Coming of Age

skier jumping upside down with skis crossed

Cedar Palmer leads the next generation of ski filmmakers

By Katie Klingsporn

When parents imprint their own values onto a child, the odds are pretty evenly split that the kid will either embody them wholeheartedly or reject them completely.

Cedar Palmer, raised in Ophir by renowned local skiers Himay Palmer and Melanie Kent, chose door number one. Palmer first felt the undulations of ski turns as an infant in his father’s backpack. Skiing was such a fundamental part of life, like walking or talking, that he doesn’t even remember learning it. He grew up in ski club, dabbled in mogul competitions, spent hours in the terrain park, and ventured into the backcountry at an age when his peers were still playing with Legos. He believes he still holds the record for youngest San Joaquin Chute descent (age 9), and found his niche in big mountain comps in high school. “I just loved, loved skiing. Loved all of it,” he said.  

Around age 11, he got a GoPro. That’s when he discovered a second passion. “I’ve been basically making little ski movies of my friends and stuff since then,” he said.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that since he first powered up that tiny camera, he has recorded thousands of hours of footage and created hundreds of films. Most are snack-size bits for platforms like Instagram and TikTok, but he’s also created longer pieces. Palmer’s work is heavy on hip-hop and reggae tracks and imbued with irreverence. He doesn’t edit out the sport’s imperfections, striving instead to capture the joy skiing can bring. His YouTube bio reads simply: “SHRED THE GNAR!!!!!!!!!”

As he grew into adulthood, Palmer wove together what could be two hobbies and made them the foundation of his professional life. In doing so, he has joined the ranks of Telluride filmmakers before him while serving as an ambassador for his own generation of shredders.

Palmer, 24, has gone from being a grom in the Sheridan Opera House audience cheering for the newest ski film to standing on that same stage as a filmmaker. With his latest release, which premiered in October in Telluride, he shows off a deepening maturity. And yet, despite years of film experience, he feels like he’s just scratched the surface.

SUBHED: From fan to filmmaker

Along with being an avid skier as a kid, Palmer was an avid consumer of ski and skate films. He loved films by Matchstick and Level 1, collected ski movie DVDs, and memorized his favorite parts.

Matchstick’s The Way I See It probably left the most indelible impression. The film was one of the first to feature Telluride’s ski hero and Olympic medalist Gus Kenworthy, who’s only a few years older than Palmer. “I watched it over and over,” he said.

As he got older and devoted more and more time to behind-the-lens projects, he also recognized that while he can hold his own as a skier, he probably isn’t at that rarefied level to make a career out of it.

It’s a common realization for kids who grow up dreaming to be professional skiers, said Finn Bailis, a fellow Telluride alum and Palmer’s partner. And while it knocks some off their mooring, he said, Palmer took it with a level head and pivoted more toward cinematography.

After graduating from high school, he went to University of Colorado Boulder to study filmmaking. There he connected with other skiers, including Bailis, who is younger than Palmer. He bonded with the few die-hard skiers who would go to the lengths to ski regularly.

So it was natural that he pointed his camera at many of those skiers for his first big ski movie project, 2022’s The Dean’s List. It was a scrappy endeavor, Palmer said. “We had a couple sponsors, but no money really,” Palmer said. “Montucky Cold Snacks sent us a pallet of beer … Finn basically made this GoFundMe and we got like a couple thousand dollars, and we did a road trip up to Idaho and then did most of it around Telluride.”

The result was a 33-minute film heavy on shots of San Juan backcountry, sound manipulation, and reggae music. Rather than the high-grade polish and professional athlete rosters of bigger-budget ski movies, The Dean’s List has a homespun feel, just friends out chasing snow and big lines. Palmer and Bailis took The Dean’s List on a small tour of mountain towns, including Telluride, to the delight of the local crowds.

Leveling Up

Following The Dean’s List tour, the skiers returned to Sun Valley, Idaho, and also filmed sessions in Utah, Crested Butte, Purgatory, and, of course, Telluride. Palmer also filmed Telluride snowboarder and Olympian Lucas Foster, who is sponsored by Monster Energy, and another skier competing in high-level halfpipe events.

Palmer edited the footage together for a second film, Real World, which premiered at the Opera House on October 6 before screening in mountain towns like Boulder, Durango, and Ketchum, Idaho.

Palmer ups his game in the second installation, showing his growth as a filmmaker. His camera techniques have advanced, and dynamic drone shots heighten the drama. There’s more restraint in the editing and more creativity, including an intro that ventures into the meta. The soundtrack, meanwhile, matches what Palmer listens to while he skis: gritty rap and reggae. 

