300 Miles Melting Sheds Light on New England’s Changing Winters
Growing up in New England, POW Creative Alliance member and founder of the creative agency Eastern Adventure, Connor Davis, has seen firsthand how winters across the Northeast have changed. From shorter ski seasons, less snow and rainier Decembers to extreme cold snaps and rogue snowstorms—planning a backcountry adventure has become increasingly more difficult. When POW Athlete Alliance member, Torey Lee Brooks approached him with the idea to ski Vermont’s entire Catamount trail and create a film that tells the story of how winters are shifting and the subsequent impact it has on the outdoor community he knew that they could raise awareness for climate change in a place that is often overlooked: New England.
We caught up with Connor to chat about the making of 300 Miles Melting, how the New England outdoor community is impacted by changing winters and ways we can better raise awareness for climate change in the Northeast.
POW: What was the inspiration behind 300 Miles Melting?
Connor Davis: I have to give credit to Torey Lee Brooks for that. She came to me with the idea to ski the entire Catamount trail. She had this awesome idea in her head but wasn’t quite sure how to bring it to life. She had also just joined the POW Alliance at the time, so we felt like this New England team that could be a super force to do this thing together. It was something to do for ourselves from creative and athletic standpoints, but also for the greater good of what we think the message of this film will carry.
POW: Due to New England’s changing winters, trails like the Catamount are becoming increasingly more difficult to connect. How do you see that impacting the New England outdoor community?
Connor Davis: I think from a bigger picture, creating this film has been very sobering to truly wrap my head around what the world might look like down the line if we don’t do something about our climate. The biggest thing that I really took away from this is how much snowmaking has blinded us from the truth of what’s going on, especially here in New England where we’re very ski resort-focused. There are obviously great backcountry opportunities, but with so many ski resorts densely packed in, we’re starting to lose touch with what’s really going on with the snow levels in the real wilderness.
The biggest fear is that some of these treasured places are going to be literally impossible to ski. It’s hard enough to have a backcountry experience in New England because it typically requires a lot of glading, clearing and teamwork just to open a zone. There’s a lot that goes into it to even access these places. Then, after all that, you have to sit and wait for snow. If that big, natural step is not happening anymore then we’re in a very difficult spot.
One of our interviewees, Bill McKibben, talks about this really well. If we don’t have these opportunities to get out and spend time in the woods and in the snow—in a real way that’s not on a crowded ski resort—there’s an argument to be made that a lot of people won’t see the value of these places anymore. It’s not just about the possibility of losing some money in the economy, but there’s a spiritual element that people are going to lose in that. We’ll lose that irreplaceable feeling of walking through a quiet forest that’s covered in untouched snow. When you take that away from this region that is full of people who really enjoy tranquility and nature in its purest form, that can have a long-lasting mental and emotional impact. This is something that really dawned on me spending quality time out on the Catamount this past winter.
POW: Last season was weird for the Northeast. If it did snow, it was followed up by rain a few days later. How did that impact the planning process for this film?
Connor Davis: Last winter up until about March 1, there was almost no natural snow on the East Coast. Some of the big ski resorts were able to do a lot of snowmaking and pull it off, but the small resorts were struggling even more than usual.
The backcountry was not really safe or accessible due to low snow and we weren’t sure if we could even do this project. The story of this film was being written right in front of us; we set out to tell this story about climate change and how this trail might be melting into the past, and there we were in February with not enough snow to do it. Eventually, we had to pick a start date and the night before we set out it snowed probably two feet of very heavy snow. It was right on that cusp of rain or snow which was almost frustrating because we wanted snow but not like this. Throughout the trip we experienced that a couple of times. It would be really bland weather hovering right around 32 and then all the sudden a freak snowstorm would just drop too much snow in a really heavy consistency. Right in the middle of the project, this completely derailed everything because Torey was hip deep in this thick, wet snow.
As the filmmaker, it was frustrating because It gave a false visual of this snowy winter in New England, but we did our best to make it clear that these were super isolated storms that didn’t reflect the grander winter.
POW: Aside from too much of the heavy, wet snow, what was the biggest challenge of this project?
