Chris Benchetler grew up in the great outdoors in Mammoth Lakes, CA, so it’s no wonder that his latest film project, Chasing Advanture, features skiing, rock climbing and surfing. But how he got there, is a much longer story. The easy-going pro skier was recently in Seattle, WA, at evo where he was premiering the aforementioned film for the first time, co-exhibiting artwork for charitable causes, and painting a 70-foot mural on the outside of evo. The film, a 31-minute love affair with the outdoors sees Chris and filmer Matt Cook aka Ski Chef, living and traveling the west coast in Chris’s van—The Stealthy Marmot—and meeting up with assorted pro athlete friends to take part in various sports, filmed on GoPros. It sounds like what you and your friends do on the weekend, only we can assure you, much, much, much better.
It’s in Seattle that we asked Chris about the movie, its origins, filmmaking, and more. So here, in his own words, are his answers.
On Chasing Advanture:
The whole point [of the film] was to encompass everything that’s kind of shaped me into the person that I am today. I wanted to make sure that I included people who have mastered [other] sports, not to try and claim that I’m a pro surfer or a pro climber. I wanted to show their influence on me and kind of how it kind of put me in the position I’m in today.
Snowboarding has been a massive influence and I was able to use good friends of mine that have very similar mindsets in how they ride the mountains. Curtis Ciszek has one of the best turns in snowboarding and is very surf-influenced as well, so that was awesome to include him. Austin Smith is living in his firetruck, which is rad.
I was able to include Rob [Machado] who is a humongous influence [on me]. It was really cool that I was able to get him on board. He’s influenced not only my skiing but the shape of my ski. And [in] climbing, I was able to use my friend Emily Harrington, who is one of the best climbers in the world. She’s an incredible example of what climbing is.
And I wanted to include Skye [Walker] who is an artist by trade and has mastered that more so than I have. I wanted to learn from each of these people and tell the story of learning while I was on the road.
Lastly, the van simplified my life a little bit. Not necessarily reduce my carbon footprint but just made the effort to travel less globally and slow my roll and stay in a location. If the skiing was bad, we had the opportunity to surf or climb and so on and so forth. So it was a whole journey within myself and within the van, just trying to accomplish all the things that I do.
That’s the other part [of this]. I wanted to highlight [Scott Smith] and the van as an artistic form.
100-percent the thing that stood out the most was hanging with Rob, surfing with Rob, watching him shape a board, and just talking to him about each of our crafts and explaining to him why I shaped a ski that was inspired by him. Just sharing that dynamic was for sure the highlight. He’s such a rad dude and [it was] cool to get to know him. It’s inspiring to understand a like-minded person who has been such and influence on me.
I had no idea we shared so many similarities so it was cool just to get to know him and see his take on the world.
On the Stealthy Marmot:
Van life is growing and Kimmy [Fasani], my wife, grew up living out of a van, essentially. Her mom was a nurse and they had a Westfalia, so she was used to that lifestyle. The more I got into climbing and the more friends I saw with vans—in surfing it’s very prevalent—I was kind of enamored with the idea of simplifying and living out of a van.
We kind of talked about it, “Maybe we should rent our house and live in a van for a year.” I just kept marinating on that concept for a few years. And I asked Kimmy because her mom was selling her Westfalia… “We should take your mom’s van and I can do this project I have in my mind!” and she was was like, “You do not want that van, it has like 250 thousand miles on it and it’s going to blow up.” [laughs]
But that got the wheels turning and made it more of a reality. I started shopping around for a van and pitched my concept to my sponsors and everyone was super interested, so it kind of just happened. I think her mom selling the van expedited it…
It was always a dream of ours to have a van but a lot of time you don’t necessary pull the trigger on your dreams, you know?
The fact that I was able to make project out of it and offset the costs and have the support from everyone kind of made it possible.
On his career:
I’m incredibly happy where I’m at right now and I think what’s been lucky for me is my sponsors believe in me. I’ve produced in terms of my skiing—I’ve never missed a video part or whatever. I keep trying to think outside the box and for whatever reason it’s always worked out, so my sponsors—I’ve been with most of them for a decade or beyond—they trust me to do whatever I’m going to be happy with, so it’s been really easy for me to take a step outside my comfort zone and try something new.
