Wrangelled: An Interview with Will Lascelles and Jase Hancox

The Wrangell St. Elias National Park in Alaska is home to some of the world’s highest and least explored mountains. For some the mountains are there to be climbed, for others, they are there be skied.

Last year, 2013, saw Vahalla crowned Powder Magazine’s ski movie of the year, while Into the Mind saw the genre move in an exciting and fresh direction.  However, 2013 was also the year which saw a short ski-mountaineering movie burst onto the scene – Wrangelled.

In April 2013, two filmmakers, Will Lascelles and Jase Hancox, along with pro skier Forrest Coots and photographer Jason Thompson, ventured into this vast wilderness in search of untouched beauty, fresh lines, and potential “dream zones”. The rugged terrain and inclement weather provided a tough challenge as the four adventurers explored one of the last great frontiers in North America.

Will and Jase sat down with Nomads on the Road to talk about the trip and some of the challenges they faced filming in the Wrangells. Their goal was University Peak, a forbidding mountain standing at 14,470 ft (4,410m). Will and Jase filmed, while Jason shot still photographs and captured on-slope footage.

While University Peak was the group’s original goal and the mountain that enticed them to the Wrangells, conditions were not favourable to attempt the peak. What they were left with was a new perspective on the Wrangells, and the opportunities the 13.2 million acres of national park afforded them.

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet” — William Blake

“University Peak is rated as one of the 50 gnarliest mountains in the world,” Will explains. “Unfortunately the winter stuck, and we really didn’t have the snow to do it [scale University Peak]. It was basically a big sheet of blue ice.”

“University Peak has only ever been skied once, about ten years ago,” says Jase, as the pair explain how new targets had to be acquired and new lines scoped. While this means the original objective of their trip was not met, it did result in a compelling story, as their finished film shows.

“Being in the middle of 13.2 million acres means there are a lot of possibilities. We flew into this other zone, which was just heaven,” Will says.

“It was three-quarters of the way to heaven,” Jase interjects. “Because with every ridge you’d get to, you’d look over the back and be like argghhh, it looks even better.”

Despite changing the goal of their trip, the danger was still present. “Because of the spring [when everything is melting], there is always avalanche danger,” says Will. “One of our guys actually triggered an avalanche. We had to carefully analyse every peak we went to.”

To make things even more difficult, the conditions of spring (when the sun melts the snowpack during the day and it refreezes overnight) collided with late season storms. This resulted in fresh snow falling onto an unstable snowpack, with no time for it to bind together.

“We had a big storm front come in when we landed at the lodge [Ultima Thule Lodge], which kept us there for four or five days,” says Will. “Finally, it opened up enough for us to get up there, and we had about six or seven sunny days in a row.

The weather here can be as rugged as the topography” — Will Laschelles

“But the shitty thing about that is the cold when you don’t have any kind of overcast. The temps just drop. We were dealing with nearly –40 degrees. You can’t really escape it,” Will explains.

The remoteness of their location was only outdone by the punishing and extreme temperatures they had to deal with. If something was to go wrong, they were on their own.

“Out here, there is no escaping Mother Nature’s cold hand,” says Will. “The aesthetics of being out there: you know everywhere you turn you are getting world class views.” Working in two-man teams, Forrest and Jason were off on their own a lot of the time, while Will and Jase filmed from afar.

They were the only four climbers in the Wrangells, a national park the size of Switzerland. The resulting video is not your average ski film; this movie captures the remoteness and vastness of the Alaska wilderness, with some gnarly skiing thrown in for good measure.

Wrangelled – A Ski-mountaineering Flick from ARC’TERYX on Vimeo.


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