Caught between athletic passion and cultural obligation, a Hunkpapa Lakota skier learns to be a better relative to the mountains where he skis and to the people who once called them home.
“Indigenous joy on the land is radical.” – Connor Ryan
Produced in partnership with Wondercamp and NativesOutdoors, and co-directed by Hunkpapa Lakota skier Connor Ryan, “Spirit of the Peaks” is a film about the struggle for balance between two worlds.
Skiing in Ute Territory has always raised questions for Connor about being in reciprocity with the land and its people. As a skier who connects with the land through sport, he empathizes with the injustices that have displaced the Utes and ongoing colonization, erasure and extraction impacting the Ute people. This story connects conflicted pasts to an awakening in cultural awareness that can create an equitable future for Indigenous people and skiers.
Connor's mission with the film is to do his part in restoring balance with all inhabitants of these mountains by illuminating the Utes' culture and traditional knowledge that can benefit everyone in the fight to preserve the land and dissipating snowpack.
A proud Hunkpapa Lakota and passionate skier, Connor Ryan was born and raised on the Arapaho, Cheyenne and Ute homelands at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. He considers these places among his biggest inspirations and closest relatives. Connor seeks to decolonize, reconnect and learn to better honor all his relations through adventure and activism. Skiing is his dance and prayer, a ceremony of its own. The Lakota traditional ecological knowledge helps Connor understand the true value of the sacred land and water we ski on in deeper and more tangible ways.
“Skiing can be a space for Indigenous people to connect with the land and experience the joy with these elements that have always been a part of our cultures.” – Connor Ryan
Meet the Characters
Map of Ute Territory
Illustration by Vernan Kee. Illustration description by Connor Ryan, "As skiers, we are quick to form bonds and relationships with landscapes and mountains. It is apparent why people who reside in or frequently visit ‘ski towns’ become attached to these places. For countless generations, these same places were home to the Ute people. The Utes’ environmental ethics and legacy of care-taking these places are responsible for how we experience them today. All skiers who appreciate the land should work to center, affirm and acknowledge the Ute people in how we love the mountains and move within them."