Backcountry in the High Country

Article Published: Nov. 17, 2011 | Modified: Nov. 19, 2011
Backcountry in the High Country

The High Country Nordic Association hopes to make backcountry skiing more prevalent in the High Country.

Photo by Eric Heistand |

A new film festival is making first tracks in the High Country.

The High Country Nordic Association presents the Backcountry Film Fest, coming to Boone this Friday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m. in the Watauga High School Auditorium.

Showcasing two films, “Solitaire” and “Tele-Vision,” the festival wields a dual purpose – highlight the beauty of backcountry snowsports, while raising money for a good cause, namely Mountain Alliance, a Boone nonprofit that provides service and adventure learning opportunities to local high school students.

“There’s an overlap with our membership and the people associated with Mountain Alliance – anything we can do to help them out is always a good thing,” High Country Nordic Association (HCNA) president Russel Hiatt said.

The HCNA will split the proceeds with Mountain Alliance, Hiatt said, as its members strive to make backcountry skiing more accessible in the High Country. The films collectively showcase skiers and snowboarders enjoying the backcountry experience.

“There’s not a ton of it around here, but we live in one of the few areas where there are some opportunities to get into that, especially with the Appalachian Trail nearby and other places like Roan Mountain, Snake Mountain,” Hiatt said. “There are just places that aren’t traditional skiing areas, but when we get a good snow, if you’re motivated to get out there, there’s a small group of people that gets out there every year – just to hike to the top and ride down.”

Hiatt said this produces a different experience, something not found on the ski lift.

“It’s definitely a lot more about where you are, in appreciating that moment,” he said. “It’s a pretty ethereal thing out here … a little like ice-climbing in the area. You just have to be in a position to jump on it when it’s here, and there’s just something special in itself about that.”

The festival’s films share a similar theme.

The feature film, “Solitaire,” is produced by SweetGrass Productions, whose work appeared at the popular Banff Film Festival a couple years back with the film, “Signatures.”

“We heard about their new film and just contacted them through email, and they were very generous in allowing us to show it,” Hiatt said. “It’s fantastic. It’s just an artistically done ski film … a slightly different take, a lot more music and visual oriented. It’s less of the big air – but there is that aspect, too – and more about the locations and the beauty and the cinematography.”

Set in South America, “Solitaire” took two years to film.

“And it’s all human powered, too,” Hiatt said. “A lot of times you see these ski films, and it’s helicopter-based skiing. All the descents you see in ‘Solitaire,’ the snowboarders and skiers got there themselves, they basically climbed up themselves. That’s another aspect of (the HCNA) that we’re seeking to promote, the backcountry aspect.”

The second film is called “Tele-Vision,” from PowderWhore Productions. As its name indicates, “Tele-Vision” concentrates on Telemark skiing, which Hiatt described as a Nordic style of skiing in which the rider is attached to the ski at the front, rather than the back, keeping the heel free.

“So, it’s a little more conducive to traveling over snow,” Hiatt said. “The form of Telemark is kind of downhill skiing on that style of ski. If you see someone Telemark skiing at a resort, the best description I have is that it’s like a genuflecting motion.”

Hiatt said “Tele-Vision” is the funnier film of the two, describing it as “a light-hearted look at the sport,” in which the filmmakers obviously had fun filming. And that’s no coincidence.

“We were looking for films that represented our interest, which is backcountry skiing, while showcasing the kind of skiing that our group does, which is Telemark,” Hiatt said.

It’s a niche sport, he said, not widely practiced, with only a small percentage of skiers participating and mostly outside the region.

“But that’s kind of a big purpose about this organization, trying to promote the sport around here,” he said. “There’s just not anywhere in the Southeast – except for a place in West Virginia – where you can buy any equipment, not even a place where you can rent gear. Most people who do it here either learned it somewhere else and came here, or they knew someone else who was doing it.”

For Hiatt, a volunteer ski patroller at Appalachian Ski Mountain and a social studies teacher at Hardin Park School, Telemark was introduced to him through a friend.

“A friend of mine is a patroller up at Beech (Mountain Resort), and he has the same size shoes I do, so he encouraged me to come out and give it a shot,” he said. “I tried it a couple times, then decided to really get into it.”

Hiatt and a group of like-minded individuals had been talking about backcountry skiing as a larger community, figuring out how to promote it.

“Our initial concern was trying to get people together to do it, but then I think we saw a lot of potential,” he said.

This was evident with the group’s inaugural Telemark Festival this year, which will be returning to the slopes of Beech Jan. 21, 2012, offering those interested a chance to give Telemark skiing a try.
“It’s really only in the larger ski market that you find it,” Hiatt said.

Ideally, the group would like to see a retailer create a Telemark rental fleet, but in the absence of that, Hiatt said the association is considering creating its own fleet of equipment to lend and share.
“If we can’t find anyone locally to give it a shot, then we’ll try to create that opportunity for people,” he said.

The High Country Nordic Association is open to new members, and anyone interested can visit the group’s Facebook page by searching “High Country Nordic Association.”

The Backcountry Film Fest starts at 7 p.m. Friday at the Watauga High School Auditorium in Boone. Admission costs $5.

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