Summit County residents aim to shatter stigma surrounding mental health through ski film
The film will be shown for free in Leadville on Saturday
It is no secret that the Rocky Mountain region is currently experiencing major issues with mental health. Not only does the region have the highest rate of suicide in the country, but suicide rates across the Western Slope can be up to three times the rate across the rest of the state.
Summit County and the surrounding mountain communities are not immune to the mental health challenges and rise in suicide rates nationwide. For nearly the last decade, Summit County has seen a steady uptick in local suicides, which have deeply affected and shaped the community.
Skier and filmmaker John Padilla, who is from Bozeman, Montana, was personally affected by the mental health crisis in the Mountain West when his brother Jack died by suicide in 2019 when he was 15 years old.
Following the death of his brother, Padilla felt like he needed to make something — not only to honor the adventurous life that his brother lived, but also something that could help address the mental health crisis across the U.S.
Padilla produced and directed a ski film titled, “The Mountain in My Mind”, which was released last fall.
Like most ski films, viewers were transported into the backcountry and atop snowy peaks to witness jaw-dropping lines by skiers from all across the country, but the film also allowed skiers to tell their own stories surrounding mental health.
“The direction behind it is super grassroots,” Padilla said. “I have athletes reach out to me, and I ask them in confidence to tell me what they want to tell me in the first place. I interviewed a large pool of athletes and then chose the ones I want for this year’s film. Basically trying to tell a story in the film that represents the audience and people in ski towns.”
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The film was the first of its kind to interview skiers across the “suicide belt” in the Rocky Mountain region, and it aims to helped to destigmatize talking about mental health and suicide in the mountain towns that help make up the ski industry.
“Ultimately our goal is to stop teen suicide, and suicide in general ,within the ski industry,” Padilla said. “We have an opportunity to stop that pipeline earlier on so that we build resiliency in kids in the beginning. The goal of the film is to get the next generation of skiers to be better than we have been at talking about mental health.”
Nearly a year after the first film was released to the public through a series of live premieres and via YouTube, Padilla released “The Mountain in My Mind: Tragedy Into Triumph.”
Much like the first film, the second movie interviewed skiers about mental health and suicide in their own lives while also providing breathtaking ski film footage.
“I think what spurred on the second film, is that one: the support was overwhelming,” Padilla said. “More importantly, I didn’t start to see the problem get that much better. I feel like I owed the ski community a second try.”
Several Summit County community members are featured in the second film, including Team Summit coach and Team New Zealand Olympian Ben Harrington, 17-year-old-phenom Alex Thisted, and Summit High School lacrosse coach Matty Marks.
Harrington is featured at the beginning of the film talking about the mental health struggles he faced after placing lower than he wanted in the men’s freeski halfpipe competition at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.
Thisted on the other hand, focuses on the mental health battles she has persevered through while being a burgeoning, freeski skier. Thisted details some of the struggles she faced over the course of the last winter season and how skiing provided an escape.
After 10 years of serving as a lacrosse coach in Summit County and the Vail Valley, Marks has seen his fair share of mental health struggles and teen suicides. In 2020, Summit County resident Toby Gard, 16, died by suicide, and at the end of last winter, Eagle County resident Kellen Collins, 16, died by suicide.
Both Gard and Collins played lacrosse and were coached by Marks.
“It was a shock to everybody, and it sucked,” Marks said while talking Gard’s death in a previous interview with the Summit Daily News. “There were a couple of things that have happened since then, and I started working on a mental health initiative through the lacrosse club that I run. It is called 10th Mountain Freeride.”
Seeing a deep need for mentorship and connection within the Summit and Eagle communities, 10th Mountain Freeride allows teens and kids to get out on the mountain together while also talking through whatever they may be going through personally.
“I was able to get permits with Vail Resorts to set up group rides for kids to go be themselves out on the mountain,” Marks said. “I started working in that mental health world and got permission late last fall, so I didn’t have much time to set anything up in terms of programming.”
Despite the lack of programming, Marks was able to work with a few kids throughout the course of the 2022-23 winter season and ultimately saw many kids enjoy the snow while working through their own mental health issues.
“We think that we can connect with the kids through skiing and snowboarding and build that special community around the sports that we all live for,” Marks said. “We don’t live in a beach town. We aren’t going surfing, but if we can get a group of kids out there promoting having fun on the mountain, being safe and supporting your friends despite being with them, like you never know what they may be going through.”
The nearly 35-minute film concludes with a message of hope and focuses on how each skier has triumphed past their own mental health struggles.
Whether finding ways to destress after a disappointing competition result, relying on the support of friends or loved ones or finding a strong core of like-minded individuals, each skier featured in the film has found their own ways to combat their personal mental health battles.
“I hope that it encourages other people to talk a little bit more openly when they see some of their idols and people who have been in the industry for a really long time telling their mental health stories,” Padilla said. “If people who are willing to put their whole careers on the line can do it, than anybody else can do it too.”
10th Mountain Freeride is currently accepting skiers and riders for its 2023-24 programs. To find out more or to sign up, visit 10thMtnFreeride.com.
“The Mountain in My Mind: Tragedy Into Triumph” was recently shown in Frisco and Vail, and will be shown for free at Lake County High School in Leadville at 6:15 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23.
Those interested in hosting another showing of the film in Summit or Eagle county can email Matty Marks at email@example.com. A third movie is expected to be filmed during the upcoming winter season.
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