Behind the Lens: An Interview with Matchstick Productions Filmer Jason Ebelheiser
Jeff Neagle: Where and when did you start skiing?
Jason Ebelheiser: Where and when did I start skiing? I think I started skiing, oh man, when I was about 8 or 9? And let’s see... I imagine it was a little sooner in my front yard or back yard my Dad took me out there and pushed me down a little hill outside the house in New York. So yeah, I would just say a local little hill outside my house in New York.
Jeff: Very cool. What’s your home mountain today?
Jason: Home mountain today... would probably be Silverton Mountain, Colorado.
Jeff: Oh awesome. Are you out there right now?
Jason: No, I’m actually in New York right now. I’m going to be headed back in December. So yeah I guess I kind of grew up skiing Hunter Mountain in New York, and then now my winters are spent in Silverton. So kind of a cross between growing up learning to ski at Hunter Mountain and now my home mountain is Silverton.
Jeff: Silverton is pretty amazing. I’ve never skied there, but from everything I’ve seen it looks like a pretty incredible mountain.
Jason: Oh man, you should definitely come out. It’s amazing. There’s so much to do, the terrain’s amazing and there usually aren’t too many people.
Jeff: Cool. How long have you been working with MSP?
Jason: I’ve been working with Matchstick Productions since March 2011. It’ll be 5 years this winter.
Jeff: What originally inspired you to get into filming and producing ski movies?
Jason: You know? Growing up it was always a passion. As a sport, skiing was such a passion to do, then as I was growing up I just kind of became the guy that had a camera in hand to document whatever shenanigans we were getting into. I mean they both just kind of naturally merged into one another. I started making ski movies when I was in high school, actually even earlier in middle school. I knew it was something I always wanted to do and try to make a job out of. Yeah, I mean the opportunity to work alongside Matchstick Productions... I felt pretty fortunate that I got to that level where I could take that passion and bring it to those guys. We just have an amazing crew and you get some chances to go to these amazing destinations. It’s great to be able to have it go that far.
Jeff: That’s a great segway to the next question I was going to ask... if you had any favorite skiing or filming destinations this past season for this film?
Jason: Let’s see I went on the trips to Japan and also in Haines, Alaska. And then the last shoot I was on with this film was actually in Silverton, at the base of Silverton Mountain. So I mean I loved all of those places. We got to travel around in Japan a bit. We flew into the main island and followed the snow north to the island of Hokkaido and that place is just something that a lot of skiers should have on the top of their list. It’s just amazing how much snow they get and how nice... I mean the culture is just something everything should try to experience. And oh my god, the powder... the powder... hahaha
Jeff: I’ve heard unbelievable things about the snow out there...
Jason: Yeah, it’s something else man. I love it there and it’s tough to pick a favorite. They’re all just as appeasing as any one of them. Haines was amazing too, it’s just the views and the mountain... Flying around in the helicopter you get to see these peaks that are just mind blowing. Yeah, it’s tough to pick a favorite.
Jeff: Yeah, I’m sure. What about during your time with MSP has anything stuck out as being exceptionally special or memorable?
Jason: Yeah we did a trip to Peru with James Heim and Sam Anthamatten and me and the other filmers (Scott Gaffney and Canyon Florey). That was quite a trip. It was a lot of travel and a lot of hiking. We started at potentially sea level in Lima, drove all the way up to 10,000 feet to the town of Huaraz, then hopped another shuttle to a smaller town, then took a trail head up through these amazing peaks in the Cordillera Blanca. We hiked in quite a ways and camping on the glacier as well was something I had never done before. It was just an amazing trip all around. The skiing was pretty tough, but James Heim, Sam Anthamatten, and our guide, Adrian Ballinger, they all got to the top of Quitaraju Peak, which is a 6,000M Peak.
Jeff: Now what movie would we see that in?
Jason: That was in our last movie, Days of Our Youth.
Jeff: Getting back to this year’s movie... Did you have a favorite segment when everything was all said and done? Is there something that we should particularly look out for?
