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photo by Shayne Lynn

Moguls & Movies
Josh Murphy ’93 spreads the freeheel gospel

Unless Robert Frost had a latent passion for telemark skiing, a bent as yet undiscovered by literary historians, it’s unlikely that “freeing the heel” is what the bard had in mind when he sang of that road less traveled. But let’s give Josh “Bones” Murphy ’93 the poetic license he deserves when he invokes Frost’s famous phrase at the close of The Lost Season, his latest film exploring the sport and spirit of freeheel skiing (terminology Murphy much prefers over the crusty connotations of “telemark”).

Plenty of fork-in-the-road soul-searching informed the fourth tele-centric film venture from Murphy’s Lake Tahoe area-based Unparalleled Productions. His third film appeared to be a breakthrough and a chance to find some solid ground in a tough business, then sponsors pulled out and Murphy was left wondering whether his quest to capture the beauty and athleticism of freeheel skiing and share it with the world was a quixotic one. The Lost Season is Murphy’s answer to that question. During the fall semester, the alumnus returned to UVM for a showing in the Campus Center Theater, just the sixth public screening for the film. Murphy told the audience that his intention is to make films that are about something greater than “how big a cliff you can jump off,” but attempt to get at the passion of the sport and the people who pursue it. “I’m trying, at the end of the day, to give you a good story,” he says.

Though Murphy is a native of Buffalo, New York, his Vermont roots trace back to his great-great-grandfather, Roswell Farnham, governor of the state in the 1880s, and his UVM ties link five generations of graduates. It was during his own UVM years that Murphy found the skiing niche that would capture his imagination. On the lookout for some more downhill challenge, he was introduced to telemark by then Outdoor Programs director Steve Rubenstein, who took him out for a day at Mad River Glen. Despite the limitations of the era’s minimalist gear — “basically, I was skiing in socks” —Murphy was quickly hooked.

“That's when the funny stuff started,” Murphy recalls, speaking on the phone from the Truckee, California house that doubles as business space for Unparalleled Productions and home to the Murphy family — Josh; Emily, an elementary school teacher; their 9-year-old daughter, Madison; and “one more on the way.” The “funny stuff” of which he speaks was skiing mogul courses competitively on telemark skis, a skill he honed training alongside the U.S. Alpine team and the Catamount ski team, where he was the self-described “wing-nut” on tele skis. Murphy made quick progress and won the eastern championships and finished top 20 nationally in telemark moguls in 1993.

Teaching and graduate school were Murphy’s focus for the next several years, a span when snowboarding and extreme sports rejuvenated the downhill scene, telemark included. Still, tele’s rep as the bastion of “guys with beards down to here,” was a tough one to shake. “Nobody was showing the sports as exciting and intriguing for its style,” says Murphy, who soon decided he could do more to spread the good word through film than with his own personal efforts in the sport.

After some early exploration with a cheap digital video camera, Murphy was convinced that his telemark movies must match the quality of the top alpine and snowboard filmmakers if they were to have a fighting chance to snare viewers. Adam DesLauriers, one of those filmmakers, helped Murphy get started shooting 16mm film and shared his insight about how to capture the excitement of skiing on film.

The Lost Season drew a large crowd in Burlington last fall, and has played in several like-minded outdoor towns. Murphy’s work promises to gain more attention as the film has been accepted to the X-Dance Action Sports Film Festival, an adjunct to Sundance and prime opportunity to reach a more mainstream audience.
Will there be an Unparalleled 5? Murphy’s frank that gaining sponsorship is a perennial challenge and the expensive business of filmmaking is a road he loves, but not the easiest way to make a living. But a good man who can ski and shoot film simultaneously is hard to find, and Murphy has applied that skill to freelance work for television commercials and other projects. As seven-feet of snow piled up in the Sierras in January, Murphy was preparing to travel some new paths in Panama, part of recent work filming a hunting and fishing program for ESPN.

Get a glimpse of Josh Murphy’s freeheeling films at www.Upproductions.com.