JACKSON, Wyo. — Here’s math equation:
Start with five skiers. Add two filmmakers, three trips around the world, and seven unique skillsets. Subtract a broken ankle. Multiply by three episodes.
What do you get?
A ski film unlike any other.
“Greater Than Sum” is the name of the newest ski edit to hit the internet. The second of three episodes was released today, and the group will premiere all three at a special screening Friday night.
What makes this film different, athletes say, is that it’s as much a celebration of camaraderie and community as it is a celebration of skiing.
“So many ski movies highlight just the individual,” says skier Sophia Schwartz. “We really wanted to showcase everyone who makes it happen. What we love most about skiing is skiing with our friends. I’ve rarely ever dropped off of a tall peak all alone.”
Schwartz is a mogul skier-turned-big-mountain-athlete. She moved from the mogul-skiing world circuit to ski big lines in Jackson, where she joined former racer and Jackson local Max Martin, freeride skiers Veronica Paulsen and Tami Razinger, and former racer and all-around athlete Laura Gaylord. Each athlete brings something different to the table: different styles, different strengths, different backgrounds in the mountains.
They were a “motley crew of skiers” with a shared passion and desire. But their individual differences became their collective strengths. And a name for their film was born: “Greater Than Sum.”
“The idea is we all had these specific skills and we could all help each other in some way,” Paulsen says. “None of us could have done this on our own.”
“Everyone sees a mountain differently,” Martin adds. “Having four different athletes with you, suddenly you have five paths laid out in front of you when you’d only see one normally.”
The skiers’ journey started in the spring of 2018. Schwartz, Razinger, and Gaylord had all competed in the Freeride World Qualifier series. They wondered what was next for them as semi-professional skiers. Film was a dream, but the group saw no obvious gateways to entry into filmmaking. So they made their own.
It was a learning process for everyone involved. They recruited photographer/videographer Stephen Shelesky to document their journey. He was a wildlife photographer by practice but, like the athletes, he wanted to break into the winter sports filming space.
Susie Theis had done this type of film before. The Salt Lake-based videographer brought experience and structure to the team’s project, while Shelesky brought talent and an eagerness to figure it out (safe to say he was a quick learner).
The film was — and is — a team effort in every sense, from plot to execution. The athletes each learned from each other. The filmmakers shared ideas and talents. There were plenty of snags along the way: Gaylord broke her ankle early in the season. None of the skiers had ever skied for film before — it’s a totally different experience, they agree. In Japan, they struggled to know where to ski until they hired a guide, which they agree is one of the best decisions they made. But each decision, each moment of tension, only furthered their point: they couldn’t do this without each other.
“We’re not a [film] company,” Razinger notes. “We started from nothing, and we had to learn everything from zero… we absolutely could not have done this alone.”
Schwartz points out that they are “semi-pros,” and that might come through in the film. But in her mind, it only makes it stronger and more authentic.
“At the end of the day, I want a ski video that I can go back to and watch and remember what my life was like,” she says. She hopes it’s a “stepping stone” for all the athletes — “we all have the ability, work ethic and skill to be one of the pros,” she says. But it’s also enough that a group of semi-pro athletes and filmmakers were able to create something completely by and for themselves.
There’s one more element of the film that sets it apart from others in the industry: almost everyone involved — four of the five athletes and half the film crew — is a woman. That was kind of on purpose, Razinger says. Martin, the “token male” athlete, joined later in the game.
It sends a strong message, especially in the context of the rest of the industry. Matchstick Productions came under fire this year for not featuring a single woman in its most recent film. Women still only make up about 14% of athletes in ski films.
But the crew says it was never supposed to be about female empowerment. It’s just a reflection of Jackson and the talent that lives here. That is, perhaps, an even more powerful message: strong female skiers are not the exception. They are the norm.
“It says a lot about Jackson and the strength of skiing in general here,” Razinger says. “Not just men, but also women.”
The journey took the skiers from iconic Jackson lines to Japan volcanoes and even the Utah desert. Over three episodes, viewers will get to know the places and the skiers, and understand that a journey this big is “Greater Than [the] Sum” of its parts.
Watch the first two episodes online now. A viewing party for all three films is scheduled for Friday, December 6 in the theater at TGR’s retail store. Afterparty guaranteed.
8840 TIMBER LN Jackson
180 SPRING GULCH ROAD Pinedale
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330 E GILL AVE Jackson
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