Numinous won Powder magazine’s “Ski Film of the Year” award. But what exactly does “Numinous” mean? In an effort to explain, the athletes and crew take a lexiconic leap to a place of the feared and the far out. Words by Mikey Nixon. Photos by Nic Teichrob.
In the mountains, language often falls short of describing our days. Throughout mountain culture, we consistently fail at finding the right phrase to explain the experience. We’ve tried “all time”, “epic” and 1,000 other iterations. All fall short. So, it’s surprising that this late in the game, Whistler, British Columbia, skier Kye Petersen and the filmmakers at Dendrite Studios have unearthed a word that may finally sum it up:
Numinous: (adj) describing an experience that makes you fearful yet fascinated; awed yet attracted. The powerful, personal feeling of being overwhelmed and inspired.
The word has a few other definitions, but this one is the interpretation that resonated with the team who created Numinous, a feature ski film that hit screens last fall. The movie is a culmination of Dendrite’s principle partners, Athan Merrick and Nic Teichrob, documenting two years in the mountains with Petersen and his friends. “There are a lot of feelings that people don’t even know how to put into words,” says Teichrob, who co-directed the movie with Petersen. “I began searching for a word that describes it. Once we found the word that described everything, it allowed us to slow things down and showcase singular elements of nature or singular experiences.”
While many production companies have been weaving storylines and voiceovers into their films, with varying degrees of success, Numinous focuses more on non-verbal communication. “It’s a standard, location-based ski porn with a subtle storyline,” explains Petersen. “Basically, it’s an organic, visual picture of what went down. We wanted to capture the feeling you get when you ski.” The ‘numinosity’, man.
The film was shot entirely in BC, and the cast reflects this by including a host of mostly Whistler locals who regularly ski with Petersen: including Matty Richard, Logan Pehota, Callum Pettit and Dane Tudor. The sole American standout is Ryland Bell, an Alaskan fisherman-snowboarder who eats big mountains for breakfast.
Petersen maintains his favourite piece is a point-of-view segment shot almost entirely on Whistler Blackcomb. Few, if any, production companies have managed to capture what it feels like to blast through the woods on a pow day with your closest friends. But with the singular definition of a word informing their artistic approach, the Numinous crew succeeds where so many others have failed. “I think the film demonstrates what we’re trying to get across,” explains Teichrob. “We can say all this shit in words, but, by watching a film, the combination of sounds and carefully-curated visuals can take a person into a more in-depth level of understanding of the feelings we’re trying to share.”
The dictionary definition of numinous goes towards the divine. It describes an experience as “having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity.”
“There’s a big difference between spirituality and religion though,” Petersen explains. “For me, it’s not just about the connection you get with your friends, or with the creatures that are out there. It’s about the connection you have with the land.”
The movie’s intro features a shot that Teichrob singles out as a defining moment of the project. It depicts two ravens perched in a tree as the sunrise lights Squamish’s Tantalus Range ablaze behind them. The pair takes flight and starts soaring and dive-bombing through the morning light. “That kinda thing won’t mean a lot to some viewers,” says Teichrob. “But the depth of our connections with ravens in the mountains is a significant, numinous relationship.” Petersen laughs when he tells me that he and the crew started using numinous in their everyday language. Maybe that old word, born sometime in the 17th century, will work its way back into the lexicon of contemporary mountain culture? Either way, Numinous serves as its own visual definition of the antiquated term. Hopefully, it will evoke what drew viewers to the mountains in the first place.