WORDS — Conor Smith
PHOTOS — Andrew Mildenberger & DJ Brandt
The current ski media landscape is saturated. Nowadays, skiers are treated to a slew of “must-watch” movies, edits and athlete cuts, ranging from bombastic big-budget spectacle to unpolished underground rawness. But, with so many options on the table, it’s hard to tell which flicks should garner our attention. While more and more athletes are taking production into their own hands, creating smaller projects with close friends and help from sponsors, there are just a few collectives that nail this middle-ground content.
Over the past three years, a crew of skiers going by the moniker “Strictly” has emerged as a top-class example. The squad’s first two full-length efforts, “Welcome” (2019) and “Bermuda” (2020) struck a remarkable balance between production value and approachability, their edits jaw-dropping at times and hilarious at others. But it’s all in the balance of showcasing skiing’s many disciplines that add the extra pop.
With roots in Colorado, Strictly’s current lineup includes a mix of natives and outsiders, who all met near the Mile High City at some point, whether in Keystone’s A51 terrain park or romping around CU Boulder’s nightlife scene. Denverites Andrew Mildenberger and Gavin Rudy have been the glue of the enterprise since 2018, working in tandem as co-directors. While they aren’t the only ones wielding cameras now, their creative vision has helped define Strictly’s distinct visual style, a careful blend of cinematic flair and unpretentious realism. Both spent years developing the craft of film-making over the course of high school and college, shooting park edits at Keystone and summer sessions at Mt. Hood. As their skills flourished, so did their reputation, and the partnership came at a prime moment: Not only had their visual instincts matured, but so had the skiing talent of their friends.
Strictly’s core is comprised of athletes Sam Zahner, Taylor Lundquist, Benny Smith, Calvin Barrett, Ethan Swadburg, Levi Ascher, Pete Koukov and Parker Norvell. The crew has a notably diverse collection of styles, from Pete’s mini-shred sensibilities, to Benny’s aggro pow flavor, Taylor’s finesse and control, Parker’s switch powder wizardry and Ethan’s delicate floatiness. All of the riders are talented, but what’s more exciting than anyone’s individual ability is how their talents complement each other on the silver screen. There are few teams out there putting together high-quality flicks that bring powder, park and urban/street skiing seamlessly together—and for good reason—it’s difficult to do it all, and do it well.
Heading into this season, the hard work is paying its dividends, as notoriety, sponsor dollars and opportunities have finally started to trickle in. Sam’s heady ender segment in “Welcome,” punctuated by an unforgettable sculpture redirect on the Chicago lake-shore, earned him an X Games Real Ski spot in 2020; Lundquist put down an all-time season filming for both “Bermuda” and Colline Ballet-Baz’s film “Skivas” that earned her the first-ever women’s Real Ski invite in 2021; “Welcome” won Film of the Year at the 2020 Newschoolers Awards for its raw showcase of freeskiing’s many disciplines. Given the uptick in recognition and support, it’s remarkable that “Bermuda” still felt down to earth in just the right places, its soaring ambition tempered by moments of hilarity. The opening shot of the film’s credits—an epic slow-motion park bench wipeout—might already be cemented as one of the funniest moments in any ski movie… ever.
Given their recent successes, it’s surprising that Strictly has opted to deviate from the classic “one big movie” format with their projects launching this season. This fall, the crew has three short films slated to drop: an all-urban piece appropriately titled “Most Gutter,” an all-pow shortie with some high-profile cameos titled “Wildcard” and an off-beat, mixed-discipline cut, “August Light (Have a Nice Day).” Judging by the teaser content the crew has released, it doesn’t seem like the switch-up will disrupt what made them exciting in the first place: stellar skiing balanced by relatability and comedy. But regardless of whether their future holds a return to long-form content or remains focused on short-form films, it would be a mistake to take your eyes off Strictly. Check out the team’s latest cuts on Instagram — @strictlycreate.
While Strictly has announced that their latest film, ‘Delete‘, will be the crews final project under the well known name, there’s certainly more stories to be told and clips to be stacked. Keep an eye on their social media’s through the winter to see what they have in store for us next.