By Gabrielle Gasser

Often when a friend asks you to go on a run, it’s a manageable distance — say, 5 miles or so. But when Sawyer Thomas asked his friends to go on a run, it was a 600-mile slog through remote backcountry.

The film “Colter” follows Thomas and his support crew as he runs his way through John Colter’s route in a month. Thomas came up with the idea at the end of his undergraduate studies at Montana State University.

Thomas’ film, set to screen Thursday at the Elks Lodge, kicks off the Arc’teryx Backcountry Academy, a four-day event filled with clinics, films, music, photography exhibits and a smidge of live comedy. All of Thursday’s events are covered by a $20 ticket.

Initially Thomas and his friends winter camped in the backcountry for five days over their spring break. After that Thomas was looking for an interesting adventure and he stumbled upon Colter’s solo trek through Jackson and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

“Being able to re-create that trek, I was able to pay homage to people who were explorers before me and also get a better experience of the whole area,” Thomas said.

Not only did Thomas trace Colter’s route, he made a film to document his experience.

Thomas pauses on his monthlong run through the backcountry. Courtesty Photo/Sawyer Thomas

“I really love the art of storytelling,” Thomas said. “For me filming is an artistic outlet. I think it’s important to inspire people to go on these cool adventures. For me it’s something that I really enjoy doing.”

Right off the bat the crew was stranded on the wrong side of a river, and then they were immediately hit with much more snow than anticipated. Thomas admitted he was already having second thoughts after the first couple of days, but he was able to get into a rhythm.

“At no point in the entire route were we certain that we would make it,” Thomas said.

The final day of the month they ran 63 miles.

The adventure was physically draining and filming it was a challenge, but it was worth it, Thomas said.

“We wanted to draw this connection between now and 200 years ago and show the significance of the area,” Thomas said. “I think it’s really special that people can go out and enjoy this pristine backcountry and this pristine area that they would have had adventures in 200 years ago.”

He spent the better part of a year formulating the idea and planning his route, but he intentionally doesn’t share a precise map of his route. While Thomas hopes to inspire others to go on adventures, he wants them to find their own way.

Arc’teryx Backcountry Academy starts Thursday. A single ticket can be purchased for Thursday or Friday events; Saturday offers individual tickets for each event. Clinics must be purchased separately.