So far this winter, the East Coast has been leading the North American charge in terms of face shots, bottomless pow and overall stoke. Storms have consistently been pounding New England and the surrounding area, leaving skiers in other parts of the country green with envy. Among those getting after it back East are members of the Vermont Backcountry Alliance (VTBC)—an organization seeking to progress backcountry skiing in Vermont through community activism and environmentally responsible practices. This fall, the crew over at T-Bar Films will release a short film chronicling the efforts of the VTBC, and we caught up with the man behind the project, Tyler Wilkinson-Ray, to get the inside scoop on everything backcountry in Vermont.
What is the Vermont Backcountry Alliance, and how did the idea of it come to fruition?
The Vermont Backcountry Alliance aims to protect and advance backcountry skiing and snowboarding in Vermont. [The backcountry scene] has exploded in recent years and VTBC is really a citizen group of skiers and riders taking ownership over the future of their sport. It began when a beloved piece of BC terrain was slated for development. The backcountry community organized, conserved the land and then realized there was more work to be done across the state. They work to open up new zones, glade them in a sustainable way and promote responsible backcountry use.
What do you hope to accomplish with this film project highlighting the VTBC?
Practically, I’m hoping that telling the VTBC story will get the organization some publicity and support to continue its work. More broadly, I think it’s an important story to tell. For backcountry skiing in the East, this is a move from the old fashioned mentality of keeping your zone secret to a more community-oriented approach. For skiing, movements like this that take ownership over the sport and try to move it in a positive direction, and not just towards a bottom line, are vital. Organizations like Protect Our Winters, Winter Wildlands Alliance and Mountain Riders Alliance have all emerged in recent years to respond to challenges facing the sport, and the Vermont Backcountry Alliance is the most recent. It’s important that we acknowledge and support the work these organizations are doing.
In one of T-Bar Films’ Instagrams, you talk about a new zone that’s a collaboration between a Vermont landowner and the New England Forestry Foundation. Can you talk about that collaboration, and that new zone?
Yes, this project came out of a very committed group of skiers in Rochester, Vermont that worked out an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the New England Forestry Foundation to glade a piece of conserved land. They know what they are doing and cut in a way to open the land up for skiing without risking erosion or damage to the land. I skied it last weekend for the first time and it was wonderful. There are more areas being cut up there this summer and a land parcel with the US Forest Service should be approved in the coming weeks as well. Skiing on Forest Service land might be common place in the West, but land in the East needs to be managed, making it a much more lengthy process.
Do you plan on continuing to discover new backcountry zones through various landowner partnerships?
That’s the Backcountry Alliance’s plan—privately held land, conserved land and State and Federal land. There’s a lot of woods in Vermont. It’s an exciting time.
Have you, yourself, been doing any cutting to clear out new terrain?
I was out West this fall when the latest cutting happened, but I’ve helped glade other areas. It’s a lot of fun and it gets you fired up for winter during those rainy days in October. It is, however, important to know what you’re doing so that you don’t damage the forest. There was a well-publicized cut in Jay Peak, Vermont a few years back that was a great example of what not to do and unfortunately gave the sport a bad reputation for a while.
What’s your favorite backcountry zone that you’ve hit so far this season?
The new zone near Rochester was pretty fun. Many areas off of Mt. Mansfield are pretty hard to beat once they get filled in, too.
I went to UVM, and over the time that I was there, I only had one or two days like the ones you’ve been enjoying lately. What’s it like when a storm like this rolls into New England?
We’ve been on a really great cycle lately. We haven’t been getting the huge Nor’easters that dump several feet, that’s been down in Boston and the coast. But, we’ve been getting small storms a few times a week that drop six to 12 inches, and it’s stayed cold so it’s just been building on itself. Everyone [read: skiers] is on cloud nine in New England right now.
Talk about some of the best skiing you guys have had so far this season. Locations, snow quality, terrain, etc…
It’s definitely been some of the best skiing I’ve ever done in Vermont, or anywhere for that matter. The cold has meant the snow has been coming down nice and light and staying that way. I’ve had a few days when it really felt bottomless, which in Vermont is pretty rare. Everyone knows the weather in the East can be variable as times, and downright awful at others, but when it’s good, it’s the most fun I’ve had on skis. Some of the open birch glades with snow piled up on their trunks has felt like Japan.
Any names we should be looking out for when this project drops?
We’ve got a good group of local skiers, a lot of them are young. But, the piece is more about the organization and a celebration of Vermont backcountry than a skier profile piece.
What makes Vermont so different and unique than other areas on the East Coast, as well as North America in general?
Vermont was the birthplace of skiing in the US, and the winter culture is just ingrained here. You can run into a lot of different types of people while skiing—from guys in camo and Carhartts to those rocking Dynafit bindings on DPS skis. There are lot of people who have rope tows in their backyards. There’s just a lot to be discovered off the trail map around here.
Any parting words?
You don’t have to go to Whistler to have your best day on the mountain. And, I’ve got to thank those who are making the project possible: Vermont Backcountry Alliance, Gear-X.com, Health Warrior, Dodge Ski Boots and Burton.