The Art of Snowboard Porn with Standard Film’s Mike Hatchett

By Seth Lightcap

Danny Kass in the pipe at Aspen. Photxo by Matt Powers

Whether you’re a skier or snowboarder, this time of year your dreams are surely filled with but one thing … powder.

Whether boot top, hip deep, or snorkel deep, floating through untracked powder snow is a sublime experience. One of nature’s most ephemeral gifts, powder rewards both ego and soul. It is no wonder that the delights of powder are likened to vices like champagne and cocaine. Slashing fresh tracks on your skis or board is an addictive natural high that leaves you wanting more.

But alas, frolicking in powder snow is not an everyday reality. There are typically only a couple dozen powder days each winter, and competition for fresh tracks both in-bounds and out can be ferocious. Sad but true, powder is a tough score despite your desires.

While not nearly as exhilarating as a chilly face shot, a good ski movie has been known to calm powdery fixations if there is no fresh snow in sight. It may only be virtual reality, but a steep-and-deep shred flick can be a welcome distraction when longing and anticipation are all you got. When it’s November and the hills are still brown, riding powder from the comfy confines of your couch can be soothing relief.

Lake Tahoe has always figured prominently in ski flicks because of the incredible terrain, bluebird days, and steady influx of top talent. One of the most prominent film production companies based in Tahoe is Standard Films. Founded in 1991 by brothers Mike and Dave Hatchett, Standard has produced 17 feature snowboard films.

Known for their impeccable footage and an emphasis on filming progressive backcountry freestyle, Standard’s productions capture some of the most technical and breathtaking snowboarding ever filmed. Their first 10 films, the “Totally Board” series, are legendary documentaries of the sport.

ASJ recently caught up with Standard’s founder, Mike Hatchett, to learn more about his winning production formula, and Standard’s new release, “Catch The Vapors.”

ASJ: What inspired you to start filming snowboarding?

Mike: Greg Stumps film “Blizzard Of Ahhhhs” and my brother Dave.

ASJ: When you first started filming in the 1990s, what action or terrain features were you looking for?

Mike: We were mainly looking for short steep lines around the Donner Summit area. Back then the filming was less planned out. We just filmed whatever looked like fun.

ASJ: What cameras/hardware/software did you use to edit and produce the first few “Totally Board” movies?

Mike: Camera-wise it was the Ari-S 16mm. Sometimes we would use a Hi-8 video camera to capture lifestyle moments. Non-linear editing had just come into use. The software was Media 100 on a MAC computer. This technology was very new and nothing like what we have today.

ASJ: The “Totally Board” film series introduced the “standards” of Standard films – exposed big mountain freestyle, lots of natural features, an emphasis on big moves on big terrain. How did this style develop?

Mike: When my brother Dave and I teamed up with Mack Dawg in 1992 we had a game plan. Mack Dawg filmed most of the freestyle and terrain park riding, and we filmed the big mountain riding. We have always had a huge passion for riding powder so filming snowboarding in the backcountry was really the only thing we wanted to do. After TB4, Mack Dawg wanted to film freestyle only, so we parted ways. After that it seemed like we got even more into the big mountain filming and riding. Alaska was just getting put on the map and when we met Doug Coombs it was on. Doug was one of the main factors to our success in Alaska.

ASJ: The TB series showcased some of the proudest Alaska lines ever filmed. Did you go out every year trying to out do the last year’s epics?

Mike: We always wanted to step it up if the riders and the avalanche conditions permitted. But at one point we realized the riders had hit some very steep spines and ridden some very exposed lines. We knew getting too much closer to the edge might not be smart. I feel like our film TB5 had some of the best stuff. The conditions were just epic that year. We had this amazing session in late spring–almost everyone had left Valdez. It snowed for a week then cleared. We had the entire range to ourselves. Noah did Super Spines. Rippey did the Sphinx. After Rippey hit the Sphinx, we put the cameras down and rode it for fun.

