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Banff Mountain Festival: Top 5

From The Asgard Project, winner of the award for Best Film on Climbing, 2010 Banff Mountain Film Festival. [Photo] Alastair Lee

Each year, a swarm of climbers, adventurers, filmmakers, authors and adventure-lovers descend on The Banff Centre in the small town of Banff, Alberta, for what has become one of the largest mountain film and book festivals in the world. Many people know the Banff Mountain Festival for its World Tour, which hits the road the week after the festival and travels year round to 360 locations in 30 countries.

But as anticipated as the World Tour is every year, there is nothing that quite matches the experience of the festival itself, which in its 35th year has become a venerable tradeshow and outdoor community gathering of mountainous proportions. Running from October 30 to November 7, appearances at the festival this year included renowned climbers Greg Child, Peter Croft and Alex Honnold, as well as philanthropist Greg Mortenson.

The Banff Mountain Festival offered a week jam-packed with films, presentations, special speakers, workshops, trade shows, book fairs and panel discussions. A few events were worth highlighting, however, and Alpinist brings you those in the form of “Top 5” from the Banff Mountain Festival.

1. Best Interview: Greg Child revealed

Greg Child has been described as the best all-around climber and one of the finest mountain writers of his generation. On November 5, Child joined climber, author and psychologist, Geoff Powter, for an interview as part of a program called “Voices of Adventure.” An experienced interviewer, Powter asked pointed but respectful questions of Child, which gave the audience a rare insight into the climber’s life. With humour and humility, Child described how he and his friends used to haul ghetto blasters up El Cap in the 1970s and how his first alpine climb was a 21,000′ peak in India. With 20 Himalayan expeditions under his belt now, Child explained how he found a lot of excitement in going up routes that others had attempted but never been successful on before. “We often thought maybe we’d be the ones to do it,” he said.

2. Best Laughs: Timmy O’Neill steals the show

When climber and comedian Timmy O’Neill poured a Shirley Temple for “the boy,” 25-year-old Alex Honnold, he set the tone for what would become one of the most comedic events at the Banff Mountain Festival. At this November 6 event, Honnold and Canadian-turned- Californian legend Peter Croft sat at a make-shift bar on stage while O’Neill played the role of bartender and spun out questions about free solo climbing at the same time.

At one point, O’Neill asked Honnold how long it took him to transition from single-pitch free solo routes to higher, multi-pitch routes before remarking with his typical deadpan humour that “it all becomes a single pitch when you have no rope.” Amidst the hilarity, Croft and Honnold offered some intriguing responses about what it’s like to climb alone, without a rope. “I’ve been climbing longer than I’ve been driving,” Croft responded, “and driving seems way dicier to me. There are way more variables beyond your control.”

Two of the “Baffin Babes,” who traversed Baffin Island on skis in 2009, and climbers Timmy O’Neill, Alex Honnold and Peter Croft take a shot off a ski, a Banff tradition, on November 6. O’Neill provided an entertaining interview with Honnold and Croft about free solo climbing. [Photo]

3. Best Debate: Does filmmaking place added pressure on high level athletes?

A noon-hour panel discussion on November 7, titled “Under the Influence,” garnered some interest amongst attendees that were keen to delve into the topic of what impact media attention, sponsorship and filmmaking has on high-level climbers and skiers. The panel, which included world champion extreme skier, Allison Gannett, Alex Honnold, climbing filmmakers Alastair Lee and Bryan Smith and National Geographic TV associate producer, Carrie Regan, discussed the relationships between athletes and filmmakers, particularly when things get dangerous.

Lee, the filmmaker of The Asgard Project , which took “Best Film on Climbing” at this year’s festival, explained that it is always up to the climber to decide. Gannett, however, said that unfortunately it isn’t always this way. Once she was working on a film and watched two other skiers get buried by avalanches. The filmmakers expected her to take the next line down and she refused, to their dismay.

Later, Honnold revealed some secrets of the industry, and mentioned that when it comes to filming he only climbs pitches that he feels one hundred percent confident on. In the end, the whole panel agreed that adventure filmmaking is a different sport altogether for filmmakers and athletes.

4. Best Tribute: Honoring the lives of lost climbers

In the midst of the upbeat and entertaining events at the Banff Mountain Festival, the community also gathered to honor and pay tribute to people that have made an impact on the world of mountain adventure. The first of these was the world premiere screening of a film on October 31 called La vie de Guy Lacelle, which commemorated the life of one of the world’s leading ice climbers, Guy Lacelle. In 2009, Lacelle, who hailed from Hawkesbury, Ontario, was killed by an avalanche during a climbing competition in Bozeman, Montana, at the age of 54.

Also this year was a screening of Point of No Return, a film made up of footage gathered on an ill-fated attempt of Mt. Edgar (22,368′) by Boulder-based climbers, Jonny Copp, Micah Dash and cameraman Wade Johnson. In June 2009, the three men were tragically killed by an avalanche during their attempt to retrieve some gear off the mountain after abandoning their efforts to reach the summit.

Both films were a fitting tribute to climbers well-deserving of such an honour.

5. Best Turnout: Greg Mortenson sells out far in advance

According to Programming Director for the Banff Mountain Festival, Joni Cooper, this year’s festival had record ticket sales and many events eventually sold out. Part of this was due to a new fee structure for events and publishing a complete schedule earlier than previous years. However, one event sold out as early as September: an evening with mountaineer-turned-philanthropist Greg Mortenson on November 5.

After becoming lost on his descent from a climbing trip to K2 in 1993, Mortenson was nursed back to health and befriended by Balti people in the Pakistani village of Korphe. The generosity of the Balti people inspired Mortenson to return to build them a school, a story that is told in Mortenson’s first book, Three Cups of Tea.

After founding the Central Asia Institute, Mortenson has now built over 131 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan and provides education to over 58,000 children, primarily girls. Though Mortenson himself never claimed to be an engaging public speaker, he had the audience captivated before he even got on stage to present a short film about his second book, Stones into Schools, and discuss the importance of the education of women. “Educate a boy and you educate an individual,” he said. “Educate a girl and you educate a community.”

Every year the Banff Mountain Festival attracts the best in mountain filmmaking and literature, as well as outdoor adventurers, mountaineers and outdoor gear companies. This year’s festival, which ran from October 30 to November 7, attracted high quality films, diverse authors and speakers and a wide community of outdoor-related retailers and publishers. The 2010 festival saw record-setting ticket sales due to its fantastic line-up of special guests. [Photo] Banff Centre

Community and Connections

While a “Top 5 Bests” simply doesn’t suffice in summarizing the experience of attending a festival of this magnitude, it provides a snapshot of the phenomenal quality in programming and careful planning that goes into the Banff Mountain Festival each year.

“What makes the Banff Mountain Festival so unique,” said Cooper, “is the way it connects people.” Whether for opportunities for business, career or simply friendship, she said, the connections are what lead the festival to feel like such a wonderful community.

If you missed this year’s festival, be sure to catch the films on the World Tour, coming to a destination near you.

For a list of the film award winners, click here.

For a list of the book award winners, click here.

Sources: Banff Mountain Festival,, Joni Cooper