Banff Mountain Festivals: Top 5 Speaker Sessions

Days of staring at movies, slideshows and my computer screen have made me feel a bit dizzy, but it’s all in the name of adventure and excitement at the Banff Mountain Festivals, so it is entirely worth it. I’d be writing (and you’d be reading) forever if I wrote about every aspect of the festivals, so instead I’ve decided to give you my Top 5 Speaker Sessions this time around, in no particular order.

Banff Mountain Festivals: Top 5 Speaker Sessions

1. John Vaillant & Sasha Snow: This was an intriguing conversation between two artists that were inspired by each other’s work. Snow is a filmmaker, who made the award-winning film, Conflict Tiger, about a tiger that hunts a human, and John Vaillant is the author of The Golden Spruce, a book about the felling of a 300 year-old tree by an activist. The two met in Banff back in 2006, where Vaillant found inspiration to write another book on the man-hunting tiger in Snow’s film. He sent Snow a copy of The Golden Spruce as an artistic exchange of sorts, and the rest is history. On Thursday evening, it was a pleasure to hear Vaillant read from his book and to see the trailer of Snow’s film about The Golden Spruce.

Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, speaks at the Banff Mountain Festival on November 5. © Courtesy of The Banff Centre

2. Jon Turk: An eccentric though engaging speaker, author and adventurer Jon Turk presented at this year’s Mountain Book Festival.  He spoke about his book, The Raven’s Gift, which is based on his travels deep into Siberia. With all the confidence in this world, Turk spoke about his encounter with real magic thanks to his visits to a shaman, who introduced him to the dream world. Whether you believed him or not, he had the crowd absolutely riveted and looking at ravens in a different way forever.

3. Greg Mortenson: Need I say more? If someone’s size has anything to do with the size of their heart, Greg Mortenson has the biggest heart in the world. He may be a big guy, but you can tell he’s a teddybear at heart. The founder of the Central Asia Institute and author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, Mortensen spends most of his time away from home educating North Americans about the important of supporting the education of children, and specifically girls, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  My biggest takeway from his interview: “Educate a boy, and you educate an individual. Educate a girl, and you educate a community.”

4. Steven Heighton: Canadian author Steven Heighton’s book, Every Lost Country, is based on the true story of the climbers from the Cho Oyo basecamp that witnessed Chinese soldiers shooting at Tibetans attempting to cross over into Nepal. Thought he fictionalizes the story in this novel, his version is equally captivating as the original. I had the privilege of speaking with Heighton over a glass of wine in between programs, and found we have followed similar paths. As a writer, it was inspiring to speak with someone so succesful, prolific and humble. I’ll definitely read his book over the Christmas holidays.

5. Greg Child: As if Greg Child, described by some as the best all-around climber of his generation, wasn’t enough, when he was joined on stage to be interviewed by climber, author and psychologist, Geoff Powter, the combination was positively electric. I admired Child’s humility as a climber, despite all that he has achieved with his life. Powter’s questions were pointed but respectful. I found myself taking notes on his interview skills – definitely the right guy for the job. I was so happy to learn so much about a climber, and writer, from another generation that I really knew nothing about before. That’s what the Banff Mountain Festivals are all about, I think.

Where else can you see this kind of line up of speakers within the span of two days? Nowhere, I’m convinced.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2010.

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