“The main thing Steve did was jumpstart a modern ski scene in the Rockies. Fresh really pushed it forward and built something.” -Eric Hjorleifson
It’s FRESHtival Season! Ahead of our 2nd pandemic edition, our friends look back at Freshtivals past.
It's hard to overstate the impact Freshtival has had on the Rockies ski scene. Probably the first thing to put Alberta on the freeski map was Reel Action Pictures, back in the 90’s, when the Calgary-based ski movie crew featured local skiers in the Rockies, including Andrew Sheppard and Kirk Jensen shredding Lake Louise. But by the early 2000’s, the scene lacked a pulse, which is wild considering how many passionate skiers there are living near so many great resorts. That changed in 2003 when Steve Saranchuk brought FRESHtival, the first ski movie festival, to town.
“All of a sudden, all the best films and athletes were coming to Calgary. That was amazing! The main thing Steve did was jumpstart a modern ski scene in the Rockies and in Calgary,” remembers Eric Hjorleifson who was a teenager back then, dreaming of joining the skiers he watched in Poor Boyz movies.
Hoji continues, “I worked on the first Freshtival - just hauling snow. I was more of a go-for than an athlete that year. There were more established skiers there.” It was a ridiculous list of pro skiers at that original event, considering it was the first of it’s kind and the first time many of those skiers even thought of coming to Calgary. The list included JP Auclair, Mike Douglas, Tanner Hall, Simon Dumont, Eric Pollard, Shane Dorian, Smiley Nesbit, TJ Schiller along with locals Rory Bushfield, Jon McMurray, Mike Henetiuk, and Justin Francis. The event was held at SAIT and it included an ambitious rail-jam on the campus’s expansive grass slope.
Eric remembers, “Steve catered to the local up-and-comers. He welcomed us and got us involved and treated us like the top athletes at the time. Freshtival allowed us to meet pros and brands and mingle. Those interactions helped us and helped build the scene in the Rockies. It was a huge opportunity for us.”
In the subsequent years, Hoji made sure he was skiing in the events, “I did the wall-ride Freshtival! I remember that. The one where Dana (Flahr) blew his knee.” A lot of people remember that wall-ride on the back of The Roadhouse and how hard the skiers were sessioning it.
Hoji filming for Tales From Cascadia
Chris Rubens, another local kid at the time who was just starting his career, remembers that the wall-ride was the last “on snow” Freshtival. Maybe for good reason. “The wall-ride was sweet! Simon Dumont and a bunch of skiers were there. But after Dana blew his knee, (Mike) Douglas made me stop. He was like, ‘you’re done. You can’t hurt yourself like that in October and miss the ski season. You’re not a jibber Rubens!’ Now I understand that, but at the time it was just so rad. Freshtival was a big deal to us!”
As an employee, Brad Stastook had a behind the scenes look at those early Freshtivals, “We shovelled soooooo much snow, Mike Henetiuk's dad supplied the rails, and SAIT let us use their venue. With that, Freshtival was born. It wasn't just an event we sponsored. It was our event - to contribute to the sport. That difference was important.”
It seems everyone was pitching in those first years. Drew Wittstock, another past employee, remembers 2003, “That was the year at SAIT where Rory Bushfield and Jon McMurray were hanging off the LRT tracks putting up a Fresh banner.”
Even after the live skiing stopped being a part of Freshtival, the event's impact continued. Drew Wittstock recalls, “The years at the Uptown Cinema were dope because so many pros came. It was that golden age where JP was there and Mike Douglas. You got to meet TJ Schiller and Simon Dumont. Tanner Hall always came. And Seth Morrison was there! It was so good cause there was always the Red Bull sponsored party up on the second floor in the Marquee Room. Or the Julios Barrio party. That was insane, with all the sombreros getting destroyed.”
Freshtival autograph signings at the Globe Cinema
“Back in the day, Freshtival was the only ski movie festival. Now there’s IF3 and a few others, but back then there were just single movies in random cities. Not only did Steve start the first freeride shop but he started the first ski movie festival too.”
Mike Douglas agrees, “There was nothing else like it at the time.Steve’s passion was obvious. He was into it and made it more than just a ski shop. He created a community.”
Let’s finish with Hoji explaining why the birth of Fresh and Freshtival was so important to him, “Through Steve, we got to hangout with skiers like JP. In my life it went from having JP’s posters and watching all his films to meeting him in Calgary and hanging out with him. Then, eventually, going skiing and working on things in Whistler, but it all started with Fresh. Without Freshtival and Steve we would have never met those guys. They would have never come to Calgary. It meant a lot to me. Still does.”