Picture the serenity of pristine mountain scenery, contrasted by the fast action of snowmobiles launched upside down on soaring jumps.
That’s exactly what Whitehorse filmmaker Blake Wildfong is capturing for his new film, Syndicate of Snow.
Using a high-profile lineup of professional snowmobilers and recreating a Winter X Games environment,Wildfong plans to showcase the northern backcountry to the rest of Canada and the world.
“We’ve never done anything like what we’re doing this year,” explains Wildfong.
So far he’s made seven snowmobiling films for Sled Porn, a rising name in North American extreme snowmobile sports media, based in Whitehorse. Syndicate of Snow will be the eighth edition to the Sled Porn series.
“In the past it was always a couple of us running around with smaller camera equipment on us, and we’d go into the mountains with friends,” Wildfong says.
This time the plan is to capture the high mountain action at a professional level and produce a film that will sit comfortably next to other world-class extreme sport documentaries.
To get these results Wildfong has teamed up with established filmmaker Patrick Weir, who moved to Whitehorse in 2008 and co-founded Calums Day Media Productions.
“He [Patrick] was definitely the first person I wanted to get involved when I wanted to expand and take this movie to a larger scale,” says Wildfong.
Whitehorse’s Neil Macdonald, known for his work on web series Yukonic and action-horror films including Fragments, which screened at 2011 Screamfest in Los Angeles, is directing.
Wildfong is also pulling professional athletes featured in other high-budget extreme snowmobile films into the action.
While saving most of the lineup for the coming promotional campaign, Wildfong was prepared to let the name slip of world famous snowmobiler Corey Davis as having signed on. Although, Wildfong cautions, in the extreme sports industry everything is tentative until it’s on film.
“So now we’ve got a larger group of talented riders involved and a really good production crew put together,” Wildfong says.
There’s no holding back in what these extreme athletes can do. Specialty jump ramps have been purchased, and there is a Sno-Cat on site to build landing ramps.
“People are used to seeing snowmobiles go upside down at the Arctic Games and on ramps in a very controlled environment, but we’re doing it right out in the middle of the backcountry,” Weir says.
And expect a stunning backdrop. While the snow season is wrapping up at lower elevations, the warmer weather and sunlight make the mountain conditions perfect for filming.
“It’s gorgeous wherever you look. You pretty much point the camera in any direction and you’re going to get an awesome scene,” Weir says.
To capture it all in crystal clarity, they have flown up two professional-level cinema cameras from Vancouver.
Sled Porn was absorbed by Wildfong’s production company Low Life Films two seasons ago. With a Canadian distribution deal locked in and negotiations for a U.S. deal under way, Syndicate of Snow could become a talking point across the extreme sports industry.
The production has also received a $5,000 grant from the Yukon Film and Sound Commission, and support from the Yukon Film Production Fund, which helps to offset the costs of locally-spent production money.
For Wildfong, the film is the product of an evolving process that began about eight years ago with him going for his first snowmobile ride with friends, who, it turned out, are some of the big names in the snowmobile sports industry.
“It’s actually a kind of funny story, but the first time I went snowmobiling was with Ross Mercer, and Ryan and Mike Vaillancourt, who are all riders in a lot of the big videos,” says Wildfong.
“I didn’t even know how to stay on the snow machine upright or transfer my weight, and here was Ross, who was this professional athlete, and he’s slowing down and hanging by my side and teaching me how to ride.”
Wildfong, who describes his filmmaking skills as “kind of self-taught”, took out a camera and started capturing what these guys were doing on the snow.
“It just kind of worked out that local people were interested in it, so then it just kind of manifested itself into the video format and just escalated from there,” he says.
For Weir, Syndicate of Snow is his first opportunity at extreme snowmobile filming. In fact, he had only been on a snowmobile about five times before.
“Now every time I go out I’m riding with pros,” he laughs, “so I’m trying to keep up”.
Filming has begun in the Skagway Pass area, with the bulk of it expected to be finished by early May.
Syndicate of Snow is set for release in October.