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Sunday, March 18, 2001

JAPAN LITE

Where all your nightmares come together


I'm watching breathtaking video footage of a skier hucking air off 30-meter cliff then making smooth carved turns down a deadly 55-degree rock face. The last time I hucked and tucked a 55-degree rock face I woke up just before falling into a crevasse.

But one girl's bad dream is another man's, uh, job. Teton Gravity Research, a film company in it's sixth year of making extreme-sports films, isn't about people like you and me who curse every time we have to climb sideways down those steep stairs in our old, rickety Japanese houses. No sirree, the athletes in these movies huck, tuck and do a few flips out of bed every morning. Maybe we just need to put on skis to get down those stairs.

If you're not interested in slapping on a pair of skis and tucking down your stairway, but wouldn't mind feeling what it's like, then TGR's extreme ski/snowboarding flick called "Further," released last fall, will get your adrenalin running. Running for shelter, that is.

Jeremy Nobis tucks 350 vertical meters down a couloir at 130 kph. Dan Treadway gets raked over rocks and shatters his pelvis. Watching this film left me seeking safer terrain, even on the sidewalk.

"Further" will leave everyone with the same nagging question: How do they do that?!

I traveled to Bridger Teton National Park in Jackson, Wyoming, to the home of Teton Gravity Research to find out. After four days of begging an interview, I finally got one.

In a small office at the base of Jackson Hole Ski Resort, Todd Jones, film producer and co-owner of Teton Gravity Research, let me in on a few secrets.

Jones, a short, stout guy who hangs off cliffs and precipices to get camera shots, has just returned from three weeks filming in Alaska. His beady eyes are bloodshot from hours of video editing. He's showing me the teaser they've just finished for "Mind the Addiction," a ski and snowboard flick coming in September.

Me: How do you do that?!"

Jones: We take about 20 hours of action footage, be it skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, surfing, whatever, and 20 hours of digital [sound, interviews, etc.] We edit that down to 35-60 minutes per film.

Me: What about those shots from above?

Jones: We do most of our shots from helicopters. With the heli you can get the helicopter motion with the motion of the skier or the kayaker. Motion on motion creates an amazing effect. If we don't hire a heli, then we try to get good land angles. Perched on ledges, hanging off cliffs. Angle is key. I've hung off a cliff for three days filming.

Me: What about the skiers hucking off 30-meter cliffs?

Jones: We film all over the world: Alaska, Norway, Antarctica, Greenland. If we're shooting here in the Tetons, we can go back to that spot every time it snows and shoot till we get it right. In places like Alaska, where we can't go back, it's pretty much do or die the first time, unless the crash makes it [on film].

Me: You have a lot of shots of riders setting off avalanches and snow slides.

Jones: There are safety issues. You need to make sure you've got people ready to go in and rescue the skiers. It takes a lot of preparation. We can't ski everything we'd like to.

Me: What other problems are there filming?

Jones: Sometimes film can soften things and make them dreamy. Our job is to lessen that effect to capture the true dangers these athletes are facing.

Me: What's next?

Jones: We're doing a surf movie now in Australia to be released in late fall. "Nurpu," our kayak movie, was released last week. "Mind the Addiction" will be released in September this year. We're working on a base-jump sequence for that. "What's that?" I'm afraid to ask. "Where guys jump off cliffs in skis and pull out parachutes to land," he says.

Yeah, I think I've had that nightmare, too.

For more information on TGR and to order videos, contact TGR Japan on the Web at www.tgrjapan.com or call (0548) 22-9800.

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com


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