by Beck Trebesch
ON3P 3 is a short ski film featuring skiers sponsored by ski company, ON3P. It sets at Mt. Hood, OR and features the talents of Jens Nillson, Magnus Graner, Jake Mageau, Forster Meeks, Siver Voll, Ian King, and more. It was released in late 2018, free to watch on the internet.
The first 30 seconds of ON3P 3 spark an unsettling tension in the viewer: an old radio/television host describing the location of Mount Hood, Oregon. His voice distorts low and high over haunting horns and wailing synths. It’s eerie. This opening sound collage is paired with dimly lit landscapes of the Oregon Cascade range and skier Forster Meeks’ face emerging from the darkness as if he’s about to tell a ghost story. Intended or not, it’s highly reminiscent of The Shining (1980), the landmark horror thriller set at Timberline Lodge (on Mount Hood :0).
Throughout ON3P 3 (2018), Mt. Hood itself is portrayed as an epic, mystical, and undeniable natural force. The way director/editor Jens Nillson isolates shots of Hood shows a fascination, maybe even an obsession, with the mountain that can only truly be appreciated by visiting the peak. There is inherent power in the mountain’s existence, from a spiritual and recreational perspective, exerting itself over our rag-tag group of protagonists. In one light, the skiers, the filmers, the Windells establishment, are all transforming the mountain’s dirt-speckled glaciers into features of their own creative prospects (my favorite of which being the jump to butter/manual pad). You could say park (terrain park) skiing is of the built environment, that it detaches from the sport’s more humble and earthy roots. However at the same time, shown by the countless cuts to the terrain, landscape, geology, wildlife, and more, there is a supernatural mystique of this place that captivates the mind and spirit, no matter the activity.
Now, reverence for the mountains, for the natural world, is not a foreign concept in ski movies; it’s a common motif across all productions. There’s probably hours upon hours worth of B-roll that exists of skiers just looking up at the mountains and going “ahhhhhhhhh, nice, cool.” In ON3P 3’s avoidance of direct exposition, there is a silent bow to Hood and the opportunities it provides. In this light, ON3P 3 is a clear marker of more abstract, raw, and fluid filmmaking that hinges less upon the narrative of the making of the film or the cast of characters, and more on the visual and audio appeal of what you’re seeing at any point in time.
A clear antithesis to ON3P 3 would be a Warren Miller ski movie. Dating back to the 1960s but still remaining culturally relevant into the 2000s, Warren Miller movies follow a formula of exposition - brief action - conclusion - repeat. They went there to ski. They ski. Then, they went there to ski. And then, they went over there to ski! What a great season! It’s pretty antiquated and bleh, but that’s not to say the concept of the ski movie and the technical showmanship of the skiing itself set forth by Miller wasn’t groundbreaking for the industry.
Emerging from this were slightly less commercial, independent ventures such as TGR (Teton Gravity Research) and Level 1 Productions who took the same travel-ski formula but put the focus on the skiers and less so the grandeur of the narrative. Level 1 in particular is responsible for exceptional creative leaps that would push skiing and ski filmmaking to new heights in the 2010s. Their films, Partly Cloudy (2013) and Zig Zag (2018) are probably my favorites of all time, no cap, on god. The opening shot in Zig Zag (2018) makes me go full 🤔every time I see it. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have my reservations about the seasonal, live venue, for-profit ski movie model as a whole. I think to sort of retain a broad audience these companies (Level 1, TGR, MSP, Field, etc.) have to present a product that’s accessible and recognizable, usually producing similar timbres across films. Level 1 is playful and creative, TGR is kind of stoic and grounded, MSP has explicitly comedic segments. This is a result of companies working with skiers, filmers, and editors that fit their mold and that the audience can identify with after they’ve seen one or two films.
There’s nothing wrong with this and I love these movies all the same, but where I think ON3P 3 is truly innovative, is its raw, almost formless presentation of skiing. Aside from the opening credits where the names are presented in a list and the song changes that may or may not indicate a new segment, ON3P 3 is a non-stop back and forth of tricks, reactions, visual art, dancing, and video blogging. This distinction takes Nilson’s masterpiece out of the purely ski realm and connects it to skate culture. The parallels between Melodi skate crew’s ff part and ON3P are immediately noticeable and numerous. As someone who consumed at least 2 hours of skate parts per day in my recent quarantine, I can identify that Jens Nillson’s creative process was inspired by skate edits. Specifically, I want to focus on the overlay of videos in Melodi and ON3P. I don’t know where this practice originates, but cutting between scenes with one video then abstracted by a smaller video in the center of the screen can instill the viewer with subliminal messages, 😳, but even more so, add to the attitude of the film and contextualize the style, finesse, and power of the athlete. In Melodi, this manifests as anti-police, anti-America messaging blinking over the urban landscape of New York as the skaters dodge security guards and cops with rebellious teenage bravado. In ON3P, it adds a sense of serenity, motion, and beauty, furthered by the fantastical setting of the Mt. Hood glacier and the alpine forests. In both edits, one might extract a distinctly hip-hop/punk attitude, apparent in the style of skating and skiing. It’s not perfect. It’s rough and tumble. It’s flowy, it’s daring. Their clothing, the song choices, all of these creative and vibrational nuances of counterculture are born out of the volatility of the zeitgeist that is the internet age.
In its purest essence, ON3P 3 is a celebration of what it means to be a skier. Self expression and style. Comradery and community. Danger. Peace. All of these coalesce in a striking and mind-blowing short film that I’ve revisited probably 30 times since it’s dropped in late 2018. I would recommend everyone to do the same!!!