Watch one of the recent ski films by such heavyweights as Teton Gravity Research, Matchstick Productions, or Warren Miller Entertainment, and you'll be blown away by any of these over-the-top sequences: Shane McConkey ski BASE-jumping off the 13,025-foot Eiger; athletes outrunning football-field-size avalanches; snowboarder Jeremy Jones dangling from a Tulsequah Heliskiing chopper in northwestern British Columbia. Naturally, the high-stakes stunts are the biggest crowd pleasers. But U.S.-based heli-ski operators (who walk the line between serving clients and putting insurance providers at ease) say that ski flicks paint a distorted picture of heli-skiing—and that's bad for business.
"When potential clients see this stuff on film, says Dean Cummings, owner of H20 Heli Guides in Valdez, Alaska, "they're either going to think they're entitled to it or be turned off. Cummings isn't alone in his concerns. Last fall, prior to the release of TGR's Soul Purpose, members of Heli-Ski US—a consortium of nine heli-ski operators—asked TGR to put Jeremy Jones' short-haul stunt into perspective for filmgoers. "I called Dirk (Collins, TGR's co-founder) and asked him to soften the footage with narration or something that would tell their viewers that it was strictly a stunt, says the organization's president, Joe Royer. "We know you have to respect the athletes' and filmmakers' creativity. But if it impacts anybody in any way, then it is an issue. TGR flashed a disclaimer at the beginning of the film, but the company freely admits that the warning wasn't much help. In their defense, TGR recently started an avalanche-awareness program, and shows mini avy-safety lessons on the Soul Purpose DVD. "We're not loose cannons, and we're not trying to put anyone out of business, says Collins. "But if a good opportunity comes up and we can do these scenes safely, we will.