It’s only been a year since the epic Fire on the Mountain movie featuring Chris Benchetler, Rob Machado, and Jeremy Jones was released in October of 2019. But it’s been one long year. Well, between October 2019 and the first pandemic shut downs in early 2020, Chris Benchetler was on the move again, heading up to Alaska to shoot for another passion project, this one titled, Unravelling.
“I had an extremely abbreviated season,” Chris told me over the phone as he was driving from San Diego (where he was surfing with Rob Machado) back home to Mammoth. “Fall into January I was working on Fire on the Mountain, touring all December and January…so I had barely skied more than a couple days because I was running around so much.” Then Chris’ son Koa became sick with acute kidney failure, sidelining everything. “March rolled around and he was doing better but then COVID was starting so I made the decision to go up to Alaska for an extremely short window to do some filming,” he said. “Including travel it was a full five days but we only had 24 hours in the heli. The afternoon we flew in we got a couple runs, woke up the next morning and skied until late afternoon then I flew home the next day. And that was my whole season.”
Alaska is a bright spot for many skiers and snowboarders, but Haines is a very special place to Chris. It kicked off his professional career. “I was 18 or 19 and Haines was my first trip to Alaska,” he said. “We were all pretty green but I was definitely the most under-qualified. It was myself, JP (Auclair), Anthony Bornowski and Pep Fujas and we all went together for Poor Boyz. And it ended up being one of the worst avalanche-prone years they’ve seen. We were up there for close to a month and I want to say we skied like two lines at the most. The first line Anthony got buried up to his neck and JP dug him out. And then Pep and I landed on a cornice getting out of the helicopter and the cornice broke and slid all the way down to the cameramen. It was an eye-opening experience and entrance to the big leagues.”
Chris has been to Alaska since, “But I’ve always kept it as a place that’s too complicated to really get good and haven’t experienced great conditions there. And so to go up for such a short window (this year) and get such good conditions was a really special treat, almost like a little gift from above from JP (who passed away in 2014). He was one of my biggest mentors in skiing and really took me under his wing so it felt like he was still there watching us.”
Over the summer Chris has been working on releasing his Fire on the Mountain coffee table book and a vinyl record of the FOTM soundtrack. He’s also been surfing a bunch with Machado. “I’m very lucky to have a surfboard shaper as a close friend,” Chris said. “I’ve been surfing the Seaside and the Glazer a lot, but I feel like I keep coming back to the Seaside. Rob also shaped me a board called the Sunday, a 7’0″ twin for those smaller days.”
If you’re looking for some early-season inspiration involving untouched pow and some of the cleanest lines in the business, look no further: