Q&A: Rafael Pease
By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
GIRDWOOD, ALASKA – In a diversion from the quintessential hype ski movie, Teton Gravity Research will bring their film “Mountain Revelations” to screens across North America this fall. “Mountain Revelations” features professional snowboarders Rafael Pease, Jeremy Jones and Ryan Hudson on a 10-day human powered expedition in the Chugach Mountains of Alaska. The film examines the role the athletes’ varied backgrounds has played in leading them to lives in the mountains. “Mountain Revelations,” sponsored by Bozeman-based Spark R&D and Sierra Nevada, will screen at the Emerson Center for the Arts in Bozeman on Oct. 28.
Explore Big Sky sat down with Pease to talk about the expedition, the film and the concepts it presents. Pease split his upbringing between Chile and the U.S. and didn’t start snowboarding until he was 17. Now at age 27, he’s a professional snowboarder, filmmaker and activist based in Chile and Alaska.
The following responses have been edited for brevity.
Explore Big Sky: “Mountain Revelations” is largely focused on your background as well as Ryan and Jeremy’s. Can you tell me a little bit about your upbringing and your roots and how you found a life in the mountains?
Rafael Pease: My upbringings weren’t really in the mountains whatsoever. Growing up in Chile, you see them every day, they’re there. But culturally, in Chile, the mountains aren’t really a place where people go to recreate. Unfortunately, it’s been something that’s been seen more as a corporate resource extraction site. So they’ve been kind of closed off to the people by the government. So I always saw them as something that’s there, you know like a border kind of wall in a way. But as I got older, my mom introduced me to snowboarding… I hated snowboarding at first. It was cold, it was hard, there’s snow going into your pants and there’s nothing fun about that, even at this point. But I played team sports, almost my entire childhood and there’s something liberating about doing something that is somewhat of a sport, but more of an outdoor activity …It’s been about nine years now, and [I’ve been] pretty much dedicated to the mountains since then. It’s been a big life change and I’m pretty happy with it because it’s more natural and a connected to nature kind of lifestyle.
EBS: The film also follows you three on a 10-day trip in the Chugach Mountains. Can you tell us a little bit more about the structure of that trip and what that looked like for you guys?
R.P.: Our trip into the Chugach was pretty late in the year … pretty much dead summertime. And you’re kind of limited to where you can go and what you can do. So obviously TGR is a ski and snowboard predominant production company so we had to go find some snow. With Jeremy’s expertise of going to Alaska for the last 30 years, longer than I’ve been alive, he was like, “Let’s go to the Chugach” and I was like, “I don’t even know what that is, but I’m down for whatever.” So they just ended up picking a zone where there’s a ton of glaciers, so you have a kind of different micro environment due to how cold the glaciers keep the area…I’d never met Ryan or Jeremy until this trip [and hadn’t been] to Alaska until this trip. So all of this was very new to me–not the film side, I’ve produced a bunch of films and participated in a lot before and have been on dozens of expeditions, but it was very new, going out with a crew I’ve never even hung out with off of the mountains… So there’s always some anxiety going to these things because you’re worried about if everyone’s going to get along, or if everything’s going to go well. It was a great trip and I’m excited to see the film of what came out of all of this.
EBS: Sometimes in addition to that anxiety that we can experience in the mountains, especially on extended trips, there can be a certain vulnerability or a bond that’s created with people or partners on expeditions like that, even when they’re new to you. Is that something that you experienced?
R.P.: You’ll definitely see that Jeremy, myself and Ryan have extremely different personalities … I’d say I’m a pretty blunt, honest, direct person. I’m so used to being in the mountains all the time that I didn’t really feel vulnerable at all really in the situation. It was a very comfortable trip. It was summer weather, the sun never went down, there was not really freezing temperatures. But I’d say there was definitely a point of friendship that grew out of this film, where, you know, we all learned about each other’s different perspectives, which I think is conveyed properly in the film.
EBS: What are some examples of some of those perspectives?
