Documentary Lifts Up Vermont's Community Ski Hills

Nov 4, 2013

When brothers Tyler and Elliot Wilkinson-Ray were growing up in Richmond, their parents were hesitant to put them on skis. “It sounded like an expensive sport to them,” says Elliot Wilkinson-Ray. But a daycare provider suggested they try Cochran’s Ski Area, a small, affordable family hill. “She brought us [there], and it changed our lives,” he recalls. “Over 20 years later, we’re still passionate about the world of skiing.”

The brothers now run a film production company called T-Bar Films (named for the old-fashioned method of transporting skiers up the hill, still in use at some Vermont mountains), and have created a documentary about Vermont’s community ski hills, “United We Ski.” The film premiers in Burlington on November 7 and will tour through Vermont. Tyler and Elliot joined Vermont Editions Jane Lindholm to talk about why these small ski hills have been so culturally important to the state of Vermont.

On Tractor-Motor Rope-Tows

"[There’s one] up in the Northeast Kingdom…on a 300-cow dairy farm. And it’s the same tractor that the farmer uses at the farm. And when he’s going to run the rope tow, he just puts his skis in the bucket, and drives it up and hooks the PTO [power takeoff] off the back into the rope tow…And that’s as traditional you got. That was how people first started doing it.

"You'd farm in the summer, but in the winter there wasn't that much going on. And so people went skiing."

"These places were born back when Vermont was still predominantly an agricultural community, and that’s what people did in the winter. You’d farm in the summer, but in the winter there wasn’t that much going on. And so people went skiing."

On The Importance Of Volunteers

"These places are only around because the volunteers keep them running … There is a sense of community that forms around them, that for a lot of people involved them, I think, goes beyond just an act of skiing. This is where people get involved in their community; this is where people meet other people in their town, this is where people give back ... The film, for us, really extends beyond just a ski movie into more of a movie about Vermont and the Vermont community."

"The film, for us, really extends beyond just a ski movie into more of a movie about Vermont and the Vermont community."

On How Small Ski Areas Are Facing Climate Change

"Cochran’s put in snow making, and Hard’ack in St. Albans did as well. Cochran’s studied climate trends, and said, if you look over ten years, there’s still going to be enough cold nights, that with snow-making we [will be able to] make enough snow to still be able to ski. And then Northeast Slopes took it in a different direction, and they said, ‘Well, because of climate change, it doesn’t make sense for us to make this investment. We’re going to ski here as long as we can. When there’s snow we’re going to ski; when there’s not snow we’re not going to ski.

"But climate change is a big concern for all these places. In many ways these small places are relatively well-geared to deal with that because their operating costs or so low – they’re not depending on people coming up from Boston to survive."

United We Ski Trailer from T-Bar Films on Vimeo.

Screenings:

Nov. 7: Main Street Landing Film House, Burlington, 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Nov. 9: Saint Albans Historical Museum (proceeds to benefit Hard'ack Ski Area). 7 p.m.

Nov. 14: Billings Lecture Hall, University of Vermont, 8 p.m.

Nov. 15: Richmond Free Library (proceeds to benefit Cochran's Ski Area). 7 p.m.

Nov. 16: Bradford Academy Building (proceeds to benefit Northeast Slopes). 7 p.m.