words and photos: Mary Walsh
Travis Rice has always been one to break trail. He has defined his presence in snowboarding by being on the forefront, whether with the terrain he rides, the tricks he does, and of course, the movie projects he creates. For the past eleven years, beginning with the release of The Community Project, snowboarders have eagerly awaited each film that has captured the lucid cold weather contemplations of this Jackson Hole native. A snowboarder for whom the search for the alpine's most gripping lines has been the nucleus of his career, yet only a portion of his legacy, as each movie he has created alongside talented filmmakers and riders has resonated deeply within the snowboarding world. That's It, That's All and The Art of Flight were cinematographic game changers. The Fourth Phase was an ambitious, multi-year undertaking that sought to capture the underlying connections between weather patterns and the passion-fueled pursuit of reaching peaks. And then, after spending so many seasons working on a movie showcasing the better part of the mountains that line the Pacific, this past winter Travis pivoted, and along with directors Justin "Chip" Smith and Chris Murphy, set his sights on a specific-yet-expansive part of the Selkirks in Eastern British Columbia for a movie about the majesty of this one, very specific locale. Three talented riders were tapped to join in: Bryan Fox, Robin Van Gyn, and Austen Sweetin. The crew rallied to the Canadian Mountain Holiday lodge in Galena, and in merely a portion of their winter, collected the footage that would become Depth Perception.
(l to r) Depth Perception’s Travis Rice, Robin Van Gyn, Bryan Fox, Austen Sweetin, co-director Justin “Chip” Smith, and filmers/editors, Tony Augustinack and Sam Sosnowski.
On Wednesday, November 8th, a few hundred people gathered in the cool, evening air in Newport Beach for the Southern California debut of Depth Perception. This premiere marked the final leg of the tour and one tick closer to the start of the season. The marquee on the Lido Theater, bright against dark palm trees, was a beacon of the advent of winter as the crowd funneled into their seats to watch Austen, Bryan, Travis and Robin do what they do best.
Austen Sweetin, Robin Van Gyn, and a slightly out-of-focus Travis Rice.
Depth Perception is, of course, visually stunning. Overhead shots of sharp peaks and ancient forests emphasize the smallness of a crew of people ticking off terrain on their snowboards within the zone. The riding is also, of course, next level. The foursome makes the challenging looks almost easy; their finesse at its finest on Galena's diverse terrain. Through the combination of these things, what Travis and crew capture in Depth Perception is the shared, unbridled joy of making turns through fresh snow in the middle of the mountains. The quiet of the alpine. The imposing majesty of tall trees with snow-covered boughs. The crisp air loaded with anticipation that surrounds you when you spend your daylight searching for and picking off lines. While these four riders by definition have an unmatched faculty for dropping pillows and slashing spines, the wild gnarliness of Galena's terrain is not lost on the viewer, despite the smooth way that Robin, Bryan, Austen, and Travis send it down the steeps. For most of us, the snowboarding in Depth Perception is a pow-fueled fever dream. Heli bumps onto ridgelines that would easily cause a visceral evacuation when peering over the edge. Glades full of untracked fluff. Cloud-like pillows stories high. Minutes-long lines without another track in sight.
In addition to the banner riding, the focus on Galena allowed Rice and crew to succinctly underline the fundamental aspects that are part of each day spent in the mountains via accessible interludes on the environment and snow culture that allow the riders to enjoy the zone's powder spoils. While for these four backcountry savants the specifics may be slightly different than for many of us who generally find ourselves in bounds or exploring steeps not quite as, well, steep, the elements are universal: Time spent with friends. The enjoyment of being outdoors. The foibles of relying on forecasts and the whims of the weather. Backcountry safety and the importance of educating yourself. And, the enigmatic aspects of the shred rituals that we all have. While Austen, Robin, Bryan and Travis may experience these things at the highest level, Depth Perception underlines the commonality we have as snowboarders and possesses a genuine relatability.
Rice's movies have long focused on the exotic. The unattainable, mind-bending mountains that he and his cohorts descend with such effortless-seeming turns. But in Depth Perception, Travis pulls back the curtain in a way he hasn't before. The location is still exotic, yes. The riding is very much insane. But between every melodic segment of pillow popping, spine slashing, and powder ripping is a look at the process, not only of making a snowboard film or of a winter in British Columbia, but of the personalities and everyday elements that drive this particular foursome to spend their winters chasing snow, repeatedly going up just to go down, over and over again. While the abilities of these four are far from common, their pursuit of powder is that of the everyrider. Present in each section of Depth Perception is an innate enjoyment and wonder of the stillness of the snow-covered outdoors that doesn't seem to fade despite their collective seasons spent in some of the most magical mountain ranges in the world. And that is to say that as much as Depth Perception showcases four of the most talented snowboarders currently strapping in as they tackle technical lines, the film is also Travis' most relatable movie to-date. One that easily churns up stoke deep inside the viewer's belly, the shared desire to make turns, and the excitement of riding new lines. Ideally, after watching, this stoke is imbued with just a little more introspection about how these turns we make interact with the mountains around us, too. In the end, Depth Perception really makes you want to go snowboard, and at the core, isn't that what it's all about?