Finding Inspiration at the Banff Mountain Book Festival

Considering the quantity of sold out events this year at the Banff Mountain Book Festival, I think it’s safe to say that it is no longer a best-kept secret, and no longer the ‘little sister’ to the Banff Mountain Film Festival. On a more personal note, the book festival has always been my favourite part of the festivals – not only because it offers a more intimate experience, but also because words are my medium of choice, the way I process information, my lifeline.

As a writer, the Banff Mountain Book Festival encourages me to dig deeper, to find the story really worth telling and to continue sharpening my skills so that perhaps one year it will be me up on that stage presenting my own book. But for now I’m content to learn from others, to absorb from a seat in the audience, and bring the stories of others to you.

I can’t recap the entire book festival, but the events today offered a particularly good mix of topics and styles. They also brought with them lessons we can apply to our own lives, which I’ll summarize here:

The Calling.Barry Blanchard kicked off the with the presentation of his book, The Calling: A Life Rocked by Mountains. I was familiar with his book, having reviewed it for The Campsite a few weeks ago, but it was refreshing to hear him reading his own words. In fact, the book read better aloud than it did in my head, and listening to Barry gave the stories new life and the audience an opportunity to laugh. It is clear the crowd – a home crowd for Barry – simply loves this man, and that spoke as loud as his words. One thing I learned from Barry, both through his climbing stories and his account of challenges writing the book, is the importance of perseverance. If you eventually want to see something in print, you need to work away at it, letter by letter, word by word.

Paddlenorth.Next, author Jennifer Kingsley presented her book, Paddlenorth – an account of a 54-day, 1100-kilometre journey she made with friends on the Baillie and Back Rivers in Nunavut. While she didn’t intend to write a book about the trip, the experience motivated her to do so. She didn’t reveal too much about her book (I’ll have to read it!), however a few things she said caught my attention. First, she made a comment about how modern travel allows you to get from one destination to another very quickly, but that does not mean that you have caught up emotionally and psychologically. This also ties into a comment she made about returning home from such a voyage: “This is the kind of trip that when I got home, it wouldn’t lie down,” she said. Having been on a few longer stints of travel, I can relate to both of these comments – to needing time to catch up to my destination and needing time to unravel the threads of the experience once I’m home.

Great Bear Wild.Finally, photographer, conservationist, and author of Great Bear Wild, Ian McAllister, took the stand. I was familiar with McAllister’s incredible photographs, just not the stories behind them. Walking the audience through the backstories of his images, McAllister conveyed a deeper understanding of these magnificent creatures. By explaining their contexts through human analogies, I could relate to the wildlife in a way I never had before. I appreciated these stories because these are the creatures and habitats (alongside First Nations communities) under threat due to the plans to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline. Through McAllister I learned that the Great Bear Rainforest is actually an area that is seeing regeneration and a resurgence of life. It would be a shame to see that compromised. Be sure to check out for more information on what you can do about that.

The festival doesn’t wrap up until Sunday night, so be sure to check out the Banff Mountain Festivals to snag any remaining tickets.

Keep following along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for dispatches from the field!

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.

Gearing Up for the Banff Mountain Festivals

One of my favourite times of year is approaching here in Banff. Every year, the Banff Mountain Festivals bring the best in mountain and adventure films and books together in one place. This year’s festival runs October 30 – November 7. The energy is exciting and inspiring as climbers, adventurers, skiers, and enthusiasts of all kinds gather to share the passion for outdoor sports and mountain culture.

I am particularly looking forward to hearing Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into School, speak about his work building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This year, I have some special things to look forward to:

First off, I will be writing a dispatch from the Banff Mountain Festivals for, so stay tuned for that one!

Also, I am excited to announce that I’ll be sitting on the panel for the Big Topic Breakfast Conversation: Blog, Tweet, and Twitter for Success: Writing for the Digital World with the crew from National Geographic media team on Nov. 4 at 8:45 a.m. in the Max Bell  Husky Energy Foyer.

You can read about the upcoming festivals in two articles I’ve written:

On Travel Alberta: Banff Mountain Festival Better Than Ever

On Banff Mountain Festivals: Adventure and Insight

Hope to see you there!

New Publication: Banff Mountain Festival Is a Must-See

Every year, the Banff Mountain Festival puts a spark in an otherwise dreary fall season here in The Rockies. Bringing together mountaineers, adventurers, filmmakers, authors and speakers, the Book and Film Festivals offer an amazing week of armchair excitement.

I decided to interview Festival Director, Shannon O’Donoghue, to get the inside scoop on the Festivals, as part of an article featured on the Travel Alberta: Holiday Ideas website.You can find the article here.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2009.