Red Gerard takes us behind the scenes of the journey to film ‘Joy’
An hourlong special on ESPN’s Wide World of X Games on Sunday afternoon provided the best glimpse yet into how Summit County-raised snowboard star Red Gerard approached life and snowboarding in the wake of his 2018 Olympic gold medal victory.
Ahead of the Nov. 5 release of “Joy: A Snowboard Film,” ESPN detailed the thought process and journey behind the flick in “OverJoyed: A Season Spent Creating the Snowboard Film Joy.”
The World of X Games special — which can be viewed on-demand online via Watch ESPN — tells the story of how older pro snowboard stars such as Danny Davis, Ben Ferguson and Sage Kotsenburg welcome and educate Gerard and other young riders, like his good friend Brock Crouch, into the soulful experience of working to bring park-style tricks to the freeride challenge that is the backcountry.
For Gerard, spending last year filming for “Joy” introduced him to new experiences. Everything from perfecting how to build a backcountry jump — Kotsenburg ribbed him on his building skills at X Games Aspen — to the fear of heli-boarding in Whistler, Canada, for the first time.
Ferguson and Kotsenburg, Gerard’s predecessor in winning Olympic slopestyle gold for Team USA, recruited the then-18-year-old to join them in the “Joy” project, an opportunity Gerard couldn’t pass up.
“I remember Sage, talking to him saying, ‘I’m going to go Rambo this season,’” Gerard said in the special, “and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s on.’”
It was the trio’s first time snowboarding in the backcountry together, and it came on the heels of an avalanche accident in April 2018 that nearly took the young Crouch’s life. Despite injuries from the accident that required more than eight MRIs on his back, four teeth surgeries, 200 days of physical therapy, a lacerated pancreas and a broken back in three spots, Crouch was with Gerard and company seven months after the injury at the “amusement park” that was the Baldface Lodge in British Columbia.
After learning avalanche safety — such as what to do in a tree well — at Baldface, Gerard and friends trekked to Tahoe, California, where Davis further taught Gerard and Crouch about backcountry lines and safety.
“Just sitting on the lake bed with the whole crew, everyone pointing out lines, and all of that, that was pretty new to me,” Gerard said. “To step in the lines with Danny and have him pointing out lines and me trying to point out a line and him telling me how that all is going to go.”
Davis was proud of the progress Gerard and Crouch made in the backcountry, including both of the friends landing 720s during the Tahoe session.
“I think picking out a line,” Davis said, “and kind of spinning is always kind of a thing, when you don’t get to go manicure the lip, it’s definitely a little bit of a gamble. So to see Red kind of linking up a line and spinning and freeriding, it’s not easy to do.”
The friend group brought their jump-building factory-line process to British Columbia, Japan and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Chiseling out snow slabs in a cookie-cutter style, the snowboarders constructed menacing run-ins and jumps. They battled on the obstacles after a series of rock-paper-scissors contests to see who would be the guinea pig and jump first.
“A pow jump can break your mind,” Gerard said. “Rag-dolling over and over can make a man go psycho.”
The snowboard stars also brought their curiosity to the “psycho-scale,” as Ferguson put it, snow-swept natural features in the high-Alpine of Canada. There, they all tempted a towering natural pipe-like feature made famous by an iconic handplant from snowboarder Pat Moore. The friends take turns at it until Ferguson wins the day with a huge, natural double crippler.
While in Canada, Gerard also conquered his fear of heli-boarding.
“I remember waking up that morning and looking out the window,” Gerard said, “it’s cloudy. ‘Perfect, we’re not going.’ I was terrified of going into a helicopter, cause it’s like the real deal. That’s what everyone does in filming.”
On the suggestion of a filmmaking friend, Gerard and Crouch headed for Japan, where they experienced jaw-dropping amounts of snow and surreal next-to-road access to powder lines.
“I feel like I’ve never seen that much snow before,” Gerard said. “Just in the fact that in the U.S. you’ve got to snowmobile out real far to get to the places you want to snowboard, and I feel like a lot of the stuff in Japan you were just were just driving in a car and jumping out and hiking up.”
The filming led up to a moment here at home. At the Burton U.S. Open in Vail in March, Gerard won the slopestyle competition and was mobbed by family and friends in the corral. It was just the same as moments in the backcountry in the preceding weeks when friends would mob him after landing a natural jump.
Gerard said in a weird way he thinks the experience of pushing himself in the backcountry helped him win one of the world’s biggest slopestyle competitions.
“In a lot of ways,” Gerard said, “I think it helped me, because my mind wasn’t so focused leading up to it.
“The Olympics were cool,” Gerard added, “but I’ve got to say that one was pretty mindblowing for me.”
Five out of 22 member ski areas have adopted pay-to-play policies when it comes to skinning, snowshoeing or hiking up the mountain.