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Through Darkness | A film about splitboarding in the dark

Snowboarding through the Polar Night

There is darkness and then there is darkness. For many, darkness is often related to evening and night-time, but for some, it is constant. The Polar Night is a phenomenon that occurs within the polar circles in the most northern and southern regions of our planet. What it means, essentially, is that you’re faced with complete darkness 24 hours a day.

“You can’t see that much so all of your instincts take-over”

Upp in Tromsø, Norway, where ‘Through Darkness’ was filmed, the Polar Night can last up to a couple of months. Back in May, we got to have a sneak peek at what to expect from when riding in such extreme circumstances when the Through Darkness Trailer dropped. If you’re keen to see the entire film before it goes live to the public, head over to the Winter Opener in Edinburgh on the 23rd of November.

We had the pleasure to sit down with the directors of the film, Melissa Brandner and Manuela Mandl. The pair have both recently suffered from severe concussions, a factor that became a crucial part of this project.

Photo: Isak Dalsfelt.

You directed the film together, what was the idea behind making it?

MB: We were interested in showing dark riding, especially since I’ve lived in the arctic for so long, and it’s so beautiful. And then the concept of darkness kind of led us in a different direction because ‘darkness’ is such a complex word with so many meanings.

MM: In the beginning, it was more about the aesthetics of the polar night and the feeling of riding in the dark. I was super curious about it because I’d struggled to imagine it. But then the concept slowly transformed to what we kind of lived through [talking about their injuries] and how great it would be to use the polar night as a metaphor for what we’ve been through.

“When we rode the same line in daylight, I was actually terrified”

The project was done in partnership with Chasing the Stigma, whose mission is to remove the fear and stigma people may face when opening up about traumas.

Were you both familiar with “Chasing the Stigma” before the project?

MB: I actually only found out about it after the project. I reached out to them and they were really excited about our project, which was great since I was really excited about what they were doing.

MM: I think it is super important, if you go through difficult phases, to know how to deal with it, which is why it made sense to collaborate with Chasing Stigma.

Photo: Isak Dalsfelt.

How was it to ride in complete darkness?

MB: The first time I rode in the dark was up in Svalbard, and the first line we chose was this steep icy one, just out of town. But, I didn’t really find it scary because I couldn’t see how steep it was or how exposed we were. The sky was green with lights, so it was just the most stunning experience. When we rode the same line in daylight, I was actually terrified. It was cosier in the dark because you don’t see everything.

“For me, it definitely felt a bit intimidating, but at the same time it is also so beautiful and it gives you this totally different experience of the mountains”

MM: When we are touring in the alps we also have to start early, but it was the first time for me to go riding in the dark. And I have to say that it is kind of scary. You look at maps, you are prepared, but it’s all so very different. Just trying to get a hang of the distances, scaling, how big things are, it’s just so much harder. Also, what you normally do, is that you look around, see what the snow is doing, and all of that is not really possible. For me, it definitely felt a bit intimidating, but at the same time it is also so beautiful and it gives you this totally different experience of the mountains. But yeh, it is scary.

Photo: Isak Dalsfelt.

How did you prepare for it?

MB: Well, obviously we had a lot of headlamps and a lot of batteries. We could spend 14h days on the mountain, so we had to have a lot more equipment than you would normally have. And then planning ahead, you need a lot more knowledge about where you’re going and about the avalanche risks. And also, the weather patterns, how they are going to change. Also making sure you have a good team with really good communication because it’s much easier to lose one in the dark so you kind of need to know where everyone is all the time.

“We keep a snow diary ourselves to keep track of the avalanche conditions up here because we don’t really have a good forecasting system”

MM: For me coming from the alps the avalanche patrol services give out a very precise avalanche forecast but up in Norway, there is not that much information. So, that combined with the factor of darkness makes it much more complex but also more exciting.

MB: We keep a snow diary ourselves to keep track of the avalanche conditions up here because we don’t really have a good forecasting system.

Photo: Isak Dalsfelt.

Were there some unexpected scenarios you didn’t really think about before heading out in the dark?

MM: I was super scared about the cold. In the alps we normally have good weather so for me Norway was super cold. Something that really surprised me was that as soon as there was a little snowfall, even with the headlamps on, you couldn’t see anything anymore. You got snowflakes coming at your face and into your view, and then there were all the reflections of the snowflakes. I didn’t expect that.

“You get very different ideas on how to ride because you see it all so differently”

I also didn’t expect how amazing it would be to see the mountain in a different way. With a headlamp you light up the mountain in a way that would naturally never happen – the sun always shines from above, whereas the headlamp is from below or the side, so you just suddenly see things differently. You get very different ideas on how to ride because you see it all so differently. This was all new for me. It was overwhelming and amazing.

Do you feel like you become more conscious about yourself when riding in the dark?

MB: Yeh you do, you hold back a bit. So, during the film shoot, I fell off a cliff. I was directed to do a turn and we didn’t know that there was a cliff just after, so I just fell off it. It wasn’t very big but sometimes you might just miss some features you would definitely see during the daytime. Where the shadow is, where the light is hitting… You have to be a bit more cautious.

Photo: Isak Dalsfelt.

What about the pros and cons of riding in the dark?

MB: A pro is that it gives you a different perspective on the mountains. You don’t have to go huge to be excited, like in daylight. It also triggers different senses.

“So, during the film shoot I fell off a cliff”

MM: I found it so cool how all this knowledge after all these years of riding, like suddenly in the dark, your body works for you, your brain is more conscious because it’s very much just reactions basically. You can’t see that much so all of your instincts take over. I would say that is a pro because you just learn to trust yourself a lot more and you also experience much more intensely how much you actually already know without knowing. The con really is that it is so much harder to see dangers signs. If there was an avalanche somewhere, during the day you’d see it, and things further away, these are things you can’t see in the dark.

MB: And bad weather can make the situation develop much more rapidly in the dark. It’s just higher risk, a lot higher risk I would say.

Photo: Isak Dalsfelt.

Anything else you’d like to point out about riding in the dark?

MM: I think everybody should do it!

MB: Yeh definitely, it is very awesome – in a different way.

MM: Especially from the point of a micro adventure. Even in your backyard forest, which during the day time might be not that exciting, but in the dark, just riding down, it’s such an amazing feeling. You don’t have to do the big missions in the night, you can just go for other things.

MB: I think it is cool with headlamps and stuff that people can get outside during dark season and still ski and stuff. Also, if you’ve got the moonlight and the northern lights you don’t even need the headlamp sometimes, that’s really cool.

Directors: Melissa Brandner and Manuela Mandl.
Riders: Melissa Brandner, Manuela Mandl, Eirik Verlo, Krister Kopala and Hampus Cederholm.
Film and edit: Joonas Mattila.

The project was backed by Furberg snowboards, Spark R & D, Moonlight Mountain Gear, Julbo Eyewear, and Tromsø Kommune Norway.

Head over to the Winter Opener in Edinburgh to catch their UK premiere on November 23rd!

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