You have probably seen videos of Jordan Cowan gliding around the ice holding a camera attached to a large contraption, filming skaters on the ice, bringing to life another side of the sport. His lens captures the angles of deep edges, the sound of blades gliding across the ice, and the flow and speed of skaters that we do not normally get to see up close.
The concept, born just three years ago on an outdoor rink in Sun Valley, Idaho, has been a hit with skaters and fans alike. Through his videos, Cowan has provided a new insight and visual understanding of a side of skating previously unseen. His projects run the gamut from singles skaters and synchronized skating teams doing run-throughs of programs to show skaters working on unique moves. He has worked with some of the most well known names in the sport, including Michelle Kwan, Adam Rippon, Javier Fernández and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.
As a former competitive ice dancer, the 30-year-old California native has the insight and experience of training alongside Olympic-level athletes to support what he now does.
Cowan and his former partner Anastasia Olson, who trained in Ann Arbor, Michigan, competed at the junior and senior levels internationally for two years, but following a seventh-place finish at 2012 U.S. nationals, Olson ended the partnership. “There were lots of signs that it was not going to work out and I think it was for the best that we split up,” Cowan explained. “I did not feel I could find a better partner at the time so I retired. I felt that I had done the things I wanted to achieve in the sport.”
The concept of filming skaters as they were moving around the ice came to Cowan in the fall of 2017 when he was rehearsing with Doug Webster’s Ice Dance International troupe for a television show. “I had a little gimbal with me — a gadget that holds and stabilizes a camera and uses technical wizardry to keep it level — and I started filming our rehearsals. Through that, I saw there was an opportunity to show off what it really feels like to skate, and I was hooked.
“From that point on, I just started filming more skaters. Initially it did not matter who I was filming, and in the beginning it was only the skaters I knew personally. Kaitlyn (Weaver) and Andrew (Poje) were one of the first teams I filmed. At the time they trained under Nikolai Morozov, so getting him to trust me to be on the ice with them was one of my first challenges. Jeremy Abbott, a good friend from Detroit, was another skater I filmed early on.
“I practiced with some ballroom dancers and hip-hop dancers in the New York City area because they are used to being filmed and having a camera around them. I did a lot of testing with them first before I got on the ice.”
Cowan said he was inspired to create an Instagram account in February 2018 to promote his work, after observing that personal cell phone videos that skaters had posted were getting thousands of hits and followers. “I looked at that and thought, ‘if I could make it look better than a phone on the boards, and do it every day for 30 days, then I should be able to gain a following as well. After a month, I had 500 followers and that was great — but I figured that if I did that every day for the rest of the year I would have 5,000 followers. I did not anticipate that it would accelerate and by the end of that first year I had 30,000.” Cowan’s Instagram account now has more than 215,000 followers.
Though his social media influence has not opened doors when it comes to dealing with skating federations, it has offered him other opportunities. “I had approached Skate Canada and U.S. Figure Skating to ask if I could film their skaters and both declined my offer,” Cowan said. “But in 2018, a producer at the Canadian TSN network started following me and eventually asked me about doing some work for him.
“He is a big skating fan and that is one of the reasons the network covers figure skating. He brought me to Toronto for the Skate Canada High Performance camp last summer and I shot some of the skaters on the ice. That was not possible before because they never had anyone who could skate — and I knew a lot of the skaters personally. The social media person at Skate Canada was there and later contacted me to see if I could do something at 2019 Autumn Classic — a competition I was already hoping to go to. So I got to do some social media work for them and it was a lot of fun.
“Then they asked me to go to Montréal to do a Worlds announcement thing, and then to Skate Canada International. It was a new experience for me working on someone else’s schedule with all the restrictions and very quick deadlines. I filmed all day and had to produce a video the next day. It was an interesting challenge.”
In mid-2018, Cowan heard through a friend that the producers of the reality show “Dancing on Ice” in London, England, were looking for a cameraman who could skate. He jumped at the opportunity. “I contacted the producer and showed them some of my recent work. They liked it so I got to spend three months working on the show. They had me skate with this rig we developed — I was their first-ever live cameraman for a figure skating show.”
Last February, Cowan accepted an offer to film a television show in Paris. That opportunity came via a recommendation from another former training mate, Nathalie Péchalat. “They were looking for a way to get nice tight shots of the feet and follow the principal skaters around the ice,” Cowan explained. “They had actors who were learning to skate and they needed that to blend seamlessly with their stunt skaters. Television movies and films are something I would like to move into to help make skating look better than it does right now.
“I think that I could have a decent career doing that, so my real goal is to set my name as a Hollywood videographer for figure skating. What I am trying to do is grow skating’s fan base. I would describe myself as a figure skater that makes skating videos from a skater’s point of view — an on-ice videographer — but what I do is much more than that. I am trying to create a new audience for figure skating that I do not see anyone else trying to do — which is to create skating fans out of people who tune into figure skating at the Olympics, but are not die-hard fans who watch every competition and do not know who all the skaters are.
“The online show we did in late April, ‘Open Ice Live’ (which raised funds for the U.N. Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund), was another way of doing that as well. While we did get a lot of skating fans, I think a lot of people who aren’t also watched it because it was interesting to them. I have heard that we did a better job with our live stream than the NFL draft did.”
Now living in New York City, Cowan married Talia Barrington, a former ice dancer from Great Britain in December 2012. The couple met when they were both training in Michigan.
(This article was originally published in the IFS August 2020 issue)