Jason: You know, it really blended well together from segment to segment and there’s something to be said for each one – something that really stuck out. Whether it was getting that really local vibe – Alex Schlopy and Bobby Brown ripping around this really small ski hill in Ouray, CO – and you just have these guys having a blast skiing this little maybe 200 vertical feet little rope tow in the town, which is free. And they’re just ripping around, jibbing around, having a blast. And it really kind of brings you back to comparing it to these guys going on Heli trips in Haines all the way back to a little rope tow. There’s something to be taken from each segment, like, “man they’re having a blast, wow they’re still having fun on this rope tow!” It’s cool to see. And then everything in between: They’re in Iceland as well building all these really unique backcountry jumps and just the terrain and scenic landscape there is pretty amazing.
Jeff: Those all sound kind of opposite ends of the spectrum for sure.
Jason: Yeah! And then it closes with the pond skim segment at Silverton, which was a blast to film and put together.
Jeff: Yeah, we’re excited to see it! So, how many days a year do you typically spend on snow?
Jason: You know, it varies. Some winters definitely a little bit more than others. I’m trying to think of a number for you, but I haven’t really kept track honestly. I always just try to get out as much as possible. In between shoots I’m just in the backcountry trying to stay in shape and keep my ski legs underneath me. I don’t know, yeah, getting in as many ski days in between shoots, cause on those shoots you never know if you’ll really be skiing. You’ve got camera bags and skiing around from spot to spot, but...
Jeff: From the skiing perspective, can you confirm that pretty often the filmers end up skiing pretty similar terrain to the athletes, but they do it hauling a bunch of camera gear?
Jason: Ummm, you know, I think we rarely ski the very same line the athletes do.
Jeff: But similar terrain?
Jason: Yeah, similar terrain, maybe across the way but sometimes you’re on the slope with them just off to the side. But yeah, you do have to get down with that camera gear one way or another.
Jeff: Right, like you all have to be pretty good skiers?
Jason: It doesn’t always look pretty. Well, maybe if it’s Scott Gaffney then it probably looks pretty...
Jeff: Personally, do you have any skiing idols?
Jason: Shane McConkey. He’s my idol.
Jeff: Did you ever get a chance to work with him?
Jason: No, I never got to meet Shane. I really, really wanted to. Being part of the documentary that Matchstick produced called McConkey, that was the next best thing to meeting him.
Jeff: Yup, I mean that’s probably my favorite movie in the ski industry, ever.
Jason: Oh awesome, I’m really glad to hear that.
Jeff: Yeah, I mean, I recommend that movie to people that aren’t even really big skiers. Everybody loves it; it’s such a good movie.
Jason: Yeah, it’s kind of amazing how it appeals to such a wide range.
Jeff: Cool, so... In the time that you’ve been working with MSP have you had any athletes that you really enjoy working with?
Jason: Honestly, every athlete I’ve worked with so far has been a pleasure to work with. They’re all there to make the best possible segment for themselves, so they all want to work with us, we work with them, and we always kind of come to an agreement. If conditions aren’t lining up, we don’t want to push them, and they want to get the best possible footage themselves so they’re always willing to help out and kind of work with us. I haven’t had any issues with the crew, it’s a great crew. Love to work with those guys... and girls!
Jeff: Yeah, you guys have a pretty awesome group of athletes.
Jason: Yeah, they all kind of bring their own... they bring something different to the table each one of them. It creates for never a dull moment.
Jeff: Haha, yeah, when you’re surrounded by a whole bunch of pro skiers there usually aren’t any dull moment.
Jason: No, no, usually not.
Jeff: So this past season, do you recall having any major challenges, whether it was weather or terrain or anything like that?
Jason: Yeah we always kind of have those issues pretty much everywhere I went this year. Japan we got there a little late and the temperatures were starting to warm up. So we didn’t get the super deep, light, light snow we were looking for, it was a little bit heavier. So that’s why we went north to the island of Hokkaido and we found it to be pretty similar, so the snow there was a little warmer and heavier than we were hoping. Then we got to Haines and the snow was great the first couple days we got out, and then we had a weather event kind of come through and created a couple of unstable layers. So the avalanche conditions weren’t ideal for the rest of the trip, nor was the weather. So it was tough. You know we had a very limited amount of days to get out there and get ‘er done. And also the pond skim segment, I think we did it in June and June in Colorado is still really cold in the morning and the weather is still pretty unpredictable. So we were dealing with thunderstorms in the morning as we were shooting and then very small pockets of sun where the athletes could drop in and actually see where they were going. And if they did go in that water... I think it was 37 degrees, so we were hoping the sun would be out. I’m kind of surprised those pond skim events still go on even though It’s raining, snowing... That’s kind of what makes our sport interesting, it’s those die-hards that no matter what... that’s kind of what the film revolves around, no matter what the conditions – it’s skiing, and we’re gonna make it fun, and that’s what it’s all about for anybody: for pros, for first timers, everyone kind of shares that same mentality.
