The weather in town held On Friday the 13th as we headed out to view 2 hours of short films set in some of the most extreme winter conditions. Produced by the Boise-based nonprofit, Winter Wildlands Alliance, the Backcountry Film Festival is “renowned for its mix of professional and grassroots films – from well-known filmmakers who search backcountry corners across the globe to submit their best work to first-timers who take a video camera out on their weekend excursions,” says the trailer for the film.
This year, the Colorado branch of the festival commenced in Salida and will tour throughout the state over the next two months. “The festival was created in 2004 to highlight Winter Wildlands Alliance’s efforts to preserve and promote winter landscapes for human-powered users. Funds raised stay in local communities to support … recreation and conservation efforts and to raise awareness of winter management issues, avalanche training/safety and winter education programs,” states the WWA website. The WWA organization is an alliance of over 100 smaller grassroots and backcountry partners across the country, one of which is the Colorado Mountain Club, and so the funds raised go to the CMC, based at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden. The Colorado segment of the film tour is staffed by the Colorado Mountain Club.
“The annual world tour of the Backcountry Film Festival highlights the beauty and fun of the winter backcountry experience.” The event was a great success, and it was a pleasure to watch people of all ages take in the messages of Mother Nature’s winter joys and challenges. Highlights included Dogy Down Films’ Season on the Brink, which tells the tale of a near-fatal backcountry incident and the lessons learned. With a donation jar in the lobby for the Brett Beasley Scholarship Fund in honor of our local friend, husband and father recently lost in the backcountry, it was impossible not to contemplate how even the most experienced and educated outdoors people can be humbled by unforgiving conditions. This film was a foil to some of the uplifting messages conveyed, like the piece Snow School by Scott Rulander.
Snow School, is one of WWA’s primary programs, offering “science-based field trips and education across 60 sites nationwide.” It is a winter education and avalanche/safety program where children in camps and schools learn the basics of snow science from experts. In the film, rosy faces trekking into the socked-in backcountry mountain forest and digging pits to study the layers and moisture content of snow, which seems a fitting way for communities like ours to stimulate interest in science in an engaging way.
The event featured films about adventure and sport, of course, like the humorous Life Cycle of a Powderwhore, which shares the experiences of brothers Noah and Jonah Howell, who produced a number of films under the Powderwhore name. The pair produced films of backcountry snowboarding and skiing antics until the commercial success began to stale the sport for at least one of them. The film captures the “boys will be boys” spirit of splitboard trekking and extreme riding for both fun and profit.
Set against the boys’ life, the film AK Girls Way portrays mountain guide Liz Daley, who led numerous backcountry trips in Alaska with her friends. A bold feminine spirit of fun runs through the memoir of this adventurer and educator who helped many people discover seldom-traveled natural wonders until an avalanche claimed her life in 2014 in Argentina.
Films like There on the Periphery by Jole Wolpert and China: A Skier’s Journey made for a really entertaining evening. Wolpert’s film follows a backcountry runner through remote ice caves while he plays accordion and mouth harp in some echoey places while China takes us on a travelogue through places most of us will not see on our own.
The festival did a great job of raising funds for the Colorado Mountain Club and packed the house at Salida SteamPlant. Breathtaking cinematography, riveting storytelling and reminders of the importance of conservation and education accentuated the messages of adventure and challenge. It was an important introduction to organizations like CMC and WWA. In my research, I came across an original trip description from an excursion the CMC offered in 1912 shortly after its inception:
“Take 9 a.m. Interurban car at Arapahoe St. terminal. Round trip ticket to Eldorado Springs $1.25. Get off at ranch one mile east of Eldorado. Carry noon lunch. Returning car leaves at 5 p.m. Summit of Peak and return 8 miles.”
The CMC has expanded to cover all the topics that the film festival and the other organizations in WWA promote. The organization sponsors youth education in schools with highly trained volunteers. Its members produce literature and participate in wildland protection, and for the film and photography fans, they will host the Banff Film Festival March 2-4 at the Paramount Theater in Denver.
Find out more about the organization that helps bring outdoor culture to Salida at www.cmc.org. Most of the featured films are viewable on YouTube for those of you who missed out. You can find the film list through CMC’s website as well.