R.P.: [You have] Jeremy, being someone who has been snowboarding for the last 42 years, from an upper-middle class family, and you have Ryan, who comes from a very different background, being a Black man in the U.S., having struggles as a child in California, and then me who, I’m a Hispanic person who doesn’t really have any affiliation with the U.S., …I don’t really have any family that was born in this country, and neither was I. So we have such different ways of viewing situations. Ryan grew up facing racism in this country, and I moved into this country where then I started facing those obstacles. Whereas growing up in South America and Chile, you kind of learn to see things as brown people aren’t a minority, it’s the majority, it’s everywhere. And you start seeing different issues like gender equality, or certain things like that’s in the country’s culture, issues with the environment. I guess my approach into the film wasn’t much of a diversity and equality and inclusivity one, it was more of an environmental approach where you know, we need to kind of start looking at those problems more seriously, because they go side by side with gender equality and human rights. I kind of in a way have had that as a priority, whereas Ryan had his as more of a racial integration one and how there’s not enough Black snowboarders in the outdoor industry…And Jeremy is kind of the perspective of being a white, older male snowboarder, whereas snowboarding is pretty much like 90 percent white men. It’s just, very different looks at snowboarding and what it is, and people’s interaction with environment. There’s definitely points of disagreement but it’s not because one or the other was wrong, it was just from completely different approaches to what we have experienced.
EBS: What you’re getting at here is sort of what pulls “Mountain Revelations” away from a lot of other ski movies that are really designed at the beginning of the season to get us hyped and to get us stoked to get out when the snow starts to fall, whereas this film has a little bit stronger narrative and angle. How was that to be a part of a film that sort of stands on its own in that way?
R.P.: It’s nothing that’s uncommon for me. I participate in a lot of other films and have created a few that don’t even care about the snowboarding shots. There’s no dubstep and triple backflips kind of action, it’s more so about the cultural aspects, as well as the conservation of people’s rights and the environment. So it’s kind of refreshing to see a big production company in the U.S. after making 40-plus films, say ‘Hey, let’s have the first brown and Black person in the film,’ because … it’s a good look and because it’s about time it’s done. So I think it’s good…We didn’t get the best snow conditions due to the time of the year, but it’s also just … something they say it’s like soul shredding, where we’re just doing it because we love it.
EBS: What’s something that you hope the audience will take away from this film?
R.P.: I hope people go watch the film for the action that might be semi-close minded and be like, “Wow, this is kind of about something else than snowboarding.” And I hope that crowd just puts their bigotry aside, and their fear of inclusivity in this country aside, and just lives their life as normally but without being so close minded. I just hope people view it and they’re like, “Cool, this is normal. There’s nothing here to talk about, it’s just what it is.” I do think we shouldn’t make a big deal about diversity when it comes to racial diversity because just existing as someone who is a minority in a certain space shouldn’t be something to celebrate, because it’s normal.
EBS: In addition to being an athlete, you’re also a filmmaker. Are films and media like this a good tool to normalize that space?
R.P.: I have a production company and there’s about 11 of us who work there. I’d say the minorities are white men, because it’s a majority of women and Hispanic men. So I think at the end of the day, it starts from the roots up. It’s who is creating these things, it’s not who [they’re] creating it for … because if it’s a lot of white people creating something for minority groups, then it might be good intentions. But where’s the change? The change usually starts in the house. So I think films are a great way to visibilize [sic] what is going on in society. But that’s only one step. It’s going further and employing people of these talents to do certain things…Just because it’s more perspectives, and at the end of the day, and whatever you’re creating ends up being that much more powerful.
EBS: Are there any stories or moments from the film that were really stand-out to you, anything that people should be especially excited about?
R.P.: I know Jeremy has had a lot of experience doing [mountain expeditions] for the most of his career, and my entire professional snowboarding career has been exclusively to big mountain expeditions. So I feel way more comfortable going into the mountains… Obviously we’re kind of glamping because it’s a TGR production. But the reality of going into the mountains and camping and carrying all this weight and all that isn’t that easy. In the film, you could clearly see that Ryan struggled a lot with that because he might not have that much experience in comparison to Jeremy and myself…I think it’s really cool that it kind of brings it down to the normal viewer where they don’t get to go on 10 expeditions a year. So I think it’s very down to earth film in that perspective.