Alpine Routes by Volante: Video premiere and interview with Blake Smith

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Coming in at just a tick over 14 minutes and devoid of color, Alpine Routes is not your typical downhill skate video. There’s just something about the Sierra Nevada that makes people want to get a little more creative with their skate videos. Blake Smith has been skating those mountains for awhile now, and also happens to be the big dog at Volante who decided to rally the team, head for the hills, and spend a week shredding, camping, and filming the experience. I wanted to know just why Northern Californians consider those hills to be so sacred, so I sat down with Blake to talk about this film project and the giant lumps of granite that inspired it. Hit the link for the full interview and some high quality photographs by Aaron Breetwor.


Blake: Alpine R-r-r-r-routes, you gotta roll the R.

Justus: So that’s how you say it. That’s Scottish or Rastafarian?

That’s just Sliders, Jah.

So why don’t you tell me in a nutshell what the trip was all about?

Shit, I guess the trip really started back in 2008, the first time I went up and skated the roads deep in Northern California and we were just kind of exploring the area. There’s so much potential out there, and so much epic scenery, that we knew we had to do something bigger out there. A couple years down the line I finally felt like we had the right crew, the Volante crew: Eric Jensen, Nick Ronzani, Dave Tannaci, Aaron “AFB” Grulich, Brandon Tissen, Aaron Breetwor doing photos, and Chubbs and myself on video. So we rented a van, had a couple weeks of planning for it, scouted the roads, put the crew together, and we spent five or six days up in the mountains, just kinda playing it by ear, skating these roads, filming as much as possible. Chubbs killed on the hand cam, really stoked on how that footage came out. Generally the idea was to show both skating these big mountains, being up there doing the skate thing, and then also camping. We were camping by the streams, fishing, campfires every night, it was rad.


It always seemed like the Sierra Mountains were the sacred retreat from the Bay area.

You must have watched Second Nature.

Haha, yeah, and even before that with your Alpine Hammer and Grease videos, it’s where the skaters shredding the streets of SF or the East Bay, they go out there and it’s a sanctuary of big mountain bombing.

Sanctuary is the perfect word for it, those roads are sacred to me. I’ve been going up there for five years and it’s a pleasure to be up there. Honestly, those roads are no joke and you really have to be on point, you have to be precise, and aware of your surroundings. We were skating in big packs, normally you’d skate those roads a bit more spread out. For the video’s sake we were really pushing each other. The Bay area roads, SF, Berkeley, mid-peninsula, those are like training grounds for these roads, so we got up there and I’m stoked everyone made it out alive. There were a few instances of road rash and two major bails: Jensen fell at about 55mph and lost all the skin on his ass, there are some funny photos. On a more serious note, Brandon had pretty heavy fall where he narrowly dodged both a car and a 100 foot cliff, and dislocated his shoulder. He was actually OK and continued skating later that day. It’s definitely a good reminder that we’re playing in a roadway and the consequences are real, so if you’re going to go up there, or anywhere really, and skate you need to be on point and know what you’re doing. We had spotters, we made sure cars weren’t coming, but you can only control so much. Otherwise, those roads are beautiful. Each corner is epic, the scenery is epic, you’re skating in paradise. It’s hard to have a bad time up there. I think Dave said on the trip, “We landed somewhere between having a rad time and absolutely killing it.” That sums it up pretty well.




What are you doing with the video to push the ball forward, to do something different?

You see a lot of brands putting out videos every week and they’re 2-5 minute shorts of someone skating a road, and that’s rad, but with this we were more focussed on trying to produce a film, rather than a quick Youtube video. We spent a lot of time really nitpicking every detail and tried to present it as a rad time, but also an artistic piece that reflects the Volante brand, the skaters involved, and the area. They say you’re a product of your environment, so we were just trying to show this environment, what it has to offer, and how we skate it.


I know you’re stoked about the soundtrack, do you want to talk about that?

Yeah, totally. Man, we lucked out. The night after the trip, we all got back, we were just beat from skating and camping all week. Brandon Tissen was staying at my house and we were up until 1 in the morning watching footage and listening to music over it. He threw out this one band that he couldn’t even remember the name, he thought it was Spindraft or Spindrift or something, so I typed it into Youtube and the first song was actually the last song we used in the edit, “Red Reflection” by Spindrift, and we just fell in love with the soundtrack. We just watched the footage over and over to the whole soundtrack that night two or three times through. We were just sold on it, like, “Yup, this is it, this is what we’re going to do,” and we ended up using five Spindrift songs throughout the edit and the vibe, and the skating, and the coloring just worked together. We knew right off the bat that we had to use this music.

How does the Bay area style translate in the Sierras?

It was interesting seeing some of the San Francisco natives like Dave skating a big mountain, ’cause I hadn’t seen it before. Dave crushes in the city, so it was rad to see him killing it out there in that environment and to see all those skills you learn in the city, the more technical skills, translate to big mountain skateboarding where, yeah, you’re moving faster, but everything slows down a little bit, the corners are a little more drawn out. Everyone handled it very well. Aaron and Nick, those guys grew up skating the Sierras and big mountain roads and definitely it showed. This was also Brandon’s first Volante trip with us, so going into it I didn’t know with his skating how he would handle it with the crew, but he absolutely crushed it, vibed really well with the crew. The video shows, just watch Brandon.


What’s some of the craziest shit that happened off the skateboards?

It was cold. Chubbs forgot his sleeping bag, and the first morning he woke up with his toes frozen over, so after that he and Brandon snuggled in a sleeping bag for the rest of the trip. We melted a skateboard truck. Everything else that happened I can’t really talk about, I’ll just leave it at that. Overall it was a great trip though. Yeah, it was cold, it was early season. We were there in May and there was still a bunch of snow, you can see it on the side of the road. It’s also tough working, filming, moving up and down the hill at 10,000 feet. That altitude definitely wears on you. Other than that, we were up there having fun. We were on a mission, so everyone was really on point.


Are there going to be more of these in the future?

Yeah, we already have more roads marked that we want to go back to, so keep an eye out for Alpine Routes 2.

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