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

Posts in Features
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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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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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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Crossroads: In the face of its most dramatic development in 55 years, what is the future of Squaw Valley?

I am the product of a Squaw Valley romance. In 1974, my dad moved there to join the ski patrol, a job he had been dreaming of since he was a high school misfit growing up in Sacramento. Six years later, he met my mom, a Chico State college student who spent her winter semester loading chairs. They fell in love over deep Sierra snow and lived happily as newlyweds in a shack on Squaw Valley Road that was so cold the water would freeze in the dog bowl every night. They taught me how to ski at Squaw, and as a result, I’ve pursued a life in the mountains. But the home I know is on the precipice of a radical change.


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