WOODSRIDER originally began as an endeavor to portray a character I resonated with strongly, and yet hadn’t ever seen onscreen with the layered complexity that my own experience as a female snowboarder deserved.
Riding through tree-built cathedrals of mountain woods demands that a rider visualize her path, follow that line without flinching, and generate a new set of personal tracks in the snow. In this intimate space, she feels alone in the world, but also embraced. I wanted to see a female protagonist move through an outdoor journey, the kind where risk, self-reliance, laser focus and communion with nature all meet. Inspired by Western-set stories like INTO THE WILD and JEREMIAH JOHNSON, the idea of showing Sadie Ford’s experience as a woman in this environment felt fresh, rarely seen, and radical, much like the act of snowboarding itself feels.
In casting the film, I looked for a ‘typical’ snowboarder chick. I wanted someone young, highly proficient at snowboarding, deeply in love with the sport, and who lived on the mountain full-time. Once Sadie agreed to participate, the plan was to film alongside her, using her perspective to reflect the posturing, bravado, camaraderie, and devotion of the snowboarding culture at the height of the winter season. The film would be equally a celebration and a critique, highlighting Sadie’s inner experience and outer world.
But the weather, in late February and early March of 2014, did not pan out. Instead of snow, Mount Hood atypically received over two weeks of rain. Limited by our schedule, Sadie and the crew together decided to film anyway. We were in for some surprises.
Sadie was a combination of Natty Gan, Sissy Hankshaw, and Snow White. She slept alone under a tarp for weeks at a time through snow and rain. She used her mother’s 1970’s snowshoes to reach her campsite, and covered up her tracks so as not to be detected. She whistled and cursed, hitchhiked with friends, and fearlessly practiced her tricks. She constantly reached out to touch trees, picking off bits of moss and exploring their texture in her palm. When the snow showed up, she vanished into its jowls in a flash.
But far from the winter wonderland originally envisioned for the shoot, we witnessed a parade of grey, overcast skies and heard the perpetual sound of water, dripping and flowing everywhere. Boisterous folks like Sadie were often quiet, the resort town’s tourists disappeared, and the mountain subsided into snow melt and bare ground. An opportunity emerged for a level of reflection not entirely anticipated.
As it became clear that the film would not serve as a platform to showcase an idealized version of her snowboarding self, Sadie effortlessly moved into a deep understanding of the project’s larger thematic possibilities. She saw the value of showing herself in moments of stillness and vulnerability, and made frequent accommodations to be filmed while in these states. Her extensive collaboration with the camera while ‘performing’ the actions of her own life gives the feeling of watching a narrative film.
WOODSRIDER does not attempt to romanticize nature, nor the internal journey so often taken when we stay outside for a while. Like Sadie, the mountain setting has its flaws and imperfections, its yearnings and visions of glory. Regeneration and change are inevitable. This film is about taking the time to examine ourselves and grow.