Features, stories, and reported articles written by Julie Brown.

The Tastemaker

Every year, Freedle Coty starts over. After the credits have rolled on his last ski movie, the filmer and creative mind for Level 1 Productions hits the road to film with skiers across the continent, rewinding the process back to the beginning. 

“Right away, right off the bat, you flip the hourglass over again,” he says.

Coty, 33, has made ski movies for 17 years, joining Level 1 in 2003 and before that, making ski edits on VHS tapes with high school buddies. With a new ski season comes a new ski movie, and Level 1 has kept up with the annual pace even as the internet laps the traditional ski movie and instantaneous Instagram stories outrun web edits. 

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One Woman Is Featured in the Photo Annual

Every year, the Photo Annual strives to display the very best ski photography in the world, with integrity to composition, light, authenticity, snow, and action. It is the culmination of a year’s worth of effort, from when photographers and skiers set out to create their art, to the months of collecting, sorting, curating, and editing photos internally. Photographers submitted thou sands of images to the magazine this year; out of those, we published 24 photos in this issue that represent the top tier of ability in photography and skiing. Only one featured a woman. And only one was taken by a female photographer.

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A Movement Begins

Ski towns making the shift to renewable energy makes sense. They are some of the most vulnerable municipalities in the age of climate change. Low snow years between 2000 and 2010 cost the ski industry $1 billion in revenue, according to a well-known 2012 study from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Protect Our Winters that forecasts the impact of climate change on winter tourism. The loss leads to vacant hotel rooms, restaurants, grocery stores, and affects every other business connected to the industry. Jobs vanish; water districts downstream of the mountains—including 60 million people in the West who rely on snowmelt for their drinking water—run dry. River habitat, forests, farms, and reservoirs all suffer as well. 

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All That Came Before

The room was drab, lit with fluorescent bulbs, and it smelled like my grandmother’s attic. But the vintage ski clothes that hung on the circular metal racks were glamorous: pleated wool pants with stirrups; sweaters with geometric Nordic patterns; Bogner one-pieces with cinch belts, shiny buckles, shoulder pads, and tapered legs. A cardboard box held old goggles that looked more appropriate for scuba diving than for skiing. And fur—some of it faux, a lot of it real. 

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Against All Reason

It’s snowing. Daylight is hardly ever brighter than dawn. The overcast sky is the color of ashes, which exaggerates the deep greens, blacks, and browns of the forest. Fast, low clouds have seized the mountains, blocked the sun’s light and warmth, and are emptying a current of white upon the earth. A web of frost splinters from the corner of the window. I can see my breath. 

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The Gateway to the Sierra Nevada

The speed limit drops from 65 to 25 mph at the town limit of Bridgeport, California. But you wouldn’t want to be driving fast, anyway. A one-street town with a population of 575, Bridgeport marks the northern end of the Sierra Nevada’s steep eastern escarpment, where skiers are drawn to 14,000-foot summits that precipitously drop 8,000 vertical feet to vast plains. For skiers driving south from Reno or Tahoe on spring backcountry missions, Bridgeport is their first stop.

“A campfire, a bottle of wine, and a guitar, and you can climb something up to 8,000 vertical feet and ski it and spend the night in the hot spring,” says Glen Poulsen, 57, a Tahoe-based skier who has been skiing lines in the High Sierra since well before he got his driver’s license. In 1998, he and four buddies bought 475 acres just outside of Bridgeport, home to hot springs, sagebrush, wildlife, and stunning views. Poulsen (whose father co-founded Squaw Valley in 1948) and his friends donated 75 acres to the Eastern Sierra Land Trust, and set up camp to launch ski tours into the surrounding backcountry. 

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But I did not come to Alaska to go heli skiing. Nor to eat Alaskan king crab legs in a mountain lodge. I came here to find the real Alaska: isolated, cold, weird, enormous, and, caked with snow, land both extracted for wealth and preserved for enjoyment. People come to the 49th state to chase a dream or run away from something. I fell in with the latter—running from a cubicle in an office park. Alaska became my mantra. I fantasized about the wild beauty and rawness of the state. I dreamed of a chunk of land so big, with so few people, you could slip away into solitude. To find it, I would ride a slow double chair with the locals at Arctic Valley. I would hike for lines with an Anchorage backcountry skier. And I would follow a determined mad man into a white cloud at the top of Thompson Pass in Valdez. Photographer Robin O’Neill and filmer Hennie van Jaarsveld joined me. Barnhill, who grew up in Anchorage, took the wheel. 

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The Skis of the Year

Allow me to make a few introductions to skiers in the powder union.

Hannah Victory stepped into skis for the first time at the age of 1. A few years later, she joined the ski team at Mammoth Mountain. Racing is how she was raised, skiing every day until 10 p.m. when the shuttle took her home. Her mom would pack her two sack lunches. Racing took Victory, now 29, across the country and Europe, to the U.S. Development Team, the Europa Cup, the World Juniors, and finally, to Big Sky, where she’s since retired from racing and stepped into another world of skiing—that of the local Big Sky ripper.

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