‘The Fourth Phase’ delivers empirical truths for the young and old
Travis Rice stirs pride among Jacksonites of all stripes because he is testament to something deep and visceral about the human spirit, an axiom that few see to fruition and most relinquish when they become rational adults. Rice has carved a path that proclaims you must mercilessly pursue your passions.
Perhaps the easiest point of reference capturing Rice’s ascendance as an immersive rider sitting on the throne of Jackson Hole’s royal family are his cinematic projects. A canon of films, First Descent, That’s It That’s All, The Art of Flight, and now The Fourth Phase, that have immortalized his ability to touch and mold every facet of snowboarding.
Obsessed with the cycle of water, for it is the element that hinges on his pursuit of snowboarding and sailing, in The Fourth Phase, Rice embarks on a precarious chase of the hydrological cycle, from Russia and Japan to Wyoming and Alaska. But what exactly is the fourth phase? According to University of Washington professor Dr. Gerald Pollack, there is likely a fourth phase between solid and liquid water. The professor’s findings have led some to believe this fourth phase may be the missing link between physical matter and life.
“This hydrological cycle—it’s easy to write it off as, well, ‘that’s the weather,’” Rice says in the film, but “we steal magic away from the things we give names to. It’s this beautiful, choreographed cycle of life.”
Rice’s hydro obsession, and the world adventure that ensues, is testament to his insatiable appetite for exploration. The result is a film that renders all other snowboarding films quotidian. It is one part travel dispatch, one part love letter—to snowboarding, sailing and the natural world—and 100 parts heart and grit.
Directed by Swift Silent Deep’s Jon ‘JK’ Klaczkiewicz, it traces the hero’s journey—the protagonist who goes against all odds and ultimately prevails. We see Rice not only in his natural element in the mountains but in the ocean, as he draws parallels to snowboarding and sailing. It is during these meditative moments, as we find ourselves sailing with Rice on the open seas while he catches and guts fish, that we meet a raw side of the snowboarder that has never been promulgated into the public sphere. We learn that our hero is perfect because of his imperfections.
“Why do a trip like this?” he asks. “Just the act of doing it … being out here is really what’s important. Out here you actually have time to read a book, to look inward. And it’s not that you can’t do it by any means, it’s just, I have yet to find the discipline to live my life on land like I do on the sea.”
During the hero’s journey, it is also the protagonist’s experiences with his comrades that often imprint the most indelible memories. The Fourth Phase features three generations of snowboard luminaries—among others—who call Jackson Hole home and, who, ironically are each 10 years apart: Bryan Iguchi, Rice and the young Jedi Cam FitzPatrick.
The film reminds viewers the value in mentorship, of discerning talent in young people and helping them to cultivate and discover their passions. As eco renegade/Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard once advised: “Hang out with older people when you are young and then younger people when you are old.”
Adhering to this ethos, the film explains how Iguchi once discerned something in Rice who ultimately, he says, “became the snowboarder I always wanted to be.”
Meanwhile Rice acknowledges: “Bryan Iguchi showed me a lot more than how to kick out a method. He is the humble master.”
Now, we see FitzPatrick under the watchful wing of snowboarding’s king in The Fourth Phase. It is actually thanks to this film that FitzPatrick, 24, finds himself forging ahead on his path as an inspired professional snowboarder.
When he got the call from Rice, FitzPatrick, then 21, was stalled at a crossroads. Disillusioned after a string of injuries and incidents that had diluted his passion for snow, he was ready to relinquish his craft. “I was getting so comfortable with my snowboarding … I wasn’t feeling the fear anymore,” FitzPatrick told JHSM.
Instead, he followed Rice into unknown territory in the Wyoming backcountry. “Standing on top of the arch,” FitzPatrick said, remembering a particularly puckering Wyoming line in the film, “I remember being so scared.”
The scene is one of the film’s most gratifying, camaraderie fueled segments.
“The whole experience was an emotional roller coaster,” said FitzPatrick, who is busy this winter at the helm of an Arbor film shot entirely in Wyoming.
“Over the whole journey what we created was a brotherhood.”
— Robyn Vincent
Robyn Vincent is a Jackson Hole journalist and the sleep-deprived, travel-obsessed editor of Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. @TheNomadicHeart