Five-year-old Sandro Alba had to drag his hesitant family — parents Ray and Alicia along with baby sister Nevada — out into the cold of New York City on Christmas Day, 2010. Santa brought him a snowboard and obviously the boy wanted to try it out on the local sledding spot near the cemetery called, “Dead Man’s Hill.” There was no better time to do it, since all of Manhattan was blanketed in fluffy snow that morning.
“We trudge through the snow, cursing under our breath and then there goes our son down this hill like he had been doing it his whole life,” Ray recalls.
But don’t just take Ray’s word for it. Go to the video (search “The Urban Skier – Skiing NYC’s Biggest Mountain” on YouTube). “Dead Man’s Hill” is the 17-second clip they shot to memorialize the activity. It might have been no different than the hundreds of thousands of home videos that likely were filmed across the country that day, but for the Albas, it was life-changing.
“In that instant, Alicia, with Nevada all swaddled up in her coat, says to me, ‘Maybe we should start skiing again,’ ” Ray said. “My reply back to her was, ‘Hell, yeah,’ and from that point on there was no turning back. It’s the day we fell back in love with winter, snow and skiing.”
Today, the Alba Adventures family team has produced more than 100 videos on their YouTube Channel and at Albaadventures.com, along with eight seasons of short films showcasing nearly two dozen ski area destinations they’ve visited throughout the Northeast over the past decade.
“We dragged the kids everywhere,” Ray said. “They had a blast traveling to different mountains, and as long as they were up for it, we were too. Our daughter couldn’t wait to get on skis and she was before she was even 3. She took to it right away, and almost every moment on the slopes, we tried to record.”
Sandro, now 17, flies a drone to augment footage, capturing their present-day ski adventures together. Nevada, now 13, hosts a chairlift interview series she calls “Nevada’s Chairlift Snacks.” Alicia’s storyboarding, narratives and edits are the glue that brings countless hours of unscripted, unrehearsed footage together.
The husband-and-wife team, neither of whom has any formal training in filmmaking and who both hold down full-time jobs, simply wanted to document their family skiing adventures through video. Since their rudimentary beginnings, however, their productions consistently have grown in quality and are gaining considerable industry attention. “Generations,” which was filmed at Mad River Glen, Vermont, in 2019, was included at Montreal’s iF3 International Freeski Film Festival after the festival’s president, Luc Skypowder, first saw it.
“It was pretty cool to see (professional skiers) Stan Rey and Alexi Godbout come see our morning screening,” Ray said. “Having them there was amazing, especially at iF3 where the ‘who’s who’ of freeskiing attends. To have our work showcased now three years in a row alongside Teton Gravity Research, Matchstick Productions and others … well, that blows us away still.”
Two of their films, “Nature’s Bounty” (Whiteface, N.Y.) and “Dis-Lodge,” (a summer film shot in the high peaks of the Adirondacks), were screened at the Lake Placid Film Festival. Their work also has been featured three years running at the Yonkers Film Festival: “Wilderness” (Bolton Valley, Vt.), “Ghost of Ullr” (an animated short filmed at Jay Peak, Vt.), and “Anything But Ordinary” (Greek Peak, N.Y.).
The Albas have been featured on the High Falutins Ski Bum Podcast and in VT Ski and Ride Magazine, Killington’s The Mountain Times, Jay Peak’s Winter Magazine, a “My Pico” commercial, and more. They were co-winners of the 2019 North American Snowsports Journalists Association Harold Hirsch Award for their creativity, editorial and artistic content. Now, resorts across New England are reaching out asking them to visit … and document.
“When we first started shooting, it was really just a family video put together using free Microsoft software,” Ray said. “We would post these videos on our personal Facebook pages for family and friends to see what we were doing and we would get comments saying that they were pretty good. Hitting the record button was really for us to document our time on the hill together. The fact that people we didn’t know started to watch our stuff, well that just blew our minds away.”
After coming across Jordan Manley’s “A Skier’s Journey” series, the Albas were inspired to get better at filming and editing. On a whim, Ray reached out to Manley. “I emailed him thinking, fat chance that he would write back. But he did, and needless to say, it was awesome. He was like a coach in some ways for us.”
The Albas also got welcome feedback and tips from a few close film industry friends who were keeping an eye on them, like Phil Call of 444 Productions, filmmaker and editor Michael Elliot, creative copywriter Darren Jeffries, and others. “It has been a real boon to have such friends interested in what we are doing and have been able to give us such great tips,” Ray said.
“But the biggest reward is when you hear someone who watches your films, who has never gone skiing or doesn’t understand why people get addicted to skiing, say, ‘Now I get it’ or they decide to try skiing because of one of our films and they fall in love with the sport.
“For us, it has always been a personal mission to document our stories and with that to try to inspire people to take their families to ski,” Ray said. “We believe in keeping our shorts as authentic as possible so that other families find it relatable.”
In a ski film industry that glorifies sick lines, aerial jaw droppers, and uber ski-bumming, the Albas focus on the simplicity of family first, friendships, and the love of skiing together. The biggest risks they display in their videos and films is with their creative narration and edits. Their work is similar to the original Warren Miller movies in which skiing was secondary to the larger story about people coming together to have fun.
Sometimes people call the family out, suggesting they simply put the camera down and ski. They do plenty of that, too, but recording the family’s moments together is important to the Albas in a deeply personal way.
“Our oldest son, Rocky, was born on July 9, 1997, and sadly, at a couple months old we learned that he was going to be severely challenged physically and mentally,” Ray said. “In addition, on my 29th birthday we got news that he might not have long to live. Talk about the worst birthday present you can get. This, of course, changed things for us and for our son, since we didn’t know what to expect.”
For several years before Rocky was born, Ray and Alicia had become ski junkies together, logging upward of 50 days a season in the early ’90s and even spending a month skiing in the Swiss Alps. When Rocky was born and his health issues emerged, the Albas’ lifestyle took a dramatic turn.
“When we were told that Rocky wasn’t able to travel or do things, we would prove them wrong,” Ray said. “We made adaptive things that enabled him to be included with the other kids. We even made him an adaptive ski sled to take him out after a snowstorm in Central Park.”
But winters proved hard for Rocky since he couldn’t move much and he would get cold, no matter how much he was bundled up. “Our strategy going forward was to go to warm places in the winter months during school vacations,” Ray said, which they did in earnest. Then, on Alicia’s birthday in 2007, the family received the heartbreaking news that Rocky had only days to live. Particularly impacted was young Sandro, who had become Rocky’s protector.
“A few weeks later, and just a few days after Sandro’s third birthday, Rocky passed away at home, with dignity in our arms,” Ray said. “No words can describe the sadness and as he crossed over, I yelled ‘Run, Rocky, Run.’ As I say these words, it’s hard not to shed a tear.”
That’s why the family’s White Christmas in 2010 — when the joy of skiing touched them anew and again — was so emotionally pivotal. For Ray and Alicia, the energy to do all the videos all these years comes from their children.
“Since we know that we have limited time with them, we want to be sure we are living life to the fullest and leaving as few opportunities behind as possible,” Ray said. “I am sure most parents can agree to feeling emotional when they look back on their photos. When you have it on video, it’s all the better to us. We can safely say that we watch and rewatch these moments all the time, especially as we all get older and our kids are more grown. Also, it’s nice now to see if I can get them to smile.”
Matt Boxler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.