Heavy on the gnarly 

Lukas Huffman explores the many faces of snowboarding

When professional snowboarder and budding filmmaker Lukas Huffman comes to the Flathead Valley on Friday, Nov. 17, he won’t be hawking the standard snowporn. Instead, Huffman is promoting a more introspective version of the gratuitous highlight reels and stunt-filled music videos that typically populate the genre. His coffee-table book and DVD, collectively titled ir77, are packaged together and serve as cautionary tales almost as much as show-offy celebrations of the sport.

“It was pretty necessary to explore some of the other areas of snowboarding,” says Huffman, a veteran pro snowboarder sponsored by Nitro and DAKINE. “That’s been my life for the last 10 years. It was, like, mandatory for me [to talk about all aspects of the lifestyle].”

Rather than featuring glossy images of boarders hucking backside 1080s off cliffs or sliding multi-kinked rails, the book is filled with journal entries, poetry, artwork and portraits of people involved with professional snowboarding. The latter may sometimes show the subjects strapped to a snowboard, but only on a few pages are they actually performing the extreme stunts they’re known for.

“What you see in the snowboarding movies and books is just the money shot,” says Andrew Crawford, a professional snowboarder from Bigfork who is represented in the project. “[Huffman] broke the formula.”

From the onset, Huffman was interested in exploring both positive and negative aspects of snowboarding. The title of the book is a hint: ir77 is the periodic table designation for iridium, an element that, Huffman points out, is strangely beautiful with its silvery shine, but, in its radioactivity, much more complicated than it looks.

Huffman sectioned ir77 according to five themes—“Anticipation,” “Dedication,” “Stories,” “Pain” and “Exhilaration”—and asked colleagues to provide personal materials that would speak to each topic. The results surprised him.

“Actually,” he says, “[the negative material] turned out to be some of the most interesting stuff.”

And most of the downside material comes through in “Dedication” and “Pain.” One spread in the “Dedication” section includes four handwritten pages taken directly from Crawford’s personal journal.

“When we started snowmobiling,” Crawford writes in his scratchy penmanship, “my knee felt surprisingly good, and it lifted my spirits. We went straight to the jump I broke my tailbone on, and I was really nervous…I strapped in, took some deep breaths and dropped in. I got bucked in the air and started falling face first off a 60-foot jump. I landed on my head, neck, shoulders…I started to get pissed, but I told myself I had to redeem [my old knee] injury before my back seized up.”

Crawford goes on to try the jump again, and land it.

Crawford’s journal entry specifically calls attention to two of the more frustrating aspects of pro snowboarding: that pros often wreck many times before getting the shot you see on film, and that all of those failed efforts have consequences. Taking spills is part of the game, sure, but both Huffman and Crawford say that as the sport has progressed, the wrecks have become more dangerous. Boarders used to consider the possibility of maybe breaking a leg on a shoot, Crawford says, but now, “It’s like, ‘Am I going to be able to live through this?’”

Hence an entire section of the book is dedicated to pain. On one page a snowboarder describes having his hip shattered against a rock. “[W]hat I’m sitting on feels more like a bowl of crunchy cereal than what used to be my solid pelvis,” he writes. Across the next two pages is a photo of a young man’s lower back and butt, mostly covered by a huge, inky bruise. But perhaps the best illustration of pain comes in a few short sentences Huffman had embroidered on a pair of snowboarding pants: “This body could not take any more abuse. As I lay there in the snow I cried behind my goggles. I had nothing more to give,” it reads, in part.

Of course the pro snowboarding life wasn’t all bad for Huffman, and he does allocate space to show non-negative aspects of the sport not immediately apparent in magazines or films. In fact the “Stories” section seems, at first glance, to have little to do with snowboarding at all. There’s a page reproducing beautiful oil portraits by former pro snowboarder Michael Scott, a story of a young man on a road trip whose friend gets stabbed, and more artwork that shows no sign of snowboards.

“There are some pretty big thinkers in snowboarding, regardless of what you might think,” Huffman says. “The people that do it are often times far-out, real strong in character…Sometimes crazy shit happens while your boots are dryin’.”

The closest the book comes to “snowporn” is the “Exhilaration” section. Huffman starts it with a few evocative definitions—“The last gasp before orgasm,” for example—followed by several shots of boarders at their peak, in their payoff moments. But ir77 doesn’t end there. The last page says, “When the pages of this book could go no further, we made a movie.”

“‘Exhilaration’ is hard to do in 2-D,” Huffman says. And so the ir77 DVD (parts of which were filmed on Whitefish’s Big Mountain) tucked into the book’s back cover delivers the money shots: clip after clip of Huffman, Crawford and other pros risking it all for a fantastic few seconds.

As in most snowboard films, the tricks are way beyond what most riders would normally try, or even see, on an average day on the slopes. But having read the book first, it’s easier to appreciate that those are real people on the screen, inhabiting real (breakable) bodies, and living real lives.

Huffman brings ir77 to the Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish on Friday, Nov. 17, at 8 PM. There will be a book signing and a showing of the film. Eightrack Mind will also perform. Visit thevalleyhost.com for more info.

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