Aspen Public Radio | By Kaya Williams
Published November 28, 2023 at 5:56 PM MST
Some people might look at a place like Aspen, rich with glitz and natural beauty and a “carefree” living, and assume that the locals are happier than most — “that we should be loving our lives all the time,” said Wesy Armour-Cook, who has lived in the the Roaring Fork Valley for the past two decades.

But “that’s not really the case,” Armour-Cook said. The reality is that residents of mountain communities do struggle with anxiety and depression, and that those mental health challenges can be exacerbated by the isolation of mountain communities and the rampant party culture of ski towns.

This phenomenon has inspired a documentary, “The Paradise Paradox,” that screens this Wednesday at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen. Armour-Cook, a special events planner for the city, helped organize the event as a kickoff to the winter season.

“It really is an impressive, powerful film (and) we’re just super excited that’s being talked about,” Armour-Cook said. The film was produced by Olympic downhiller Bode Miller and sports filmmaker Brett Rapkin. And it faces the mental health crisis of mountain communities head-on — without the “hush-hush” stigma that has long been applied to topics like substance use and suicide, Armour-Cook noted.

A panel of mental health experts will speak after the screening at the Wheeler, joined by the director of resilience and wellbeing for Alterra Mountain Company. (Alterra, which owns 16 ski resorts in North America, helped produce the film; the company is partly owned by the Crown family that owns the Aspen Skiing Company.) Several local organizations, including the Aspen Hope Center and Headquarters, will also be onsite to offer resources and support to attendees, according to Armour-Cook.

“We’re really just trying to let people know that there are resources — that when, perhaps, things get dark and tough, and they’re in crisis mode, that there (are) a lot of resources handy here,” Armour-Cook said.

The city planned this event at a “hyper-local time,” according to Armour-Cook. Organizers hope to reach both the “freshman class” of seasonal employees and the “longstanding locals that live here year-round.”

And many members of the audience will see their own lives represented on screen: “The Paradise Paradox” features people from all sectors of mountain life, including professional ski racers, mountain operations workers, local government officials and parents of school-aged kids.

The screening on Wednesday starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Wheeler Opera House, with doors open at 5 p.m. Mental health nonprofits will be onsite before and after the screening; a post-film gathering will take place at the Limelight Hotel in Aspen.