Jeff: Now this is kind of along the same lines, but from a videographer/producer standpoint how much different is it doing everything outside in variable weather vs doing everything inside in a studio, in a controlled environment?
Jason: Yeah I mean you said it right there. That word controlled. When you don’t have control it’s... you have to be able to go with the flow per say. If the snow’s not there, then the snow’s not there. It’s not like you can make that change. You gotta be able to go with the flow and just adapt out in the field. And that’s what’s kind of great about our crew, they can all adapt to those changing conditions. No one really gets upset, and we still get something. That’s what I love about these guys. They’re always down to do something no matter what the conditions are or what the circumstances are, whatever we’re dealing with. We usually get something awesome out of it so I think that says a lot.
Jeff: So you kind of just have to be optimistic?
Jason: Yup, very. And these guys are.
Jeff: How would you say videography has changed in recent years with advancements in technology and specifically are there advantages or disadvantages to producing ski movies?
Jason: The changes... Everyone is essentially filming these days. It’s just so easy to have a GoPro on you, which is great for catching moments. There’s so many moments out there that people see that normally they wouldn’t, cause everyone has these GoPro cameras. So it’s pretty cool in that sense, a lot of people putting out these funny moments or their own edit and it kind of gives everyone in the ski industry a voice per say. And then for the cameras, you know the digital setups the cold weather definitely effects them. The batteries die very, very fast. You’ve gotta kind of keep them either in your jacket pocket or just keep them warm somehow. Keep a couple extra in the hotel if there is one by, but usually there’s not, so usually you have to keep them on your body to keep them warm. And it’s tough to keep everything dry and out of the elements.
Jeff: That’s kind of what I was wondering, so you just have to plan ahead if you’re going to be out for a while?
Jason: Yeah, having a dialed camera setup is very key before going out in the field.
Jeff: Now do you enjoy or are you known for a particular style of videography? Do you do follow cams, or panoramic shots, or do you do a little bit of everything?
Jason: I do a little bit of everything. I’m trying to think if I’m known for something specific... No, I think just being well rounded and being able to jump around is pretty key.
Jeff: Is that like most of your crew?
Jason: Yeah just about anyone can hop in and be where they need to be.
Jeff: Yeah I didn’t know if you had set roles, like, “you’re the long shot person, you’re gonna be close up, etc.”
Jason: Yeah when we’re on a shoot whoever is closest to the spot... We can all adapt to fit all those different types of shots and angles.
Jeff: Cool. So, what direction do you see ski movies going in coming years? I feel like we’re starting to see a little bit of a shakeup in the normal ski movie style.
Jason: Yeah I mean they definitely are heading in the way of more of a documentary style film. People really want to tell the story of skiing and really transfer that into a film and show the general public what skiing is and why we love it and why we do it, cause we’re risking our lives. But other than that lots of things are going to the web as we’ve seen in past few years. It’s pretty standard to have a web series these days. So I think a lot of people are just transitioning to web series and web content and social media, so a lot of it’s going in that direction, which kind of worries me. I mean, I don’t want it to go where attention spans go down to 15 second Instagram videos.
Jeff: That’s basically all you see now, 15 second Instagram videos, and if it is longer than that maybe it’s a 2 minute edit.
Jason: Yeah, but I personally love a full length ski movie and I hope the general public will keep loving that as well.
Jeff: I hope so, I hope we don’t lose them.
Jason: No, I don’t think we will, especially after they watch Fade to Winter.
Jeff: Cool, exactly. Are there any specific film projects that you’d like to do someday?
Jason: You know... there’s been a lot of talk about the future of upcoming winters and projects and what we’d like to do... If we could do another pond skim that would be pretty ideal... I don’t know if I’m allowed to say any of this stuff...
Jeff: Haha, I totally understand. We’ll move on to a gear question... how many pairs of skis do you own and do you have a favorite?
