Friday 20 February 2015

Happy Winter

Yesterday I drove back from Solitude into Salt Lake City for the final night of the Banff Mountain Film Festival.

Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus was sold out, with 2000 adventurers perched on the edges of their seats, eager for this year's shot of adrenaline, adventure and inspiration.

The moment the intro started to roll, audience members were whistling and cheering.


I knew, that like the two previous screenings, tonight was going to be a good night.

I felt emotional as I stepped onto the stage to introduce Happy Winter, the second film of the evening.


I had promised filmmaker Bjarne Salen that I'd use each screening of his film to honour the lives of his friends JP Auclair and Andreas Fransson who were lost in an avalanche in Chile this past September.  Bjarne said he'd never known anybody more stoked on life than Andreas and that an appropriate way to honour him in this context would be to have audience members get 'as stoked as possible'.

So on the count of 3, Salt Lake City got stoked.  The entire audience rose to their feet en masse, cheering and waving their arms.  And fortunately, talented photographer Jameson Clifton was on hand to capture the moment.

Photo: Jameson Clifton
It was electric.  I stood on stage shaking.

To me, this sweet film is about the beauty of life.  There are many things we could discuss here about the fine line between life and death.  It's fresh for me right now as my own home mountain community sits reeling after yet another avalanche fatality.  It happened over the weekend as I was lying in bed reading an article on the risks we take in the outdoors written by Will Gadd.  Regardless of your own perspective on the matter, it's worth a read.

But Happy Winter and this screening were about gratitude for life.  As the credits rolled to more cheering from the audience we wrapped up with my friend Zhiish's favourite quote:

'Gratitude is the best attitude'.

And speaking of gratitude, the man who has brought The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour to Salt Lake City for the past 24 years is named Rob Jones.  If there's a better man out there (apart from my own dad), I'd like to meet him.  Rob is perhaps the kindest, ideas-to-action, extraordinarily generous person I've had the pleasure of meeting. (See 'meet an amazing new friend who loans you the coolest truck in the world, automatically making you cool too' from my previous I love Solitude post!)  You can tell that others think as highly of Rob as I do by the way his students scream his name when he steps on stage.  Most 50 somethings don't garner that kind of respect from 20 somethings.  He does.  And with good reason.  Next year will be Year 25 for Salt Lake.  Get ready for it people.

p.s. More on gratitude - don't we all owe a debt of gratitude to Michael Brown & Zac Ramras of Sweetgrass Productions?  Not only for their stunning oeuvre Afterglow, but for the prayer to the snow gods Wednesday night that very much seems to be working... 2 feet forecast for Breckenridge!  Just saying.

I love Solitude

Yep, I love Solitude.

It's probably funny to hear someone like me say that.

I seem like an effusive people-person.  But a Meyers-Briggs test once told me I was an introvert, so it must be true.

But I'm not talking about spending time alone here.  That's important, and if it weren't for time spent alone, I'd probably never write.  But here I'm talking about Solitude with a capital S.

This is a story about a ski area.  A place that just stole my heart.  It's perfect.  It's quiet, peaceful, intimate. Go there.  Trust me.  Here's how:  Borrow a very cool 20-year old truck from a brand new friend.  Forget the forecast.  Go alone.  Enter the Wasatch National Forest.  Drive 40 minutes up the stunning Big Cottonwood Canyon.  Step out of your vehicle and ski.

Wasatch National Forest
(I love the old school National Forest signs. They're reminiscent of times gone by and of Yogi Bear)

That's it.


The place still has a chair with no restraint bar (what?! do they still make cars without seatbelts??!)  In spite of that (or because of that?) I feel safe here.  In the way I do at Whitewater (mmm...glory bowl...)  And the old Fortress.  And at Holimont.

Summit Chair at Solitude

I love their lifties.  They crank Bob Marley* and have the raddest shirts.  I would practically die to get one of these.  I offered to buy this one off a liftie's back.  Two different guys actually.  I'm worried that I'm losing my touch.  That's really disconcerting.  I'll console myself by saying that these shirts must be coveted property given how much lifties are generally hurting for beer money...

Powder to the People!

I set out alone then stopped for a Sunshine Burger at lunch.  A group of Swedish guys asked me to join them.   Based on historic snowfall records, they had calculated that statistically they were guaranteed powder in Utah during their 2 week trip.  Sometimes statistics lie.  Therefore, I generally opt for magic and chanting 'ohms' to the snow gods (thank you Sweetgrass Productions).  We basked in the sun and enjoyed ourselves anyway.  There is no bad day in Solitude.  The Swedes all work for Volvo.  I find this hilarious.  Particularly given that the only other Swedish friend I met in my travels works for Ikea.  They skied well, wore bright colours, rode expensive skis and spoke perfect English.

I left fulfilled.

I love Solitude.

*I believe that in lift attendant interviews, a person should be asked what music they will play at the base of the lift.  If they do not respond with one of, 'Bob Marley', or something along the lines of 'Mom-Jean Jams' (thank you Mt Norquay!) please don't hire them.