North Vancouver based photographer and videographer Jordan Manley, 32, launched the cinematographic project A Skier’s Journey in 2010 with the release of the first episode about ski touring in Kashmir. In the years since then, he has traveled to the far-flung locations of Baffin Island, Dubai and beyond to capture new ski descents and the rich cultures that foster the skiing community around the world.
After a three-year hiatus in the Arc’teryx-sponsored series, A Skier’s Journey is back for its fourth and final season. Over three episodes, Manley will explore Iran, China and, finally, will return to his home to film the Coastal Mountains of British Columbia. The Iran episode is available for the first time today.
Joining him for this undertaking are athletes and explorers Chad Sayers and Forrest Coots, who accompanied Manley on many of the previous seasons’ expeditions. To find out more about the concluding season of A Skier’s Journey, we caught up with Manley to discuss how the series has evolved and what we can expect from his latest installments. Here is what he had to say.
Backcountry Magazine: What was your initial motivation to start filming A Skier’s Journey?
Jordan Manley: In high school I spent some time shooting video and learning the basics of video editing, so I had this underlying interest in cinematography and filmmaking that was latent and not fully explored. I started to pursue photography, and when the technology was such that I could do both video and photography with the same camera, I realized that I didn’t have to make a sacrifice to do one or the other.
Another factor was that I felt like there was something missing in the content that was out there at the time. There were a lot of really great ski outfits making films, and they were going all over the world, but I didn’t feel like they were actually touching on the process of travel. They may have been traveling to the Alps, India, Japan or wherever else, but they weren’t really shedding light on this really big part of the process, which is the cultural context—the people that you meet and the food that you eat and also how you get there. I wanted to know what the forms of transportation are in these places we get to visit and how they are different than what [viewers] take at home.
So in that sense, I wanted to celebrate travel through skiing. And then over the years as we have gone to these different places, I logged in my head what is interesting about this place versus that place and these themes start to develop on each trip. Especially later on in the series, each one ends up exploring a particular theme that has evolved on our travels.BCM: How has your relationship with Chad Sayers defined A Skier’s Journey?
JM: I think we really started it together. Principally, he is a traveler. He spends just a few months at home in Whistler every year, and the rest of the time he is on the road. In that sense he is a good protagonist. He is not really defined as such, but he definitely leads us around the world on these different trips. Secondly, he is a photographer himself, and he has a really great eye for light and composition and what is interesting and unique about places. We work together on figuring out what the shots are. That has always been a big asset, both with the photography that has been done together but also in the film.
BCM: There is a very distinct visual quality to A Skier’s Journey. Is there a specific cinematographic tone you are trying to set?
JM: Yes, at times. I am always trying to convey experiences, but I am also trying to give people experiences. I don’t think it is ever really possible to try to put someone in that place. Nevertheless, if you can give them a particular experience while they are watching the film, that is the highlight for me.
If it is moody at times, it is because I try to have patience. I hold shots for longer, and then the music choices are a big part of it too. I spend a lot of time finding music that reflects the places that we’re going to. This year for the Iran piece we used pretty much exclusively [local music] and for China as well. And for the last Canadian piece we will try to use Canadian music. Wherever we have gone, we have tried to use that culture’s music, so that contributes to the overall feel.
BCM: What elements are you going to bring to the last series from the first three series and what will be new?
JM: First of all, [for the final series] I spent more time interviewing local people, so there is more local perspective in the upcoming pieces than there has been in the past. I think there are some slight changes in cinematography as well. I developed a greater interest in getting better quality audio while on the road, and that is hopefully reflected in the final films.
I think, though that it is still fundamentally about traveling and about experiencing different cultures through the lens of skiing. We are ultimately still interested in where skiing exists, especially on the margins. All three films are trying to make social commentary through skiing. So the China piece is about a very rapidly changing place and skiing is a reflection of that there, both in the rural areas and in the more urban areas surrounding Beijing. Iran is a look at public and private space, and the final film [based in Canada] is asking the question, “How do you know when you are home?” It is looking into what home means for different people. It is focusing on people who live in the Coastal Range here in British Columbia.
BCM: What is the most powerful experience you have had over the years while filming A Skiers’ Journey?
JM: I think in terms of a landscape, Baffin Island definitely sticks out. Sometimes the crew and I talk about that. There were five of us on that trip, and I don’t think any of us will go to a place that otherworldly or spectacular again. It definitely sticks out as an unbelievable place.
Sometimes that’s what makes these places special too. At this day in age where it’s pretty easy to get anywhere, there are still some places where you have to take that extra time and a little bit of suffering to access them. When we went to Baffin, it was half a day of riding in the back of a covered sled in negative 30 degrees. We were bumping up and down on the ice for 150 kilometers. Sometimes that is what makes the trip special.BCM: How has your injury that you suffered between the third and fourth series affected the tone of the last series?
JM: It was a bit funny because my interests have evolved over the three years that I have been away from the series. I have pushed skiing out of my mind, so it was interesting coming back to it. At the same time, I spent all that time away, and I knew that if I came back to it I would want to make these films to finish the series off. I think that was good motivation just to make them the best I could.
I guess another part of it, too, is the opportunities that I have had with Arc’teryx. I am fortunate that they have provided me a huge amount of latitude. I learned that I could have the opportunity to finish this thing off and do it in a way that I wanted. There are no heavy hands over there. They give me a lot of creative freedom.
BCM: Do you feel like you were able to achieve and finish what you start off doing with A Skier’s Journey?
JM: I haven’t finished the final film yet. I am still working through that, but I hope so. I think that this final film is an interesting exercise. I ask, “What does home mean?” And I think all of us deal with that question at some point. I know I certainly do, so it’s kind of fun to try and pack that in to a film somehow.
BCM: Do you have any plans past this?
JM: Yes, but nothing concrete. I have some other interests that I want to pursue. I am pretty interested in salmon, and so during my recovery from my concussion I started fly-fishing and got really obsessed with tying flies. So, I am interested in telling the story about the species and the people that rely on them. It is different but it is something that I have a lot of interest in. But I still want to have a foot in the ski world, just not to the same extent. Before I bonked my head, I had been photographing skiing for 10 years and I was already looking for something else, but I didn’t know what that was. It can become quite repetitive after a while, as awesome as it is to follow all of the amazing opportunities. Eventually you want to train your lens on something else.
To find the full episode selection of A Skier’s Journey, visit askiersjourney.com.