The Big Idea: Rich storytelling proves there’s a deep side to every snow story

“The Godfather of Freeskiiing,” Mike Douglas has been innovating in the ski industry his entire career, but since founding Switchback Entertainment in 2007, this innovation has snowballed from slope to screen. The ski icon is pushing boundaries in new terrain, using rich storytelling to produce films that create powerful connections with his audience.

An obsession for progression drives the eternal student in Douglas. He sees inspiration everywhere and taps into the collaborative nature of filmmakers to share moving stories at the heart of mountain culture.

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“One of the most fun things about this business is that you’re constantly learning. I don’t think anyone would ever consider themselves to be a master in this game and I would consider myself to be very much a student of this craft... Each day we just try to bring out the best from where we are at any given time.”

A culture of excellence

Captivating content calls for a dream team of storytellers. Douglas focuses on getting the right people that can widen the lens on what’s possible to produce.

“The team we have assembled is people who have inspired me with their work and then we found a way to work together,” said Douglas.

In his eyes, you can teach the technical tricks, but true greatness comes from passion for precision and unwavering attention to detail. His Switchback team, anchored by director/editor/cinematographer creatives, Jeff Thomas and Anthony Bonello come with a powerful x-factor that can’t be taught in a classroom.

The Switchback team shares a core value of pursuing excellence, always. Their values impact who they work with and the work they do. They ride the moral high ground, especially when it comes to issues around the environment and sustainability. This culture of dedication to their craft fuels authentic storytelling, but it’s also the reason they can survive and thrive during days and months spent huddled together in a tent, climbing a mountain or editing long beyond midnight.

An appetite for innovation

Breaking new trail requires a tireless passion for learning and Douglas has a talent for finding inspiration everywhere.

Local creativity can have a big impact. Douglas says working with Dave Mossop, director at Sherpas Cinema, opened his eyes to a wider world of potential beyond typical ski content. Collaboration with Origin Design and Communications also breeds big ideas and presents the opportunity to partner with Whistler Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler.

“We get together, we have brainstorm sessions and look at new ways to bring more to the table,” says Douglas of collaborating with the Origin team. “It’s a fun process and it lets us get out of our bubble that we operate in as well.”

Douglas also tunes into the youthful creative energy of the Vimeo community and is a fan (and a student) of feature films across all genres. The Whistler Film Festival and other film festivals create a special environment where industry gathers to share work that is often not accessible on mainstream channels. It’s also an opportunity to reward his team when he can bring them along to share Switchback’s success.

The beauty in imperfection

An introduction to the Mountain Film Festival in Telluride in 2010 was the catalyst to take his storytelling to another level and Douglas has captivated audiences with stories that speak to the spirit of mountain culture ever since. Switchback brings the same authentic storytelling to the work they produce for big brands like Whistler Blackcomb and Solomon as they do for feature length films like SNOWMAN. Douglas knows his audience and knows that surface-level stories characteristic of generic commercial messages will simply feel like white noise.

“Nothing ever reaches a real high unless there’s a low involved and that’s the way we look at telling stories. We try to get to the real stories and figure out an authentic way to tell them,” explained Douglas, who believes the beauty of storytelling is that the audience doesn’t expect life (or a brand) to be perfect all the time, but craves what feels authentic.

It’s this authentic approach that fuels the progression of Switchback’s art of storytelling and an honest thirst for knowledge that drives this innovative spirit.

“The best education is just to roll up your sleeves and dive into something. You can talk about it all day long, but if you want to actually learn you gotta go for it — get your hands dirty.”

Make business easy — tune in to The Big Idea, a bi-weekly column from the Whistler Chamber of Commerce showcasing a Whistler business innovating in their sector.

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