Mitch from Vail: ‘Virginia transplant’ is Vail’s newest YouTube star
Special to the Daily
Watch the series
You can watch the mockumentary series on YouTube by searching for “Mitch from Vail.” There are currently six episodes ranging from 1 minute to 6 minutes.
Mitch, 26, from Tidewater, Virginia, is a musician who arrived in Vail in October on a Bustang bus. He is already gaining popularity around town through a YouTube series, produced by local filmmaker Rick Sampson, that is based on Mitch’s life and times exploring and settling into Vail as new young resident.
As a high school dropout and college graduate with a degree in chemical engineering, Mitch comes to Vail after a few years working the energy sector. While he has been through the United States, to Europe and to Mexico at least six times, he chose to settle here, often squatting in the plethora of empty second homes in Vail.
“The first thing that stood out to me about Vail, is it’s a better version of Europe,” Mitch said. “Like, you don’t need to go to Switzerland, you don’t need to go to Austria. Everything they are trying to do there, Vail has done it and they have done it better.
“Besides that, the people are awesome. … I see the locals, I see the people; it’s awesome. I know we are going to be best buds, like, for sure. We are on the same level. Like you get it, I get it, we’re from Vail.”
We caught up with Vail’s newest resident, musician and YouTube star.
VAIL DAILY: So, Mitch, when did you arrive in Vail?
MITCH: I got here right in time for Rocktober, but then there was no Rocktober.
VD: How have you found Vail so far?
MITCH: Better than Aspen. They don’t celebrate Rocktober.
VD: What sorts of things have you been doing for fun in town?
MITCH: I mostly hang out in the park between Walmart and Home Depot. It’s the literal bridge between “Save money, live better” and “More saving. More doing.”
VD: So you’ve been to a few different spots in the Vail Valley. How do you find each town differs?
MITCH: Like The Force, the valley has a Light Side and a Dark Side. East Vail, Eagle-Vail and Homestead succumb to the grip of the darkness — usually by 2 p.m. Potato Patch, Wildridge and Singletree, sunny, they are. Avon and Minturn are Rouge One.
VD: You seem to carry your guitar around with you everywhere. Tell us a little bit about what it’s like to make it as a new musician around Vail?
MITCH: Well, I haven’t been able to secure steady gigs because Phil Long’s got them all. I usually just stand on the roundabouts and play. It’s been a good way to get my face out there.
VD: You’ve recently gained the attention of filmmaker Rick Sampson, and he’s published a few videos of you in Vail. Tell us about how you met and what it’s been like to have him follow you around?
MITCH: Yea, Rick’s great. It’s not just anyone that would come up to you on the bus and ask if they could follow you around and film it. It’s a special bond. Honestly, most of the time we don’t talk. I just see him filming, quietly shaking his head. It’s a friendship built on trust. We don’t feel the need to chat the day away.
VD: Some of the videos he’s published have really resonated with Vail locals and ski town residents all over the country. What is your advice to those looking to make it in Vail or in a ski town like Vail?
MITCH: Rule No. 1 for ski-town success, and this is backed up by every ski movie, is to find a rich mega babe who’s fun at first, but eventually destroys your friendships and compromises your moral compass. So yeah, just really spend some time setting up that Elite Singles account.
VD: Now that you are here and a little bit more established, what is next for you? What sort of future are you hoping to have in Vail?
MITCH: Rick wants to make a movie, so we’re gonna make a movie. Other than that, the plan is to pretty much keep living in Vail.
Back it up
Okay, we have some explaining to do.
“Mitch” is, in reality, a fictional character played by Edwards resident Jake Sheppard, a 2008 Battle Mountain High School graduate. His brother, Ike Sheppard, a 2010 Battle Mountain High School graduate, plays the role of Rick Sampson, the documentary filmmaker following Mitch around as he explores and settles into Vail.
The entire story thus far unfolds in a six-part mockumentary YouTube series filmed around Vail, Lionshead and Avon and follows Mitch, an incredibly optimistic musician seeking out all that Vail has to offer.
The series was picked up and shared by Unofficial Networks and ski town locals around the country for the hilarious jokes and oddly relatable circumstances that Mitch stumbles into while transitioning into life in a ski town.
“We had this idea of a musician that, instead of going to L.A. or New York to make it, he comes here to Vail,” Jake Sheppard said about Mitch. “We wrote four or five episodes with me acting and playing the guitar and Ike filming, asking questions and stepping in sometimes.”
Having grown up in Vail, the Sheppard brothers have a special knack for picking up on some of the oddities of Vail and poking fun at them. For instance, at one point in the series, Mitch has a difficult time orienting himself in town because of “all the bear statues and Indian statues and the bear and Indian statues.”
“This was supposed to be sort of the anti-viral video, something that we decided to make for our friends and the people of Vail,” Jake Sheppard said. “Locals saw it and really liked it. When Unofficial Networks picked it up, it branched out really quickly to other ski areas.”
The naively optimistic character of Mitch is perhaps what resonates most with locals, as one ends up rooting for Mitch as he stumbles through some of the frustrating things about Vail, such as the housing crisis, the somewhat underdeveloped arts scene for small-time musicians, discovering downvalley, low-paying retail jobs and even the rivalry with Aspen.
While fictional, some of the character for Mitch shares some congruency with Sheppard’s life. After growing up locally, Sheppard went to the University of Colorado and studied molecular biology and became a scientist, working in cancer labs and publishing research.
To keep himself entertained outside of the lab, he worked on a music project called “Ballroom Cancer,” making short films and music videos on the weekends. Eventually, he found that while he loved science, he didn’t necessarily love doing science. He moved to Los Angeles for a brief time to pursue music before moving back to Vail and trying to make it as a young guy and musician with a science background.
“I came back to Vail after some time in Boulder and L.A. and immediately saw these little nuances unique to Vail and how different it was for a musician trying to live in a place like L.A.,” Sheppard said. “It is a completely different stage here. There is a lot of humor to be had from that.”
Now, Sheppard uses Mitch as a sort of proxy for telling the funny stories of what it’s like to move to Vail through exaggerated and creative scenarios. He also uses the character as a way to explore new ways of making music.
“I love music a lot,” Sheppard said. “This is an opportunity to approach music in a different way. A lot of the stuff I put out before was much more of a personal thing, stuff that was close to my heart. There was a lot of vulnerability in putting that out.
“Making music through a character opens up my comfort level and lets me have more fun with it. I can try things like rapping without putting myself out there too much.”
You can watch the series on YouTube by searching for “Mitch from Vail.” There are currently six episodes ranging from one minute to six minutes. Sheppard said the next project involving Mitch and Rick would be a longer feature-type video.
“Really, this all started as something to make for my friends and the local community,” Sheppard said. “Just something they could get a laugh out of.”
See something new at the 16th annual Vail Film Festival, screening over 40 films Thursday to Sunday.