SNOW // 01 DEC 2022
“I had the strongest girl squad and it continued to grow over the years at Big Sky. It was this super tight group of girls who pushed each other really hard,” smiled snowboarder Shannon Corsi as she reflected on her time in Montana. “It was so fun and I really was disappointed because there wasn’t a lot of ski media that spoke to that.” Disappointed, then frustrated, Corsi teamed up with fellow athletes and creatives Sophie Danison and Katie Lozancich to transform their collective qualms into a resolve that led to the creation of the award-winning feature length film Nexus.
Though she grew up in Montana, snowsports didn’t dominate Corsi’s life until her early twenties. Going into her fifth year as a professional photographer, Corsi was feeling burnt out shooting portraits and weddings, but knew that she wanted to continue her career in photography. So, she decided to take a break and moved to Big Sky, Montana.
“I’m going to move to a ski town and work at a ski resort for the winter and just not shoot,” said Corsi, recounting her thought process going into the move. “I went from snowboarding on greens to being pretty good by the end of my first season, since I was on the hill everyday for 100 days.”
What was meant to be a one year relocation turned into four, and along with rekindling her creative spark, Corsi found community. She explained, “One of the things that made me really fall in love with snowboarding and skiing happened during my second year, I picked up my first close girlfriend at the ski hill, and we were just bros, and we pushed each other really hard.”
Constantly inspired by the women she surrounded herself with, Corsi immersed herself into the snowsports culture. Her definition of what was possible in snow expanded. “I didn’t know people could throw back flips on skis until I was like, 23,” she laughed. However, when Corsi dove into the world of ski media, she found it lacking.
“There’s this whole trope,” Corsi explained. “That you get an all female segment in a big film, but it’s positioned as, ‘oh, my God. The producers told us we could ski with our girlfriends today’, and the skiers are Olympians. I found myself asking what is this?” Continually rehashing the narrative of “a woman in the mountains”, these films missed out on the incredible stories of who these athletes were and where they came from. Corsi wondered, why wasn’t there a film that celebrated female friendships in snowsports? So, she reached out to, then colleagues, now friends, Danison and Lozancich to see if they wanted to make a movie.
“The idea I had in my head was a couple of things,” said Corsi. “I wanted it to be a feature length film. I wanted it to be narrative-driven. We all also cared a lot about what we were trying to do from a creative ethics standpoint too. We had all been in the industry for a while, and the creative industries aren’t always sustainable. People are expected to work for pennies a lot of the time, and it’s not good for the industry as a whole to ask that of your colleagues. We wanted to hire people who are really good at their jobs, pay them fairly, and try to make a positive impact both behind the scenes and with the film itself.”
She continued, “We really wanted it to hone in on who these athletes are as people and go into a deeper storytelling capacity. You see a lot of that being afforded to other movies that primarily have men in them. You just don’t see it as much for women. That said, especially after this year’s releases, there’s a bunch of people creating films that push the industry forward. We’re not really the first of anything, there have been incredible female-led projects who laid the path for us to be doing what we are. We’re just part of a larger movement. But, [creating a narrative based film] was the contribution we wanted to make.”
Brainstorming, the Nexus team drafted a list of athletes whose stories they wanted to share, and were elated when everyone said yes. With a full docket in hand, they set forth to craft the collective narrative and subsequently a pitch deck. “That concept phase, it actually took quite a while,” explained Corsi. “There were four or five months of revisiting the concept and really honing it in. What [story] do we want to tell? Who are the right pairings of people to tell [that story]? [Asking the] athletes, how do you want to tell this? We wanted the athletes to have quite a bit of say because we’re a small team, we can accommodate that.”
Enter two seasons of pitching. The team pooled their resources, but initially finding sponsors was a struggle. “We all were established in the industry, but we didn’t have proof of concept for a project like this ,” explained Corsi. “Sophie worked on a lot of films, including Pretty Faces. She had by far the most experience out of all of us. I was quite green to this process, all of my knowledge was pulled from the commercial realm which is much more short form.. Katie had worked for TGR (Teton Gravity Research), but at the end of the day, none of us had tangible proof we could make a film of this caliber.”
