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Tracing Influence dives deep into what makes an athlete

Switchback Entertainment film set to screen at VIMFF and Whistler Film Festival
Connor Ryan is featured in the film Tracing Influence sharing the story behind his biggest influences.

If you find yourself tearing up at Switchback Entertainment’s Tracing Influence, Mike Douglas won’t mind.

“There are people certainly that this is hitting quite deeply,” he says. “And the number of people that have told me they had tears in their eyes or were bawling is pretty high, too.”

The longtime Whistler director (who himself is an influence to many in the freeski community) isn’t aiming to make you cry, but he does want to make ski movies with heart.

“It’s still a ski film, for sure, but I like to make films that make people think and feel in a bit of a different way or a deeper way,” he says.

The film operates almost as a series of mini-documentaries (of course, interspersed with hype-you-up ski footage) of six athletes and the people they deem their biggest influence in the sport. To connect the dots between their enviable careers and the people who inspired them, each section also delves into their childhood and history.

“It’s something that’s been in the back of my mind for a lot of my life,” Douglas says. “I was a kid dreaming about skiing and always looking at the heroes I had when I was younger. When you look back as an adult and think about what made the difference, I can pin it down to a few people who said something, did something, or just had this profound effect on what I chose to do.”

But why “influence” rather than “hero?”

Well, the former word has developed a bit of a bad reputation in the social media age.

“There’s so much talk about influence these days—usually related to social media— and it’s often referred to in a negative way. That was another way I looked at it: what is real influence? Where is there substance and where is it fluff? And is there a difference? These are questions we set out to investigate when we started the film,” he says.

In order to find subjects, the team sent out a survey to 20 people in their skiing sphere. They asked questions about their influences and then parsed the results for two things: “the passion of their response” and a wide variety of answers, Douglas says. One thing about the results that surprised him was the gender divide in the answers. Nearly every female athlete who responded cited a family member or close friend as their biggest influence, whereas the men had “a more abstract hero” like a professional skier they had seen in a movie or at an event.

“It was quite interesting,” Douglas says. “At one point, early into the film’s development, we considered going down that road, interviewing psychologists and digging into why that is.”

But, in the end, the six athletes’ stories were too compelling to pass up.

They include: Alexi Godbout and Philou Poirier, Mali Noyes and her mother Kathy Noyes, Robert Aaring and Mark Abma, Emma Patterson and her brother Jonclay Patterson, Gaëtan Gaudissard and Victor Galuchot, and Connor Ryan and Cody Townsend.

“I think they all moved me in some way,” Douglas says. “I was really pleased at how different they were ... In this group, the way they were inspired and the paths that moved them forward were all very different, which, to me, was really cool.”

Tracing Influence is set to screen as part of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival on Friday, Nov. 18 at the Kay Meek Arts Centre. (Tickets are available at here.)

A handful of other films screening at the festival also feature Whistler talent, including Unfinished Business, Dancing in the Mountains, and Rascal2.

Meanwhile, Tracing Influence is also screening at the Whistler Film Festival on Thursday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 3 at 6:30 p.m., both at the Maury Young Arts Centre. Tickets are available at