On the face of it, the modern skier of today, what with the state-of-the-art gear and penchant for heli-fuelled descents, would seem to have little to learn from the traditional skier of yesteryear that relied on skis made from boiled wood planks and horsehair to get around.
But for Whistler filmmaker Chris Winters, co-director and producer of the new short doc, Return to Roots, there is much to learn from skiing’s original practitioners that goes beyond just sliding on snow.
“I’m trying to remind people that skiing is not just a frivolous rich person’s activity that has no real meaning on our overall history. It actually is a fundamental thing that was used for survival in winter climates,” he says. “The conversation is about civilization and the strength of civilization as much as it is about the actual sport.”
Return to Roots emerged out of a larger project called Snow Hunters tracing the origins of skiing that brought Winters and fellow Sea to Sky filmmaker Brian Hockenstein, Olympic gold-medal snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington and pro skier Brennan Lagasse to the remote village of Kohm, also known as Hemu, in northwestern China in January 2020. After the long and arduous journey to get to the border village of a few hundred locals who still use skis as a form of transportation, their shoot was cut short by the coronavirus that was, at that time, only beginning to spread out of the eastern part of the country. Luckily, a local official had arranged for the team to board the last flight out of Altay City, some five hours away—but their relief was short-lived. About an hour in to their drive from Kohm, they learned that several large avalanches had blocked the only road out.