Snow My Gosh: Pittsburgh Urban Skiing
How seven friends from Mt. Lebanon conquered Mt. Washington.
When Snowmageddon rocked the ‘Burgh in early February, most people waited out the storm on their couches, swaddled in Snuggies, trying to fight cabin fever with reality TV marathons. But instead of watching "Jersey Shore" and complaining like the rest of us, seven friends from Mt. Lebanon decided to make snow work for them.
Led by Colin Sander—a 22-year-old film producer from Los Angeles who had returned home to Pittsburgh to work on the upcoming Russell Crowe film The Next Three Days—the crew grabbed their skis and a digital camcorder and set out to answer a simple question: Can we ski down Mt. Washington (elevation: 1,200 ft)?
We sat down and talked with Sander (he’s the guy in the white snowsuit and Steelers jersey in the video) about how he and his friends were able to make this amazing video:
PM: First of all—Dude, how did you ski all the way down Mt. Washington?!
C.S.: Yeah, most of us in the video had good experience skiing, like, haggard woods and stuff like that. Our first worry was getting citations for trespassing, so we tried to leave early in the morning around 6 a.m. and go in all stealthily. We knew it was going to be a little cruddy on the way down the mountain. We were skiing on top of covered-up bushes and branches and logs, so we just really had to be on our toes.
PM: It might be more impressive that you got all six friends out of bed at 6 a.m. without someone deciding to sleep in.
C.S.: Well, the night before we killed a few cold ones at my buddy’s house and got amped for the adventure. But I made everyone go to bed at 10:30 so they would be ready to go.
PM: What were people’s reactions to seeing you roaming the city in ski gear?
C.S.: Actually, when we finally got to the bottom of Mt. Washington we had to go over train tracks and military crawl under some bushes to get back out onto the road, so finally we stumbled into a parking lot dead tired, and the first thing we heard was a guy yell in this thick Pittsburgh accent, “Hey, Seven Springs is that way!”
At least now we have cars. When we were in high school and none of us had our driver’s licenses, we would take the trolley from Mt. Lebanon to downtown, and then a bus to Oakland and we would just be standing on the bus holding our skis. I remember people giving us some pretty ridiculous looks. The bus drivers would be like, “We don’t service Seven Springs, sir.”
PM: Did you get any negative attention?
C.S.: When we were skiing the rails in Oakland, the police came to talk to us at the very end. This police officer was looking at the jumps—which were right by the stairs—and we could tell he was really confused, like “Why would anyone do this?”
PM: How long did the video take you to shoot?
C.S.: Four days total. Two days shoveling, building jumps and filming in Oakland by the [University of Pittsburgh’s] Peterson Event Center and at Wilshire Park in Upper St. Clair. Then another two days on Mt. Washington and by the Joe Montana Bridge [on Rt. 43 in New Eagle], which were straight powder runs with no building involved.
PM: And you hiked back up the hills in ski boots every time?
C.S.: We just did one run on Mt. Washington, but we probably hiked back up the hill by the Joe Montana bridge like three times.
PM: Are you still sore?
C.S.: Oh, yeah. By the end of those four days of shooting I was like, “I can’t touch sking for at least two weeks.”
PM: Any scars?
C.S.: Nothing too severe. There were a couple minor wrecks, but we came out pretty unscathed.
PM: Did you tell your parents about your plans to conquer Mt. Washington?
C.S.: I threw around the Mt. Washington idea to my mom and she freaked out a little bit, so I kept quiet. But my dad knew what was up. He just looked the other way, because he would have wanted to do the same thing at my age.
To check out more of Sander’s work, visit colinsander.com