The Ski Crew Behind Vin Diesel's Insane Stunt in ‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage’

The xXx franchise starring Vin Diesel has never been shy about putting their daredevil turned spy Xander Cage in situations that require insane feats for him to escape. The first movie had shown Cage parachuting out of an airborne convertible; in the second, he jumped out of a plane on a snowboard, in front of an avalanche. For the latest movie, Return of Xander Cage, Vin Diesel finds himself on a pair of skis — tumbling through the jungle. 

The explicit inspiration for this epic stunt comes from 2013’s epic ski documentary Valhalla. (We're pretty sure Candide Thovex's summer ski films were on their minds as well). The Valhalla footage shows skiers careening through a tropical forest, seeming to glide through the canopy and float between tree trunks. The video had just the look that the producers were going for: impossible. They called Sweetgrass Productions, the company behind it, and asked them to join them on set in the Dominican Republic to reproduce the magic for their cameras. The scene was written with Cage jumping off of a tower with his skis strapped on into a jungle where he perfectly cruises along a dirt path to safety. Since this was going to require professional-level skills, extreme athletes Cody Townsend, LJ Strenio, and Sandy Boville were brought in to stand-in for Diesel.

There was just one issue: The original clip had been made possible by hiding pockets of snow out of sight of the lens, but now they were working under the Caribbean sun. The production was stalled, and the crew was worried, but after a few weeks of brainstorming they found their solution. They brought in an ice truck and used a rented woodchipper to act as an improvised snowmaker, laying down a path of icy flakes. When Strenio managed to get inverted during one of his earlier runs, there was a sigh of relief — then it was game on for everyone.

“I knew it was going to be challenging, but there was no way to be prepared for that kind of terrain,” says Townsend. The three skiers split up the responsibilities of the scene, and due to his experience in Alaska’s backcountry, Townsend was entrusted with the majority of actual ground coverage. Catching a ski on a root or a rock, and being sent tumbling down the mountain was a fairly regular occurrence. The difficulty was only increased by the need to wear muscle suits to match Diesel’s broad physique in the shot.

“I’ll be honest and say that every time we dropped in we were nervous,” says Townsend. But the crew persevered, and Strenio even managed to execute a Cork 7, resulting in an action scene that is truly jaw-dropping (no matter how unbelievable). It was almost all for naught, though, when someone floated the idea of leaving the whole sequence on the cutting room floor. Diesel came to the scene’s defense, a move for which Townsend is very grateful. “Vin wouldn’t let anyone touch it. So I want to thank him for that!”

xXx: Return of Xander Cage is now in theaters.