With a plant of his pole in the deep powder, George Hjelte leapt down the spine of a ridge and in doing so triggered the beginnings of an avalanche. Behind him a thick wall of snow began to fall from the almost sheer face of the mountain, trailing him and almost engulfing him as he flew down the mountain.
The snow had not yet gained full speed, but Hjelte was already in survival-mode, moving with adrenaline and natural instincts built over 16 years of skiing in all types of mountainous terrain.
In another moment, he was in the air as he jumped off of a rocky ledge away from the plummeting snow, hanging in the air for a brief moment before landing in an avalanche bubble of churned up snow and continuing down the mountain.
This is just one of the scenes from the film, “Lines of Influence” by Omen Productions and filmmaker Itai Nemovicher, in which Hjelte is featured skiing some of the steepest, rockiest and craziest terrain one can find in Tahoe, Utah and Jackson Hole.
“It was an accomplishment for me because the consequences were pretty high,” Hjelte said of the incident from above.
Hjelte, a agricultural business senior, annually takes winter quarter off in order to return to his home in Tahoe City on the north shore of Lake Tahoe to do the thing that he loves most: ski.
From an early age, Hjelte was a skier, activly competing as a ski racer. He traveled throughout California from the age of 12 to 18, and at one point even competed in the Junior Olympics.
For Hjelte, the decision to stop competitive racing and move on to big mountain skiing was an easy transition. Seeing other skiers doing “really cool” stuff on the mountain was enough to inspire Hjelte to begin to explore other areas of skiing.
“After a while I would be skiing pow’, when I should have been training or racing,” Hjelte said.
The transition however, has yielded results for Hjelte, who found a home in the film “Lines of Influence” which was released on Oct. 22 and was shown in a previous film from Omen productions “Ah-MIG-dah-la.”
“Lines of Influence,” the latest film Hjelte participated in, was shot over the course of two seasons from 2003 to 2005, and features predominately Tahoe locals and was very difficult to put together, Hjelte said.
“You can go out for a day and maybe only get one shot,” he said, adding that it takes a lot of early mornings, treks to remote locations and hiking or climbing to the tops of mountains.
“A lot of good snow in Tahoe made it so we had a lot of chances to get out,” Hjelte said. “We need powder.”
In the sport of big mountain skiing, jumps of 10 to 65 feet, rocks, avalanches and other perils are presented to enthusiasts, which is why safety is always a factor, Hjelte said.
“I always bring a shovel and a probe to find a friend if need be,” Hjelte said. “Avalanches – they are always a big concern.”
In 2003, Hjelte had a number of falls in which he dislocated his shoulder which eventually led to surgery in 2004. After a recovery time of six months of intensive physical therapy, he was back in the back country.
Despite the danger, which Hjelte admits that he thinks about in the off season, he still ventures to the limits of his ability, pushing himself to do new things and have more fun.
“If it makes you really happy, then you’re not really thinking about falling or getting hurt. It’s about having fun,” Hjelte said.
While skiing Hjelte isn’t thinking about getting hurt or the money that some skiers have began to make, as he emphasized that there are only a few guys that make a living doing it.
“I really love doing it so I’m going to do it for as long as I can,” Hjelte said. “I’m not really in it for the money.”