The first time Josh Hartnett read 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain he couldn’t believe it was a work of nonfiction. The recently released novel shares former hockey player Eric LeMarque’s firsthand account of how an idyllic snowboarding trip to Mammoth in 2004 turned into a weeklong survival story, taking place in the remote wilderness of Sierra Nevada.
Harnett, who plays LeMarque in a new movie based on the book, has snowboarded since he was 17 years old and struggled with the concept that one could go from ski resort comforts to The Revenant-style circumstances with nothing but one unfortunate turn. But that is exactly what happened to LeMarque, who after an ill-planned run down Dragon’s Back ridge landed deep in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Somehow he managed to survive single-digit temperatures for seven days with nothing but Bazooka bubblegum, an MP3 player, a dead cell phone, condo keys, and a soggy pack of matches.
The potential for such a situation was further confirmed to Hartnett when film production began in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. “On the second day of filming we were shooting way off the beaten path, up about 13,000 feet, and this girl walks up to us from out of the woods,” says Hartnett. “She had come off a mountain about two and a half miles away, and had gotten lost. She couldn’t get signal with her phone. She had walked in the wrong direction for about two hours.”
Since the production had ridden snowmobiles to get to that location, and the nearest town was a 20-minute drive away, Hartnett is dubious that the stranded skier would have ever found the right way back. “Everywhere you looked was fresh powder, trees, and mountains,” he recounts. “There were indicators about where we were on the horizon. There were no roads around either. That is when it hit me. This could happen to anyone.” Thanks to this experience and LeMarque’s tale, Hartnett plans to pack this newfound respect for the great outdoors on his next snowboarding adventure.
Had you ever heard of anything like this before in your snowboarding circles?
I have friends who do a lot of heli skiing and heli snowboarding. They will go up to Alaska or British Columbia all of the time. There is a lot of that that goes down in the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, which is where we filmed. They have a heli snowboarding company out there that helped us get to the places that we needed to shoot. That always seemed fairly dangerous. But I never imagined that something like this could happen on the backside of an established commercial mountain. I had only heard about the story when it happened in passing but this was my first time hearing the whole ordeal.
Did you get to chat with Eric about his story in-person?
Yes I did and that brought an added responsibility to tell the story. Our director Scott Waugh had also played hockey with Eric, so he was familiar with the story intimately as well. Because of that I wanted to really put myself to the test during the filming.
How did you fair in the conditions you were working in?
I definitely made myself uncomfortable. It is incredibly cold up in the Utah Mountains. Most days we were up at 10,000 feet or above, which only added to the fatigue. There were medics on set, they told me they wanted to stop filming because I had the beginning of frostbite, but there was no budget for that. So we just threw heat pads into my boots, which helped. Not only that but I was not really eating anything, so that combined with the environment started to really mess with me. I think in the end people will be able to feel that desperation though, and it helped us get the feeling that we were hoping for.
How did you enjoy getting to snowboard in those locations?
This movie gave me an excuse to go up for a few weeks and really just get on the mountain every day. I was also lucky that Jeremy Jones hooked us up with some great gear, which I am still using to this day. I did as many of the boarding scenes as I could. I will be honest there were a few times I was looking down the slope and wondering if I was going to break my neck. But the camera was on, so I had to do it. I just went for it. I think that pressure helped me become a better boarder.
What were the best places you got to go?
I went to Park City, spending a lot of time at Snowbird and Alta. It was great to get full-day passes because when the end of the day hit it would clear up a little bit. But to be honest the best snowboarding I saw is when we were filming the movie out in the woods. Snowmobiles took us out and I got to go on powder that hadn’t been touched at all.
Now that you are a father, do you think you’re going to let them on the slopes as well?
I am going to follow their lead on that. But both their mother and I are outdoorsy, so I imagine they are going to be outdoorsy kids. Now that we moved to Los Angeles I will say it is going to be easier to get up to the mountains. I will probably go up to Mammoth this year. I will be bringing a new respect for that mountain.”
6 Below: Miracle On The Mountain is now in theaters and on demand.