Friday, August 23, 2019
Winter Wildlands Film Fest Goes Searching for Christmas Tree
“Searching for Christmas Tree” features a waterfall formed in part because of wind splashing the water. COURTESY PHOTO
Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Imagine trying to find a mysterious ice fall somewhere in the giant country of China.

University teacher He Chuan had thought the frozen water falls he’d climbed in Norway were the most beautiful in the world—until someone showed him a picture of the Christmas Tree ice fall. But no one could tell him where it was.

He Chuan’s journey to find and climb that frozen waterfall is chronicled in a 17-minute film called “Searching for Christmas Tree.” And it will be one of 10 short films shown Saturday night at the 14th annual Winter Wildlands Alliance Backcountry Film Festival.


The festival, hosted locally by the Nordic and Backcountry Skiers Alliance of Idaho, will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Sun Valley Opera House.

Doors open at 6 p.m. and proceeds benefit the Nordic and Backcountry Skier Alliance of Idaho and Winter Wildlands Alliance. Tickets are $15, available at The Elephant’s Perch and Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum, at the door or online at

“I’ve been impressed with the last couple years of backcountry genre films at this event,” said Bob Jonas, whose wife Sarah Michael is organizing Saturday’s event. “There is a tremendous breadth of films, showing the backcountry not only in this country but elsewhere. And, while some of the films are the falling-off-a-cliff type of skiing, there are personal stories told, as well.”

“Searching for Christmas Tree,” for instance, follows He Chuan as he travels gorgeous but treacherous winding snow-covered roads hanging above cliffs to lands of strange formations and even stranger ice falls in search of his Christmas Tree.

Finally, he finds it in northern China, only to find it has collapsed in the wake of a warm winter. But he has faith that his Christmas Tree will grow again. And he returns to climb it, the challenges of making his way up cauliflower ice and icicles reminding him how wonderful his ordinary life is.

Closer to home “Ski the Wild West” follows a young man bent on skiing the highest peaks in the American West.

The film sports the vastness of wilderness areas such as California’s Mt. Whitney, Utah’s King’s Peak, Washington’s Mount Rainier, Oregon’s Mt. Hood, Wyoming’s Gannett Peak, Montana’s Granite Peak, and Idaho’s Mt. Borah, with its razor sharped climb.

It’s a breeze until—gulp—a rock comes crashing down. Then what?

Here’s a list of the films:

  • “Ode to Muir” pairs professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones, founder of Protect Our Winters, with two-time Olympian Elena Hight as they embark on a nine-day 40-mile foot-powered expedition deep into California’s John Muir Wilderness. There they face the challenges of winter camping and grueling climbs up the Sierra’s biggest mountains while making aesthetic first descents and sharing perspectives about what it means to explore the great American wilderness.
  • “Abandoned, The Road West Traveled,” zeroes in on backcountry skiers exploring Colorado’s lost ski areas. They hope to find adventure amongst the ruins but instead discover the truth behind what made these areas close their doors for good.
  • “Blue,” made on location on Thompson Pass and Valdez Glacier Lake near Valdez, Alaska, sports spectacular settings during the Chugach Fat Bike Bash as it takes a fantastical journey into the imagination of a 4-year-old fresh off training wheels.
  • “I Am Here” chronicles a young Latinx’s journey to climb Mount St. Helens, while inspiring other Latinx outdoor enthusiasts. As a youngster I collected all these magazine pictures of people with backpacks, she said. But they were all white—they didn’t look like me.
  • “Surfer Dan” follows Maine’s Upper Peninsula legend who sports a beard of icicles as he surfs Lake Superior which, at 31,700 square miles is bigger than the state of Maine and is characterized by wicked winter winds and even icebergs.
  • “Searching for a Christmas Tree” features a university teacher looking to break free from a life of routine in China by climbing the Christmas Tree, a mysterious frozen waterfall that no one knows the whereabouts.
  • “Westward: Brennan Lagasse,” features a message by Winter Wildlands Alliance Ambassador Brennan Lagasse on the significance of the backcountry.
  • “Ski the Wild West” follows Drew Petersen’s attempt to ski the 11 highest peaks in the American West on one epic road trip.
  • “The Abbey” provides a spiritual view into a snowbird’s head as he waits for the season to start.
  • “The Backcountry Snowsports Initiative: Human-Powered” offers a peek into outdoor enthusiasts’ annual hut trip near Leadville, Colo., where they ski, cook and talk about winter recreation policy.

The Nordic and Backcountry Skiers Alliance was formed 20 years ago by local skiers who collaborated with the Sawtooth Snowmobile Club, the Forest Service and the Blaine County Recreation District to identify skier-only trails and snowmobile areas. The goal was to provide a quality recreation experience for both the human-powered groups and the machine-powered recreationalists, and it has proven its worth.

Winter Wildlands Alliance is a national nonprofit organization that promotes and preserves winter wildlands and human-powered snow sports on public lands. It partners with groups like the Nordic and Backcountry Skiers Alliance to raise funds to benefit local projects and programs that perpetuate access and stewardship of public lands.

This will be the last Winter Wildlands Alliance film festival that its executive director Mark Menlove presides over, said Michael. He was recently hired as state director of The Nature Conservancy.

“I think the world of him,” she added. “But we will welcome him as he works with the Nature Conservancy in our area from time to time.”


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