Back­coun­try

SkiTrax - - Contents - By Steven Threndyle

by Steven Threndyle

Most back­coun­try skiers and moun­tain en­thu­si­asts go to the hills to es­cape the trap­pings of ev­ery­day life – com­muter traf­fic, too tiny in­ner-city apart­ments, jobs that de­mand 24/7 at­ten­tion – the list goes on. A week-long break in the Selkirks or Pur­cells or Rocky moun­tain ranges or even in Alaska put us all back in touch with our most el­e­men­tal selves.

Para­dox­i­cally though, moun­tain folk ac­tu­ally do like to so­cial­ize with each other, and are re­mark­ably in­te­grated into our ev­ery­day so­ci­ety. Lawyers, doc­tors, ac­coun­tants, even real es­tate de­vel­op­ers and back­hoe op­er­a­tors – in­deed, you never quite know what the per­son you might be shar­ing an Alpine Club of Canada hut does for a liv­ing.

What's strik­ing about the en­coun­ters, how­ever, is that back­coun­try skiers and moun­tain-cul­ture lovers share sim­i­lar tribal in­ter­ests, and those in­ter­ests are now man­i­fest­ing them­selves in a va­ri­ety of fes­ti­vals that oc­cur through­out the year.

First and fore­most are the moun­tain-film fes­ti­vals. In the Rocky Moun­tains in Al­berta, the Banff Moun­tain Film Fes­ti­val takes place in early Novem­ber and serves as the per­fect “in-be­tween sea­son” event. Days are short and the snow­pack and ice routes are usu­ally mea­ger, so out­door en­thu­si­asts can hun­ker down for a week and feast their eyes on vis­ual presentations from all over the world. Vir­tu­ally ev­ery top climber in the world, from Tommy Cald­well (known for his as­cent of Yosemite's Dawn Wall) to Wal­ter Bonatti, has pre­sented at Banff. Decades be­fore there was such a thing as a TED Talk, there were the Banff moun­tain lec­tures held in late au­tumn. In fact, the Fes­ti­val's pop­u­lar­ity goes well be­yond its Rocky Moun­tain roots.

Banff was not the first moun­tain-film fes­ti­val, but it is the best-known due to the strength of its world tour. The ex­tremely pop­u­lar “Best of Banff” tour takes award-win­ning and other no­table se­lec­tions from each year's com­pe­ti­tion (keep in mind that film fes­ti­vals are ac­tu­ally ju­ried com­pe­ti­tions, with prizes be­ing awarded in a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories). This tour, spon­sored by such heavy­weights as Na­tional Geo­graphic and The North Face, ven­tures to many coun­tries and spreads the mes­sage of moun­tain cul­ture far and wide.

Many other no­table fes­ti­vals gather the back­coun­try tribes in var­i­ous “peak-y” lo­cales around North Amer­ica. East­ern Euro­pean climber Alan For­manek moved to Van­cou­ver, B.C. in 1996 and started show­ing less com­mer­cial, more artis­tic fare than the Banff and other fes­ti­vals were pre­sent­ing. The Van­cou­ver In­ter­na­tional Moun­tain Film Fes­ti­val has just wrapped up its 19th year, and brought moun­taineer­ing lu­mi­nar­ies such as Kevin Jorge­son and Lynn Hill to the Fes­ti­val, while screen­ing cre­ative films such as Mike Dou­glas' Snow­man, based on a real-life he­li­copter crash in the Coast Moun­tains.

The IF3 Fes­ti­val in Mon­treal, Que. cel­e­brates freestyle and pow­der ski­ing, while Colorado's Tel­luride Moun­tain­fest is North Amer­ica's long­est-run­ning ex­trav­a­ganza ded­i­cated to moun­tain ad­ven­ture. In­ter­na­tion­ally, there is the Ken­dal Moun­tain Fes­ti­val (United King­dom), the Trento (Italy) and oth­ers in Poland, Slovenia, Ar­gentina, Aus­tria and Switzer­land.

For back­coun­try en­thu­si­asts look­ing for some­thing a lit­tle more hands-on, there are fes­ti­vals and sem­i­nars where you can learn new skills and share in­for­ma­tion for a rel­a­tively cheap price. In B.C.'S Koote­nays, the Coldsmoke Fes­ti­val is now in its 10th year. Orig­i­nally spon­sored by Arc'teryx Equip­ment Inc., Coldsmoke truly de­fines “tribal gath­er­ing,” as peo­ple gather from through­out B.C. and Wash­ing­ton State to learn about the lat­est trends in avalanche safety and back­coun­try travel.

Per­haps the most ex­cit­ing fes­ti­vals are two new ones that have just ap­peared in the past two B.C. win­ters. In Revel­stoke/rogers Pass, the Canuck Split­fest is ded­i­cated to us­ing split snow­boards (ones that de­tach and be­come “skis” for climb­ing up­hill, and then re-at­tach for the ride back down) to ex­plore the back­coun­try. It's been a very well-re­ceived lo­cal event, which is no sur­prise given the ra­bid core of ski moun­taineers who live in the Revel­stoke area.

Last win­ter, Ross Berg of Whistler's Al­tus Moun­tain Guides or­ga­nized the very first Win­ter­stoke Back­coun­try Ski Fes­ti­val, which em­pha­sized safe, ef­fec­tive moun­tain travel through­out the Coast Range and the Sea to Sky Cor­ri­dor. With B.C. cour­ses hap­pen­ing in Squamish, Whistler and Pem­ber­ton, par­tic­i­pants are able to cover a wide range of lo­cales and ex­am­ine new routes and ways of seeing a re­gion that has be­come world-fa­mous for split-board­ing in the past dozen years.

At their best, moun­tain fes­ti­vals cel­e­brate ev­ery­thing we love about na­ture and the peo­ple with whom we share those ad­ven­tures. If you feel the need to ex­pe­ri­ence what moun­tain cul­ture is all about, don't miss any of these tremen­dously life-af­firm­ing events.

Still pho­tos from Mike Dou­glas' movie Snow­man – a moun­tain-film fest favourite.

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