For the love of mountain life: ‘Hand Cut’ shows in Vail |

For the love of mountain life: ‘Hand Cut’ shows in Vail

Special to the Daily/Danny Brown

“Hand Cut,” the first ski movie from Colorado-based company Sweetgrass Productions, opens with a shot of the Silverton mines covered in snow and dialogue from a crusty old miner who has worked all his life in the high country of Colorado. It also features a blues score by Colorado native John-Alex Mason and was shot on 16 mm film with alternating sequences shot in color and black and white.

It doesn’t sound like the typical snowsport movie. There’s no ear-splitting punk rock soundtrack and fast-paced, music video-style editing to capture the short attention spans of today’s younger, Red Bull guzzling adventurers. “Hand Cut” takes its time, and is deliberately slow in the delivery. It captures a complete tale of mountain living, from the backbreaking labor that carved out mining towns to the modern-day athletes who carve out tracks in freshly fallen snow during descents from peaks across North America.

“It wasn’t about the biggest line or the biggest huck, it was about making a beautiful film that was just as much about the art and the film as it was about the skiing and the story,” said Nick Waggoner, director of “Hand Cut.”

The film will be shown at Vail Mountain School on Friday during two separate screenings.

One of the most interesting things about old mining towns like Silverton and Telluride is the remnants of dilapidated, wooden shacks and houses leftover from a past era, Waggoner said. Many shots in “Hand Cut” contain this symbolism ” this sort of old-meets-new juxtaposition of mountain life.

“When you go to the resorts a lot of times you can get mixed up in what is Colorado and what makes these places unique. There’s no kidding when you go to Silverton, you know. It’s not polished ” it’s the real deal,” Waggoner said.

For that reason Waggoner and principle cinematographer Ben Sturgulewski ” both film students who graduated from Colorado College ” chose the most backcountry of backcountry locations in Alaska, British Columbia and Colorado to shoot their film.

They avoided the luxury of ski lifts and helicopters in favor of hiking rugged terrain to capture the beauty of nature and the excitement of skiing in such wide open spaces.

“We tried to capture that moment when you’re out there in the woods by yourself, surrounded by snow. Sometimes those look like the most simple things, like a tree covered in snow or light hitting a big cloud or little particles of snow. I feel like for the backcountry skier that goes out and does that, those are the things that really sink in,” Sturgulewski said.

But as much as “Hand Cut” is about the love of mountain life, it’s still a ski movie, and there are plenty of shots of skiers and snowboarders hitting massive jumps, spinning through the air and landing in fluffy puffs of snow ” they just tend to be shot in slow motion.

Charlie Cannon, a professional telemark skier from Oregon, appeared in some of the scenes in “Hand Cut.” He enjoyed working with Waggoner and Sturgulewski on the project because of their open minds and willingness to try and capture different shots and angles that would stand out in the film. The from-the-ground-up operation was also something that Cannon said paid off in the end.

“It’s not as glamorous, I’m sure, as people say,” Cannon said. “Sleeping on people’s couches that don’t really have any idea what you’re doing; you have to wake up early, it’s cold, and you’re sitting around waiting for shots, you’re hiking a lot.”

But when the bluebird days popped up and the snow was waist deep, it was all worth it, Cannon said.

The end result of all that “work” is a film that brings a great deal of pride to Waggoner and Sturgulewski, even if it never makes them a penny.

“We do it because we like it and we want to get our film out there. It’s not a money-making venture,” Waggoner said.

High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 970-748-2939 or

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