“Big Mountain Heroes”, a documentary film that follows a team of U.S. Special Operations veterans in their attempt to conquer the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps as a way to fight PTSD, won the 2019 Mammoth Film Festival category of “Best Action Sports Film (Short)”.
The team members were Brandon Webb, a former Navy SEAL; Leo Jenkins, a former Army Ranger; Isaiah Burkhart, a former Army Ranger; Neil Amonson, a former Air Force Combat Controller; and Ben Whitney, a professional skier.
Nick Betts, Director of Social Media and Events for Hurricane Group, also climbed and has great respect for the team’s filming process and preparation for the challenge: “Everyone in the group was incredibly talented, but I personally had a large learning curve trying to ride snow that deep. The day before we drove to Switzerland to jump in the helicopters, it snowed a few feet, which made the conditions on top of the glacier pretty hairy. But we had amazing guides that ensured we didn’t fall into a crevasse or make a wrong turn off a cliff.”
Betts added they used accounts of acclaimed climbers to be successful. “There is a quote we took from a world-class alpinist when he said, ‘Chamonix [one of the mountains] is the easiest place to kill yourself’ and he’s not wrong. Day one, we were riding in Italy and an avalanche killed four skiers just on the backside of the face we were riding. So it was always evident that we were doing some hairy stuff,” Betts said. “My hat goes off to Nick Cahill and Matt Hardy. Both of them had extremely heavy packs full of camera equipment that weighed up to 60 pounds. When you’re moving with that kind of weight in snow that deep, you have to be very deliberate on your skis so as to not get stuck or yard sale with $100,000 in equipment. They rode the mountains effortlessly and the footage is evidence of their skills.”
The documentary’s success encouraged the team to organize a sequel. This time, it will surf, not climb. “Big Wave Heroes” plans to take the team to the Fiji Islands, Australia, or a similar location that offers an extreme surfing challenge, and pitch them against the waves. The team will consist of talented and experienced surfers from across the Special Operations community.