This past Halloween, when people in Western Massachusetts were putting away their trick-or-treating costumes and picking up their snow shovels, Ski the East senior editor Tim Fater was driving to the hill town of Charlemont, where he found 30 inches of snow on the unopened, empty slopes of Berkshire East and had the best October ski day of his life.
Skiing in the Northeast is unreliable and unpredictable. Apparently too preoccupied with the West Coast Sierras and Rockies, Ullr rarely smiles down on the lower elevations of the northern Appalachians. Because of this often stark reality, taking advantage of a big New England storm is a must for local diehard skiers. And no one does it better than East Coast ski film producers The Meatheads.
“Ski the East is our sister company,” Meatheads marketing director and photographer Chris James tells me. “We’re both dedicated to focusing on the East.”
Celebrating their 10-year anniversary this winter by touring for their latest film Prime Cut (screening at Hampshire College this Saturday, Nov. 12), Meathead Films has, by exclusively making “East Coast skiing adventure films,” developed a strong ski film following over the past decade (their earlier films featured the late Williston-Northampton alum Alec Stall).
“The Northeast is a relatively small region, with a unique culture and vibe,” James notes. “So there’s a lot of camaraderie.”
This regional solidarity is the result of skiers’ routinely facing challenging weather conditions throughout the local mountain ranges which, as Meathead’s website notes, “breed talent, toughness, and determination like nowhere else.”
“East Coast skiers are more tolerant and more optimistic,” James continues. “Four inches is a powder day.”
Filming at resorts and backcountry locations from southern New England to Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula, the Meatheads show there is a lot of impressive skiing in the Northeast if one is dedicated to seeking it out.
“There can be a lot of work for sometimes small rewards,” James admits. “But the struggle adds to the adventure and builds character.”
For the most part, that inherent struggle has been enough to keep the ski film industry shooting at more promisingly powdery locales, far away from the over-skied blue ice of the East’s crowded resorts.
“There was a void of East Coast content,” says James. “This is where we grew up, where we’ve built a network of friends and athletes to work with, so we thought, why not represent what we know?”
The Meatheads were created by Chris James and president/cinematographer Geoff McDonald, both of whom graduated from the University of Vermont.
“Burlington’s definitely a sweet spot,” James says of Vermont’s largest city, which he think of as “the outdoor action sports capital of New England.”
In 2003 they released their first film, Elevated, which, in part due to a smaller distribution, is now sold out. The following year saw the more widespread release of Schooled, which continues to be a favorite of James’. “It got more notoriety,” he reflects. “Today it almost feels like a cult movie.”
In 2005 they released two films. Born from Ice, which refers to a feature of the terrain that every New England skier is all too familiar with, and Epoch, a genre-twisting ski documentary centered around the tallest peaks in five Northeastern states (Mount Greylock in Massachusetts, Mount Marcy in New York, Vermont’s Mount Mansfield, New Hampshire’s Mount Washington and Katahdin in Maine), the mountaineering stories from their respective histories, and the Meatheads’ quest to hike up and ski down each one of them in a single season.
They continued to release at least one feature-length ski film each year, while also creating six promotional videos for their home base ski area, Stowe.
This year’s Prime Cut offering features urban footage from Burlington, Boston (off Route 1 in Charlestown), and even Quebec City, as well as backcountry spots from New Hampshire to the Chic Choc Mountains of eastern Canada. But for James, their trip to Newfoundland tops any skiing adventure over the past 10 years.
“Jay Peak is great for powder, Mad River Glen because it never changes, the White Mountains for backcountry,” he says, “but Newfoundland is by far the most dramatic place we’ve been.”
So far, that is.
After 10 long years and 10 always too-brief winters, the Meatheads have no plans to stop filming their celebration and enjoyment of the often imperfect Northeast ski season. Plenty of spring slush and winter hard pack still awaits exploration. No doubt the occasional early-season two-foot powder storm awaits, too.