Palmer was a featured skier in The Dean’s List but in his second film he stayed behind the camera. “My friends didn’t meet my new standard of filming, and I didn’t meet my own new standard of skiing,” he said. 

Real World, like their first film, doesn’t make a big fuss of individual skiers with their names in bold font. That is intentional, Bailis said. “None of that matters. It’s just about the people and the passion of skiing. That’s Cedar’s vision.”

Still, the end credits include familiar Telluride names: Greg Hope, Hagan and Harry Kearney, Anthony Carmola, and Victor Major, among others. 

This year, Palmer also sold some shots to Level 1, the production company he admired so much as a young fan. “So that was a full-circle moment,” he said. “Because I grew up watching a ton of those films.”

Unique Skill Set

Ski filmmaking may seem like a dream job, but it takes a lot of skill and a certain hardiness. That includes operating a camera while following a quicksilver athlete through trees, waiting in frigid temperatures to catch a shot in the right light, and setting up angles. There’s also the reality of standing around filming on huge powder days while friends all around you plunder the snow. Or sitting in a dark room behind a computer screen editing into the wee hours.

“Cedar is certainly good at it,” Bailis said. “Cedar’s filming is not necessarily planned. It’s very improv. And he’s really good at capturing a moment without having to set up a moment. Like he has a camera under his jacket and he’s skiing the gnarliest stuff in the world, and no one realizes that he’s about to ski down in front of you, stop, capture the shot and continue skiing.”

Palmer’s handheld ability is exceptional, Bailis said, which eliminates the need for a tripod to frame and capture every shot. Plus, he’s capable of filming in any terrain. “No one is ever worried whether or not Cedar can ski that, no matter how good the skiers with him are.”

Palmer enjoys both shooting and editing, but finds he gets totally absorbed in the latter. “You kind of get in a flow state where time and stuff doesn’t matter and you are just going for it … it is very rewarding.”

He’s always been creative and a bit of a perfectionist, said his mom, Melanie. She remembers him imagining entire worlds and making up games with materials like cardboard boxes when he was a kid. Many others probably remember him as the small skier in lift line, tagging along with Melanie and his dad Himay — a local icon on the slopes with his dreadlocks and toothy grin. It’s been a joy to watch that little skier turn into the ski filmmaker he is today, his mom said.

“He’s humble too,” she said, which keeps him hungry for improvement. And, she said, “I think he really enjoys helping other people shine in their talent.”

That includes her own talent—Palmer made his cinematic debut at Mountainfilm a few years ago with a short film featuring his parents, who are avid backcountry skiers: At Home Off Piste.

The Trajectory

Where Palmer is the film savant, Bailis, who studied aerospace engineering and business, excels at networking, fundraising, and behind-the-scenes producing. The two hatched an enterprise called The Dean’s List, which they hope to turn into a nonprofit that does annual media tours, raises money for ski sponsorships, and raises awareness about sustainable ski culture. The Dean’s List acts as the distributor for Palmer Films, Palmer’s production company. They pair also operates Global Media Assets, specializing in commercial work.

Bailis sees good things in Palmer’s future. Success, he predicts, will be a natural byproduct of Palmer’s commitment. “He’s on a trajectory that honestly is unchangeable, because the amount he skis and the content he produces, whether he tries to advertise himself or not, you know, it’ll end up being a name like Warren Miller,” Bailis said. “There’s nothing you really do to change that.”

Life as a filmmaker hasn’t all been smooth. Palmer had two major injuries in 2023. In the spring, he was skiing in Steamboat when he hit a tree and fractured his pelvis. Just five months later, back home in Telluride, he took a freak fall at the skate park and broke his femur.

At the time of our interview, it was only weeks out of the femur break, and he had a new rod in his leg. He was still on crutches, and was just emerging from the initial dark fog that surrounded the accident.

The Real World premiere, which fell on his mom’s birthday, was a shot in the arm. A mob of kids lined up in front of the stage and many friends and supporters turned out, chanting “Ce-dar!” at one point. “He had such a big smile on his face,” Melanie said.

When Cedar talks about his injury, he notes that as much of a bummer as it is, the upshot is that it will help him focus on his work. “I don’t think I’ll be 100% till March,” Palmer said, “but I might be able to really dive into film this winter.”

Learning opportunities seem endless, after all, and he has high standards for himself. “I definitely feel like I haven’t made something quite yet that I’m really happy with.”

Melanie acknowledges that Palmer had a unique childhood. She and Himay may have dragged him on too long of hikes and too big of ski days, she said. “You never know with your kids. Are they gonna embrace your lifestyle or push away? We were pretty fortunate that he just grabbed on, and took it away from there.”