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From Alexandria to Japan

Growing up in Alexandria, the closest Matt Standal ever came to traversing a snowy backcountry mountain was on a local ski hill. But Standal is now using his experience as a photojournalist to tell a story of businesses struggling to take advanta...

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Matt Standal snaps a quick photo before heading out for some preseason resort skiing in November. (Contributed)

Growing up in Alexandria, the closest Matt Standal ever came to traversing a snowy backcountry mountain was on a local ski hill.

But Standal is now using his experience as a photojournalist to tell a story of businesses struggling to take advantage of the unique backcountry skiing and snowboarding conditions on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
“I never thought I would be a ski and snowboard documentary filmmaker, and I am so excited to do that right now,” Standal said. “It’s been a huge goal of mine for the last three or four years.”

Standal’s journey from growing up in Alexandria to becoming a photojournalist has led him to tropical beaches and now the mountains of northern Japan.

CAREER BEGINNINGS

After graduating from Jefferson High School in 2003, Standal attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth with a goal to become a journalist. Standal graduated from UMD in 2007 and embarked on a career that eventually led him back to Alexandria.
His work at newspapers in Duluth and the Florida Keys helped guide him to a career in photojournalism. While in Florida, Standal also worked as a scuba instructor and dabbled in underwater photography.
He returned to Alexandria to work at KSAX as a multimedia journalist in 2009. The position was his first in television news and led to others at stations in Duluth and Idaho.
During his time in Idaho, Standal said he realized how much he enjoyed spending time in the wilderness instead of inside an office.
“It’s so much more fun to do outdoor sports, hunting and fishing, skiing and snowboarding, than it is to do stories on house fires and car crashes,” Standal said.
Standal worked with television news in Idaho from 2011 to 2014, when a new opportunity opened up.
Standal was hired as a video technician with the CBS show Survivor and spent this past summer working with camera crews in Nicaragua.
“It was great,” Standal said. “We got paid a bunch of money to have a ton of fun in a tropical country with very few laws.”
Once he finished work with Survivor, Standal moved back to Alexandria for a month in preparation for his upcoming project as producer of the Hokkaido Backcountry Project.

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BACKCOUNTRY PROJECT

Standal first got the idea for doing the Hokkaido Backcountry Project through correspondence with the Japanese resort owners online at a skiing website.
“I knew that if I wanted to make this work, I had to take a chance,” Standal said. “And so I met and started a huge chain of emails with these guys, and we Skyped, and we emailed back and forth and made videos.”
The idea for the documentary is to show viewers the challenges faced by Japanese mountain guides when faced with strict government laws that often ban the use of helicopters, snowmobiles, and snowcats in backcountry terrain.
“The government just hasn’t kept up with the demand of backcountry skiers and snowboarders; they haven’t responded to the demand … with modern safety regulations and with open ears,” Standal said.
Standal is working with Black Diamond Lodge and the Hokkaido Backcountry Club in the Niseko town of Hokkaido, Japan. He is working closely with Clayton Kernaghan, the owner and operator of Black Diamond Lodge, and Makoto Koizumi, the owner of a helicopter ski and snowboard company.
Standal’s mother, Nancy Standal, said it was no surprise that he wanted to take on this project. As a child, Nancy had observed his enjoyment of the outdoors and distant locations.
“As a kid, he was an avid reader, even as a very small child,” said Nancy, who lives in Alexandria with her husband, Terry Abram. “He was always interested in faraway places. He always said what he wanted to be when he grows up was a journalist who would go take pictures in faraway places.”
Standal plans to be in Japan working on the film until this spring. So far, Nancy said he is excited to be working on the project and developing new video techniques.
“We’re happy if he’s enjoying what he’s doing, and we’re certainly happy for him and support him in any way that we can,” she said.

PROJECT FUTURE

Once the project wraps up in April, Standal will return to Alexandria to write about his experience and finish promoting the film.
Standal hopes the documentary will be viewed by both Japanese and English speakers.
“My plan is to enter it into several film festivals,” Standal said. “We’re also going to get a Japanese translator to translate it into Japanese subtitles and English subtitles, depending on who’s speaking during the video.”
Anyone who pledges $10 to Standal’s Kickstarter fund will get the film as a download in April or May when production is completed.
He mentioned the Banff  Mountain Film Festival in Alberta and the Sundance Film Festival in Utah as two places he plans to show the documentary.
Standal has enjoyed his career in photojournalism, and hopes that he will have more opportunities to use his skills in the future.
“In the past 10 years, I’ve been a newspaper writer, waiter, security guard, scuba diving instructor, apple picker, TV reporter and now documentary filmmaker,” Standal said.
“I’d love to continue creating photos and video as long as the opportunity is out there.”

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