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First-time filmmakers tackle ski development

A documentary by local filmmakers that examines ski resort developments in mountain communities will be shown this week in Tahoe City and Truckee.

The independent film, “Resorting to Madness: Taking back our Mountain Communities,” made last year by Tahoe locals Darren Campbell and Hunter Sykes, visits several mountain towns in the United States and Canada, analyzing the impacts the resorts have had on their communities and the environment.

“Madness” explores a diverse range of ski towns, identifying Vail as the antithesis of a mountain community, Aspen as an ideal resort balancing financial success with environmental and community preservation, and Martis Valley as a prime example of how a nonprofit group can make a difference.



The filmmakers ” aware of booming real estate markets, increases in the cost of living, and decreasing environmental quality ” say they hope to encourage the public to stand up for the good of their mountain towns.

“There is a trend moving towards more public participation,” Campbell said.



With scruffy faces, friendly smiles and a casual, laid-back demeanor, Sykes and Campbell embody the image of avid lifetime skiers.

“They’re both very passionate about the mountain,” said Steve Siig, a local filmmaker who contributed footage to the film.

Sykes grew up in Colorado, skiing the state’s ski slopes since the age of 2, and has been involved in the ski industry ever since his first patrol job as a 15-year-old at Powderhorn Ski Area in western Colorado. He moved to Tahoe last year and currently lives in Tahoe City.

Campbell learned to ski in New England before migrating west to attend the University of Colorado, Boulder. He moved to Tahoe in 1995 and lives in Alpine Meadows with his family.

The pair met at graduate school in Monterey, studying International Environmental Policy. But they could put their graduate degrees to use in only one place, Washington D.C. said Sykes. Instead, they both opted for an outdoor life in the mountains.

The idea for the self-funded film came when the two were riding bikes in the mountains above South Lake Tahoe, enjoying the essence of the Sierra backcountry, when they realized the trend toward more resort development.

“For me, this was a way to do something about it,” said Sykes.

Sykes and Campbell set off on a year-long journey to ski towns across the nation, including Mammoth, Vail, Aspen, Sundance, Jackson Hole, Whistler and Truckee. They filmed countless interviews and hours of footage, which they spent long nights condensing into the 50-minute film.

“They knew to ask the right questions, they knew how to get into an issue and really get to the bottom of the issue,” Siig said.

The filmmakers interviewed ski resort officials, local residents and various nonprofit agencies, eliciting inhospitable as well as enthusiastic responses, Sykes said.

They wanted to push a positive light on the film, said Siig, explaining that neither filmmaker is anti-development. Instead, they wish to help resorts understand their impact on both the environment and the community, he said.

Ski experts don’t dispute that the ski industry itself is in flux.

“We’re dealing with change. … The question is, how do you accommodate that change,” said Executive Director Bob Roberts of the California Ski Industry Association.

Since its completion, the film has toured Colorado and Utah, partnering with local nonprofit agencies that host public showings and sponsor discussions afterward.

What’s next for the duo? In addition to continued film premiers across the nation, the two have a couple of ideas in mind, including a project collaborating with author Hal Clifford, who wrote the nonfiction book, “Downhill Slide: Why the Corporate Ski Industry is Bad for Skiing, Ski Towns and the Environment.”

Until then, the two filmmakers will continue to promote “Resorting to Madness.”

“This thing’s still got some life to it,” Sykes said.


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