For many skiers out West, eastern skiing is at best an oxymoron and at worst a pair of dirty words. For the crew at Meathead Films, “Ski The East” is a way of life.
Based in Burlington, Vt., Meathead Films was founded by Geoff McDonald. In 2001, he put out and distributed the first Meathead flick, a ski/snowboard/skateboard movie called “A Natural Force.”
McDonald brought on Chris James as a partner in 2003, essentially doubling the size of the company. James was a featured athlete in earlier Meathead films and moved into the role of photographer and marketing director.
2006, Meathead had international distribution for its movies and premiered that year’s movie, “Snow Gods,” to more than 10,000 people. It also picked up a major sponsor in Subaru, who provided an Outback — dubbed the “Meat Wagon” — that you see all over New England during the winter.
These days, the Meatheads premiere their films to packed bars, theaters and college auditoriums all over the Northeast, touring to give over 60 screenings this year.
So what makes Meathead Films different, besides the fact that they’re New Englanders?
Warren Miller, the godfather of modern ski movies, hasn’t had kind words for the movies of the last decade. Miller laments the lack of humor in current ski productions, the sameness of their stunts — “younger people … like to see 34,720 aerials in a row” — and the dearth of personality.
I suspect that Warren hasn’t ever seen a Meathead feature because the boys don’t have any of these issues. Skiers like Shea Flynn, Andy Parry and LJ Strenio are overflowing with personality. There isn’t an athlete in any other ski movie quite like Radio Ron. Where other movies use sketches or whimsical montages to reach for humor, the Meats are funny enough to carry the movies on their own.
The films from the Meathead guys are, in a way, gonzo documentaries. Each fall, the group premieres a movie that chronicles the previous season in the Northeast. We see Maine and other New England states through the eyes of the hardest of hard-core ski bums, skiers who spend their time off-hill at “real” jobs or as students. A number of the region’s universities — UMF and UVM, in particular — are inhabited by Meatheads.
McDonald gives a lot of credit to the athletes’ background when talking about Meathead movies.
“East Coast skiers are a very tight-knit community with a ton of enthusiasm,” he said in a recent interview with Freeskier magazine. “What keeps us going is feeding off the excitement and pride that we can bring East Coasters through our movies; and to expose a region that’s usually overlooked by the rest of the ski film industry.”
Maine connections run deep for the Meathead cast and crew. Every one of their features has been chock-full of ski footage from Sugarloaf, Sunday River, Saddleback and the Maine backcountry. In 2005’s “Epoch,” one of the showpieces of the film is a descent of Katahdin in Baxter State Park. In “Work it Out,” this year’s feature, Auburn local Shea Flynn gets some serious screen time, including a segment shot on the streets of Auburn.
If you’re looking for movies in the vein of Warren Miller’s classic stuff, you’re in for a bit of a surprise. Sure, there’s plenty of gorgeous big mountain footage in the Meathead films that would be at home in any ski movie. It’s not the Rockies, but Saddleback, Sugarloaf, Stowe and other New England mountains provide some serious vertical and, if we’re lucky, powder.
However, the real treat in the Meathead movies is the incredibly inventive urban segments. Last winter, after the massive blizzard that hammered Washington, D.C., the crew went down to film some skiing on the national Mall. The result is the capstone to “Work It Out,” footage of New England skiers jibbing in front of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.
The capstone to last year’s film was similarly surreal: skiing in a closed-for-the-season amusement park in New York. Over four days of filming, the Meatheads “managed to jump, handplant, bonk and flip over most everything … at the park,” a Storyland-esque lot with statues of storybook characters and fantasy creatures.
Meathead Films is currently hard at work on their 10th feature film, marking a decade of ski movies.
Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime ski enthusiast. He writes this column every other week, sharing the space with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at: