursday, September 8th at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, Travis premiered one of the most talked-about and highly-anticipated snowboard films in the history of our sport, The Fourth Phase and once again, as Rice always seems to do, he threw me a curveball but ironically, it was his film that knocked it out of the park. Without giving too much away, if you assumed that this is a part-based snowboard flick, you have assumed wrong. Travis and Red Bull Media House strayed from the trick-based video segment model, yet they also strayed from the traditional travel-based system that video production crews have tried their hand at for years…sort of. You see, The Fourth Phase is essentially a travel-based film, with a twist. In true Travis Rice fashion, the status quo is not good enough, and the theory of this entire movie hinges on the four phases of water. In the opening segment, overlaid on top of Travis’s beautifully crafted Catamaran “Falcor” cutting through anonymous, emerald blue waters; a dot in an endless abyss of ocean, Dr. Gerald Pollack, a renowned professor of Bioengineering, sets the tone for The Fourth Phase’s dissertation, by stating, 'We all learn that water has three phases. The solid state, the liquid state and also the vapor state. You can’t explain all the known properties of water with three phases alone. You need a fourth phase. As children, we have this natural tendency to explore. And then we go to school and we have to get the right answer. This has a tendency to squeeze out of us the truth-seeking nature that comes as a human being. Because of the institutionalized nature of science, scientists have become more hesitant to challenge perceived truth. If we wanna get real truth, we have to dig down beneath the foundations.'

John Jackson

The intro cuts immediately to Travis standing atop a runway in the Wyoming backcountry, clapping his gloved hands together and getting ready to drop. It is at the 4:39 mark that the riding starts, and it’s a barrage of succinct, quickly cut clips of Travis sessioning an eighty-foot kicker, captured by long lens drone shots and rapid cuts of close-up, staccato lifeys that provides an intimate look at Travis while he’s clocked in, and it is an highly-produced and extremely captivating scene that grabs your attention and sucks you into The Fourth Phase. For the next few minutes, Travis is joined by Pat Moore, Cam FitzPatrick and Ben Ferguson in his backyard as they unleash an all-out assault on the mountain with a barrage of double corks and perfect stomps as metal thrashes in the background. Quite frankly, it was one of my favorite parts of the film as it showed how Rice not only progresses as a rider year after year, but he raises the bar so high that he forces those who ride with him (Cam, Pat, Ben, Bode Merrill and Bryan Iguchi, in this instance) to seemingly max out their full potential. This segment sums up Travis’s ideology perfectly: Point it, send it and stomp it. By any means necessary.

Blake Paul

Ben Ferguson and Travis Rice. p: Blatt

Travis Rice

The undisputed King of Jackson. p: Blatt

Travis Rice

Travis and his lovely girlfriend, Evan Mack. p: Huggy

Travis Rice

Smoking kills. p: Blatt

In the next segment, Jackson Hole icon and living legend Bryan Iguchi touches upon his and Travis’s relationship that was forged not through frozen water necessarily, but simply through water itself. Says Guch, “Travis and I definitely share this path. It’s kind of a migration, based on hydrology. I’m just obsessed with the processes of nature. I remember as a kid watching people surfing; the water, how good it felt to play. I realized the storms that were providing this great surf would provide amazing snow in the mountains and I had this epiphany of dedicating my life to this process. It’s just like a natural instinct, there’s something primitive, something that goes a little bit deeper than just playing or just riding. The laws of nature are the most powerful laws in existence.” As usual, Guch’s words are genuine, impactful, and quite frankly, legendary. Based on Guch’s testimony, the theory of The Fourth Phase officially starts. After a montage of Rice and his pseudo-mentor (or as Rice calls him, “The Humble Master”) sessioning the surrounding peaks of the Tetons, Travis digs heartily into his process of making this film and uses the cycle of natural precipitation at its foundation as the base of The Fourth Phase.

