Getting your film accepted at the prestigious Vail Film Festival is a great success. But what happens when a pandemic forces the film festival to go virtual? Everyone adapts.
Which is actually a perfect metaphor for the powerful athletes featured in Fresh Tracks, a documentary about Paul Leimkuehler and his legacy. Leimkuehler, who was a speed skater, lost his left leg at the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. He founded Leimkuehler, Inc. in 1948 and went on to create the first outrigger for adaptive skiing, becoming “The Grandfather of Handicap Skiing.”
CU Denver film professor Hans Rosenwinkel directed the documentary, which was co-produced by TFA Group and Leimkuehler Media. The subject was of particular interest to him. A former competitive ski racer, Rosenwinkel has been involved in many ski-related films. “I’m a cinematographer, and I can get the shots,” he said. “Not a lot of people can do that.”
The result is a cinematic, fast-paced, dramatic film that features amazing people overcoming adversity. And it’s not just about skiing. Fresh Tracks covers a lot of ground (pun intended): love story, world war, life-altering accidents, prosthetic engineering, and Paralympic skiing and snowboarding. “It’s got the umbrella of a sports background but is still a very dramatic tale,” Rosenwinkel said.
From Leimkuehler’s first outriggers, which he created from sawed-off crutches and shortened children’s skis, to today’s high-performance prosthetics, Fresh Tracks juxtaposes the story of Paul Leimkuehler with footage of Mike Schultz, a competitive Paralympian who won gold and silver in snowboarding at the 2018 Winter Paralympics.
Both Leimkuehler and Schultz founded their own prosthetic companies in order to advance adaptive sports and help amputees who simply want to enjoy physical activities. Both men also had a passion for sharing their engineering with others. Leimkuehler purposely didn’t patent his design, so other people in the amputee community could copy it. And Schultz designs for the very people he competes against: Around 30 male and female athletes used his Moto Knee and Versa Foot in the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.
Rosenwinkel filmed Fresh Tracks mostly in Colorado, at Winter Park, Vail, and A-Basin, as well as in the backcountry over Loveland Pass. Fresh Tracks was also shot on location in Ohio, where Leimkuehler, Inc. is located, and in Minnesota, where Schultz lives and designs. Tom Kolicko, another CU Denver film instructor and former student of Rosenwinkel, helped him shoot in Ohio. David Bondelevitch, a professor in Music & Entertainment Studies, designed the film’s sound effects and overall audio mix.
Rosenwinkel considers it an asset that he can discuss real-world issues with his film students. “As a professor, it’s important to be an active researcher, and my research is my creative work,” he explains. Since Rosenwinkel is a diverse filmmaker who works as an editor, writer, cinematographer, and director, he is able to bring industry knowledge into the classes he teaches.
Interestingly enough, the COVID-19 pandemic is actually benefitting the domestic and international distribution of Fresh Tracks. “In a way, it’s a gift,” Rosenwinkel said. “TV airwaves are dried up, especially for sports-themed content … We have something that’s already finished and polished,” he added.
After Fresh Tracks, Rosenwinkel will undoubtedly go on to another exciting outdoor project. After all, he decided to become a professor in order to have adventures. When he was an undergraduate student in Montana, his future calling just occurred to him. “You get to teach and travel the world,” he said. “It’s kind of like Indiana Jones.”