Film questions ethics of ski industry

Leslie Brefeld
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Hunter Sykes, right, prepares questions for Colorado Wild director Ryan Demmy Bidwell, seated facing camera, at the Butterhorn Bakery in Frisco. Steven Siig is behind the camera, while Darren Campbell looks at a list of questions. The trio were in Summit County in February of last year shooting for their film, "Resorting to Madness: Taking Back Our Mountain Communities." (Bob Berwyn/Summit Daily)

BRECKENRIDGE ” After years of complaining, two former Summit County locals decided to do something about the development they saw climbing higher and higher into the mountains.

“Big business will always go for as much as it can until local people do something,” said Hunter Sykes, co-owner of Coldstream Creative, a company Sykes and partner Darren Campbell created in 2005 “to address social and environmental issues through documentaries and other media solutions.” And for their first project, they tackled the billion-dollar ski industry.

In the film, “Resorting to Madness: Taking Back Our Mountain Communities,” Sykes and Campbell relate the ski industry of today to mining companies of Colorado’s past.

“A private company came in, took the gold and left,” Sykes said. “It’s similar to what the ski industry is doing ” taking a resource, extracting it and leaving.”

And he said what is left, is damage to the local economy as well as the environment.

Sykes and Campbell now live in Monterey, Calif., where both got their masters in international environmental policies. Yet before they moved, Sykes worked for the ski industry for 18 years and Campbell for more than 10, much of it for both in Summit County and the surrounding communities of Eagle and Lake counties.

“We’ve seen firsthand what’s happened to the community and the environment,” Sykes said.

The film, which is a way for Sykes and Campbell to feel they are meeting their obligation to their community, documents the way some communities in ski resort towns have made a significant difference.

After the film was shown at Mammoth Mountain in California, more people began to attend the town council meetings and were in general more energized, according to feedback Sykes received.

“I think it should be required viewing for all High Country residents,” Karn Stiegelmeier, chair of the Blue River Group of the Sierra Club said. The film will be shown Monday at the Speakeasy in Breckenridge with a discussion afterward hosted by Sykes and moderated by Blue River Group member Terese Keil.

Stiegelmeier said she invited representatives from Vail Resorts (which is called out as a top offender along with Intrawest in the film) to the discussion, but said they chose not to attend.

“I would really like to bring them to the table and have a conversation instead of avoiding the issue,” she said.

Recently, the public was able to affect change in Vail Resorts’ plan to close the Kinderhut childcare center on Peak 9 in Breckenridge. Although VR only allowed the business a one-year sublease to continue operations in their existing location, it was the more than 100 people who showed up at a Breckenridge Town Council meeting expressing their disapproval that forced the issue.

“I think there’s been a lot of positive interaction with the community and ski industry and we could go from there … not just take it as an attack,” Stiegelmeier said.

Intrawest Colorado communications director Matt Sugar said he couldn’t respond about the film’s charges, specifically that development in ski resorts is done to increase the real estate value of their properties instead of better the ski experience, without having seen the film.

But he did speak about the best way for the public to know what was going on with the company and what the public input process was for Copper Mountain.

“We have constituencies that want to see us go into Tucker and put lifts in,” he said, and added there are also others who do not want the development. “On the real estate side, some would like to see more and some would like to move backward.”

He said for “mountain improvements” they have to get approval from the U.S. Forest Service and for base development they need approval from the county.

“We don’t do anything in a vacuum,” Sugar said.

Vail Resorts’ director of corporate communications Kelly Ladyga responded to a call requesting an interview with an e-mail saying that since they chose not to participate in the film, they did not feel it was appropriate to comment.

Sykes is touring Colorado with “Resorting to Madness” and distinguishes his position as anti-ski industry, not anti-skiing.

“We both (Sykes and Campbell) still ski in-bounds and love it,” Sykes said. Their goal is not to shut down the ski resorts, but to get them to care about what the community living there cares about, he said.

“We’re trying to have a local effect on a giant corporation whose only real objective is to make as much money as possible for their shareholders.

“You gotta find a balance between making a living and destroying the place you live in,” Sykes said.