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Vail film: Seasons of a skier

Special to the Daily/Sweetgrass ProductionsForrest Coots in "Signatures," the new film from Sweetgrass Productions. The examines skiing through the lens of Japanese culture, which emphasizes life's connection to the seasons.
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VAIL, Colorado – There’s an immutable rhythm to the life of the skier.

You may have just felt it when the fall storm dusted the Gore Range. The signs of winter have arrived.

The rhythm will continue. In January, the winter is deep and cold. In February, you realize the heart of winter is passing. In April, the days turn warm, and, in May, the season is over, and you are thinking about next year.



For the most passionate skiers, life – and the way one’s self is expressed – revolves around this rhythm.

That’s the theme of Sweetgrass Productions’ new movie, “Signatures,” which took filmmaker Nick Waggoner to the mountains of Japan last winter. Waggoner spotlights Japanese culture – and its connection to the seasons – to make a ski film that’s also a meditation on mountain life.



“The seasons are almost like the Ten Commandments for their culture,” Waggoner said. “It’s the whole bedrock of everything they believe in.”

Waggoner, a Colorado College graduate, is coming off the success of his 2008 film, “Hand Cut,” which focused on the men who built the West’s railroads and worked in its mines – as well as the big mountain skiers of today.

“Signatures” similarly intersperses beautiful footage of powder skiing with a larger theme. It features alpine, telemark, snowboard and “no board” – which is a snowboard without bindings – athletes.



Taro Tamai, who is one of the most famous snowboarders in Japan, is the central character in the film. Other well-known athletes include Nick Devore, Jacqui Edgerly and Jess McMillan.

Waggoner spent seven months in the mountains of Hokkaido, a region that gets huge amounts of snowfall and has big, rolling mountains with lots of vertical drop.

“The idea for this film was to be in one place for the whole year,” Waggoner said. “We wanted to be in a community, and stay in a community, and see snow and the mountains through the eyes of that community.”

Tamai helped Waggoner tap into the network of local Japanese snowsports athletes.

One segment focuses on a local “no boarder,” another on a surfer, another on a snowboard-maker. The film treats each of these activities, as well as skiing, as a form of self-expression for the mountain dweller. Tracks made in the snow – a line down the mountain – capture the essence of who a person is.

The film is lusciously shot in high definition and includes a stellar soundtrack featuring the likes of Bon Iver.

“Signatures” premiered Saturday in Aspen, and has set out on a three-month-long tour of the U.S. and Japan.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.

What: “Signatures,” the new ski film from Sweetgrass Productions.

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Where: Vail Mountain School.

Cost: $9.

More information:Visit http://www.sweetgrass-productions.com


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