The difficulties didn’t end there. Contacting both potential distributors and sponsors, Corsi found herself faced with a Catch 22 . “The problem is that distributors want to know before they sign on if you can get sponsors: they want to know that you can actually pull in funding. And sponsors want to know what you’re doing with distribution before they sign on: they want to be sure their investment pays off and people will actually watch the film. That problem is one I have since referred to as the distribution chicken and egg problem. No one wants a conditional yes. They want confirmation.” For Nexus, the tides finally began to turn when Red Bull signed on. “The movie became more real and other companies were willing to take us more seriously,” she explained.
Corsi and team settled on the format of the film early on. Featuring ten athletes, the film is split into four segments each highlighting a decided duo. Corsi explained their choice to split the group. “The idea of having two people was to lean further into the narrative elements and really get to focus on who they are. Which I think you can do with a bigger group, but it becomes harder. It becomes more about the mission or more about the dynamics of the group as a whole.”
Connecting these four segments is the final pair, Jane Gallie and Margo Krisjansons. When initially concepting the film, friends insisted that Corsi needed to meet the two local Jackson, WY local legends. It took just a few moments with the two firecrackers for the Nexus team to understand. “They skied the middle Teton on skinny skis in the 80s,” Corsi gushed. “They met while trekking in Nepal in the 70’s and they’ve been best friends since. They’ve moved around the world. They’ve split apart for years and come back. Now they’re neighbors in Wyoming, their story is really cool. Once we really learned more about it, it was a pretty obvious choice of, wow, these guys have been doing it. They’ve been living the dream. They’ve watched the ski industry change and progress in ways we can’t understand.”
With their sharp-witted stories, Gallie and Krisjansons bring insight and levity to the film, giving the audience a chance to reset between the four arcs.
Arc one explores power and progression. How do skiers find the people that push them to exceed beyond their own expectations? What does that type of friendship look like? In drop the Queens of Corbet’s Couloir, Caite Zeliff and Veronica Paulsen to demonstrate. “They’re both big mountain skiers and they both won Queens of Corbet’s. It catapulted them into the pro skier world around the same time, they both live in Jackson, and they’re friends.” Empowered by a friendship that dares them to push beyond their limits, the duo demonstrates how a skier can achieve their zenith through camaraderie.
Next the film explores community through the eyes of two cousins. Krystin Norman and Sasha Dingle’s mothers relocated to the United States to escape the Vietnam War. Immersed in the unknown, the two tried skiing and found solace in the mountains. They also found a community. They passed their love of skiing and sense of community down to their daughters, Norman and Dingle. “A lot of what [Norman and Dingle] do now in their day to day lives is building community and continuing their mother’s legacy. [We followed that] theme of legacy and continuation and how [community] can grow throughout generations and make a lasting impact.”
Trekking into the backcountry, Nexus parallels the core tenet of collaborative decision making on the skintrack with the daily work of nurses Lucy Sackbauer and Ingrid Stensvaag. “We wanted to lean into the camaraderie of both being nurses doing similar backcountry decision making,” explained Corsi. “The push and pull. As well as [the realities of] balancing jobs with being pro skiers. What came out of it was a really cool mix of those things.” Working together in two environments where one decision can mean life or death, Sackbauer and Stensvaag have to trust each other. Through open communication they keep themselves safe in the eye of the storm, finding levity and joy as they chase their dreams together.
The final tenet the team wanted to hit was symbiotic mentorship. An icon of the freeski world, Michelle Parker knows her way around a slope, but when summer time rolls around and she hops on her mountain bike, she wants someone who will help her push through to the next level. Mentored by talented biker Brooklyn Bell, the friends have built a repertoire of trust that is brought to light when Parker brings Bell to the top of some scary lines in Alaska. “They pushed each other in different ways,” said Corsi. “They talked about how their experiences together on bikes really gave them the foundation to trust each other in these big ski conditions and to trust that the other one’s advice was something that they respected and really wanted.”
Along with their individual themes, an emergent theme of camaraderie unfolded in each of the segments. “Honestly, part of that was because we just got hosed with conditions,” laughed Corsi. “[Picture us at] Revelstoke, there’s this moment we’ve been skunked for multiple days, and we go to film a sunny filler segment at the resort because it was supposed to be sunny and it was just socked in. We tried all day to get a patch of blue something.” Feeling like a rained out girl scout troop in the wet and cold, Corsi can’t help but laugh at the moment in retrospect. “It was me and two other [cinematographers] on the chairlift, and we just sat in silence just looking at the ground.”