Whether that’s working with Matt and potentially missing every single shot we tried or whether I’m going to do a mural on a wall… people have really been supportive of the ideas I come up with and that allows me to be creative and not feel any limitations. They are ok with me being a director and producer for a season. I’m stoked where all this ended up and where my sponsors let me go. It keeps the wheels in motion for new ideas and concepts.
Storytelling is important. We’ve seen the industry go through its ups and downs and where there was so much content being pumped out at such a fast rate; paying less attention to detail and production quality and that stuff. I don’t think everything needs to be filmed with a RED camera or anything but I do think there’s a position in the industry for well thought out pieces or something different that goes deeper than normal action shots.
Attention [spans are] so short and [people are] just so hungry for content. But I think just putting little moments out there throughout the season to keep people up-to-date is an awesome way. And then focusing on more of a project. Whether that’s a multi-year piece or whatever.
I don’t think it’s smart to put all your eggs in the social media basket. We did so many webisodes with Nimbus and I feel like that has tapered off a bit because I honestly can’t keep track of everything in skiing.
There is so much being released everyday, it’s hard to follow it. It’s no one’s fault, just every person is putting out grade-A content, there’s no way to keep track of it all. There’s not even enough time in the day to watch it all.
Do what you believe in and stay true to it and take your time.
I realized that last year when I did my series with Chef that I was able to ski a lot more. It was a lot less setup time and a lot less worry about where the filmer was going to be filming from, or cameras firing up, cooling down—especially when things moved to RED, things slowed down a lot.
Granted, Chef and I miss a lot of shots just because we’re trying something unique and different. Either he’ll crash or I’ll crash or just to sync each others timing is a lot harder.
This year we got into a lot bigger mountains so there is slough management and all these different variables that made it challenging… But we’re still skiing, you know? He doesn’t have to worry about the focus or any of the technical stuff. He just points the GoPro and gets as close to me as possible and hangs on for the ride. Since he’s a really talented skier, it makes it possible. It’s not like missing the shot because he did something weird with his lens.
[The reception has] been rad. I didn’t accomplish nearly as much as I’d hope to, ski-wise, especially compared to last year. I really focused on a lot of what I was doing whether it was tricks or lines or slashes or whatever. I was still focused on that this year but we had a lot of roadblocks between weather and personal stuff… More so I was producer and director of this project that included so many more elements that I was more concerned with. When we were heli-ing, I wanted Chef following Curtis, not me. I wanted to get other people highlighted for the skills, so it was more taking a step back [in] my personal skiing and being a producer and getting everyone involved.
It was challenging but it was awesome getting to think about other things. It’s nice to share the success with other people and watch them get a shot they are psyched on. Obviously, Chef is super good at follows and it’s a unique angle and to give that opportunity to shoot with him was cool.
I respect [Eric Pollard, Nimbus co-founder] so much for everything he’s done. He’s always been that guy. I’d always seen that side, now I directly felt that side. There’s a lot more stress on you for what you’re coming home with at the end of the day.
On the evo gathering:
When I pitched this idea to evo, about coming up here for a premiere and art show, I asked them—because I knew they had a rotating wall—“Would you let me and Skye do a mural on it?” [laughs] Skye was super into it. He wanted to mentor me and help me figure out painting on a large scale. He showed me his skills and helped me create.
It’s huge. It’s like 70-feet long. I’d never used spray paint at that scale. This thing was a whole other beast.
I’d say our styles actually are pretty similar. For whatever reason. For instance, for the art show, we both sent each other our pieces we both have animals, and like all these similar vibes and things. And since Skye is super into surfing and snowboarding, we’re both influenced by similar things in nature and the same ideas, you know? It’s a lot of outdoor environment that inspires us.
I’ve done a ton of ski graphics, and Old Man Winter has been a staple. I keep kind of bringing him back. He’s on the van, he’s on some skis, he’s on my Dragon goggle, my backpack with Dakine… And Skye always seems to tie in waves and Mother Nature into his pieces so they go well together… we drew up a concept and brought it to life on the wall.
I didn’t do any premiere settings with Chasing El Nino [last year] because it was released in more real time. By virtue of that, you don’t even have time to wait for premiere season. It’s cool to build the anticipation and feel the cooler temps of fall and stoke for winter. People are psyched this time of year.
I’m really happy how our project came out and I hope people like it.
Look for Chasing Advanture to be released free to the public on October 19th from our friends at GoPro.
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