‘In Pursuit of Soul’ highlights skiing tradition at Berkshire East

  • The sun rises over Berkshire East Mountain Resort, as seen from the  Warfield Inn in Charlemont. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/TETON GRAVITY RESEARCH

  • “In Pursuit of Soul,” a short documentary film produced by Teton Gravity Research, explores the authentic culture of independent resort towns across the country, including Berkshire East Mountain Resort, while meeting the people that call those mountains home. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/TETON GRAVITY RESEARCH

  • An image of the Berkshire East Mountain Resort ski patrol station as seen in Teton Gravity Reasearch’s latest short film, “In Pursuit of Soul,” which debuted Tuesday, Oct. 19, for free through Teton Gravity Research TV - http://tgrtv.tetongravity.com. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/TETON GRAVITY RESEARCH

  • “In Pursuit of Soul” debuted Oct. 19. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  •  “In Pursuit of Soul,” the latest film from Teton Gravity Research, explores ski resort towns across the country and the deep connection skiers hold to the places where we learned to ski, where our children will learn to ski, and where the love for the sport will be passed down along generations. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/TETON GRAVITY RESEARCH

  • “In Pursuit of Soul,” a short documentary film produced by Teton Gravity Research, directed by Jeremy Grant, explores the authentic culture of independent resort towns across the country, including Berkshire East Mountain Resort, while meeting the people that call those mountains home. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/TETON GRAVITY RESEARCH

Staff Writer
Published: 1/12/2022 7:57:32 PM
Modified: 1/12/2022 7:56:39 PM

CHARLEMONT — Now that winter is in full bloom, it might be time to check out a skiing documentary close to home.

The latest film from Teton Gravity Research, “In Pursuit of Soul,” explores and illuminates the relationship between skier and local ski hill. The film, which debuted Oct. 19, is available for free through Teton Gravity Research TV http://tgrtv.tetongravity.com. Through visits to independent resorts across the United States, the 35-minute documentary explores the places that embody “the soul of skiing.”

Directed by Jeremy Grant, “In Pursuit of Soul” visits 12 mountains across the country, including Berkshire East Mountain Resort in Charlemont. Tradition is often at the foundation of one’s love affair with skiing — the bizarre phenomenon that is sliding down mountains on two planks.

“There’s no more exhilarating feeling than sliding on snow, and there’s no more beautiful landscape than white snow, green trees and blue sky,” says Indy Pass President and Founder Doug Fish.

At the heart of skiing is the local ski hill. Fish said he learned to ski at Mount Hood in Portland, Oregon. Today, over 50 years later, he still skis Mount Hood on a regular basis. Whether in the dramatic mountains of Wyoming, Montana or Idaho, to the slopes of New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts, the local ski resort is the core of it all. These resorts are where we learned to ski, where our children will learn to ski, and where the love for the sport will be passed down along generations.

The filmmakers traveled the United States to visit a dozen independent, local and family-owned by people living in pursuit of happiness, family, passion and soul. The film speaks to the “philosophy of these resorts and how important they are to the ecosystem of snow sports,” Fish said.

The first rope tow opened in the United States in 1934. By 1970, there were over 1,000 independent mountain resorts across the country. Today, that number has shrunk to below 400, with most resorts being corporately owned. “In Pursuit of Soul” dives into what it’s like to run these surviving small ski resorts and the people who keep them running — not for the money, but for the love of the sport.

“In the 1970s, skiing’s future was looking bleak in the Deerfield River Valley,” Katie Lozancich says in her Travel Journals, which were written while filming the documentary. “Three resorts in the area had closed, and Berkshire Mountain was trailing closely in that path. The resort was in bankruptcy and likely to close. But a ski manager from Michigan — Roy Schaefer — saw the potential with the mountain. After one visit, he offered to run the resort.”

Schaefer went home to Michigan, loaded his station wagon with his things, and traveled East with his family. The Schaefer family has been at the helm of Berkshire East ever since. With Schaefer’s management, “the resort went from being a quaint little hill — with a mere ski lift and T-bar — to becoming one of Massachusetts’ premier ski destinations,” Lozancich said.

The resort continues under the management of his sons, Jon and Jim, who have left their own mark at Berkshire, with one notable contribution being the 277-foot-tall wind turbine perched on the mountain’s summit. The wind-generated energy was coupled with a new solar field, making Berkshire East the only ski area to operate from 100% on-site renewable energy.

The affordability of small, independent mountains promotes accessibility for families and continues the legacy of skiing. Many of these mountains are proud of their after school programs and discount passes for children, which have turned many into lifelong skiers. Berkshire East, specifically, is the home base for an impressive ski racing program.

The Charlemont mountain is beloved by many longtime locals, like Charles “Charlie” Crosier. Lozancich caught a chair-lift ride with Crosier and interviewed the local star, who is featured in the short film. Known for his “ski ballet,” Lozancich said, Crosier embodies the idea of “free the heel, free the mind.” He is an avid Telemark skier (combining elements of cross-country and downhill skiing with heels detached from the skis) and “prefers to dance his way down the mountain, doing nose butters as he glides carelessly,” Lozancich writes in her journal entry.

Others that embody the spirit of these independent mountains include employees like Sonam Dhakpa, who found his way to western Massachusetts after fleeing Tibet. A mechanically inclined individual, Dhapka has been dubbed Berkshire East’s “Snow-Gun Whisperer” and tells filmmakers the crew at Berkshire East has become his family. This love from the communities of skiers, and families tied together by blood or bonds to operate independent mountains like Berkshire East — that is the soul of skiing.

“I think that mountain culture thrives on that kind of a resort, or that kind of environment,” Fish said. “It’s like going into a store on Main Street versus the mall. You go to one of these resorts and walk into the bar, and the bartender was on ski patrol that morning. You might go out on the chairlift and the owner could be the one loading the chairs.”

Production of “In Pursuit of Soul” was first announced in February 2021 as a partnership project with Indy Pass, the fastest-growing multi-mountain pass in North America. Of the 61 independent and authentic resorts from the Indy Pass Coalition, the Teton Gravity Research crew traveled to six locations on the East Coast, including Berkshire East, Bolton Valley, Cannon Mountain, Jay Peak, and Magic Mountain. The team then traveled west to hit six different independent ski areas in the Northern Rocky Mountains, including 49 Degrees North, Beaver Mountain, Brundage Mountain, Lost Trail Powder Mountain, Mission Ridge and Snow King Mountain.

“Those smaller resorts, I think, offer an experience that is superior to some of these bigger resorts,” Fish said. “… They’re smaller operations, and I think they get back to the essence, to the soul of skiing.”

The Teton Gravity Research team selected mountains from Indy Pass’ list of 80 partner locations from across the country for filming locations. He noted Berkshire East and Catamount Mountain, as a pair, is the “biggest conglomerate” partnered with Indy Pass. Nearly all the mountains included on the pass are independently owned or family-owned. Some are even owned by local municipalities or are state-owned. He said casual skiers may not be aware of the hundreds of independent mountain resorts available to them.

“The average skier in America is an intermediate skier, and they don’t need 3,000 acres of vertical feet to have a good time,” he said.

Indy Pass was founded in 2019 and allows access to an array of independent resorts across the country. An annual pass costs approximately $299 for adults or $129 for kids, and allows for two full days and an additional half-day of access per season at each participating resort. A full list of partnered resorts can be found at indyskipass.com.

“In Pursuit of Soul” is now available for free through Teton Gravity Research TV’s streaming application, and is available for download on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon devices and most major streaming platforms. This, and other films produced by Teton Gravity Research, can be viewed at tetongravity.com/films.


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