Behind the Scenes of the Web’s Most Viral Snow Kayaking Video

Paul Tefft catches some snow yak air. Photo courtesy Biege Jones/Sport Obermeyer
Paul Tefft catches some snow yak air. Photo courtesy Biege Jones/Sport Obermeyer

A half a million shares, 75,387 Facebook likes, and tens of millions of views paints the picture: the snow kayaking footage from the ‘90s shot by ski filmmaker Warren Miller is as viral as it gets. With the footage making a recent resurrection of sorts thanks to a weird social time warp, we thought it only prudent to shed some light on the scene in question.

The footage features Aspen kayakers Paul Tefft, a former paddling filmmaker and owner of EnviroAction Productions, and partner in snow kayaking crime Charlie MacArthur, owner of the Aspen Kayak Academy, schussing down a backcountry snowfield outside Aspen, carving turns and throwing up rooster tails. At one point Tefft even tries to throw a cartwheel, which he actually sort of pulls off.

We caught up with Tefft for his take on the timeless, face-shot footage.

We actually filmed snow kayaking for two different Warren Miller movies, Freeriders and Fifty, in 1998 and 1999. The footage was all shot by Klaus Obermeyer as promotion for Sport Obermeyer, Warren Miller and EnviroAction Productions’ movies Paddlemania and Paddlemania Worldwide.

It was all shot on the backside of Aspen Mountain…except for one shot at Snowmass. The segment which went viral was in the first movie. It showed Charlie and I linking the snow to water with a seal launch into the Roaring Fork Punchbowl.

We did a follow up segment as a twist on the famous Obermeyer Fox Chase video, which Klaus did on his dad. It was a snow kayak fox chase segment with a shot of Klaus Sr. in a kayak with fox tail attached and other snow kayakers as “hounds” chasing the “fox.” I got to be Sr.’s stunt double for the action shots. I was being chased by Charlie, John Placek, Dave Pizzuti and Scott Young.

Snow kayaking face shot for Tefft. Photo courtesy Biege Jones/Sport Obermeyer
Snow kayaking face shot for Tefft. Photo courtesy Biege Jones/Sport Obermeyer

We had some big wipe outs, including Scott hitting a tree and getting knocked unconscious…fortunately he only had a concussion. We were traversing a pitch above a thick set of conifers when Scott slid out of the traverse track and started downhill backwards. He picked up speed and for some reason froze up and didn’t roll over and drag his paddle and head to slow down and stop. We watched horrified as he picked up speed into the woods and then heard some branches snapping and a huge thud. When we got to him he was unconscious backwards against a large tree with blood dripping out of his mouth. I had invited him on the shoot and thought I had just killed my great friend. Fortunately he came to and we called ski patrol to come help; we backboarded him out by snowmobile to the hospital. Fortunately, it was only a mild concussion – the blood came from his tongue. Earlier we had filmed a dummy in a kayak flying into a tree as filler, but it wasn’t so funny when it happened to Scotty.

For a climax shot we wanted the “fox” to catch huge air and then get away and leave the hounds in the dust so we took a dummy dressed like the fox up to a cliff line at Snowmass. Then we repeatedly sent the dummy fox off a 100-foot cliff…each time laboriously hauling the boat back up for another take. It looked amazingly real and the dummy greased the landing a few times. On one of the last takes the dummy hit hard and its head blew off and the kayak kept flying down the long steep run below the cliff. We watched in amazement as it went into a gulley and slowly caught up with and passed a ski school class. The skiers looked on incredulously and we laughed hysterically when we saw that nobody got run over by a headless dummy in a kayak.

After we retrieved it from way down below, we carried the beheaded dummy in the boat back up on a chairlift. We got a lot of strange looks from people.

We sold the footage numerous times and it played on a number of TV shows, including a segment Charlie and I did for the celeb news show Extra. It was also used in a Coors Light commercial.

Later, I was hired to film another segment for a sports show and built a jump and did the world’s first snow kayak aerial barrel roll. (See video above.)

My back still hurts
from some of the airs we did…deep powder is the way to go when snowyaking.

— For more EnviroAction Productions videos visit

— Want more? Here’s another viral clip from Estonia:

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The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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