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Thursday, September 15, 2011
The Golden Hour of Scott Gaffney

By Jeremy Benson
ESPN.com

Scott Gaffney behind the lens filming for Matchstick Productions' new release.

Few people have documented the progression of modern freeskiing quite like Scott Gaffney. For the last two decades, Gaffney, now 42, has been behind or in front of the lens with his own film company and with Matchstick Productions, spending the last 12 years as one of MSP's principal cinematographers and editors. A co-conspirator with Shane McConkey of the game of GNAR (which stands for Gaffney's Numeric Assessment of Radness), Gaffney was also the editor and historian of last year's GNAR movie. MSP's new film, "Attack of La Niña" premieres this Saturday in Boulder, Colo. ESPN Freeskiing caught up with Gaffney during a break from the editing room.

It's a no-brainer that this year's movie will deliver a lot of powder. We had several trips in interior BC that were stupid deep. But we've realized people don't want to see 40 minutes of people submarining through chest deep snow, so the idea is to do something different, more unique trickery, more speed through pillows, that kind of thing.

Everyone with a camera and editing skills has the opportunity to blow people away, big budget or not. I think a way to differentiate yourself in the ski film world is to actually entertain your audience.

Last winter, I did a two-week touring trip with Golden Alpine Holidays in interior BC with Eric Hjorleifson, Mark Abma and James Heim and that was stellar because we had 15 straight days of perfect powder. But the way the terrain works there, the camera guys don't really ski. Just skin. I had one insanely good run and that's about it.

The most brutal thing I filmed this past season was Cody Townsend's last line in Terrace, BC. He wanted to charge a decent-sized face to an angled 70-plus foot cliff. Unfortunately, it was sloping more than he'd guessed and he impacted a prow of rock about 50 feet down. We could hear the tremendous crack of skis and body striking the rock from across the valley. Fortunately, he gave a quick wave to alert us he was all right.

I think a way to differentiate yourself in the ski film world is to actually entertain your audience.

--Scott Gaffney, MSP

We're still shooting Super 16mm film, so we don't even have the option for instant gratification while out on a shoot. And then we have to get it all processed, color-corrected and then logged at the MSP office in Crested Butte. In the end I shoot something sick in January and don't get to see it until May.

In mid-May, MSP sends me a hard drive with all of the footage from the season, and I essentially kiss my life goodbye for the next three and a half months as I become indoor editing guy. There's so much material to digest, we could easily make two quality movies each season.

This was my dream job when I was young. I'm living the cliché. I get paid to go to some of the sickest places on earth and capture my buddies doing spectacular things in the mountains.

I became a ski movie geek in my teens. Seeing Greg Stump's "Blizzard of Aaahhs" my junior year in college set the subconscious in motion. Upon graduation, I headed to Colorado, bought a high-quality Hi-8 camera along the way, and one thing led to another.

I took a free run a couple years back in Haines, Alaska, with Shane, Ingrid and Sammy Carlson. I hit a 10- to 15-foot cliff in flat light and skied it out to the bottom. Later Sammy, all stoked, brought up how I'd hit that cliff. I think he thought it was cool that this old camera guy was still jumping off stuff. Part of me wanted to show him a shot of me stomping a misty 7 off a 25-foot cliff in "Ski Movie II" in 2002, back when no one had seen anyone do anything like that before. But I just smiled and left it alone."

I don't subscribe to this way of thinking that you get old and you're automatically supposed to ease up. If I see a 40-footer that I know I can stomp, I'm going to hit it. I'm just another guy rallying the Fingers [at Squaw] or sessioning a wind-lip with a bunch of 20 year olds. Only I'm over 40.

That's actually a movie I wanted to make -- a multi-sport movie about guys who are over 35 and still charging. It was going to be called the Golden Hour. Some people liken that age to the twilight of one's athletic career, but it can be the finest moments. Look at Kelly Slater, he's 39 and probably surfing the best he ever has. Shane was 39 when he died and I'd argue that for the last four years he'd been skiing at the highest level in his life. Unfortunately, the project never got beyond a treatment I'd written up because losing Shane took all the wind out of my sails.

You learn with time what you can pull off and what you can't. You acquire smarts over the years, and you just look for steeper landings.