Last month Mike Douglas, ”The Godfather of Freeskiing” embarked upon a journey to Whistler Mountain, to live embedded atop its peaks for 6 days and 6 nights. Separated from his family and the rest of the world Mike Douglas’ only companions were the Whistler staff members and the mountain they all lived and worked on together. Needless to say, the resulting footage was amazing, and the ability to share in Mike’s experience on a daily basis was an unparalleled opportunity for the online community of Whistler enthusiasts chomping at the bit for their chance to hit the slopes.
Each episode brought us along on a new adventure. Thanks to some amazing early season snowfall and brilliant POV camera equipment viewers got to experience the untouched terrain of Whistler Mountain through the eyes and skis of The Godfather himself. The conditions and riding segments were absolutely amazing, but to be perfectly honest, it was the staff who stole the show.
Throughout each episode we tagged a long with Mike while he interacted with the members of the Whistler team who make the moves necessary for the mountain to operate at the caliber it does.
We rode along on avalanche patrols where we got to witness the artful manner in which the highly experienced Whistler Snow Patrol uses TNT to remedy dangerous snow pack. We hung out with Mike and the dedicated lift operators that provide chariot rides to the peak fit for a king! We rode shotgun with Snowcat operators that use Jedi-level intuition to navigate the snowy white mountain face, blazing us smooth passageways to traverse the slopes.
Embedded paints an intimate portrait of a freeskier and a mountain resort that are icons of the ski and snowboard industry. Despite being completely exhausted from his excursion, Mike Douglas took a moment to speak with The Ski Channel about the video series and what it was really like to live on top of a mountain in a tiny patrol shack for a week.
The Ski Channel: After being embedded atop Whistler Mountain for 6 days and 6 nights, do you feel like your spirit has become one with the mountain?
Mike Douglas: It was an incredible experience. I am super lucky to have had the opportunity. The mountain was overwhelmingly beautiful, and my only hope is that what I was able to get on film properly illustrates that. I didn’t really sleep much the whole time. There was always something amazing to see and stuff to do all day and even at night. The stars were amazing; I barely even slept at all the last night.
To be able to do that stuff before the mountain even opened is rare. Not too many places you can do that.
TSC: We were all beyond envious of your daily first tracks ski runs. What does it feel like to get such early dibs on such epic slopes?
MD: That part is not that new to me. I have a good relationship with the mountain here. Anytime Whistler needs some PR stuff, I am the guy. I think it was more than getting first tracks because I get to see a lot of powder throughout the year. It was cool to be actually embedded on the mountain and work side-by-side with the mountain staff. I was able to step into their world and you could tell on the first day that they were unsure of what I was looking for and how I was going to be. By the last day I felt like one of the patrollers. Those are the things I would say were the most exciting. To be able to be in the locker room and in all of their meetings was where the real highlights for me were.
TSC: That was definitely one of the most appealing aspects of the series to us as well, seeing the patrolman deploying avalanche-inciting explosives, and you mentioned that one of the guys even has to stay up at the top lift overnight to make sure everything functions?
MD: Yeah that guy spends up to 50 nights of the year up there! The storms up at Whistler are so rough that the only way to clear the ice of the cables and poles is to have someone be up there to do it by hand. When I was up there during that big storm I was actually on lockdown in a hut for 26 hours. There was avalanches going down everywhere. I can kind of get what they are talking about. You simply cannot get up there during bad weather.
TSC: You were able to witness the snow conditions change and evolve during your time embedded. Did experiencing the snow and skiable terrain evolve over the 6 days make dropping into a particular line more satisfying? A favorite moment, perhaps?
MD: During the week we had a nasty avalanche layer set up in the snow. It was super reactive and quite dangerous. The patrol was up there dropping bombs on everything to get the mountain safe, even before there was a skier up there. Throughout the week I was watching countless bombs being dropped right below my cabin. On my final day up there I had just packed up the cabin and it was a perfect day. I was prepared to ski down the road and get out of there but a couple of patrollers came up and said they had cleared it. Most of the week I had been looking down at this death trap. But the patrol did their stuff and got it secure. To be able to drop it down there and be the first (in the first 10) was so cool.
TSC: Between the storm and the noticeable lack of nightlife, you ended up spending a great deal of time in the shack. How were the accommodations overall?
MD: It was pretty good. It wasn’t completely like camping in the woods, but there were difficulties. Dishes were a pain, I had to melt snow water for my water and that kind of stuff — but I did have power, Internet and heat. Honestly, with those things it was pretty comfortable. The mice weren’t really a problem till the end of the week and by the last day they were super cocky and crawling on my feet and computer. They didn’t have much more of my patience.
TSC: Despite being on top of a mountain, you managed to stay pretty well connected to the rest of the world. Not only did you get me the weather reports for Whistlers upcoming snow dump, but also broke the news that Justin Bieber’s maternity suit had been dropped!
MD: It was fun because that’s was I did every day. I didn’t sleep past 6AM and would go straight out with cameras and start shooting. At some point when I had all the cameras rolling (with the time lapse shots and such) and I wasn’t busy, I would go check the weather and go surf the web. Justin Bieber just happened to come up on my news feed right before I shot the stand-up introduction for that day’s episode. [Haha]
TSC: What is your take on the integration of technology in our outdoor lifestyles?
MD: I think that there is a lot of technology that is helping make our outdoor experience better. Obviously, like the weather reports, info and stats haven’t been better. You can really predict more than ever what is coming. You know when you can go do things and be in communication with people.
We were talking at the Film Festival and some of the mountaineers were discussing how you can be anywhere in the world and get coverage at any given point at any given time. There is no delay — unlike 20 years ago you had to wait till the guys got off the mountain to find out what happened — now it is instant. This has definitely changed the way things happen, and if someone does a new line you know right away. I think that you can use it positively or you can get bogged down. When it comes to technology, you have to find a balance. There is nothing that should keep you from being out there and doing things.
- End of interview
Just in case you missed them, here are the previous five Embedded Videos: