The Fernie Mountain Film Fest(FMFF) was once again a great success. All three evenings entertained packed crowds and the new ‘Fernie Mountain Social’ on Friday and Saturday nights saw sushi, pulled pork, salads, vegetable curry, and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches being washed down with BC wine and cold beer.
The films were exceptional and fit the vision of the event “dedicated to filmmakers who spark awareness of mountain cultures, fragile environments, and the passion and perseverance of global explorers”.
For me the event highlights were the presentations of the Annual Fernie Mountain Culture Award and a presentation by one of Canada’s founding mountaineers.
Thee FMFF board created the Fernie Mountain Culture Award to celebrate the accomplishments of an inspiring individual and recognize their contributions to Fernie’s local mountain culture. This years winner was David Aikens, a snow safety specialist who has lived in Fernie and has taught avalanche awareness courses at the College for over 30 years. Dave was Fernie Snow Valley’s first Snow Safety Analyst and Pro Patrol Director, a position he held for over 20 years. David pioneered the development and implementation of snow safety practices at the ski-hill and continues today in the role of avalanche forecasting. In 2011 David received the Canadian Avalanche Association Service Award for his many years of service and endless contributions as a founding director.
Following the award presentation and a short intermission the event moved on to Leo Grillmair’s storytelling and photographs in his presentation “The Bugaboos: A Celebration in Story and Image”. Leo Grillmair is credited with developing mountaineering with his companion Hans Gmoser, and the development of heli-skiing in Canada.
David Aitkens and Leo Grillmair
Grillmair and Gmoser (both being Austrians) came to Canada in 1951, hoping to find work and spend more time in the mountains. Both men found jobs in Alberta (Grillmair was a trained plumber) and it was just a matter of time before hiking, climbing and skiing became their passions. In 1952, Grillmair and friends drove to Yamnuska (west of Calgary) and did what some consider ‘the first modern climb in western Canada’. Grillmair Chimneys at Yamnuska was named in honor of the climb. Grillmair and Gmoser, throughout much of the 1950s, called Stanley Mitchell hut in Yoho home, and they led many ski trips in the winter in the mountainous region.
Grillmair earned his mountain guiding license in 1957 from Walter Perren, and this official certificate enhanced his guiding possibilities. Grillmair was front and centre in the growth and development of mountaineering in the 1960s. He attempted in 1963, with Gmoser and others, McKinley’s imposing Wickersham Wall, but blindness turned him back. It was in 1963, also, that Grillmair became a founding member of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides.
Downhill skiing on groomed slopes was common in the 1960s, but Gmoser and Grillmair had more creative ideas about what could be done on skis in the backcountry. In 1965, both men initiated a two week experimental helicopter skiing trip in the Bugaboos in BC. The skiing was superb, the reviews were exceptional, and in 1966 a six week helicopter ski touring program took place in the Bugaboos. The sheer success of heli-skiing made it clear that something permanent had to be established, so in 1968 Bugaboo Lodge was built, and Grillmair was manager of the Lodge from 1968-1990. The Lodge was the first built as part of Gmoser and Grillmair’s Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) ’10-Lodge helicopter skiing empire, which changed the face of backcountry recreation in the western hemisphere’. The transition from the more primitive and simple Stanley Mitchell hut of the 1950s to the more elaborate CMH lodges of the 1960s-1970s-1980s ushered in a new phase of off piste skiing, and Grillmair was at the centre of this transition. Grillmair’s second wife, Lynne (who he married in 1975), was essential to the success of the Bugaboo Lodge and Grillmair’s mountaineering work in the areas of both heli-hiking and heli-skiing. Grillmair was always a softer, gentler, less driven and more diplomatic version of Hans Gmoser, but both worked (at times clashing) together to redefine what can be done in the mountains with creativity, and hard work.
“The Bugaboos: A Celebration in Story & Image” that was co-assembled and presented by Pat Morrow is showing at the Fernie Museum until March 3.
This event is possible because of the effort of Brian Bell and support from the Colleges MAST program. A mountain of thanks to the presenting sponsors: Teck, BC Hydro, College of the Rockies, Kootenay Mountain Culture Magazine and Savage Marketing, and a huge thanks to all of you who attended and I am looking forward to next years event.