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By Tess Weaver Strokes | March 15, 2017 | Culture
Emerging Aspen director Jesse James Hoffman points his lens at Colorado's most beautiful mountains and their most graceful skiers.
Snow scenes: Aspenite Sam Coffey cuts the day’s first tracks on Aspen Mountain in an image captured by director and photographer Jesse James Hoffman.
When 25-year-old Aspenite Jesse James Hoffman scored a coveted last-minute spot in REDirect Explore, a prestigious adventure-film contest organized by the camera company RED Digital Cinema, he was an underdog up against big-name outdoors cinematographers. Along with coproducer and mentor Chris Davenport, Hoffman spent two months last spring clambering through 13,000-foot couloirs with a 50-pound camera pack to shoot, and later edit, his first film, which examines the art of backcountry skiing.
The Process, shot entirely in the Elk Mountains and featuring only local skiers, took second place in the competition, earning Hoffman a $10,000 camera and a reputation as one of the ski-film industry’s finest up-and-coming directors. Here he speaks about the experience, his future, and his Roaring Fork Valley roots.
What was the inspiration for The Process?
We didn’t want to make a film about a professional skier or a destination. The ski-film industry is shifting; people are getting tired of watching ski porn. We focused on making something soulful that the everyday skier could relate to.
Why did you decide to shoot exclusively in the Elk Mountains?
With a two-month window, we didn’t have time to plan an expedition. Plus, our favorite mountains are in our backyard. There is plenty of adventure to be had right here. Looking at these mountains under a microscope—trying to catch every glimmering snowflake— reassured my passion for where I live.
Willis Brown on the mountain’s backside.
Do you prefer shooting stills or video?
I’ve always been more interested in photography, but now it’s shifting toward video, which can be more gratifying. You see hundreds of photos every day, so the power of a photograph, in a sense, is sort of dying. You can tell a story more vividly [through video].
How did growing up in Aspen foster your photography?
Nature-based outdoors education contributes to an extreme appreciation for your surroundings and being a steward of the land. I ski-raced growing up, so I had been on the other side of the lens as an athlete. It occurred to me that I wanted to create the image more than be the image. I landed my first cover [Ski magazine] when I was 23 and started getting images published. Freelance photography is a hustle, but those who work in the outdoors industry aren’t doing it for the money. People do their best work when they do what makes them happy—being outside shooting makes me happy.
There are a few ideas growing for personal projects, so it will be exciting to see where those go. Beyond that, I’m just going with the flow. I’ve found that taking opportunities when they present themselves and letting things happen usually works out for the best.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JESSE JAMES HOFFMAN