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Rather than the cliche shot of majestic peaks overlaid with opening credits we see in many ski films, Maritime Air begins with Hank Stowers (he/she/they) walking the streets of Portland, Ore., on their way to pole dance. They beat their face, strap on platform heels, and corkscrew around the pole with the same grace that they perform ski aerials.
By centering on Stower’s queer and non-binary identities, “Maritime Air,” a new two-part ski film directed, edited, and filmed by Finn Peterson, trailblazes LGBTQ+ representation that production companies have been hesitant to champion. Parts 1 and 2, currently streaming on Youtube, were shot entirely in Mount Hood National Forest. In Part 1, Miley Cyrus’ “Midnight Sky” plays throughout as Stowers catches air with the backdrop of a soft-hued sunset reminiscent of the colors of the Trans Flag.
“Maritime Air is the true intersection of queer culture and skiing, which was really refreshing to see,” says Stephen Shelesky, who debuted his ski film “Out West” about his coming out journey in fall of 2021. “Everyone that’s stepping forward [like Stowers] is being the role model that they never saw. I think ideally it starts this transition and inspires the next generation to be their authentic selves.”
Born and raised in Durango, Colo., the 27-year-old Stowers is now based in Portland where they run Open Slopes PDX, an organization that puts on events and helps make snow sports more accessible for queer and BIPOC people. Stream “Maritime Air “below and see Stowers’ new definition of Q.U.E.E.R.: Quietly Upending Everyone’s Expectations with Radness.
A Conversation With Hank Stowers
It was important for me to shoot the whole film in Mount Hood National Forest because I grew up watching media come out of the area and wanting to explore some of the iconic places that a lot of skiing history has been written in. I also wanted to film it in there because it has been a significant place for my development as both a skier and a queer skier. It felt like it was a space where I was safe to explore and mesh those two parts of my identity and bring them a little bit closer.
I was always a skier. That’s a huge part of my identity. My queer and non-binary identity was not something that I really discovered for myself until skiing took a backseat when I was 20 and shattered my radius. It took a full year to recover. It wasn’t until that happened that I was really able to have the time, space, and self curiosity to explore my sexuality and gender.
When I first started pole dancing, the process felt super gender euphoric. It was an experience that allowed me to use my body athletically while tapping into a femininity that I wasn’t socialized to. I was socialized to think that skiing was very masculine and a part of straight culture, but being queer and non-binary has shown me that however I choose to engage my body in the world, it becomes a queer space for me.
I think that there’s a similarity in the ability to create beautiful shapes with yourself that might shift someone’s perspective of how you might look at either their body or the reference space that they’re in—whether that’s a pole or a cornice or a wind lip.
Ski culture has allowed young men [and others] to be sexist, homophobic, and racist because it is such a privileged space. And because of that it can also be an extremely regressive space. It’s so important to me to know that there are so many other marginalized skiers out there who are on this island outside of the mainstream ski community.
I am a co-founder and an organizer of a group called Open Slopes PDX, which is dedicated to creating equity in snowsports. We do that through events and programs and essentially try to eliminate cost and access for marginalized people. We host queer shred meetups and have 30 or more LGBTQ+ people take over a rope tow. It is so magical and creates a sacred space for those people that is liberating and and radically joyful. I would love to see and to be a part of more media that captures joy in the queer snowsports community.
I’m definitely not done making queer ski films because I’m still queer and I’m still skiing.
Watch Maritime Air, Part 1
Miles W. Griffis is a Los Angeles based independent journalist. His work has appeared in High Country News, The New York Times, National Geographic, and many others. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.