Jason: I’ve got over 10 pairs right now... floating around. My favorite ski... I really like my Salomon Rocker 2s. They’re light, nimble, and fun.
Jeff: Do you ski the Rocker2 100 or one of the wider ones?
Jason: I think it’s the 120-something.
Jeff: Big powder boards?
Jason: Yeah I love them. Good set of sticks.
Jeff: Let’s see, on a typical filming day what would you say the apres ski routine is?
Jason: Well, usually it’s get back to the hotel or the tent or lodge, unpack the camera gear, get everything in a spot to dry, copy footage, charge batteries, copy footage, copy footage, back up footage, make sure footage is backed up... about 17 times... make sure everything’s backed up. And then if you have time maybe have a beer and go to bed and do it all again the next day.
Jeff: Do you guys review footage and make sure you got everything you set out to get?
Jason: Yeah if we have time. Sometimes we get back and everyone’s too gassed and run down from the day and we don’t get a chance to review footage. If we have time, then yeah, we’ll go through and check out some shots. See if everything came out how we wanted it to, see if the athletes like it, and yeah kind of make sure everything’s dialed in for the next day.
Jeff: I assumed that athletes would want to see and approve their shots?
Jason: Yeah I definitely understand where they’re coming from on that. When we were filming growing up, you always want to see the shot to make sure it looks cool.
Jeff: Yeah, but sometimes the athletes can be the biggest critics?
Jason: Yup, they might not think it looks as good as we do.
Jeff: Cool, so what are your off season activities?
Jason: Usually filled with mountain biking, fly fishing, sky diving... let’s see... what else? I mean those are the main ones right there. I mean I kind of focus on sky diving and it takes all my money... then when I’m running out of money I go fly fishing.
Jeff: Sounds pretty perfect for me. And you said you’re in New York in the summers?
Jason: Yup, summers are spent in upstate New York.
Jeff: Do you ever get to fish out in CO at all? I know there’s great fly fishing out there.
Jason: Yeah, yeah around Crested Butte and Silverton it’s some of the best fishing I’ve done.
Jeff: Let’s see, two more questions: In your opinion, who has had the biggest impact on the sport of skiing?
Jason: First guy that pops in my head is McConkey again. It’s kind of tough, at least for my generation, the guy I saw change the industry the most was McConkey. I’m sure in years past it would be different. Warren Miller, you know he essentially started the ski movie industry, but for my generation it was McConkey. Seeing his humor, and not just his humor but his skill, his vision for fat skis, and many other things.
Jeff: I think he’s responsible for bringing a lot of fun back into the sport of skiing.
Jason: Yeah I love the skits he did and it was always something to look forward to.
Jeff: It’s almost like he picked up where Glen Plake left off, but in a more fun loving way. Last question, we ask this to everybody, in the history of skiing, what would you say has been the biggest technological breakthrough?
Jason: Biggest technological breakthrough in skiing..... Probably the invention of the snowblade.
*** 30 Second Pause for Laughter ***
Jeff: That’s probably the best answer ever.
Jason: I mean those things are incredible.
Jeff: They are... Shane McConkey would not be who he is.
Jason: Yeah there’d be no Saucer Boy!
Want to see Jason's handiwork first hand? Be sure to come join us at the Rusty Nail in Stowe on November 20th as we premier this season's project from Matchstick Productions: Fade to Winter!
“Fade to Winter” is all about the enthusiasm and drive of skiers in the face of adversity. Times change, just as each season gives way to the next. For passionate skiers around the globe, however, the time of year can never undermine the enthusiasm for their next great day on snow. Regardless of weather, conditions, or the effort required to get there, “a bad day of skiing still beats a good day at work.” As summer eases into fall and fall eventually fades to winter, dreams of skiing occupy our minds and we focus all of our energy on returning to the mountains.
MSP Films, the production powerhouse behind MCCONKEY and DAYS OF MY YOUTH, is proud to present FADE TO WINTER. Featuring jaw-dropping action from Alaska, Iceland, British Columbia, Japan, Colorado, Italy, and New England, this film captures the spirit of nine skiers who go to great lengths for the sport that they love. Starring Markus Eder, Bobby Brown, Michelle Parker, Mark Abma, Tanner Rainville, Aaron Blunck, James Heim, Sean Jordan, PK Hunder, Alex Schlopy, and others. Narrated by Greg Stump.