North Vancouver filmmaker Jordan Manley knows what it’s like to come back from a serious injury. In 2012, he had already completed filming the third season of his highly regarded online series of short movies, A Skier’s Journey, which follows his friends Chad Sayers and Forrest Coots skiing in faraway locales.
Manley was back home editing footage from Iceland when he decided to take a break by going mountain biking on Mount Seymour. That’s when his career as a filmmaker took an unexpected turn. “I had a fall,” Manley told the Georgia Straight by phone from his home. “I hit my head. Unfortunately, it resulted in a pretty debilitating injury.”
He was 28 years old at the time, and the concussion threatened to put an end to the series, which by then had included episodes in Kashmir, Argentina, and Dubai. He said that his biggest worry was reinjuring himself by falling.
“These trips may look like a lot of fun, but they’re pretty challenging physically and mentally,” Manley said. “We’re trying to get a lot done in the short amount of time under difficult travel circumstances.”
But he persevered, and this autumn, he launched the fourth and final season of A Skier’s Journey showcasing resorts in Iran and China.
In Iran, the trio visited two popular ski hills, Dizin and Shemshak, in the Alborz Mountains near Tehran, as well as the Dena resort in the Zagros Mountains farther south. According to Manley, there wasn’t nearly as much segregation of men from women on the ski hills as he observed in Iranian cities.
“It’s kind of a private space in a way where people have a different idea of freedom,” he said. “Those resorts are not dissimilar to some of the higher-altitude resorts in the Alps. They’re just less expensive and harder to get to.”
In China, Manley filmed Sayers and Coots at the Beijing Nanshan Ski Village, as well as at Mount Changbaishan in Jilin province near the border with North Korea. Manley said that because ski culture is so new in these areas, officials are still learning about things B.C. skiers take for granted, such as ski patrols, avalanche-safety information, and adequate markers for out-of-bounds areas.
The final leg was in western China, in the Altay region in Xinjiang province near the borders with Kazakhstan, Siberia, and Mongolia. Manley noted that the seminomadic residents of this region were some of the first skiers in the world.
“These are people who’ve inherited skiing as a way of life through the generations, primarily as a means of transportation for getting around in the winter, but also for hunting,” Manley said. “What I found was that this tradition is really not surviving so well. It’s partly due to a hunting ban by the Chinese government.”
This season’s third episode of A Skier’s Journey chronicles a trip the trio took by water taxi over Chilko Lake, and then skiing and walking 13 kilometres over the Homathko Icefield. Then they paddled 40 kilometres down the Southgate River into Bute Inlet before returning home by floatplane.
Manley said he was able to complete a trip of this magnitude because he spent three-and-a-half years recovering from his mountain-biking accident, setting and achieving smaller goals along the way. It helped that he was sponsored by Arc'teryx, GORE-TEX, and Destination British Columbia.
“There were a lot of setbacks and a lot of training, especially physically, to get to a place where I could pull that off,” Manley said.