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In the flurry of ski documentaries, be sure to catch ‘North Country’

It’s a fascinating profile of Joe Lahout Sr., who added a ski shop to the family store in Littleton, N.H., that now bills itself as “the oldest ski shop in America.” It’s also a history lesson and an ode to family. All in 21 minutes.

Joe Lahout Sr. and his grandson Anthony Lahout.
Joe Lahout Sr. and his grandson Anthony Lahout.Anthony Lahout

It’s the time of year when ski movies fall out of the sky like so many snowflakes from a winter storm.

But with gatherings for showings of titles from the major producers such as Warren Miller Entertainment, Matchstick Productions, and Teton Gravity Research greatly reduced or eliminated because of the coronavirus pandemic, many filmmakers are releasing their work straight to consumers.

Amid the flurry is a smart and creative short documentary set in New Hampshire that has been making the rounds, and winning honors, at winter film festivals since last year and is now available for all to see. In just over 21 minutes, “North Country” weaves an interesting and compelling tale. It is a fascinating profile of Joe Lahout Sr., who added a ski shop to the family store in Littleton, N.H., that now bills itself as “the oldest ski shop in America.” Lahout Sr., who passed away in 2017 at 94, was an avid skier whose descendants continue to operate the original store and its other locations.

It’s a history lesson on the rise of skiing in New England (Cannon Mountain has a nice cameo), and it’s the story of an immigrant family from Lebanon and its struggle for acceptance before and after World War II. Some parts have a touch of the campy style of a Warren Miller film, but set in the early to mid-1900s.

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It is an ode to the women of the Lahout family who were so instrumental in the store’s success — Joe Sr.'s mother, Anna Lahout, and his older sister, Gladys Lahout.

It is also a story of generations, because it was both produced and narrated by his grandson, Anthony R. Lahout, whose special connection with Lahout Sr. compelled him to leave corporate life and the travails of a ski bum to return to the place his family calls home. The story is also framed by the commentary of Joe Sr.'s children — Joe Jr. (Anthony’s father), Ron, and Herb Lahout, and Nina Lahoud (who changed her last name back to the original family name, Anthony said).

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“It took leaving the north country and moving out west for me to realize how special my grandfather is,” Anthony Lahout says in the film. “Over time, he began to open up about his past, our family’s heritage, and the history behind the store.”

Anthony Lahout spent four years working on the film with director Nick Martini from 2015 to 2019, and was originally conceived as a longer ski film. But Anthony Lahout said executive producer Ross Kauffman “kept coming back to the Joe character,” and a decision was made to focus on his unique personality and life. The documentary has been recognized by many film festivals and organizations, including the International Ski History Association Film of the Year, New Hampshire Film of the Year, and a pair of Telly Awards.

It was released on Teton Gravity Research’s TGR TV streaming platform in early October, and has now been made available on Vimeo, which made it a staff pick on Oct. 22.

“A lot of people say it’s truly the story of the American dream and I think that’s very layered. It talks about just about everything that’s part of the American dream,” Anthony Lahout said.