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Behind the Lens: What it’s Like Shooting a Segment in Old World Slovenia

Elyse Saugstad brings TGR's big mountain style to the Julian Alps. Nic Alegre photo.

For Teton Gravity Research's upcoming ski and snowboard film Far Out–presented by REI–we came up with a simple goal: Film segments in locations and in ways that few, if any, had ever accomplished before.

That goal took us to a remote mountaintop village in the Julian Alps on the Slovenian/Italian border, where a team consisting of Griffin Post, Elyse Saugstad, and Robin Van Gyn tore it up for just under three weeks as the Alps were pummeled with deep snow and bluebird days.

We caught up with TGR staff photographer Nic Alegre, to hear what it was like traveling back in time to shoot in the small village, how TGR used the mountaintop architecture of alpine refugios to film a semi-urban segment and what it was like witnessing two legends in the world of women's snowboarding and skiing–Robin Van Gyn and Elyse Saugstad–push each other.

Here's what he had to say.

TGR: So how long were you out in Slovenia for?

Nic Alegre: We were onset shooting in Slovenia and Italy for two-and-a-half weeks. 

And what were conditions like?

NA: It was up-and-down. We had bluebird and greybird days. That said, overall, the conditions were great.

We didn't really have any days where we were skunked. We were in the field most days just scratching to put stuff together, working to capture that old world essence of the Julian Alps, you know, just shooting all the castles and architecture.

The scenery in Slovenia is just a tad different than at your local ski hill. Nic Alegre photo.

We got pretty lucky with our timing. The place we were shooting hasn't had that good of snow in five years.

What was the scene like where you guys were shooting?

NA: It was interesting, because not that many people out there like to ski the big mountain terrain we like to. So we got really lucky where we had this canvas where we were the only ones on it.

Griffin Post brings his style to the Julian Alps. Nic Alegre photo.

We'd go on these foot-powered strike missions into the alpine, with Robin, Elyse and Griffin and be completely alone. It was rad.

You were saying Griffin left the shoot about halfway through. What was it like being on a shoot with just Elyse and RVG?

NA: It was sick, we were all really fired up to have an entire production crew just focusing on shooting them. Having a smaller crew allowed us to really incorporate some unique stuff in our shooting.

Like what?

NA: Well we were hitting some pretty cool pillow lines and stuff like that, but I think the coolest aspect of having that mountaintop village was being able to build around that.

So we were setting up jumps off of houses–Robin actually landed her first-ever double backflip off a hut out here. It was sick.

How did the locals react when they saw you launching backflips off their houses?

NA: They were stoked. I mean, it’s really epic being out there man. The locals were always fired up, and we'd always have peanut galleries for what we were doing because they weren't at all used to what we were doing.

Hope you don't mind if we borrow your roof: Robin Van Gyn gets creative with the local architecture. Nic Alegre photo.

It was just a lot of good vibes–the locals were handing us t-shirts and just were happy to see we were enjoying it all out there.There were all these mountaintop refugios up there, and one night there was this guy playing accordion and doing a jig inside a refugio restaurant and we all got super into it. There was tons of grappa flowing, it was a party. 

And then some of the days we would wake up in the refugios after a long night and everything outside would just be caked in snow from the storms we were hitting. It was great.

Back to the topic of shooting RVG and Elyse–was this your first time shooting an all-female segment? Was it unique or did it feel different in any way from a typical shoot?

NA: No, I've been on trips when it's only Angel (Collinson) and Elyse, so it wasn't new. That said, it was really cool to see two female pros at the top of their game pushing themselves and a top female snowboarder really trying to progress–Robin was great, she was fired up every single day.

Griffin Post might have left the trip early, but he made sure to make an impact while on the trip. Nic Alegre photo.

There wasn't anything different about this shoot from a typical shoot–these are two expert-level female professional athletes. At the level everyone is at it’s a professional thing. It wasn't like the shoot was lacking any sort of leadership because Robin and Elyse are leaders themselves, and our crew had no problem with getting onboard with that and getting behind them.

And having just two athletes to focus on was kinda nice, because if Robin and Elyse wanted to split they could, and each would have their own filmer. That let us knock out certain zones quicker if we wanted to split up.

What's it like working as a photographer and balancing the demands of shooting action and more culture-focused shots in a place like Slovenia?

NA: Well, action always takes priority. But, with the scenes we were in, with all this old architecture–it was incredibly easy to shoot lifestyle. And I like shooting lifestyle and portraits as much as anything else, and the whole crew was receptive of when we had to get the more artistic shots.

Nick Koldenhoven plays a quick game of follow the leader with Robin Van Gyn. Nic Alegre photo.

Having Nick Koldenhoven there with us to shoot behind-the-scenes stuff really made life easy for me–I could just focus on stills and not worry about much else–but when we did decide to strike out for artistic shots, Robin and Elyse were great. They were fired up. And they're both shredders, so we were always able to mix it up and come away with something great.

What was the biggest challenge of the shoot?

NA: It's a challenge being out in Europe because you have all this luggage you're moving around–you know we stayed in this refugio atop a mountain but we had two cars filled to the brim with gear the whole time and we were always lugging it around.

TGR cinematographer Austin Hopkins stays dry during an Alps storm with a little help from Black Diamond. Nic Alegre photo.

Beyond that, the biggest challenge is managing the storm days, and staying safe. 

Shooting wise, the wet days are tough, because you need to find a way to stay dry or else you can't work. We'd typically go into the trees and shoot pillows on those days, but even with that it's impossible to be completely dry: That's actually how the LCD screen on my camera broke. But I can't complain–we got a lot of snow, that's what you want.

What about the challenges of managing lighting when you're on a glacier and the light is really pounding on you?

NA: That's not tough. You just underexpose everything. But I've been shooting on snow so long, that's second nature where I know how to shoot given whatever time of day it is. The bigger issue was staying dry.

You mention staying safe–When you're out in field, how is the call made to back off a line if it looks sketchy?

NA: Honestly, it just happens naturally. With the crew we had everyone is really dialed on safety, and nobody takes it lightly. We all have radios and enough training where everyone is trustworthy.

RELATED: Check out the Black Diamond gear that kept our production team dry during heavy Slovenian storms

Being out there it's like being in the backcountry by yourself. Once you're out-of-bounds you're completely alone, so we had to be careful. There were times, with all the snow we got, when it was like, "This seems sketchy, let's back off." And if there were any warning signs–you know, if it was warming really quickly–we'd call it off.

Dutch Simpson weighs the pros and cons of a big mountain line high in the Julian Alps. Nic Alegre photo.

There were some avy prone areas we just stayed away from in heavy days, other times we'd dig a pit and do compression tests. We just were always on top of it, and when you've done it enough you get this sixth sense if things aren't right.

Best shot of the trip?

NA: Honestly, there was this one of Elyse that was able to incorporate the village in this environment with great skiing–I don't want to give it away now but we all just knew it was a banger the moment it happened, and you'll see it in the film.

TGR's 2018 Ski & Snowboard Film is brought to you by REI.

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