Bryan Iguchi

Travis explains further, “This hydrological cycle, it’s easy to just write it off as, ‘Well, that’s the weather.’ We steal a lot of the magic from things that we give names to. It’s this beautiful, choreographed cycle of life. If you were standing on the moon looking back at earth, at one point during the day, you’re looking at a blue planet. The ocean traps the sun’s heat energy and turns it into a solar engine. A system of ocean currents called The North Pacific Gyre moves in a clockwise direction, driven by wind and the rotation of the earth, distributing this heat energy around the planet. This helps fuel the storms that drive our winters. I realized by combining my love of the ocean with my love of the mountains it might be possible to actually follow the flow around the north Pacific, travel with the water that melts down from the Continental Divide, sail with it as it sweeps across the ocean and turns into the snow that blankets Japan. The cycle swings up and tears past the Kamchatka Peninsula and then finally banks into the catcher’s mitt that forms the Gulf of Alaska. These charged weather systems coming off the ocean hit these coastal mountains which ring out precipitation like a sponge, creating some of the most incredible snow formations on the planet.” And just like that, at the 17:00 mark of The Fourth Phase, Travis—as he is known for—explains every detail of the ideology of this film in under two minutes…and the adventure begins.

Travis Rice

If you're a photographer, all you have to do is follow Cam. Cam FitzPatrick. p: Blatt

Blake Paul

Jackson upstart, Fitzpatrick. p: Blatt

Gallery

The crew darts off to Japan for the first travel trip of the movie, and joining Travis are Norwegian prodigy Mikkel Bang, whose style and fluidity mirror the vast terrain that Japan has to offer and longtime friend and Northwest icon Mark Landvik, whose proficiency in powder made his choice for this journey an absolute no-brainer. I found this section the most interesting because Travis and his crew are usually associated for out-of-this world riding that—while amazing to witness and mind-blowing on its own—is considered unrelatable to achieve by many viewers of his movies. This trip, however, denoted more fun than fucked up. Plowing through perfectly pristine powder and darting through euphoric tree runs highlighted the freestyle aspect of this section, as Rice, Lando and Mikkel took to the trunks of trees to tap, bonk, plant and redirect off of. It seemed like a session that anyone could have (given the right conditions) at their home resort. It was three friends walking into the woods and simply playing around. At the end of this part, however, per Travis’s modus operandi, he seeks out an AK-esque zone and things start to get real heavy. I’ll admit: As someone who has worked at SNOWBOARDER Magazine for a decade now, there aren’t very many places that I’m not aware of, but the lines that Rice, Lando and Mikkel sniffed out in Japan surprised me. The whole section was fun, funny, heavy and light all at the same time, capped off with a nighttime powder shoot that’ll get anyone—regardless of if they ride or not—stoked on shredding.

Bode Merrill

Many of us cling to ideas that we’ve come up with. We love them. We think we’ve arrived at certain truths but there’s so much in our world that’s unknown.

Next, the crew darts north to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. This section holds the most surprises of any segment in the film, but I’m not about to give that away. What I’m willing to give away, however, is the fact that Travis, Eric Jackson and Mark Landvik hop in what looks to be a 1950s-era Soviet military helicopter and explore every single nook and cranny of the surrounding ranges on Kamchatka. Their accommodations in Kamchatka are meager, a simple hut built in an endless frozen tundra save for a venting volcano just miles from the cabin. At night, they sit around the hut as E-Jack strums a guitar by the fire. During the day, however, they loaded up in the bird and battle some undesirable snow conditions, as most every face is wind scoured. However, Travis forges ahead, with E-Jack in tow only to emerge as defeated as this crew can get. However, weather rolls in and the three of them start scheming, looking at forecasts and mountain ranges near and far. They also portray exactly what “down days” look like. Waiting, waiting and more waiting, with a hint of losing your mind. It’s funny and light, but in reality, a down day or two is sometimes appreciated, but after that, it can be torture when you’re in the middle of nowhere, and these guys waited it out for close to a month, capping the trip off with a top secret mission that you have to watch the film to get the whole story, but trust me—it’s crazy. Kamchatka is without a doubt the most adventurous section of The Fourth Phase as the journeyman in me was piqued and though they got relatively shut down, it looked like a trip that was as frustrating as it was fun, and sometimes, that’s what snowboard adventures can be, and that’s why I loved this section of the film so much.

