Deja vu. Our daily ritual of walking around 7-Eleven trying to decide what, out of all this crap you don’t ever want to eat again, you’ll want to eat in five hours’ time when you have nothing else. The crew, tired and exhausted, wanting nothing but sleep and a day off. The endless digging, the frozen gloves, the dumping snow, the delirious laughs, the jumps, the fireworks, the whisky. Laying in a hospital bed, I was missing it all and just now realising how cool this area we created is. | Nick Brown
We managed to pull Heath Patterson, the man behind Hidden Mountain, away from editing long enough to pick his brain about the project.
First off, how did this all come about?
We’d shot an episode for Diaries a few years back, which was pretty fun.
We seemed to get carried away with the building of the structure—i.e. the igloo and cave—and almost ran out of time to get all the action we needed for the episode. I was looking to do a personal project, as it had been a year or so since my last one. At that point I usually forget how hard the last one was and look back with a sort of nostalgia. In this case I started to think about what was the easiest and most productive thing we’ve ever shot, and at the same time it needed to be more mainstream focused but still capture the imagination of snowboarding’s core followers. It seemed like a simple decision to head in the direction we did. I rang up Browner [Nick Brown] as I thought this would be something he’d be into. He sounded keen and we went from there.
How did you go about choosing the people you wanted involved with the project?
Browner was an obvious choice; I’ve worked with Nick for many years now and he’s always keen to put in some hard work to make something cool. Plus he’s pretty switched on in a whole lot of ways that I’m not. He always tinkering, working on his own projects. When we’ve built igloos or caves in the past he’s had some crazy ideas, so he was the obvious foreman for this project. The rest were chosen for similar reasons. They needed to be open minded, have backcountry experience, and be accustomed to building in the backcountry. They needed to be cool with the fact that we weren’t going to do much riding, and when we did they’d be exhausted but would still need to perform. Our guys probably only snowboarded about 10% of the time that they were on location. The rest of the time was full-on, all-out digging and prepping the location to be ready to shoot.
What were the hardest things you found with making Hidden Mountain?
After a week or so, getting motivated was the hardest part. We had one whole day off in the entire month we were there, and that was mainly due to Browner being hospitalised. I was up at 6:30 every day, yelling at the crew and banging on doors and walls to get everyone up. They really appreciated that [laughs]. We’d take a while to get up to the location as it was an hour’s drive, then we’d work until dark, drive home, repeat.
How much time did you actually spend in the igloo?
We had two igloos. The first one had a coal stove/fireplace, two ice windows, a very cool whisky shelf and mezzanine floor. That was our lunch igloo, we spent a good amount of time in that one. When it got really cold and was snowing, it was a good place to go warm up. The second igloo, which was enormous, had a large ice table and chairs and could sleep four easily. We stayed one night in that igloo, but had a few lunches and dinners in it also. So all up not much time was really spent in them but they were built to sleep seven or eight people and would have easily.
I’m guessing that the whisky was a necessity?
Yeah, it was a good body warmer and Japanese whisky is really good. You can buy single malt hip flasks at the gas station, and pay a hefty price for the exact same whisky in a bar, it’s legit. We bought a bunch of shit whisky too, but mainly to fill the whisky shelf. Food and drink make you feel amazing out there, you really need to keep eating and drinking. Maybe not whisky so much, but fuck it, we were on holiday.
You really made the whole place super homely, with additions of the coal fire, even a handmade ice window!
Yeah, we didn’t want a simple igloo. We’d had a fireplace in an igloo in New Zealand and it was a cool addition. Anything like that to make it different from everyone else’s igloo was pretty welcome, although the structural integrity of the igloos was definitely compromised by the addition of those features. I think the igloo will still be standing as I write this. Don’t forget the 20-metre tunnel going into the second igloo though; it made the igloos’ interior very dark and completely soundproof. There was also a 30-metre trench into another four-way igloo intersection which feeds two riders into two different directions; two picnic areas; the long staircase that had to be repeatedly dug out and re-shaped; the short staircase; and thirteen jumps built around the structures, not to mention all the other features and small caves we dug out in the area. This was a big project with big ideas. Every day there was some new idea being thrown around, if only we had more people to dig. With that in mind, a few of our biggest ideas weren’t achieved as we ran out of time. Some mind blowing shit, maybe next time.
How did the ice drummers play into the whole thing?
There were a few creative aspects we wanted to add to the film. Vaughan and I wanted to shoot a bunch of random stuff, and Taiko drummers were something I’d seen in Japan in the past. One performance I’d seen was in a blizzard, and I thought it would be something special to make a section like this, something with a bit more cultural significance. It turned out our friends in Niseko had some friends who were famous in Japan for this. We scouted out a location and arranged a shoot date and time and everything else just came together. This being my fifth project in Japan, it was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever filmed in there. It was snowing so hard, seriously the heaviest flurries I’ve ever seen in 16 years of following winter/working in the mountains. Our camera gear was caked after each performance; I had to keep wiping snow off my monitor while shooting. The drums started to sound different as the snow began to accumulate on them. It was relentless.
Ben [Comber] seems pretty broken at one point. Was it as full on as he says it was?
Yeah, it was. Browner, Vaughan [Brookfield] and I had a good idea of how this was going to play out. Benny [Comber], Toby [second camera] and Stina [BTS filter] didn’t really. I tried to prepare them, mentioned our previous project and how hard that was, but I don’t think any amount of words can explain just how hard it was. To put it into perspective, most blocks of ice were the bottom layer of the snowpack, so in some cases metres of snow had to be shifted just to get to the good stuff that wouldn’t break. The second igloo’s blocks were close to 100kg each, some took three people to lift. The walls were three to four feet wide. If I were to guess, I’d say the structure was close to five tonnes. We’re working in snow; not the city, not the farm in New Zealand. A foot or more of snow, all day, every day. After you’ve been building structures by hand in this way for a month, it breaks you down and Benny seemed a little broken, as most of us were.
Published in Issue 65