(Conducted in September 2016 at The Fourth Phase premiere and published in the December 2016 issue of SNOWBOARDER Mag.)
There is the physical demand of what you do as a rider but it seems like the mental stress of being the catalyst for this type of production is even more enormous.
I have learned over the years that the only way to deal with it day in and day out and not get caught up with depression when things don't go your way is to always put our best foot forward. I have learned that all we can do is go out and give it everything we have. If it doesn't come together then C'est la vie, that's life. The one thing we refuse to do with a crew this large and setup like this is play it safe. There is an inclination to play it safe because you want to make sure with that much effort that you get something. I think the biggest struggle has been to not rest on our laurels. What's funny is probably the most progressive aspect of this film is how much better we are at working with a large group of people in the backcountry. But I think you touched on the point earlier that with a bigger crew, the breakthroughs with your riding are ultimately fewer and further between.
Perhaps, but I also think other people have achieved breakthroughs in their riding while they were with you.
I would like to think so!
Victor in Alaska is so insane and fast. Mikkel's rotation off of the tree in Japan is ridiculous. Ben Ferguson definitely took his riding to the next level this year.
What's your favorite part of The Fourth Phase?
You spend so much time making it so that is a tough question. There were challenges and breakthroughs in every segment. Because we kicked each winter off in Japan there was always such a fresh energy going on. Riding there has much more of a light and playful feeling. Jackson was keeping our head down and going to work. I love hitting jumps in Jackson but part of hitting jumps is building jumps so that led to inevitably long days. But without a doubt one of the funnest things to do is hit a big kicker into pow. Then you have Alaska, which was a really complicated three years. We saw all types of conditions up there. It went from as bad as we have ever seen it to shaping up to be the best winter ever which ended up being this last winter. We were keeping tabs on the winter down to every storm that came through. Then it got stuck in a dirty ridge of low pressure. On top of that the record-breaking, abnormally warm waters that formed in the Gulf due to El Niño caused spring to literally come to Alaska a month early. I remember hearing some of the old time operators in Valdez say it was the worst heli season in 25 to 30 years up there!
And in Alaska you were caught in the avalanche.
I have only been buried once and even that was just to my armpits. This avalanche was different in the sense that had that cliff not been there it wouldn't have been that big of a deal, physically speaking. There wasn't enough snow to fully bury me. I had selected a line that had a very fanned out run out so any of the deposition piles wouldn't have been more than 3 to 5 feet deep, which is still enough to bury you if you got rolled. But the big thing there was the secondary exposure. I got taken off a sixty-foot cliff and probably went closer to 100 feet off of it due to the trajectory. I came down on some pretty hard snow. It was the hardest slam I have ever taken on a snowboard without a doubt. The trauma of it was just brutal.
It is the heaviest moment of The Fourth Phase, if not the heaviest moment in any snowboard film ever. In Reckless Abandon, Bode Merrill documents his ordeal in Alaska where he legitimately got buried and was under the snow for several minutes. That was really heavy as well.
Look, as far as life endangering…the type of fall I took, if you land wrong, you die, you break your back or neck or send a freakin' bone through an artery. I think I probably came out of the situation as good as I possibly could have. The situation with Bode was a whole 'nother level.
Did you have your ABS avy-pack on?
To be brutally transparent, I have an ABS bag that I am able to zip on and zip off depending on what I am riding or what I think about the situation. For that particular slide I wasn't riding with my ABS bag on. The hazard came from the cliff, not the slide. It looks like a massive avalanche but…
It wasn't as big as the slide in Alaska in The Art Of Flight that you had to self-arrest during to keep from being swept?
Yeah, that was a bigger, deeper slide. If you look at all the slides and pockets that I have kicked off in the past films I have compartmentalize them and broken down why a little pocket or the slide was triggered. Every single one of those is dangerous and you can be buried by such a small slide but it is something that I am close to because I am out there riding and constantly tip-toeing around whether to ride something or not. I am trying to make those safety calls on the fly. The slide in The Fourth Phase was a bad call on my part, which led to me going over that cliff. The signs were there. I underestimated the amount of snow that was in that area. That morning we had been riding a couple miles away and were getting one to two inches of surface snow to move. That wasn't really enough to be too concerning as long as we stayed on a small slope. We weren't getting any secondary propagations and we were digging our pits. What was below that top level of snow was actually pretty locked up. The thing was we went to a different part of the range for our evening mission and there was a lot of wind accumulation and there was more snow because it was coastal. It went from 1 to 2 inches to 5 to 8 inches. So A.), I underestimated how much snow was on the face, and B.), I underestimated the energy that surface layer of snow had. I also underestimated my escape routes. From the front it looked like it was a relatively flat face but once I was on slope it was actually quite a bit of drainage. Again it was a series of bad decisions on my part that led to that situation. For me, it is still really uncomfortable to see that piece of the film. Honestly, after it happened, for a while, I didn't even think that we were going to necessarily show it.
I think the responsible thing to do is to show these consequences.