A full blooper reel of chaotic memories plays in Corsi’s mind’s eye. On one particularly bad snow day, the team needed to hike their way up to the spot they wanted to shoot, but didn’t have enough time. When offered the option to nab a cheap helicopter time slot the next day, the team weighed their options. “We were just like, let’s give it a go. So we paid for the Heli slot, right? And it was the worst snow of everyone’s life.” Corsi cackled, recalling the clobbered crew as they trudged back into the house. “One person was like, well, on the bright side, we don’t have to do that again.”
From the crew waiting all day in Alaska to get the greenlight to fly and film, which often meant throwing on ski gear at light speed and jogging out to the trucks, to the struggles of hauling close to 20 checked bags and a pile of hard drives through TSA, to the late night drives to find cell service to rebook a canceled flight, the behind the scenes of Nexus is jammed packed with frenetic moments that, for Corsi, are now lessons learned and fond memories to reflect on. “I learned so many things,” she smiled.
The Nexus crew had others in the industry lending a helping hand. When unsure what gear to order, they had colleagues who would sit down and help the crew create extensive lists. “It was really cool to have that support across the board,” said Corsi. “The film industry is very competitive. It’s very male dominated. To see some of these people at the very tip top of it be like, yeah, this matters. They just went so far above and beyond. I never have seen that kind of camaraderie, like, generally speaking, in the whole industry, regardless of gender. What we got from our peers was unmatched. It was a great experience. I’m just forever grateful for how many people showed up for us.”
With the trailer drop just a few weeks prior to the interview, Corsi was still overwhelmed by the response. “It was so cool to see the hype,” she smiled. “It just felt good to see the community at large be really stoked on what we were doing because it was something that we had hoped for.”
Nexus’ instagram has been flooded with supportive DMs since the trailer dropped, but some of the most impactful messages the team received were during filming. “We’d screenshot [the messages] and put them in our producer group chat and we’d all be like, crying emojis,” laughed Corsi. “But the really meaningful ones are when people get a hold of you and they’re like, oh my God, I’m so excited for my daughter, who’s maybe six or seven. She’s going to be so stoked. I am excited for your film myself, but I’m so excited for my daughter.”
“Nexus is the film we wanted to see growing up”. To lift up the next generation of girls on skis and invite them with open arms to the magical world found in the mountains. So, to receive message after message of little girls that will find joy and inspiration from Nexus, as Corsi said, “They don’t get old, and every time it pulls on your heartstrings.”
Celebrating awards won and reveling in the community’s response to the film, Corsi can’t help but scheme on future plans. “I’m excited to spend time on commercial and editorial projects again. That’s where my background is, and after a production heavy year, I find that I miss shooting stills all the time. ” said Corsi. “[I also want to] continue to work with some of the brands who I’ve made connections with through Nexus as well, we had really wonderful sponsors. This experience really highlighted how much I enjoy working with teams, so I’ll likely expand my individual brand into a more formal media house sometime in 2023. Being part of a media team who is dialed and dedicated is so fun and fulfilling. I want to find myself in those spaces more. I do think that I will go and make more films, but of course it’s something where I would want to go bigger. Nexus was my directorial debut. We got 8 laurels and a few awards within the first month after the global premiere, and we’ve had international press coverage multiple times. It’s an insane launching pad into the film world, and there certainly is pressure to produce something even better next time. I’m not nervous about it though. I had a call this summer with one of the cinematographers who worked with us on Nexus. She said ‘imagine how much of a breeze the next one is going to be in comparison’, and she’s right. I don’t think filmmaking will ever be easy or not involved, but going from a place with very little experience to a place with a ton will be a game-changer.”
Corsi reflects fondly on the team’s time in Alaska when everything seemed to fall into place. “It was like redemption for fighting terrible conditions for the entire season. One day we were filming and it was beautiful out – we had my snowboard on the ground as a bench. So, we were just sitting there, eating snacks and hanging out in the sun, waiting for everyone to radio in that the athletes were ready, drone was 100, etc. This line, Velvet Curtain, hadn’t opened in ten years. Brooklyn and Michelle got to ski it at sunset. It was stunning, and it was so cool. It was a huge line. It had been the end of a super productive day of filming. We were all really stoked. That whole day made me think, I would do this again in the heartbeat.”