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Fuel in the Tank

I’m sitting in the back of a plane that’s just taxied out to the runway and, before taking off, turned around and lumbered back to the terminal.

“We love Salt Lake so much that we don’t want to leave,” says the flight attendant over the intercom in that over-jocular style that’s become the hallmark of a Southwest Airlines flight.

I look out the window at the snow-covered Wasatch. Silently, I agree with her. How much would I rather be high up in those mountains than heading off to another city to show a movie about mountains? Snowbird’s Dave Fields is torturing me with this morning’s emailed ski shots of his other buddies making powder 8s down the Cirque.

“The weather in Portland is bad and we may have to circle the airport before landing,” the flight attendant says. “Which means the guys are either filling up with more fuel, or asking directions. Hmmm, must be the fuel; guys never ask directions.”

And now I’m thinking, man, they’re going to lose money on this flight. It’s barely half full of passengers and now they have to take on extra fuel. Money, money. We’ve been touring with The Edge of Never for three weeks now and have eight more weeks to go. Some shows have surpassed my wildest dreams – Vail, Park City, Salt Lake City – and others have been pleasant surprises (Breckenridge, Bellingham, Seattle). A couple of our shows have been complete, money sucking flops (Fort Collins, Spokane), but even at those shows, good things happened. I met great people and had long, unhurried conversations. And though I’m reminded daily of the dangerously low needle on our little troupe’s financial gauge, I have a hard time turning over my faith to The Fear.

Five years on The Edge have taught a few lessons, apparently.

Nonetheless, I’m not entirely delusional. There is a reason that ski films have become such heavily commercialized behemoths, such thinly disguised sponsor vehicles. Touring with a film is expensive and proceeds from ticket sales are an unreliable way to keep pumped gas and linoleum-counter meals coming. The Fear of running out of funds can twist you up into the same scarcity mentality that’s behind the ridiculous spectacle of one ski movie company suing another over alleged abuses of its bought-and-paid-for legend (incidentally, there are good people on both sides of that Warren Miller Entertainment vs. Level 1 mess, and I wish for all their sakes that they’d just come to their senses and realize that, corporate legalese notwithstanding, no company owns a person, especially not one as singular and spirited as Warren Miller).

So, yeah, unlike those companies with car and energy drink and granola bar sponsorships, we’re trying to make it on ticket sales. It’s nuts, but we’re surviving on the kindness of skiers, which is appropriate, I guess, since that’s exactly what our film is about. Our poster reads, No One Rides Alone. We oughta have that maxim painted across the side of the bus; it’s more than a motto. We’re riding with you, all of you, and having a hell of a good time doing it.

So, three weeks in, I offer a heartfelt gratitude to: the consummate gentleman skier and his family who invested in this film and our vision in the first place, the industry executives who’ve come out in droves to supply us with product to give away at shows (how cool to be supported by companies that normally compete tooth and nail such as Rossignol, K2, and Atomic), the faithful who continue to get off the couch and find their way to a theater to watch our show, Pete the tow truck driver in Salt Lake who gave us a mechanical primer as well as an emergency kit shopping list, Joe at the Magic Lantern Theater who offered sage wisdom with bottomless coffee and a deep discount on rental of his theater, Tanner Hall and Mike Hattrup for their spontaneous displays of kinship, the whole Vail Valley for its unflagging devotion, Park City for its passion, and Salt Lake City for the all neighborly love.

Two days ago I parked Air Patti at an airport hotel in Portland, Oregon, and flew home to see my family and regroup for a day. I also spent a lot of time with our accountant. Staring at numbers can sink a man’s spirits quicker than a lead poncho. And for a moment the whole endeavor feels like it’s at a standstill, waiting at the pump.

Now the plane with full tanks is beginning to roll again toward a western runway. The flight attendant is  telling a final joke and suddenly I remember something from last night. Somewhere in the blur of homework with the kids and a great dinner and the ongoing unpack/repack exercise, an email came in to congratulate us on The Edge of Never being accepted into the prestigious Banff Film Festival. Another runway perhaps, another chance for this mad scheme to take flight. The jets are growling now. In a moment, take off…