Winter sports action filming difficult in Steamboat’s dry winter |

Winter sports action filming difficult in Steamboat’s dry winter

Jonny Buschmann cuts through the snow on Buffalo Pass on Monday. The longtime Steamboat veteran said it was far from a great season for filming. Rather than hit some of the areas he had in mind for great clips, he and his friends worked more in trees and areas they'd ignored in deeper snow years.

Chris Rhodes flies off a cliff on Buffalo Pass. Rhodes, who released his first adventure action movie last summer, said that he didn't come across many clip-worthy days this season but that there were some.Jonny Buschmann flies high on Rabbit Ears Pass. He said this will be the first year he won't be involved in releasing a winter sports action movie.

— It depends on who you ask, but for Jonny Buschmann, it was a lost season.

It wasn't that there was no season, the 39-year-old Steamboat Springs backcountry enthusiast explained. A fixture in local adventure sports films made by Brian McCleary and Bent and Broken Productions, the snowmobiling Buschmann was on vacation in Hawaii when February's legendary 27-inch snow day struck Steamboat Springs.

"My phone was buzzing at 5 a.m. over there," he said. "It never was a season for me at all. It began when I was gone, and it was over when I got back."

When he was able to get out on that snow, things somehow got worse. Seizing on a big opportunity to film with a well-known moviemaker from Leadville, Buschmann took to Rabbit Ears Pass in early March only to hit a rock while landing a big jump with his snowmobile.

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It took a day to repair the damage, and the opportunity was lost.

Several other Steamboat Springs locals involved in making winter sports action films reported slightly better luck, but the overall message was the same: This was a rough season.

"For three or four years, we've made a movie every year," Buschmann said. "This will be the first year we haven't, unfortunately. It was never worthwhile. We never even broke the cameras out."

Making the most of it

A low-snow season and an unprecedented warm spring left Steamboat Ski Area crews scrambling just to stay open until the resort's planned closing day. The season had a profound impact on those who love to film their feats in the backcountry, too.

Chris Rhodes released his first film last year. That flick, "Still Snowing," was the object of years of focus.

"It took me five years," he said Thursday. "For me, it's more about the quality than the quantity. I have probably 1,200 clips for that movie and had to narrow it down to 250."

In those five years, he sought as many unique deep-powder shots as he could. Last season, he filmed through May, taking advantage of one of the region's longest, best winter sports seasons.

As soon as it was released, he began thinking about the sequel.

While it definitely worked out in his favor that he's not a movie-per-year kind of filmmaker, he said the season wasn't a total waste.

He missed several huge powder days taking care of his children but still found opportunities for some big-time fun.

"There were a handful of days this year that definitely won't be forgotten," he said.

It also made him learn to treasure those supreme days and unforgettable seasons.

"I've always ridden well into May. This year, the snowpack just didn't hold. Sure, we'll get a couple more rounds of snow, but as far as having any confidence in the snowpack, it's done," he said. "I'll probably just pack it up and wait for another winter.

"That's the thing about this last winter. You really have to seize the day."

Even if he's unwilling to ride the backcountry any more this year, plenty of chances remain to follow that advice. Rhodes said that his next film will be an all-seasons affair and that he has big plans to film Steamboat's other extreme activities.

Considering the chances

Buschmann said this winter also taught him a few unsolicited lessons.

Frustrated with the inability to fulfill the big plans, he and his friends were forced to re-evaluate terrain they've just motored past in deeper seasons.

"All we did this year was tree ride," he said. "We did lines this year we've never done in the past just for the fact that we've never had to. We had to seek out new areas to make it worthwhile going up so we didn't just ride the same old stuff over and over again."

Riding those trees is neither easy nor boring, he said, and it could become the focus of his future, thanks to another lesson he absorbed this season.

"As far as the filming has ever been concerned, I've been the guy that's always gone the biggest out of the group," he said. "I'll be 40 years old next month, and I have two kids. I should chill out. … The older I get, the more I have friends passing away, and it's kind of a little bit of a wake-up call. That can't happen to me."

A 20-year veteran of Steamboat Springs, he said he's not going anywhere. He said that he doesn't plan to give up riding, only the more dangerous jumps, and that maybe he'll focus more on doing the filming rather than being the guy filmed.

This may have been a lost season, but its impact could prove to be profound.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email

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