Last February I was lucky enough to visit Switzerland, again. This time though, I was fortunate (meaning: petrified) in that I traveled with part of the Bluebird team -- a group of guys who ride on their own terms, appreciate the gift of snowboarding and, more importantly, hold friendship in the highest esteem. (Higher even than the Swiss nectar of hops and barley called Kalanda.) What transpired was a low-budget train trip through the Swiss Alps with a bit of spirit(s), and a lot of wax.
The feature film is slated to be released on iTunes in October. For the first time filmmaker Willie McMillon reveals what transpired on the most unlikely adventure with some of the most likely lads.
ESPN: I was wondering what alpenHOFF even means?
McMillon: We went to the shred the Alps and to see The Hoff. It's pretty self-explanatory.
As in David Hasselfhoff? The guy with the talking car? Cheeseburger Mitch?
Yes sir. You know the guy.
So you know, for this interview we're pretending I wasn't there, okay?
You weren't really there Nate.
How did the idea for this movie come about?
It was a downsized version of a trip Iguchi and I have been discussing for a while.
So a no-budget disaster of a film, ice riding in a land where you can't understand the language had been a dream of yours for a while, then?
No, running through crowded train stations lugging 150-pound board bags, revisiting my hernias -- yeah, that's plural -- was a total dream come true. Also, watching everyone else shred while I filmed them. Now that's truly a dream come true...
I heard that some people didn't think it was a good idea, going to Europe during one of their worst winters in the history of bad winters.
How the hell are we going to take a dedicated crew like this to Europe and not have the best time of our lives? You have to go for it. You never know when it's gonna get good. And it did get good, because we had the magic vibe while all the haters stayed at home.
Who did you convince to go and how? Did you bribe them with wax or simply drug them while they slept?
After half the team declined, I asked the dudes with no travel budget to go. The poor kids are always down to shred. Kurt Wastell, Chad Otterstrom and Adam Dowell were down right off the bat. We had some help from Vans, Lamar, Allian and the Swiss board of tourism, but basically we all spent our own money. I am still paying off my credit card.
It's a bold move leaving the record-breaking snow year Jackson was having to go to a place you'd never been before.
I've ridden Jackson my whole life. I never turn down an opportunity to let my snowboard show me the world. That's the whole message of the movie. You show me a good-looking mountain and I'll show you someone who's sick of riding it.
Not really, but...
And what happened when you actually got there?
The haters were right. It kinda sucked -- sucked if you consider getting shown around by Nicolas Müller on his home mountain on a bluebird day, and seeing The Hoff live in concert sucking.
But everyone on the trip is an optimist. So we kept our spirits high and ended up riding the deepest snow I've ever seen.
What are some things about Switzerland that you found interesting?
I love Europe. I've been going there almost every year since 1997. But each country is a little unique. People in Switzerland are happy. Their government takes care of them. It's expensive, but it's a high quality of life. They are also ten years ahead of the States as far as visible sustainability: green for the sake of being intelligent.
I know you made up your own language while you were there. Can you give an example of a term that is wholly incorrect and probably offensive?
I think Dowell and Wastell started that language. It's basically English with German words on the end of sentences that we don't know the meaning of.
Any surprises along the way?
Some of the coolest people I've ever met. We made good friends for life on that trip. We also found out that Swiss people can party, and that the rumor that The Hoff is a big deal in Europe was not a lie.
Bluebird is known for making movies with something to say. Does alpenHOFF have a message?
Use your snowboard as a vehicle to see the world, and never listen to the haters. Grab some friends and get off your block. Just don't come to Jackson. All we need is more people here. And maybe some more cars.
Another Jackson-based production company is putting out a movie this year as well. Something called "The Art of Flight"? We you worried that you might make the same movie on accident?
Travis and Curt specialize in the unattainable. We just film our friends having fun on snowboards.
Can you explain why snowboarding is more than just dangerous tricks and disturbing fashion sense?
Snowboarding has given me everything I have. I want to preserve the thing that gives me life, the true essence of a connection to everything. If you know what I'm talking about, we are on the same team. If not, you might just be one of the people trying to take something away from it.