Yeah! That moment was captured in this documentary-style movie that we have been making for over three years. That bubbled to the surface as a pretty compelling moment. It ended up being a big "Aha" moment of my own personal journey. And so after that went down we had some time to really step back and assess it. It was apparent that yeah, okay, this is going in the film and it is going to be a pretty heavy moment.
Is that your call?
Not necessarily. I am on board with that choice being made but you have to remember that there are a lot of people in the directorial chair of this film. I definitely have a voice in it and I think for the most part we are pretty aligned but ultimately, the initial call for this being put in the film didn't come from me. It came from the people that were tasked with putting the final cut together.
So you didn't have final cut approval?
I did have final cut approval. I sat with it for a little while. I was like "Okay, the only way that I feel good about showing this is if we edit together a piece explaining the fact that this was operator error." So I have worked with the Know Before You Go avalanche awareness group out of Utah on the video they put together. That's what made it okay with me to show this and have it be a pinnacle part of the film. We also put together a bonus segment that is actually on The Fourth Phase DVD that talks about what happened that day and some of the wrong decisions that I made and then boiling down the easiest way to go learn about avalanches and backcountry safety.
Do you want to speak about Brainfarm at all?
One thing I can say is that Brainfarm has been a pivotal part of this whole process. What is Brainfarm? It's a group of people that have grown together through the process of the past couple films; The Community Project, That's It That's All, and The Art Of Flight. The Fourth Phase wouldn't have been shit without the people that did the filming and heavy lifting on it and I have nothing but respect and gratitude for our crew seeing this through. This film was not fucking easy in any sense of the term. I think a lot of people gave a lot more than they probably should have to make this movie. Relationships were destroyed. People gave everything to make this film because they cared, because they were passionate about it and I think in the end, their efforts really do come through. This film wouldn't have been made had it not been for the efforts of the Brainfarm crew and the support from Red Bull Media House.
Snowboard media has changed a lot since you started making The Fourth Phase. For example, Instagram video wasn't even a thing when filming began.
That is actually a very appropriate way to put it. I love that there are so many different ways now to ingest media. I love the web series, I love the Instagram videos; quite frankly, I love it all. I did a web series in between The Art Of Flight and The Fourth Phase called "Rice Pudding." For me, that was fucking awesome. It was super fun, it was super low stress and it was just real. I went out with one camera and did six episodes and it was super fucking fun. But looking at what we wanted to do with this particular film, I put everyone on lockdown. After years and years of looking through Instagram, I knew where everyone was going, I knew the locations, I knew how the conditions were and I had a pretty good idea of how people did at each spot. I wanted to go in the exact opposite direction so I had everyone on our crew on full media blackout. Total lockdown. Nobody was allowed to post anything from any of our trips in an effort to try to have something special because we all live in this fast-paced, disposable media world. I come from this time where there were projects where you would see the whole thing with fresh eyes. I think we all still have a little bit of desire to have that and be surprised. That's why I hate trailers and teasers. Our trailers didn't really give away shit. There are some good visuals and a little bit of story but the trailer pretty much doesn't say shit. You should have seen the first couple edits, it was like the whole film in three minutes. I couldn't handle it. So it was a fun experiment to do a project where we held our cards so close to our chest but I look forward to doing some more disposable media this winter.
It is interesting because people have the mindset of, "Okay, we can't leak anything until the video releases in the fall" but with The Fourth Phase you couldn't leak anything till the video came out three or four years later.
Our timeline was pretty nuts but it takes time to put together something…
That will stand the test of time?
Yeah, put together something timeless. But things evolve so fast and change. Holy shit, watching the progression of freestyle snowboarding the last four years has fucking blown my mind. When we started on this film the first couple triple corks were just being done. People have done quads now and are stomping back-to-back triples! As time progresses we are not necessarily focused on what we were focused on two films ago. I will tell you straight up without a doubt that The Fourth Phase—on a purely snowboarding level—is much less progressive than our previous films, hands down. But The Fourth Phase is more progressive in other ways, like with the filmmaking and storytelling elements.
And what's the next phase going to be for Travis Rice?
I am shooting down any plan that comes my way because I'm stoked to go to a couple banked slaloms, go watch a couple events and honestly, if I can, I am stoked to help some of my friends, the riders in this film and my sponsors with projects that they have going on. My sponsors have literally allowed me to fuck off and disappear for like three winters. I'm also trying to bring back the Supernatural contest because I still believe that's the future and the highest echelon of competitive snowboarding. It's going to happen inevitably, whether I have anything to do with it or not. There has to be something after quad corking on a park feature. A rider's career shouldn't be done at age 24. You can go film but even there you see the support from sponsors continue to go down. I think the perfect evolution for a snowboarder is something that demands the skill someone has acquired over the course of their lifetime, blending freestyle-influenced riding and interpretation of natural terrain. The Fourth Phase has been a long and radical ride and I have nothing but love and gratitude for all the people that worked on this project. I am the figurehead of this movie but man, it wouldn't be shit without all the riders that came out to support it and especially the people that actually made it…nothing but gratitude.