Into the White

Sam Giffin’s snowboarding career was going from strength to strength – conquering the mountains day by day and producing ski films which were becoming more and more highly regarded. But the day he got caught in an avalanche was the day it all came tumbling down. The experience changed the path of his career. Was it really worth risking so much, for those few moments of glory and the “perfect shot”? We spoke to Sam to hear more about his story “Into the White” and how he’s changed his mentality towards the skiing industry.

I would say I’ve always had a hesitation for mountain adventures.  Growing up in the mountains, I am comfortable among them. However, the desire to seek more danger and exposure has not really been my cup of tea.  I’ve always blamed myself for being scared, or not tough enough but when I did get in the slide it kinda proved something I had already presumed: that in some cases, it’s NOT worth it.

I started skiing at age 3 and switched to snowboarding at 13.  It was my oldest brother’s idea.  He said, “Sam, I’m on Telemarks, Zack’s on skis, so you should snowboard!  Being a skateboarder, I was like “OK”. After a while of this, I got into photography too and the two kind of went hand in hand. It was great. Getting those shots of your friends hucking themselves of mountains that no one should really be on was the coolest thing and my brothers and I got totally addicted. You freeze your fingers, pray your friends get down safe, and try not to ruin your camera gear.  If all works out, you get to watch the footage with beers and enjoy some of the best moments of your life!

We always skied with cameras in mind.  Even when we weren’t filming, we’d be looking for the next great shot and I think that’s where it started to go a bit wrong for me.

I was unlucky when I got caught in the avalanche – but I’m pretty sure everyone would say that. If you’re skiing the stuff we were, slides are always going to be a big risk. When the slide went off I got completely tumbled over. I couldn’t move.  The air was becoming warm and I could feel the oxygen to my brain decreasing.  It made me sleepy.  My board was barely sticking out of the snow but luckily my brothers and friends could see me.  They got me in about three minutes and at that point I knew I was going to be safe.

I wasn’t okay though. Because I tore my ACL, I had to take a break from snowboarding but this ended up being the best thing for me. It helped me contemplate what I was doing with my life and what I was willing to risk in the future.  Had I been able to go riding the next day, it would have been easier to sweep all of this under the rug – as I’ve seen others do. But the experience really changed me.

Was I prepared to risk so much for the perfect shot? And for the glory? Was it really worth it? I decided to take a step back from snowboarding, skiing and the mountain. Most people don’t understand why I take it so seriously but for me it’s about contributing to something dangerous.  Skiing and snowboarding is already dangerous.  And when someone pulls out the camera, generally people go bigger, try harder, and increase the risk.  I wanted to remove myself from this equation.  My family supports this, though they may not understand why it’s so important for me.  The reason is simple: I feel crazy, weak, and unhappy when I’m filming people I love risk their lives.  The only power I have is to say “I won’t film it”.

After a while out of the industry, I started to get the itch again. I did really miss it, I just really didn’t want to encourage the behaviour. A production company approached me about producing some creative content about “The Power of Film” – it seemed like a good chance to get back into filming. We decided that focusing on skiing and snowboarding, and my personal story, would be a good way to showcase this concept and my film, Kodak Courage, was born.

I wanted the film to spark conversations—and it seems to be doing that well.  I’ve felt of wave of separate articles and posts looking specifically at the camera’s involvement in risk taking.  Examples such as Instagram fame are being pointed to in regard of their potential negative effects.  I believe our Kodak Courage series was a catalyst in starting this conversation, but that the ideas have been there all along.

I hope Kodak Courage has helped others with similar fears and anxieties to be empowered in their beliefs.  It’s also opened the eyes of the deniers – those who pretend that cameras don’t have a large influence. Everything is great until something goes wrong – and I just don’t think that that risk is something that should be glorified as it so often is. I love the mountains but they are dangerous, there’s no denying that. Internalise the memories. Don’t do it for the camera!

If you want to read more about Sam’s story and Kodak Courage, click here.

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