Connor Davis: The biggest challenge in terms of creating a film from the more technical filmmaking perspective was strategically knowing what to film and how to tie the whole story together. When you have someone spending over a month skiing the Catamount Trail, you don’t need to film every second. You find the important moments, and anticipate the ones ahead. Not to mention, knowing when to switch roles to being Torey’s support, especially in the second half of the trip. It was a balancing act of making sure that we are making a great film, but also keeping ourselves safe and staying on track. It was a very remote mission with zero cell service where we were relying on satellite GPS devices, so we had to balance storytelling with safety at all times.
POW: What was your biggest takeaway from this whole journey creating 300 Miles Melting?
Connor Davis: I was really lucky to grow up in Vermont. Very early on I learned the value of spending time outdoors and how it can create friendships, relationships and passions. But to be honest, I’ve been overwhelmingly busy the last few years—running a business and raising two daughters with my wife, Hayley. Being out there on the Catamount and spending so much time in these amazing remote places full of snow was a serious reminder of how important it is to dedicate that time outdoors and in nature. This is what helps me, and so many others, really care about our planet.
This is all to say, slashing powder and jumping off cliffs is fun—but it’s just as valuable to walk into the woods with no skis at all, sit on a log, look around and think without any distractions. That, in a way, is what we were trying to express in the film. If we can get enough people to experience this trail, even in a small way, I think the likelihood of them protecting our climate will just skyrocket. You need that quiet time in nature to really understand how important it is.
POW: For people who grew up in New England and enjoy the backcountry, it’s pretty obvious that winters have changed. I would love to hear, from your perspective growing up in Vermont, how you’ve noticed winters changing over the years.
Connor Davis: It’s become very noticeable. I grew up in the 90s, and at least from my memory, it was always very snowy in the winter. In Vermont, the ski resorts would open in November without concern and there would be snow through March or April without the drama. The biggest way I’ve noticed a change in winter is during this time of year, actually, when you start getting really excited about skiing. I have to check myself because real skiing doesn’t actually start in November anymore. That starts in January and it ends in March. I’m unfortunately starting to see winter as a three-month period.
But what’s really been kind of shocking for me to think about is when I talk to my daughter about skiing. I have two young daughters and my older one that is just getting into skiing has been asking me all these questions saying things like, “I’m so excited to go skiing with you and build a snowman together. Can we build a big snow fort in the driveway?” These are all things that we’ve been lucky to do together, but I’m starting to feel a little bit guilty about promising those things because part of me knows there is a chance that we’ll have a really low snow year. It’s a combination of noticing things changing and forecasting these things with my daughters, which is really kind of heavy to think about.
POW: How do you think can we help raise awareness around climate change and how winters are changing in the Northeast?
Connor Davis: I don’t have a perfect answer for that, but I do feel ski resorts need to play a much bigger role in that conversation. They already have a captive audience full of open-minded people who are having a really nice time. This feels like the right opportunity to put a message in front of people. It shouldn’t upset people or bum them out, but it should inform them by saying “Hey, this experience that you’re having right now is not exactly the experience happening just on the back side of the ski resort.”
My mind, as the owner of a creative agency, goes straight to thinking about smart, informative campaigns that aren’t doom and gloom, but can inform in a clever way by comparing snow levels at the resort to snow levels elsewhere in the backcountry to raise awareness and spark action. I’m not trying to point fingers at ski resorts at all, it just seems like a really smart place to get a bigger picture PSA out about climate change in the Northeast.
About 300 Miles Melting:
Climate change is our planet’s number one threat. And one of its biggest targets is being overlooked: New England. While major ski resorts maintain an image with overwhelming snowmaking, the backcountry of this region paints a real picture of what’s going on. And there’s no better place to look than Vermont’s Catamount Trail, which spans 300 miles up the length of the state.
Enter 300 Miles Melting: A film that follows skier and activist, Torey Lee Brooks, as she attempts to ski—and learn from—the entire Catamount Trail amidst a turbulent winter. Along the way, we meet brilliant minds including Bill McKibben (author and activist), Shelby Semmes (Trust For Public Land), Dr. Liz Burakowski (University of New Hampshire), and Matt Williams (Catamount Trail Association).
Watch the full film on 300 Miles Melting’s website!
Author: Stacie Sullivan
Stacie always knew she wanted to pursue a career in the ski industry from a young age, having first clicked into skis at the age of 4 and writing her 8th grade career project on being a professional skier. While her dreams of becoming a professional athlete didn’t quite pan out the way she planned at […]