The Nimbus Experiment
The Art of Doing Things Different
Words by Pep Fujas
Nimbus was founded in 2007, but it was really born on a greybird day in 2006, while filming for the movie Idea. On that day, Eric iberg, who was producing the movie, informed us that Idea would be his final film, and he wanted to show us how to keep making films, if we chose to do so. I had worked with Iberg for a few years and had seen first-hand how stressed the process made him. Quite frankly, I didnâ€™t want any part of that, but Eric gave us some basics on how to use the cameras and handed them to us.
We had excavated an in-run, constructed a jump and were ready to lay some tracks, but the clouds were unrelenting and showed few signs of breaking. No sun on backcountry booters usually means no shots. The only place to shoot
was in the trees, where the trees give definition to the snow.
We filmed follow-cam runs of each other slashing through trees, hitting small airs and buttering knolls. Each run was a complete junk show; we were only giving each other vague ideas on we intended to do, and we just went for
it. Every shot was unique, as we crisscrossed, nearly running into each other while constantly dousing the camera with snow. We were simply enjoying each moment and tinkering with new ideas.
At the top of one of these runs, holding the camera in my hands and plan- ning a shot with Eric Pollard, i had an epiphany. i realized i had total control of what we were doing. Nobody was telling us what we should do or how we
should do it, and we were having tons of fun. I told Pollard, â€œThis is what I want to be doing,â€ and he instantly agreed.
The clouds parted slightly and the light improved just long enough to hit the jump a couple times before the clouds once again overtook the landscape. I think this was the moment we decided that the light didnâ€™t have to be perfect. We asked Iberg if we could continue hitting the jump and all he said was, â€œItâ€™s your movie, Iâ€™ll shoot it!â€ This aspect of skiing was and is still rarely ï¬ lmed. We were having fun regardless of the light, and that is what needed to be documented. Perfect conditions donâ€™t happen all the time so why only show those perfect moments? We continued hitting the jump and Pollard, Andy Mahre and I landed a handful of tricks a piece. At the end of the day I couldnâ€™t wait to see the outcome of our follow cams and if any of the shots actually turned out. Since we were still shooting on ï¬lm, we didnâ€™t get to view it for a couple months, when we ï¬ nally sat down to edit the ï¬lm.
Some shots worked out and some didnâ€™t but that segment turned out to be one of the best in the movie. Idea proved to be the can opener to our new endeavor. After the movie was done, I received a phone call from
â€œRemember when you said that this is what you wanted to do?â€ he asked.
â€œWell, are you in?â€
In my mind, that was the moment Nimbus was born.
Once the Nimbus concept was hatched, assembling the crew was easy. We brought on Andy Mahre and Chris Benchetler to round out the skiers and as filmers we hooked up with veteran cine Justin Wiegand and friend/skier/cat driver/backwoods bumpkin from Mt. Hood, Ike Smith. Pollardâ€™s wife Erin Valverde-Pollard contributes photography, video, graphics, and picks up the odds and ends that Eric dishes her. The final piece of the Nimbus puzzle was the addition of the business acumen of Gary Winberg, an unassuming marketing guru who has worked for a number of notable ski companies, including Helly Hansen and K2.
Nimbus was created to break the mold of the current ski movie structure while capturing the skiing experience through the eyes of four skiers, two cinematographers, one photographer and one business manager. Ultimately, our job descriptions have all since been re-examined. Now we all shoot photos and video, write stories, ski and occasionally snowboard. The Nimbus crew is active in all aspects of the business. It is a collective effort.
Skiing for an established film company didnâ€™t allow for this.
â€œEverything is different, [than at other film companies]â€ Pollard says. â€œWe get to decide our trips and who we ride with. We formulate our own time schedules, the basic who, what, when, where, and why. We arenâ€™t forced to ski or not ski with certain athletes because of sponsors. We just get to go ski with our best friends, our filmers and other riders. Itâ€™s a free format and an open canvas.â€
Eric has an uncanny knack for creation when presented with said canvas. His creativity and skills know no boundaries and he therefore he shoulders the majority of the work at Nimbus, not to mention that he is the
founder and CEO (Cheap Executive Officer). This â€œopen canvasâ€ gives everyone at Nimbus creative input, and we end up passing around the camera so everyone gets to have a good time. No one is without face shots on a
In many movie making settings or photoshoots, itâ€™s inevitable that you have to compete with the other skiers for lines. You basically have to get to a zone and stake your claim or youâ€™re BYTAPO (biting your tongue and pissed off). At Nimbus, we all scope the lines together and discuss where each person would like to go. If someone had priority at another zone, then that person usually picks up the scraps at the next one. Itâ€™s no longer stress-ful; it just works and there are no hard feelings.
Nowhere has Nimbus attacked the standard models harder than in how ski movies are sold and distributed. â€œI always thought that the film-sponsorship model was broken,â€ Winberg says. â€œThe way contracts were structured required films to be â€˜ski porn,â€™ because film companies are paid by how many athletes per brand are in the film. The more money a film company brings in in sponsorship dollars, the more athletes have to be in the movie, and the worse the film becomes because itâ€™s a head shot, action segment, next athlete. Thereâ€™s no way to tell a compelling story with 18-20 skiers sharing a 60-minute film. People are also getting media in new ways. It can be more about managing video content and distributing it using new communication mediums. It doesnâ€™t have to be about making just one movie every year.â€
The traditional mold only seemed to allow a film company to produce one video per year. You cannot capture all the things that happen in a year in one hour long video, plus, as a skier, I wanted to see what is happening now, not what happened in the past. The rise of digital media and the Internet has allowed us to produce movie-quality shorts through-
out the season, and to distribute them for free.
The free online episodes we produce called â€œEn Routeâ€ are trip-based. The trips we do are planned with the possibility the general public might do the same trip, go to the same locations, and access the same terrain. We want most of what happens in our videos to be attainable for the everyday skier. I say most because we will go to some remote locations that may not be on most peoplesâ€™ radar.
For us, skiing is the ultimate freedom of expression, and I believe that to be true for most people who strap on a pair of skis. Isnâ€™t a big part of life about being able to express yourself? For me, every turn has a certain and unique energy. You feel it whether you are aggressively attacking a line or effortlessly floating through powder. From the forces of nature acting upon you, to the energy you exert when you make that turn, launch that cliff or hit that jump, you feel it whether you know it or not. This freedom comes in the simplest form of mindless pleasure while immersed in that experience, and from moment to moment untilâ€¦BLAMâ€¦that unsuspecting tree jumps out in front of you and turns your mindless pleasure into intense pain. Did I ruin the moment?
Justin sums up the Nimbus experience best: â€œI can remember dressing up like a Ninja when I was little. Iâ€™m 27 years old now and Iâ€™ve had my ninja attire on all winter.â€ Put simply, Nimbus makes us all feel as if we were kids again. In order to capture the experiences produced by the nimbus clouds, we need to be kids again, think like kids again, and ski with the mindset of kids again. We are how we perceive ourselves, and the world is only how we perceive it. If we view it through child eyes, everything is fresh and new, and each experience unique. So when you see nimbus clouds, get your ninja costume on, grab your skis and go enjoy the wonderful sport of skiing.
About the author:
Shay Williams is the Managing Editor of Freeskier Magazine. He loves cheeseburgers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sweden. He's likely on a plane right now—first class only.