When I pulled into the parking lot at New Hampshire’s Black Mountain early on a weekday last January, I initially feared it was closed.
It was the height of the pandemic, and there were only a couple cars in the lot, and no real signs of life. It was cloudy and there were some flurries.
Then a lone skier came down out of the trees, stopped right beside her car and unclicked from her bindings. As she packed up, a few more cars arrived and then a lift started spinning. Sure enough, there was someone at the ticket window of the old wooden lodge and I redeemed a day on my Indy Pass.
My son and I were among the first to ride once the lift began loading, and the conditions were exquisite, although open terrain was really limited. There was fresh powder, maybe four inches, on top of a groomed trail, but really only one and a half ways down with about a half-dozen variations. Despite that, we made an entire day of it.
After spending the previous day at Cannon, this was decidedly more low-key, but the charm of Black Mountain was obvious. A pleasant gentleman in the parking lot gave us a little local knowledge. The liftie who ran the old-fashioned double chair was helpful and cordial, and the ski patroller was cool enough to let us take one last run down a fresh field of powder before he closed it because the cover was kind of thin once it was skied off a few times … by us.
I recalled my visit to Black during and after watching Teton Gravity Research’s terrific short video “In Pursuit of Soul,” which features Black Mountain, in addition to several other Indy Pass mountains in the Northeast, as well as a bunch more from elsewhere. In only 34 minutes, the skilled storytellers at TGR combine dazzling video with compelling voices to create a distinct narrative of passion, pride, and community connection at the nation’s remaining independent ski areas.
Throughout the video, which you can watch for free on TGR’s website (tgrtv.tetongravity.com), you meet the characters and unique personalities that make these places special. At Berkshire East, Charles Chrozer is your guide, first on a chairlift ride and then on a chase-style video sequence that takes you on a few runs with him. His slopestyle is magnificent.
You hear from John Fichera of Black Mountain in New Hampshire, Jeff Leich of the New England Ski Museum, Roy and Jon Schaefer of Berkshire East in Massachusetts, and the Deslauriers family of Bolton Valley in Vermont, among other notable voices. They tell the stories of their mountains, and why it means so much to them to be there.
The aerial shots are brilliant, and the film features great looks behind the scenes. You are introduced to some fascinating people, like a Tibetan fix-it-all mechanic, a Special Olympian who works in the lodge, and a groomer driver who proclaims “the hill is like an Etch-A-Sketch,” as she takes you along for a ride.
There are a few subtle jabs at the giants of the ski world, mostly to justify the gaps in size, lift speed and capacity, and other amenities. I’ve always bristled at both the knocks on large, corporate-owned ski resorts and the ski elitists who look down on smaller mom-and-pop areas because both types are good in their own ways.
But one thing that is abundantly clear in “In Pursuit of Soul” is that there is room for both, and that’s good for skiing.
Matt Pepin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.