ASJ: Everybody wants to see fresh terrain. How do you scout and select new areas?

Mike: We just look around, use maps, and do our homework. It’s easier in a helicopter because you can just say, “Fly me towards that epic looking peak.” On a snowmobile it takes longer and the route finding can be tricky. Each year we have to go deeper and further away from the main areas to find new stuff and escape the crowds.

ASJ: What makes Tahoe a premier filming location?

Mike: The weather, the ease of getting into epic locations, and the maritime snowpack. I like the wet snow. It sticks to the steep faces and rocks better than places like Colorado. Tahoe has great steep short runs that are perfect for filming. Overall the avalanche conditions are easier to predict in Tahoe than any other interior snowpack. You still have to be careful and know what you are doing though. Anything can happen.

ASJ: You must have some secret Tahoe filming spots?

Mike: Yes, we do have a handful of secret spots. For the lesser known spots, I always make the riders and any photographers swear to never tell other people about the spot. If someone gives a secret spot up, they are out of our crew forever.

ASJ: How do you select riders to work with? What role do the sponsors play?

Mike: It’s mostly word of mouth and recommendations from sponsors. The sponsors play a huge role since they are helping to pay for the production of the film. We are always keeping an eye out for new talent. The riders that we film have to be highly skilled, hard working, professional, and overall, a cool person.

ASJ: What do you look for in a rider’s body demeanor in the air?

Mike: Style is a major factor. A rider needs to hold their grabs for a long time and they need to not be flapping their arms around. Quiet body language in the air is essential.

ASJ: What Standard rider has been the most influential to the style and technical progression of snowboarding?

Mike: It is difficult to mention just one rider. I would like to list 20 riders. But Johan Olofsson is one of the best riders I have ever filmed. The way he mixes big mountain into freestyle is just amazing.

ASJ: Viewers have come to expect that the intensity of the action will increase each year. How do you ensure that you meet that demand for the latest and greatest footage each season?

Mike: Snowboarding has progressed to a very high level. We always try and film that progression. But as far as going big and actually landing a trick, it’s going to be difficult to go too much bigger and still land. I want to stay cutting edge, but I also want my riders to come home at the end of the day. We have been trying to get more creative on the filming aspect, as well as having the riders pick more creative lines and do cool jib stuff.

ASJ: What is Standard’s recipe for balancing action with drama?

Mike: It’s 80-90% snowboarding and 10-20% lifestyle/storyline filler. We like to let the snowboarding speak for itself. We also produce a snowboard show on Fuel TV, and that has a lot more storyline in it.

ASJ: How do you film new perspectives on the same old tabletop jump or rail?

Mike: That’s an ongoing quest. There are already a lot of amazing shots out there. Creating new filming angles using zip lines, helicopters, point-of–view and follow cams are some of the latest techniques.

ASJ: What riders and locations can we look forward to in “Catch The Vapors?”

Mike: My favorite location from “Catch The Vapors” is Terrace, BC. Mark Landvik, Danny Kass, John Jackson, Jeremy Jones, and Chas Guldemond all have amazing sections.

ASJ: What type of cameras and editing hardware/software do you currently use?

Mike: We still use the Ari-S 16mm film camera. We are starting to use the Panasonic HVX-200 video camera. We edit on a MAC with Final Cut Pro.

ASJ: What is the hardest part about editing and producing a new movie?

Mike: Some of the hardest parts about editing are the long hours and dealing with computer malfunctions. Also, trying to stay fresh with ideas. As far as producing a film, getting all sponsors and riders organized each year is a lot of work. But overall the most difficult task is staying on the pulse of finding the good powder and being there to film it.

ASJ: How would you describe your relationship with snowboarding?

Mike: Professionally it’s a great thing for me. I feel privileged to be able to make a living off of snowboarding. The main reason I make snowboarding films is so I can ride as much as possible and live the lifestyle. I especially like riding with friends at Squaw Valley. KT-22 is the single best chairlift in the world on a powder day, hands down!