‘Paradise Paradox’ – mental-health issues amid the wonders of a ski town

In this Monday, April 23, 2018, photo, the snow-covered slopes of Mount Washington catch the first light of dawn about 18 miles north of North Conway, N.H. The 6,288-foot peak is considered to be the epicenter of backcountry skiing in the Northeast. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

In this Monday, April 23, 2018, photo, the snow-covered slopes of Mount Washington catch the first light of dawn about 18 miles north of North Conway, N.H. The 6,288-foot peak is considered to be the epicenter of backcountry skiing in the Northeast. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 05-12-2024 7:10 PM

Living in a ski town is wonderful, except when it’s not. And as a film and discussion on Tuesday will highlight, it can be not so wonderful for more reasons than you might think.

“It is about mental health issues in mountain ski resort towns – not something that people I think would be aware of,” said Patricia McLaughlin, vice president of communications at Riverbend Community Mental Health in Concord.

The facility is hosting a showing of “The Paradise Paradox,” a documentary film co-produced by Bode Miller, the New Hampshire native who has won multiple Olympic medals in Alpine skiing. The session at Red River Theatres will include a panel discussion with ski professionals and mental health advocates.

The film discusses problems and possible solutions to mental health issues in Colorado ski towns, although much of it can apply to outdoor-sport communities anywhere.

The title tells the story, because who wouldn’t want to live the life of a ski bum in the Rocky Mountains?

“They think it’s going to be paradise, and really there’s an underside,” said McLaughlin.

Part of the issue is the culture of outdoor sports, which values independence and self-reliance to a fault.

“They tend to be pull-yourself-by-your-bootstraps and move-through-it kind of people and don’t always reach out for help,” said Suzanne Gaetjens-Olesen, CEO of Northern Human Services in Berlin, who will be one of the panelists.

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Further, the lifestyle, while thrilling, can be a real strain.

“They are daring people, the outdoor-sports community – a party lifestyle. You play hard, work hard, so substance abuse can be part of it. You’re living on the edge, always pushing yourself,” said McLaughlin.

Big ski towns often have a huge wealth gap, with fancy second homes and people living in trailers, which adds to the strain.

Further, isolated mountain towns often don’t have much in the way of mental health services. The film talks about the need to provide training for police and other first responders to recognize mental health issues.

“We need to de-stigmatize reaching out for help,” said Gaetjens-Olesen.

Other scheduled panelists include Caite Zeliff, appearing by video, who grew up in the White Mountains and has had a successful freestyle skiing career and will talk about issues; John Brown, 40-year veteran of ski patrol at Ragged Mountain; and Stef Costello, Patrol Director at Pats Peak Ski Area in Henniker.

The movie starts Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. and runs 73 minutes, with the discussion happening afterward. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased from the Red River Theatres website.