The Story of Small Ski Areas

Vermont brothers raise money on Kickstarter for a film about tiny ski hills

Brothers Elliot and Tyler Wilkinson-Ray have four days left in a Kickstarter fundraiser for their film, The Story of Small Ski Areas. They exceeded their goal of $5,000 by over $2,500. Their plan is to shed some light on small ski hills in Vermont that have remained local institutions and kept skiing a local sport instead of a tourist activity.

Hills such as Hard’ack, Northeastern Slopes, Cochran’s, Suicide Six, and the Lyndon Outing Club may not be on a lot of Northeastern skiers’ powder-day hit lists, or any list for that matter, but their success in the face of an industry of consolidated destination resorts and of the 116 “lost” ski hills in Vermont are what the brothers consider stories of “resiliency, frugality, and sheer passion for the sport of skiing.” We got in touch with the pair to get some background on the film.

What motivated you to make the film?
We felt like it was a topic that was missing from ski films. Small ski areas used to be the norm. They are where so many people started skiing and helped make the sport as popular as it is today.

Much of the trailer focuses on Cochran’s Ski Area. What’s so special about Cochran’s?
It started with the Cochran family who worked hard to share their passion with the community. Their kitchen was the original lodge and you can often catch a U.S. Ski Team member mowing the trails. These good intentions set the tone for the energy of the place has today. People get excited to volunteer and the community that is created at Cochran’s spreads into the town and region. It is definitely what motivated us to start the project. But after skiing at other similar hills we realized that they had many of the same qualities, which are due to scale and community involvement.

Local pro at Cochran's. PHOTO: PENNIE RAND PHOTOGRAPHY


What are you hoping to achieve with this film?

Many of these areas are struggling and we would ideally like to show people why they are worth supporting. From a viewers’ perspective, we just think there are a lot skiers out there who are going to enjoy hearing about the human-scale side of skiing.


Why do you think these small hills are able to survive in a corporate ski landscape? Are they surviving?

For the most part, the small town ski hill is disappearing. While there is still a handful in operation today in Vermont, over 100 have gone out of business. There are a lot of reasons for this, the costs of running an area have definitely gone up and expectations have changed. It is also important to recognize the way the sport has been framed, sold, and supported as a tourist activity and not as an activity for locals. What we have today is a group of survivors: areas that have learned to beat the odds, each with their own creative strategy. Their advantages are that they often rely on volunteers, they are frugal, and they have a lot of community support.


What is the filming plan for this winter?

We want to get most of the interviews and historical background done by the time the winter gets here. Once the snow arrives we will go back and get these place in action. Hopefully we will get lots of natural snow this winter. Making this film last winter would have been tough.

Find out more about the film here.

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