Technical ice axes. Twelve-point steel crampons. The first thought that came to James Heim as he read the to-bring gear list for a Matchstick Productions film trip in June to Peru's Cordillera Blanca: "This is not something I should be doing."
While no stranger to big mountains, Heim's style as a skier has always been centered around fast descents on British Columbia's skyscraper peaks. So skiing 20,000-foot glaciated mountains in Peru -- including a mission to ski the never-before-skied Alpamayo and the not-often-skied Quitaraju -- was a new challenge for Heim.
Matchstick Productions won't be releasing their annual ski movie this fall as they have for the past 20 years; instead they've elected to produce a two-year project and release their next movie, called "Days of my Youth," in the fall of 2014. This elongated production timeline is the reason why Heim and the MSP crew decided to head down to Peru this summer in search of something different.
"Having more time to develop the creative will allow MSP to make a film not only with next-level cinematography and skiing but next-level creative as well," says MSP's Executive Producer Murray Wais.
With this new project, new timeframe and the desire to expand his own horizons as a skier, Heim chose to step out of his comfort zone and make the trip south.
Upon arriving in Lima, Peru, in late June and making the eight-hour drive to the town of Huaraz, the team assembled under the first glimpses of the Cordillera Blanca at their first acclimatizing altitude of 10,000 feet.
The team included internationally acclaimed ice climber and professional freeskier Sam Anthamatten, international mountain guide Adrian Ballinger, backcountry cinematographer Canyon Florey and MSP filmers Scott Gaffney and Jason Ebelheiser.
After a few days of slow paced, un-weighted approach hikes, the team arrived at their base camp situated at 14,000 feet under the shadow of the towering, ice capped peaks of the Peruvian Andes. While acclimatizing with a mix of day hikes up and nights sleeping down, Heim and Anthamatten warmed up by skiing glacial tongues and spinning 360s off of natural glacier kickers. Staring up at the unskied Alpamayo, the cascading spines streaked down the face and reminded them of Alaska and British Columbia. But after gathering information, assessing their own skills and analyzing the snowpack, Quitaraju seemed like the best option for the team's success.
On summit day, the crew ascended Quitaraju in the dark of night through a mix of loose, sugary snow barely clinging to a wall of 55-degree ice. One cameraman was already down due to altitude sickness. They summited the peak and stared down at a steep face that looked like it'd been hit with a dump truck of water, then instantly frozen.
They carefully roped in and began rappelling on their skis in search of skiable snow. Anthamatten was soon off the rope.
"He was barely skitching along on the ice pulling himself inch by inch by his axes," Heim said.
A full rig of anchors gone and 10 hours later, the crew made it down safely.
"It was quite satisfying actually," said Heim about the descent. "We were all high-fiving and really happy to have made it down."
Heim's evolution as a skier is part of the theme of the upcoming MSP movie, "Days of my Youth."
"Mountaineering is one of the elements that make skiing so cool," says cinematographer Gaffney. "Skiing is a sport with the most diversity in the world and we want to capture each end of that spectrum."