Eric Hjorleifson Interview
An interview with Eric Hjorleifson
Arc'teryx big mountain specialist Eric Hjorleifson can't actually recall his first day on skis. Raised in the shadowy spine of the Rocky Mountains which rise dramatically from his Canmore, AB, home, "Hoji"s parents started him skiing just before his second birthday. The early days were spent on the rope tow at Mount Norquay in Banff National Park. Eric and his brother Steve honed their skills in the Nancy Greene and provincial ski racing program and eventually joined the Banff Alpine Racers ski team. "Racing was an excellent way to learn the fundamentals of skiing technique. We used to train in the mornings and free ski with our coaches in the afternoons, our coaches we amazing skiers and enjoyed shred the whole mountain. On powder days they had a game called "Shred or Die" where we had to keep up with the coaches as they shredded all over the mountain and if we fell off the back, we had to wait the rest of the day out in the lodge." Eventually ski racing became too competitive driven and regimented, "There was no time to free ski and we would leave the hill early to go dry land training in the gym, this is when I decided racing wasn't for me".
"One of our coaches Guy Mowbray realized that many kids who were passionate about skiing were quitting racing, so being the visionary that he was he started the first free skiing program in Canada and perhaps North America". The Rocky Mountain Freeriders (RMF) was built around skiing the entire mountain with a focus on big mountain riding. By the second season of RMF's existence Eric was coaching along side Guy and local professional big mountain skier Kevin Hjertaas.
Growing up in the Rockies Eric had been exposed to Calgary based production company Real Action Pictures (RAP Entertainment). "I grew up on the RAP ski films, I still have the whole VHS collection, hahah." One of Eric's earliest influences was Banff local ski talent and star of RAP films Andrew Sheppard. Andrew, Kevin and Eric were all invited to join the freeride team of Monod Sports in Banff, this was Eric's first true introduction to Andrew and the start of his career as a professional skier. Kevin and Andrew mentored Eric introducing him to big line skiing in the backcountry. "Kevin would bring me out to ski lines in the backcountry around Lake Louise and Sunshine Village, Andrew would invite me to come sled skiing in Revelstoke." Kevin and Andrew helped Eric gain experience in the mountains, "They taught me not only about skiing lines but also about snow safety and mountain knowledge".
At the end of the season in 2002 Andrew invited Eric to join him on a ski trip to Argentina with aspiring sports cinema photographer Dustin Lindgren. Dustin brother of Scott Lindgren owner/operator of California based Kayak/action sports film production company Scott Lindgren Productions (SLP).
Dustin was relatively new to filming and the trip was a learning experience for everyone. "The night we arrived in Las Lenas it was raining slightly, the rain soon turned to snow and it snowed three days straight. It snowed over 3 and half meters in the village, still one of the biggest snow falls I have witnessed to this day". The resort was totally shut down, two lifts were damaged by massive avalanches and the crews hopes to film in the high alpine of the surrounding Andean mountains were put on hold. "At the end of our 5 week trip we finally had a decent day of weather and we made the most of it, Dustin and I started skiing from the village at 6 am directly after leaving the bar from Andrews 30th birthday party. Dustin and I skinned for 6000 ft on alpine trekkers, we took turns caring the 16 mm camera and tripod. By noon we were at the top of the spine lines on Cerro Torresillas above the resort".
Dustin captured Eric dropping into the spine line below the rock spires of Cerro Torresillas, "the line was the pinnacle of our trip as well as my ski career at that point".
The next season in 2003 Scott and Dustin invited Andrew and Eric on a film trip to Haines Alaska for Scott's next project Burning Time.
"Haines was an amazing experience for me and a true introduction to the world of filming big mountain skiing using helicopters"
"The avalanche conditions in Haines were at the worst I have seen, there were natural avalanches on every aspect, we were triggering massive slides by landing on top of slopes or even from just flying by them in the machine". The unstable conditions in Haines reinforced the importance of mountain awareness to Eric, "Andrew took control of the trip, it was incredible to watch him apply his experience and basically guided our trip". Despite the unstable snow conditions the crew managed to get some solid footage for SLP's film.
With a demo edit provided by Scott and Dustin, Eric was invited to film with Colorado-based Matchstick Productions (MSP) in the season of 2004/05 for their film Yearbook. MSP also hired Dustin on as a cinema photographer.
With very little budget to film for the season Dustin planned one of the first media trips to newly established Mica Heli Guides located North of Revelstoke, BC. "It was a gamble, I only had enough budget to pay for the helicopters minimums for less than 5 days" a very short weather window for filming. "We rolled the dice and pulled the trigger, I was the only athlete on the trip so I brought Andrew along to help. The weather co-operated and we managed to fly the first 2 days and burn up all of my budget, conditions were perfect cold clear Rockies spring weather excellent stable powder snow." Dustin's footage from the Mica trip was featured in MSP "Yearbook" and launched Eric's professional skiing career to the next level as a feature athlete in MSP's films.
For the past five years, Hjorleifson has scored major segments in all of MSP's award-winning movies and has developed an incredibly fast, fluid style that makes moving down massive mountain faces look effortless.
Audience tastes are moving away from pure action movies, though, with greater interest in compelling stories to go along with stellar visuals. Last winter, Hoji teamed up with athlete Mark Abma for a two week trip out of Golden Alpine Holidays (GAH) Meadow Lodge located in the Esplanade range of the Selkirk Mountain North of Golden, BC. Skiing uphill was as important to the story line as skiing back down. All of the footage shot for Hoji and Abma's segment in The Way I See It was self-propelled―earning turns by skiing. "Ski touring was the first way I accessed the backcountry to ski lines, over my filming career the focus has been on utilizing Helicopters and snowmobile access terrain, they are efficient methods but intimate experience with the mountains that you get from ski touring is lost."
Ski touring in simplicity is really the best way to access "pillow lines" which have become one of the most popular forms of adventure skiing," he says. Often found in avalanche runouts or steep creek gulches, pillow lines are massively covered 'rock mushrooms' and the idea is to jump from one 'pillow' (massive, snow covered rocks) to the next.
Hoji says, "Pillow lines require a lot of thought to ski well because you have to try and estimate how fast you need to go, how to safely stomp the landing, where to land on the next pillow, and ski the whole line smoothly. The beauty of ski touring is that on the skin up you see the features in the terrain from a variety of vantage points and angles, you can really study every detail and subtle contour enabling you to piece together very technically difficult lines." Whether viewed through a helmet cam or filmed from below, these drops make for dramatic footage.
In the future, Hjorleifson sees himself pushing farther into the backcountry.
This new emphasis on performance-based adventure backcountry skiing makes Hoji a perfect fit for Arc'teryx. "Every piece of clothing I used last year was of the highest quality. For most of the season, I used the Sidewinder SV jacket and Stinger bib pant from the Whiteline series. One thing I really like is that the medium fit was consistent across a variety of products; I wasn't a medium in some items and a large in others. I also really appreciated the warmth and comfort provided by the Atom SV. On the Freshfields trip, it was perfect for wearing around camp after a day of exploring and skiing."