Northern Lighting

Last year, Anchorage, Alaska, became an urban skiing mecca during a record winter

Tom Wallisch on the Anchorage Green Rail. PHOTO: ERIK SEO/LEVEL 1

Words: Logan Imlach

Alaska—the home of steep lines, never-ending spine walls, and the only place on earth where people film pornography from helicopters. With 134.5 inches of snowfall in Anchorage during the 2011-12 winter—breaking the all-time record held since 1955—I returned to my home state to document the urban phenomenon in Alaska’s largest city, rather than the typical destination of the Chugach.

With snow levels down across North America, almost every snowboard and ski film crew looked to shoot urban segments in Anchorage. My secret gem was no longer so secret. Level 1 Productions employed the use of my database of locations and 25 years of experience in and around Anchorage to guide their annual jib trip.

“I made this promise to myself that I was never going to go to AK until I was doing the big mountain-heli thing,” says Level 1 Cinematographer Kyle Decker. “I was looking at Finland, Sweden, and Japan as urban spots because there’s only a small window to film. But the amount of snow they had in Alaska made us make that call.”
For a majority of the typical spots, however, there was simply too much snow. Still, the influx of snow made a few of my dream gems that much more realistic.

The first feature is a popular Anchorage spot. The green rail [pictured] is typically hit as a short down, but we use my not-so-trusty winch Bridget and hit it as a C-to-down with a drop all along the inside.

“We hit that on New Year’s Eve,” recalls Decker. “During the middle of the session, someone left to pick up [Mike] Hornbeck from the airport. He showed up, we sessioned for a little longer and then celebrated the New Year.”

On a busy street near downtown Anchorage, we prepared to film a rail-to-bank transition. Directly across the street, we set a couple of things in a driveway, and, of course, the owner returns home. She throws a fit—chucking our gear out of her driveway—and storms into her house. We build our jump, opting to leave and let it set overnight. As we finished packing up, I approach the woman’s door, trying to hash it out.

“What do you want?” she sneers.

I apologize to her about our gear in her driveway and let her know about our plans for the next day.

“Were you the snowboarders that were out here getting towed across the street with that loud motor at 2 in the morning a couple weeks ago?” she asks.

“No, we ski,” I say, and ensure that we never, ever hit features at that obscene of an hour, which isn’t completely true. After some light conversation, we part ways, both smiling.

Apparently, all the screws weren’t the only ones exposed to a burgeoning urban scene.

“Alaska has a lot more to offer than skiing big lines,” says Decker. “It’s one of the new frontiers for street skiing.”

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