When things don’t come together, I’m so compelled to figure out how it does work, I dig deeper to find the truth.

The Fourth Phase World Premiere

The cast of 'The Fourth Phase'.

Mark Landvik

Mark Landvik in waist-deep conditions on the North Island in Japan.

Blake Paul

Sometimes you got to earn your turns. The crew in Jackson. p: Blatt

Erik Leines

Iikka Backstrom

Alaska. It might seem like a place where it’s you at odds with the physical terrain, but Alaska is really just the backdrop for you against yourself. It’s as far as you wanna take it.

Finally, Lando, Rice and E-Jack head to Alaska. By far and away, I was looking forward to this part of the movie more than any other. The trip started off with variable conditions and a sketchy snowpack so Lando pulls the plug and leaves E-Jack and Travis up north to wait out weather and formulate a plan. Well, the wait paid off, as a big low pressure moved in off the Aleutian Islands and when the time was right, Travis and E-Jack went to work, and the result was some pretty mind-blowing AK footage. White knuckle POV footage of Travis towing into knife-edge ridges, monstrous spines, sheer vertical lines, narrow chutes, one butthole-puckering needle-thin straightline, massive patdowns, a video game-esque follow cam of E-Jack, one of the most insane butter to switch back fives of all-time, a back seven gone wrong that lands someone in the hospital with a season-ending injury. This part more than any other in the film or the three previous movies that Travis has made, portray him as both a madman and a visionary and it’s spectacular to watch his mental process throughout it all, ups and downs, good and bad. Warts and all.

Travis Rice

Early morning river crossing. Bryan Iguchi. p: Blatt

Blake Paul

Dawn patrol. Travis loading up for another long day. p: Blatt

Blake Paul

The gauntlet. p: Blatt

Anthony Vitale

Principle Cinematographer, Anthony Vitale. p: Blatt

Blake Paul

Mikkel Bang. Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo, Japan. p: Yoshida

What’s the fourth phase? When water meets a surface, the molecules undergo massive change. They become structured, they acquire charge. All you need is light.

Travis and Eric leave AK and the season comes to a close but Rice returns to Valdez a year later with French all-mountain destroyer Victor De Le Rue and the single greatest big mountain rider of all-time, Jeremy Jones and once again, it’s game on. Victor’s hell-for-leather approach translates well on film as he may be the best straight-liner in the business while Jeremy’s cool, calculated approach is clearly from decades spent cutting his teeth on big mountain terrain, while Rice is a mixture of both, with a freestyle element to his riding that no other rider on earth has ever had and quite possibly ever will again. The Alaska part, however ends with without a doubt, a top three contender for the most terrifying big mountain clip that I have ever seen in my life and that is all I will mention about that. You simply have to see it to believe it.

Ben Ferguson

To seek is not to be content with where one is. To seek is to fantasize that there is more. I am a seeker.

Maybe Travis puts it best toward the end of the film when he says, “I have not figured out how to separate reckless optimism from a healthy appetite to pursue things until it becomes impossible. To be able to know the difference? Yeah, it’d be amazing. I’ve been lucky to have a few glimpses into this idea of what letting go really is. I know it’s impossible.” And maybe that’s what makes Travis Rice the snowboarder so intriguing. No one in the history of our sport and our culture has pushed the limits of what can be done in the mountains, whether those mountains be molehills or looming peaks standing atop glacial valleys. And maybe that’s what makes The Fourth Phase so intriguing to me. Because it shows that Travis Rice is superhuman, but he’s also human. He battles adversity throughout the entire film, from weather to traumatic, life-altering experiences, but when the snow settles, he always comes out on top, stronger and more driven than he’s ever been. When others back down, he forges on, for better or worse. To me, that’s what The Fourth Phase is all about, and to me, that’s what drives me to tell you to watch it, and to me, I truly believe that Travis Rice has made yet another monumental film with his latest offering that you absolutely have to see.

Everything that happens to me is an opportunity for learning. Really, the greatest journey is the one that you take towards a better understanding of yourself and this incredible life that we get to live.

Blake Paul

You can see this image and more in the October issue of SNOWBOARDER Magazine, on newsstands in a few weeks.