Travel Journal — Falcon Ridge August 10, 2019 – Posted in: News, Photos

Words by Ian Burns

Photos by Ian Burns, Alex Henniffent, Maha Ghazal, and Emily Christie

Halfway through our week spent at Falcon Ridge, we moved from a beautiful multi-floor resort cabin to a tiny wooden hut at the base of the hill. Originally a waxing shack, it was quickly donned with the not-at-all-suggestive moniker The Whackin’ Shack.

I don’t know about the others, but when we moved into the ol’ Whackin’ Shack – crashing in bunkbeds, pissing in knee-high snow somewhere along the lake in the dead of night, walking into the visitor lodge at sunrise to use the staff shower and consume much-needed coffee – that was when I realized I had completely fallen in love with Falcon Ridge. It was summer camp all over again, but in the frigid winter of the Canadian prairies.

Falcon Ridge Ski Slopes

Falcon Ridge — it might not look like much, but it’s certainly something.

Located in a secluded lakeside community an hour outside of Winnipeg, Falcon Ridge was our second stop in a winter-long trip from one end of the country to the other, visiting little dots on the map rich with their own snowboarding culture, creating the upcoming VOLTFUSE webseries The Biggest Little Hill.

With the previous hill we’d visited, it seemed to exist in a sort of flux; trying to strike a balance between the professionalism and marketability of a resort hill and the humbleness and tight-knit community of a neighbourhood passion project. When we first arrived to Falcon Ridge and checked into the resort cabin – with a hot tub, private rooms, and a loft filled with a massive VHS collection this cinephile gladly approved of – history was starting to feel like it was repeating itself.

That’s not really a bad thing, but as a documentary filmmaker, the balancing act of creating The Biggest Little Hill is using the snowboarding experience our featured riders are having as the entryway into a much bigger story of the people and community that shape the hill itself. As romantically lofty as it sounds, for me the creative success of the series rides on finding an authentic way to lift the curtain back on these places and tap into the heartbeat that makes them thrive. When you’re put up in a resort or a motel tucked away from the hill, there’s already a barrier of sorts between you and the community that you’re going to have to overcome. And often with a place that’s trying to bump shoulders with the larger resorts, the far more interesting elements of humble, family-like beginnings are already being tucked away in favour of a sleek professional exterior. In that sense, getting to the heart of a place can feel more like you’re prying something open then gently pulling back a curtain.

In Manitoba, you don’t get used to the cold — you’re born into it, as Caleigh and her newborn demonstrate.

Maybe that’s why I was so caught off guard by the Christies. Sisters Emily, Brooke and Caleigh run Falcon Ridge, inheriting it from their parents Barb and Craig. On the surface, Falcon Ridge seems like a remote, humble ski community, but after being invited to a family dinner, I realized the Christie family and the hill are one in the same.

There are places that claim “Here, it’s like family!” and then there are places like Falcon Ridge that are family. Everyone is so welcoming, creative, beautiful and without a hint of pretentiousness or exclusivity. If this sounds like unabashed, shameless adoration for a place I only spent a mere week in – then that’s exactly what it is.

Here’s the odd thing about being a documentary filmmaker; you’re the one solely responsible for creating something that captures an experience, yet often you have to omit the one that is uniquely yours.

In that sense, the filmmaker is going to have an experience that is almost always separate from the core experience you’re trying to capture, despite the fact that you’re there to hike up the same mountains, witness the same spectacle, and gift wrap it in order to present it to everyone else as honestly as possible. Yes, I’m the one who shoots that particular feature that particular rider hit – but hitting that feature wasn’t my experience.

A few years ago I shot the VOLTFUSE piece “The Trail” with the goal of capturing (VOLTFUSE founder) Alex Henniffent’s earnest, down-to-earth approach to creating and managing a specialty accessories company in his early twenties. However, what you won’t see when you watch that piece is the transformative experience that I had making it.

I co-directed “The Trail” with a friend named Alex Mitchell and it was the experience we had making the piece that inspired us to create our filmmaking partnership, Only Issue. When a viewer watches “The Trail”, it’s the story of how VOLTFUSE became the brand it is today. When I watch it, it’s the story of how my company became what it is today. For me, both experiences are intricately woven together and ultimately inseparable, but only one should be the subject of the film.

With little vertical to work with, Marc still managed to find something to hand-plant.

Falcon Ridge, on the other hand, allowed every experience and perspective to intertwine directly on film. Within days we’d spent more time being invited to the Christie family’s cabins, making new friends, drinking in the woods, watching bands play in the lodge, firing off rifles, playing pool at the local pub, being whisked off on snowmobile rides across frozen lakes (I sat on a sled with a dog in my lap going full tilt across a lake. It was fucking magical) that I realized I had hardly shot any footage on the hill. Instead, I had a portrait of a phenomenal group of people, the place they live, and the love and care they put into what they do – this was exactly what we set out to capture when we started making this series, and at Falcon Ridge it came together so naturally and wonderfully that it became the reference point for me to base all other shoots.

It’s amazing how quickly you can become climatized to something that initially seemed so foreign. By the end of our stay, I had become fully immersed in a community that was so quick to accept you as their own and make you a part of the day-to-day. It was beginning to feel like I always had – and would be – living in that little Wackin’ Shack, with my friends, surrounded by incredible people at the base of the hill.

This article, the eventual webseries – all of it is trying to capture an experience that’s already come to pass. Imagine only being able to present the strewn about pieces of a collapsed Jenga tower to a group of strangers as a way of explaining why Jenga is fun – all you’re left with are little fragments while the actual absurdity and fun of the game – and the people you played it with – are gone. The only thing you can do is hope that the sum of its parts can somehow come close to capturing what made it so great.

Stay tuned for the Falcon Ridge instalment of our #BiggestLittleHill series, coming this winter.