A season-ending injury is one of the most devastating medical prognoses a skier can hear from a doctor. As mountain enthusiasts, we are often bound to our passions to the point of addiction. Taking that activity away from an individual can cause a wide variety of reactions. Some grow angry, others become depressed, but still others not only tolerate it – they downright channel it into something so powerful that it almost turns into more of a blessing than a curse.
Think I’m pulling your leg? Look no further than Carrabassett Valley Academy alum Matt Philippi. After having roughly one healthy season in the last three years following a barrage of ACL tears, the Boston native is back and ready to remind people why he was a Top-5 AFP ranked halfpipe skier in 2009, without competing in the Dew Tour or Winter X Games. Entering this season, Philippi is hoping to move from the heir apparent to the king of the pipe. But before he takes his spot on the pipe throne, Philippi wanted to give something back.
While rehabbing his injury, Philippi tried to find something positive to occupy his time – the result of which led to the creation of The FullCircle Project.
The FullCircle project is comprised of pro skiers Matt Philippi, Taylor Felton, and Dan Marion; Aidan Haley, the project’s helmer; Jack Tolan, athlete/music supervisor/associate producer; and Michael Brown, photographer. The purpose of FullCircle was to produce a short documentary film featuring Matt and other pro skiers not only doing what they do best, but doing their best to give back to several South American communities.
Photo: The FullCircle team posing with partners, Un Techo Para Chile. Credit: Jack Tolan
Most recently, the crew recently worked in Concepcion, Chile with Un Techo Para Mí País, an organization that focuses on providing transitional housing and social inclusion programs for those affected by the February earthquake in Chile. Prior to the group’s trip, the organization had constructed 6,064 emergency houses in the Concepcion region. However, despite the encouraging progress of construction, thousands of displaced Chilean families are still without a roof and await placement in emergency housing that has yet to be built. That’s where the FullCircle crew came in as working alongside Un Techo, the group spent three weeks constructing emergency housing and visiting the affected areas.
I recently caught up with Matt to talk about the project, injuries, stray dogs, and the upcoming winter while he enjoyed a 6-hour layover en route to New Zealand for some halfpipe training.
Alright Matt, for those who haven’t been following the crew’s activities, can you describe in your own words what makes up the essence of the FullCircle Project?
The FullCircle Project is a way to use my skiing to give back to some of the places we have the chance to travel to as pro skiers. For me, I’ve been pro for awhile, and I’ve just been looking for different ways to get involved within the sport outside the competition realm.
A lot of media attention has already been devoted to your ambitious trip to Chile where you guys not only enjoyed the South American winter, but also spent time working in the city of Concepcion to help with rebuilding efforts after February’s devastating 8.8 earthquake and tsunami. Can you tell us about your work efforts? I know you guys were working on a kindergarten? How close is it to completion?
The school was about 95 percent constructed by the time we left. There was some painting and electric stuff left to do, but it was close to being finished. Our main task for the school was working on the playground equipment, especially towards the end of the volunteer trip.
Sounds like a productive effort. Did you guys have much previous construction experience?
It was kind of a mixed bag for our group. Taylor and Jack have a bunch of contracting experience, but Aidan and myself didn’t have much experience. We played around with saws and other tools to build a shed, but it was pretty basic construction. The stuff is mostly temporary structures.
Judging by the FullCircle Project episodes, you guys really seemed to be very accepted by community and your fellow volunteers. Can you talk a little bit about this level of camaraderie? Were you guys fluent, conversational, or just total gringos with communicating in Spanish?
It was a little weird at first during the intro period because we didn’t know what the vibe would be like. But then once we started working, everyone was super nice. Whether they were American or Chilean, everyone was super motivated to get to know each other.
In terms of the Spanish – Jack is fluent and I can communicate on at least a conversational level. The people, especially the girls, were really helpful with coaching me through the language and forced me to speak it. It was really good because after a couple of full days, I felt like you really get to know it better.
FullCircle Episode 1: The guys getting to work:
So you guys travel something like 30 hours, and work for 9 days straight as volunteers. Then you go from working to skiing. What was this transition like for you guys?
It’s definitely a unique setup. I’ve never had a ski trip preempted with volunteer work. It was even weirder because I already was having butterflies and mind games coming back from injury and getting on skis again.
But it gives you a better perspective on the things bigger than you, and gives you a more relaxed perspective on your skiing. It definitely benefited my skiing.
FullCircle Episode 2: Matt reflects on returning from his injury, seeing the bigger picture, and finally gets to shred Chile.
I have to ask you about the dog named “Perro” that is featured in the episodes and blog updates. Where did this little guy come from? Ever think about bringing him back to Salt Lake with you?
Perro was the perfect dog you know; he followed us around the backcountry. I remember we were hitting a jump we had built, and he literally hiked about a ½ mile each time I went up to hit it.
I definitely wanted to bring him back. He probably would have needed all kind of shots though. It was funny – I had some friends who were convinced that we brought him back with us. They were pretty bummed when they found out once we were back in Salt Lake City.
Photo: Perro enjoying a rest – Credit: Michael Brown
After you were back in Salt Lake, I know you were sessioning the water ramps with some fellow pro skiers like Jen Hudak. How has water ramping been for your knee now that you are cleared for action?
I’ve used water ramps before as a way to get back into skiing after I’ve been hurt. They’re nice because they have a softer landing so you can hit them before starting to jump on snow again. I definitely enjoy using them, it’s a good way to learn new tricks.
Matt hitting the water ramps:
But then you upped the ante a little bit with the water ramps once you got back to the States?
Yeah, after 5 weeks on-snow in Chile I came back and trained for three weeks here in SLC. I was running and water ramping 5 days a week. It was a little bit exhausting (laughs).
So you’re considered a halfpipe skier by trade – how much do water ramps really help for taking a trick from the water into the pipe’s icy walls? It can’t be as natural of a transition as taking a move from the water ramp to a park jump.
It’s a bit tougher since you have to match transition in pipe, but any time you get in the air is going to be helpful. It all translates in the end.
Do you have big goals for your training in New Zealand? The video that came out of the Canadian Halfpipe Team in NZ with Riddle, Dorey, and Margetts was pretty insane. Where do you see halfpipe going this season in the contests?
I definitely want to get doubles down. Before I got hurt I was doing double corks on jumps in the park, but I have yet to do them in the pipe. I guess down at Cardrona they set up a bag jump for their 22 ft pipe, so we’ll see how things turn out.
For this year, I think we might see both unnatural and natural double corks in the pipe for the winning run. (Kevin) Rolland’s X Games run last year was crazy, but I think it might move towards being a bit more technical.
Well it sounds like you’ve got a great trip ahead, but before we wrap I just wanted to jump back to the FullCircle Project for a minute. I know you guys were talking about doing future projects – what’s the status of that? New Zealand just had a pretty big quake themselves, any interest there?
I haven’t even assessed the New Zealand damage but I think were going to stay focused on more South America. They could use the help more than somewhere that’s a bit more advanced.
Right now Jack Tolan is down there in Argentina right now, so he’s looking around for ideas.
FullCircle Episode 3: The crew finishes their backcountry skiing and heads to the coast…
To learn more about the FullCircle project and the crew’s ongoing efforts, be sure to check out the website at http://thefullcircleproject.com/ or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/thefullcircleproject.