United We Celebrate: Local filmmakers capture the magic of community ski hills in a new documentary

By Sarah Galbraith

There’s a side to the Vermont ski story that has yet to be told, but that’s about to change with the new film “United We Ski.” Telling of the rise and fall of this region’s small community ski areas, the film highlights three of Vermont’s remaining neighborhood ski hills.

Producers Tyler and Elliot Wilkinson-Ray discovered skiing as children at Cochran’s Ski Area in Richmond. They went on to ski race and instruct at bigger mountains, but eventually landed back at the small ski area as coaches. As many skiers do, they were watching premieres of ski films showing big-mountain skiing, first descents, and heli-drops. But as Tyler points out, while it’s exciting, most of us can’t relate. Tyler and Elliot felt these films were missing the more interesting story of relationships and community that are experienced at a small community ski hill.

Not unexpectedly then, Cochran’s gets a star role in the film. Made famous by the ski-racing success of the Cochran family, it is the nation’s first nonprofit ski area and has grown from a backyard hill built for one family to a full-fledged program serving the region’s dense population. With snowmaking, lights, increased hours, and progressive programming, this hill has produced countless ski enthusiasts and racers.

The second hill to shine in the film’s spotlight is Hard’ack in St. Alban’s City, which sits on the edge of an urban center that faces such issues as increasing poverty and drug use. Through a network of forest paths, neighbors can walk from their doorstep to Hard’ack, one of the few places this community has for outdoor recreation. Viewers also learn about the lesser-known Northeast Slopes in Orange, which serves a low-density rural community, and without it, many might spend the winter inside and alone. This local hill, where kids can ski for as little as $2 midweek, is central to the community’s health and well-being.

Together, these community-oriented ski hills have introduced children and families to the thrill of sliding on snow. Tyler and Eliot decided, while driving from race to race, to tell these stories with a film. They knew they were on to something when their Kickstarter campaign exceeded their goal in less than a week. Contributions came in from all over the country, and their funds grew with support from several Vermont businesses like Burton and the Alchemist, plus a grant from the New England Ski and Snowboard Museum. Along with three others, they formed the L3C (a socially minded company) T-Bar Films and began collecting footage.

The final product is a balance between storytelling, through interviews and historical footage, and action-packed segments akin to the big-budget films skiers trek to each fall. It’s a tribute to the challenges of operating a small ski hill, like rising costs and changing weather patterns, and a celebration of the uniqueness and resilience of these remaining places.

The film premiered in Burlington on Nov. 7 and will be playing around the state, with additional out-of-state locations in the works. To see the trailer and show times, visit t-barfilms.com. Tickets range in price from $5 to $12, and proceeds at some viewing locations benefit local ski hills. Further funds will be raised for local ski hills through donations, raffles, and auctions at each screening.

Sarah Galbraith of Marshfield hikes, bikes, skis and cartwheels her way through Vermont in all seasons. 

Sarah Galbraith

Sarah Galbraith of Plainfield skis, bikes, hikes, swims, and camps her way through Vermont’s mountains in all seasons. After an adventure, she can often be found with friends, beer, and food.