Elyse Saugstad on Filming With Helicopters - Ski Mag

Elyse Saugstad on Filming With Helicopters

Apparently, a trip to Alaska isn't all sunshine, lollipops, and heli drops. Elyse Saugstad and a new movie explain.

The dream: heli-skiing in Alaska. The reality: sitting around playing video games, drinking beer, and waiting for the storm to clear so choppers can fly. A new ski documentary called Down Days, by Rage Films and available now on DVD, explores this reality, following a group of pro skiers in Haines, Alaska. We spoke to big-mountain skier Elyse Saugstad, the 2008 winner of the Freeride World Tour, who’s featured in the film, about beer bellies, target shooting, and the heli addiction.

You’re from Girdwood, Alaska. So you must have grown up heli-skiing.
Not at all. I went heli-skiing for my first time last April. I took a puddle jumper into Haines, skied one run that same day, then the clouds milked up and I sat for the next two and a half weeks.

So when you can’t ski, what do you do?
We shoot each other with BB guns. Have firework wars. Go snowmobiling. Play tennis and baseball on Nintendo Wii. We watch a lot of movies—ski-porn, horror flicks, you name it. You do everything you can to take your mind off the fact that you’re not skiing. There’s a lot of drinking going on. You can get what’s called the “heli belly.” There’s a bar in Haines, the Pioneer Bar, and everyone’s there on a down day.

Were you staying in some crappy motel?
No, we rented a house. It had this creepy basement and attic and was rumored to be haunted. It used to be an Army house back in the day, and there was some story about a woman dying there. Some people heard doors close on their own and lights in the basement would turn on and nobody would be downstairs.

Was it weird having the camera on you all the time?
I had no idea they were making a documentary. I assumed they were just shooting for a feature action film. But they were doing lots of interviews, so I think they had it in the back of their mind that they wanted to make Down Days. The way the film is set up, they follow the skiers and what’s going through their heads.

Then, after two and a half weeks, you finally got to ski?
I got the three best days of my life. You’re sitting around for weeks, then all of a sudden, you’re standing on top of a huge peak. You go from zero to 100. It’s nerve-racking and overwhelming. But now I’m addicted. I’m definitely going back this season.



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