Photo: Chris BezamatAdmittedly, I am not a skier.

I don’t pretend to know the names of the newest tricks, or keep up on the latest and greatest in twin tips, or touring kits. I come from the other side of the snow spectrum and have spent the past six (or is it seven?) years covering international snowboard events, films, and products.

Though skiing and snowboarding come from the same centralized love of shredding mountains covered with white fluffy stuff, the sports and the people within them are inherently different. Knowing this, I yearned for a chance to become closer with skiing, whose roots essentially spawned the sport I love most and from which I make my current living.

When I discovered Eye of the Condor, an elite, invite-only film and photography competition hosted by the authentic Chilean resort of La Parva, I knew it would provide the perfect opportunity to gain insight into the world of skiing through my perspective as a snowboarder.

La Parva is high above the capital city of Santiago and perched deep within the Andes. Eye of the Condor was conceptualized by La Parva’s marketing machine, Rodrigo Medina. “Rodwiler,” as I’ve come to know him, envisioned the contest as a way to internationally market the Chilean resort by unleashing world-class skiers on the steep slopes and encouraging them to make films that encompassed their overall experiences. Essentially, it is an inspiring way for pro skiers to showcase La Parva to the masses. After a highly successful inaugural event in 2011, Eye of the Condor returned this summer with a lengthy list of sponsors and a judging panel of ski industry elite, including Chris Davenport, Ingrid Backstrom, Adam Clark, and four ambitious ski teams: Discrete, Icelantic, Widsix, and Chile.

With the caliber of invited talent, the picturesque setting of the Andes, and the chance to strap on my snowboard during summer–how could I pass it up?

After 24 hours of travel, including a random pit stop in Toronto, I arrived in the boisterous city of Santiago, a day before the teams arrived. I spent the afternoon cruising the crowded streets soaking in unique Chilean culture. I was in the area of Providencia, which was surprisingly clean, given it’s in a city with a population of close to five million. (Clean in the sense that I only saw two bums–one, however, was clothed in ass-less chaps.)

After a great night of sleep at Hotel Ibis, I was scooped up by a rugged van filled with members of the teams and other media. Despite just getting off international flights, everyone was wide-eyed and eager for the adventures that awaited. Our first stop was the market, where we picked up the necessary snacks and booze for a week in the Andes.

John Roderick, Discrete’s cinematographer and veteran of the event, advised everyone to “go big,” because the options at La Parva were limited. As we weaved around the equivalent of the Chilean Walmart, our carts began to brim with traditional cheeses, meats, and plenty of pisco–a traditional grape brandy that I would later learn packs a punch.

With our goods loaded in the van, we started the 7000-foot ascent up the narrow road to La Parva. The consensus among all was that it surely didn’t feel like winter. Shrubbery and cactus covered the surrounding hills and provided scenery as we made our way back and forth through the switchbacks cut into the steep mountain. It felt like a scene out of “Jurassic Park”–a van of overly eager photographers, filmers, and skiers, each trying to get the shot while assessing the foreign terrain.

After forty switchbacks and a can of Escudo beer, we finally made it to the quaint ski town of La Parva, where we were greeted with genuine and over-the-top hospitality by Rodrigo and his staff. As we unloaded our gear, the only plea Rodrigo had was, “Please don’t burn La Parva down!”

Then we were given our condo assignments, and I found I was paired with Team Discrete. From then on I was immersed in a world of ski culture, unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of.

Team Discrete showed a lack of ego, and this was the first example of the difference between skiers and snowboarders; they welcomed me with open arms the second we met. Rachael Burks, a badass backcountry skier, with accolades ranging from first place at the Red Bull Cold Rush to filming with TGR, was instantly the most compelling, real person I’ve ever met. Her laugh was so infectious that I couldn’t help but join in every time she giggled.

Soon we began “nesting,” unpacking, and organizing our goods for the week in our charming Chilean abode. Expectations for the contest were shared, ranging from “making a fine video,” to “exploring new areas,” to “having a damn good time along the way.”
Photo: Chris Bezamat
Each day, the team was on a mission and worked the marginal conditions with creativity. Parker Cook, a backcountry skier with a wit so quick you had to be on your game or he’d put you to shame, hiked the steep peaks time and time again, never complaining and just ensuring he got the shot.

By mid-week, the crew packed up all of their gear and hiked it high atop the mountain for a night of snow camping. Chris Bezamat, Discrete’s photographer, said camping was his favorite part of the trip: “We were lucky to not have much wind that night, and the silence of the mountains offered a comfort that, despite all the busyness of the world, there still exists peace. We had clear skies, and the full moon came out over the peaks behind us. It was really incredible.”

After a successful night sleeping in the Andes, the crew made their way down the mountain in time for a symposium with speakers ranging from Chris Davenport to Sherry McConkey. Julian Carr, founder of Discrete, also took the podium and spoke on how he balances running a business with his career as a professional skier. Each speaker’s message was insightful to say the least, and I was inspired by everyone’s honest, open remarks.

Throughout the short week, I embraced all elements of Team Discrete. I was continually blown away by the work ethic they exhibited in the Andes. From sun up to sunset and deep into the dark, Discrete poured their energies into producing what they hoped would earn the big “W” at the inaugural iF3-La Parva, in Santiago, Chile.

After witnessing the dedication, determination, and drive displayed by the crew all week, I thought Discrete had to have the win in the bag. But nerves from the crew were running high; their success was not certain.

As we made our way back down the mountain for the final time, we checked into the Grand Hyatt, a gorgeous 18-story hotel near the center of Santiago. I wasn’t sure what I was most excited for: being among the grandeur and elegance, or the simple fact that the place had clean towels–a commodity at our condo by the end of our stay in La Parva.
Photo: Parker Cook
With everyone spruced up and ready for the big event, we made our way to Mallsport, a sprawling commercial center that sold every sporty thing your could imagine. From the impressive grand entrance of the teams, in which they rose up from below the floor on a platform with lights and smoke, to the giant big screen, sound systems, and free champagne, seemingly no expense was spared at iF3-La Parva.

The best photo portfolio was awarded first, and while each team had superior imagery, Discrete took top honors for Bezamat’s bold action and alluring lifestyles.

Then, the most anticipated point of the entire event came, as each team’s films were played. In each a different story was told that encompassed the week in the Andes. Hard work and talent was evident throughout all, but Icelantic’s and Discrete’s professional editing and imagery surpassed the others.

It was an extremely tough call for the judges, but in the end, Icelantic edged out Discrete by just one point. The all-female team’s heart-felt tribute to the mountains tells an interesting story, includes intriguing action, and is expertly edited–but in my humble opinion as a snowboarder, Discrete got robbed.

Controversy about “excessive” partying in Discrete’s video made some judges vote the other way. This made me realize the most poignant difference between the world of skiing and snowboarding: it’s simple–most skiers can’t hang.

Check the films for yourself and vote for the People’s Choice Award here.

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Sony Eye of the Condor 2 Team Discrete from Eye of the Condor on Vimeo.

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Sony Eye Of the Condor 2 Team Icelantic from Eye of the Condor on Vimeo.

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2012 Sony Eye of the Condor Team Chile from Eye of the Condor on Vimeo.

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Sony Eye of the Condor 2 Team WIDSIX from Eye of the Condor on Vimeo.
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Photos1 & 4 by Chris Bezamat, Photo 5: Parker Cook