University of Vermont

Alum Josh “Bones” Murphy Blends Skiing, Science, and Film to Tell Stories

Josh Murphy shooting the 2010 film The River Why
Josh Murphy shooting the 2010 film The River Why

Josh "Bones" Murphy (NR '93), owner, producer, and director at Unparalleled Productions in San Francisco, took his natural resource science background and his achievements as a telemark (he prefers freeheel!) mogul skier to California. There, he began producing films that would propel freeheel skiing into the forefront of extreme sports.

A fifth generation UVM graduate whose great-great-grandfather was governor of Vermont, Josh, a native of Buffalo, New York, came to UVM as an avid downhill skier. He took up freeheel skiing, then in its infancy, at the recommendation of UVM's then director of Outdoor Programs, Steve Rubenstein. At Mad River Glen in Waitsfield Vermont, Josh became hooked on the sport and pushed it to its limits. Although freeheel skiing was not a collegiate ski team event, Josh trained alongside UVM and U.S. Ski Team athletes.  Once races started for the season, Josh went his own way to ski in telemark mogul competitions and race slalom and giant slalom events. In 1993, his hard work paid off, and he won the eastern mogul championship and finished in the top 20 nationally in telemark racing.

Eager to get the word out about the thrill and style of freeheel skiing, Josh turned to film as a medium. An opportunity arose in the winter of 1999-2000. After graduate school in fisheries biology at Humboldt State University in California, he worked for the California Tahoe Conservancy but was laid off mid-winter. What better time than that to produce a film about skiing!

With a used 16mm camera purchased on eBay and lessons from downhill skiing filmmaker Adam DesLauriers (UVM '96) of Vermont's Bolton Valley Ski Resort, Josh learned to shoot film of extreme skiing events. On the ski slopes of Tahoe, he met two Norwegian freeheel skiers, the best he had ever seen. They invited Josh to Norway, where skiing was born in Telemark in the 1800s. His first film Unparalleled: A Journey from the Roots of Telemark Skiing (2000) tells the story of the progression of skiing from its beginnings and was the first modern film produced about freeheel skiing.

Josh had always wanted to be a scientist. His childhood idol was Jacques Cousteau, ocean scientist and underwater filmmaker. "It wasn't so much what he did underwater," said Josh of Cousteau, "but how his films took us to places we couldn't go." Josh thought it was the most amazing thing that could be done, and he worked to capture that same thrill by combining film with his love of and talents for freeheel skiing.

Using contacts in the ski industry from his competitive skiing days, Josh persuaded companies such as K2 and Patagonia to back his film and push it through K2's distribution channels and into ski shops. The film took hold in skiing and extreme sport circles.

Each year after that, he produced another film, Unparalleled II through IV, along with an instructional film on freeheel skiing. Josh got more press than he ever expected. His films received coverage in Outside, Skiing, and Powder magazines, among many others, and he went on to hold several successful national and international film tours. The films served to establish a modern, marketable image of freeheel skiing and a new level of athleticism in the sport.

When asked how his films compare to those of Warren Miller, Josh remarks that he has been called the "Warren Miller of freeheel skiing." "I tried to create that same thrill and excitement but infuse a theme throughout that gets at the passion for the sport and defines who a freeheel skier is," stated Josh. "I try to tell a story."

Since then, Josh has branched out to apply his filmmaking talents and science background to TV commercial, documentary program, and feature film production. He also develops material for community resource projects such as river restoration in the Lake Tahoe basin. "I try to reach people through entertainment but also with a message to be conservation-minded," he explained. Josh has developed outdoor sporting and conservation material for ESPN and PBS, among other broadcast syndicates. He relies on his science background to help create the narrative for his programs and films.

In 2010, he was co-producer and second unit director of The River Why, a feature film based on the flyfishing novel by David Duncan about a young fly fisherman coming of age in the wilds of Oregon. Josh filmed the fish and underwater scenes and the scenic beauty of the Oregon wilderness.

He now lives in Mill Valley, California, with his wife Emily, an elementary school teacher and garden designer, and their two daughters Madison and Sinead. They still own a home in Lake Tahoe, where they retreat on weekends to ski. His Unparalleled Productions office is located in the Presidio of San Francisco, a decommissioned military base turned into commercial and residential spaces popular with artists, and two blocks from the offices of film producer George Lucas.