Photo credit: Oskar Enander

In the midst of winding down from this past winter’s Festival season and ramping up for our 2019-20 season (our 15th annual one!), we’re getting excited for the soon-to-be flood of film submissions from filmmakers near and far.

Whether you grabbed some sweet shots this winter but haven’t touched them yet, or you are in the editing room right now trying to finish your film from this season, or you’re still buried in snow and want to make the most of it: here are our tips on how to make a great, human-powered, backcountry film.

We hope to see your film submitted for next winter’s Festival season – our official call for films begins on June 19, so get to work filmmakers and mark your calendar now!

Tip #1: What does human-powered mean exactly?

At Winter Wildlands Alliance, we’re a non-profit dedicated to preserving and protecting spaces for human-powered winter recreation.

Human-powered means activity and energy produced from the human body.

Human-powered winter recreation means activities in snow without the use of motorized vehicles. Examples include: skiing, splitboarding, snowshoeing, belly sliding, fat biking, ice climbing, winter river-rafting, ice surfing… the list can go on and on!

Tip #2: Wait, what does backcountry mean?!

We typically define “backcountry” as a sparsely, if at all, inhabited rural area that you would have to trek in to experience solitude, silence, and simplicity. Backcountry experiences often happen on public lands and we encourage you to get familiar with your own backcountry backyard through any of our near-to-you grassroots organizations, SnowSchool sites, or backcountry partners.

Tip #3: What if I don’t have the best gear (or any at all)?

Don’t get caught up on what level of filming gear you may or may not have. We want to see great stories – as do our thousands of audience members each season. The difference between a film shot on a cell phone versus one shot on a very expensive camera is whether or not the story was told well and captivates an audience.

In no way is this a must-have list, but it’s a great place to start if you are thinking about investing in new or additional film gear for all of your backcountry adventures. Many communities have gear you can rent or purchase refurbished from your local camera store, university, or library as well.

Tip #4: How does one safely film in a winter backcountry landscape?

We’ll keep this answer short and sweet: be up-to-date on your avalanche training, take proper backcountry snow gear, plan your route, and consider weight limitations and your personal abilities.

Tip #5: What is and how do you tell a human-powered, backcountry story?

We can’t say it enough: a great human-powered, backcountry story focuses on the human element, not just the scenery. Being able to blend the two intricately and cohesively throughout a timeline that is intentional and effective is a delicate skill.

When thinking about the story you want to tell, start by looking at the people around you or who you are going into the backcountry with (including yourself!). What story is lingering behind and within the snowy adventure? How does the landscape contribute to the story? Has it taken anything away? Has the backcountry or has the human focus of your story been a source of peace or conflict for your local community? What context does the backcountry have in your community? What is unique about the story you’re wanting to tell and why do you want to tell it? Is your film a bunch of killer sends or did you actually send a story with it, too?

If you’re lucky to live somewhere that still has a mountain full of backcountry powder or are about to embark upon a late season trip, consider setting yourself up for cinematic success by packing light and with a story in mind. Preparation is useful and flexibility is key.

And remember – for as much time as you spend behind the camera, make sure to put the camera down every once in a while and enjoy being present in the moment with no cinematic strings attached.

If you’re looking for some backcountry inspiration, check out the film line-ups from our past season here and check out some stillshots from said films below.

Questions? Email us at info@winterwildlands.org.