Podcast: Tanner Rainville of Breckenridge reflects on globe-trotting powder skiing that led to Powder Poll nomination
Watch Tanner's skiing in the full-length '121' ski film
FRISCO — It’d been a few years since Tanner Rainville of Breckenridge had skied Japan in January. He wasn’t going to let a torso injury, which he later found out was broken ribs, cut short his freeskiing escapades on the snow-saturated rolling hills and iconic birch trees of Japan’s north island of Hokkaido.
When watching Rainville’s buttery lines through the Hokkaido coastal powder featured in his latest ski film, “121,” you’d never know the 34-year-old Vermont native had gulped down Advil to curb the chest pain. The pain came while Rainville followed fellow Volkl pro skier Ahmet Dadali skiing a limb of one of those famous birch trees. Following Dadali, a layer of snow suddenly crumbled from a half-buried birch tree, throttling Rainville’s torso into the cold, hard wood.
“The snow was so good I couldn’t not ski,” Rainville said with a smile. “The last two days, it snowed for 48 hours straight — 4 feet of new snow.”
Even for a lifelong pro skier like Rainville — a guy who grew up on the slopestyle competition scene and has filmed with Matchstick and Level 1 Productions and Teton Gravity Research — returning to Japan was a special experience. He’d first been there the year he moved to Breckenridge, in 2007, as a bright-eyed, 22-year-old pro.
He remembered the one-of-a-kind feel of Hokkaido’s bottomless pow and the natural tree jump-like features the birch branches presented, poking up randomly along a line. But only by putting Volkl skis to snow filming for “121” did the specialness of it come back into perspective.
“It’s hard not to get chest-deep powder,” Rainville said. “The snow, it sticks to everything. And your skis hit the layer down below, but you’re going through whatever new snow. It feels like there’s no resistance with a light and amazing quality.”
Rainville’s ibuprofen-aided lines in Japan and his high-Alpine freeskiing in Switzerland and Austria earned him a nomination for Powder Magazine’s 20th annual Powder Poll awards.
The public can vote for Rainville through 12:59 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 28, to be one of the top-three skiers honored with a Powder Poll Award. The 20th annual Powder Awards is Dec. 7 at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen.
For the freeski film veteran, Rainville said he thought the togetherness element of “121” earned him and a couple of his Volkl counterparts nominations for the Powder Poll. The film gathered together Volkl pros from across the globe: Rainville, Dadali, Markus Eder, Paddy Graham, Colter Hinchliffe, Bene Mayr, Hidemitsu Okada, Tom Ritsch and Fabio Studer.
The group’s goal was to ski Japan, Austria and Switzerland as best as they could as a group all while providing feedback on Volkl’s new Revolt 121 powder ski. After last winter’s freeskiing on 121 prototypes, Rainville said the new model features more of a camber underfoot thanks to the athlete input.
“We are all kind of similar attitudes and have similar views of skiing,” Rainville said. “We enjoy the same style of skiing, but everyone is slightly different. And it brings different styles to the table.
“The whole thing was built together.”
So was the film “121.” At the end of the film’s Japanese sequences — which are full of butters, 360s, birch tree taps and flips on Hokkaido’s rolling hills — Rainville and the other Volkl skiers hold up Japanese calligraphy. The letter, translated, reads “together.”
That togetherness shone through last winter in Switzerland. In the high Alpine of the Alps, the crew built backcountry jumps for bigger terrain-park-like tricks. They also scouted those Swiss spines for the best powder lines for the film.
“It’s just awesome to be up there, way up in the mountains, and touring,” Rainville said. “You’re really feeling pretty small out there. The mountains in the Alps are incredibly large, so it’s pretty cool to pick out this face, hike up it and stare at it the whole way. You really feel like you are connecting with the mountain that way more so than heli skiing or something like that.”
In one of those shots, an avalanche triggers under Mayr as he skied over a pocket of somewhat precarious wind loading. Rainville, who had already skied the line, held his breath as Mayr hit 60 miles per hour skiing 600 feet to a flat out and away from the slide. The Volkl crew called it a day after that.
“We left a lot of things that we wanted to do on the face,” Rainville said. “It’s just never worth it when you see signs that loud.”
With Rainville manning the wheel, the crew drove across Europe to surprise Volkl team member Markus Eder at a Freeride World Tour big mountain competition. Eder won it, securing the series championship, for which the team gladly celebrated.
After all that globe trotting, Rainville does say this: For all that talk of bottomless pow in Japan, in all of his dozen years living here in Summit County, March’s skiing was the closest thing to a January in Japan he’s ever had.
“There were a few days last year,” he said before adding a vital qualifier, “maybe.”
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