It only seems fitting that McRae Williams’ first flick with Teton Gravity Research, a titan of powder porn, is called “Magic Hour.” It will be showing Monday at the Red Butte Garden Amphitheater.
The magic hour, sometimes known as the golden hour, is a term photographers use to describe the brief period shortly after sunrise or shortly before sunset when the world is cast in a rosy glow. It also aptly describes the aura around the 2018 Olympian from Park City these days as he enters a new stage of his ski career.
The question is, is the sun just rising or is it about to set on McRae Williams?
Even he doesn’t know the answer, but he’s applying suntan lotion, just in case.
“It would be an honor to be a full-time member of the TGR fam,” he said, “but whether it be TGR or some other production company or even perhaps my own YouTube channel, there’s no doubt I’m going to continue grinding and doing what I love to do. There’s plenty of opportunity out there, and if you’re doing what you love and working hard for it everything just seems to fall into place.”
At 27, Williams was already an old man in his sport when he qualified to compete in slopestyle at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018 — just the second time the event based on park skiing was included in the Olympics. He had no intentions, then, of trying to make the team for this year’s Winter Games in Beijing, where fellow Parkites Alex Hall, Nick Goepper and Colby Stevenson all brought home medals.
Instead, his transition plan included fulfilling his obligations for his main sponsor, Rockstar, and continuing to film with the grassroots production company Level 1. Both options fell through.
“That was a hard hit to take,” Williams, 31, said.
To his credit, Williams had seen that day coming — though he didn’t think it would happen so soon — and had saved for it. For the past couple years, he’s been living on that savings while keeping his eyes open for opportunities.
One came in the form of an early investment in an energy drink, though a completely different kind from Rockstar. It’s a yerba mate company called Yerba Cha that, the part-owner said, “has absolutely taken off.”
He also kept skiing and filming, even if it was just for small projects. And, as it so happened, one of those projects — “Must Be Nice” with John Spriggs — which had been more of a labor of love than a film intended for a general audience, got picked up by TGR.
“It was huge for us and resulted in an insane amount of views,” Williams said. “I think over 100,000 views on the movie, which our plan was to maybe get a couple thousand on some random YouTube channel.”
That also cracked open the door for Williams to appear in “Magic Hour.” For his segment, he was paired with two Canadian skiers — Simon Hillis, 18, and Nick McNutt, 33 — for a heliskiing expedition in British Columbia’s Valhalla Range.
Just as with his Olympic career, Williams is on the older side of athletes active in the backcountry film scene — especially with young rippers like Hillis and 15-year-old Kai Owens laying down fresh tracks and tricks. But for inspiration he can turn to some of TGR’s older guard, such as Utah’s Tim Durtschi, who is 36.
It also helps that his current employers look at him worldly rather than geriatric, and they seem keen on putting him in future TGR films.
“As an Olympian and X Games gold medalist, McRae has clearly been a powerhouse in slopestyle, but as his desire and experience in backcountry skiing has grown he has been a great addition to the TGR family,” Jon “J.K.” Klaczkiewicz, TGR’s longtime head of production, said in an email. “... I think he just scratched the surface, and we are excited to get more days in the backcountry with McRae in the future.”
Does that mean the sun is actually rising on the 31-year-old former Olympian? It’s certainly looking that way. And even if this stage of his skiing career only has as much sunlight as a day in late December, he’s going to revel in every last shimmer of it.
“I don’t think any parent would ever tell their kid to do it my way,” he admitted. “But it’s worked out along the way, just staying driven and believing and stuff.”
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IF YOU GO
What: Annual TGR ski film and festival
When: Monday, 6 p.m. (film at dusk, ~8:30 p.m.)
Where: Red Butte Garden Amphitheater, 2188 Red Butte Canyon Rd, Salt Lake City, UT 84108
Tickets: $25/adults, $10 children 16-under