ESPN Freeskiing article about A Life Ascending

Articles on August 24th, 2010 3 Comments

By Megan Michelson

On January 20, 2003, seven people were killed in a class 3 avalanche on a peak called La Traviata near Selkirk Mountain Experience, a backcountry hut and guiding operation outside Revelstoke, BC. The guide that day was SME owner and lead guide, Ruedi Beglinger, a Switzerland native with the highest level of mountain guiding certification and decades of experience. Until that day in 2003, SME had never had a serious injury or death during its then 18 years in business.

Less than two weeks later a slide not far away, near Rogers Pass, BC, killed seven teens on a school trip, prompting British Columbia Premier Gordan Campbell to call for a comprehensive review of wilderness safety. Both accidents were covered extensively in the media, and a film called “Let It Ride” about pro snowboarder Craig Kelly, who died in the SME slide, went on to win best film at the 2007 X-Dance Film Festival.

Now, a new feature-length documentary called¬†“A Life Ascending” about the life and family of guide Ruedi Beglinger has been released on the film festival circuit. It recently won the audience choice award at Colorado’s Docuwest Film Festival and it will be showing at various other festivals throughout the year and will be out on DVD by midwinter.

The film was created by Stephen Grynberg, a former chemical engineer and NBC television executive turned filmmaker (his previous work includes a movie called “Love from Ground Zero”). Grynberg grew up backcountry skiing in Colorado and has been a loyal client of Selkirk Mountain Experience since 1995. A few years after the avalanche, he approached Beglinger and his wife about making this film, and to his surprise, they agreed.

“At the time when they agreed to it, I’m not sure if they even knew why they said yes,” Grynberg said this week, calling from Santa Monica. “They had been pretty battered in the media after the avalanche. The fact that they knew me was essential. They wouldn’t have let someone in who didn’t know them. And maybe on some level they thought this may be cathartic for them.”

In December 2006, Grynberg and a local cinematographer joined Beglinger when he went to open their cabin for the winter. He and his family live in a tiny chalet at the base of the Durrand Glacier, deep in Canada’s Selkirk Mountains. Beglinger’s ski-touring operation has a license to 20,000 acres of glaciated, mountainous terrain, all of which is closed to helicopter skiing. The only way in or out — even during the summer, since no roads extend that far — is by helicopter. Grynberg traveled there several more times over the next two winters to shoot footage for his film.

“I was clear upfront that I wasn’t making a film about the avalanche, what happened or whose fault it was — that didn’t interest me at all,” Grynberg said. “I was interested in talking about this family’s unique life and how they were coming to terms with the accident. The other thing I wanted to convey is just what it’s like to do this sport and how transcendental it can be to be in a place that remote and big and sublime.”

When asked what Grynberg’s take was on how Beglinger and his family have dealt with the 2003 tragedy, he said, “The process of making this film brought up a lot of raw emotion that had not been visited for a long time. What was most clear to me in making this film is how incredibly strong this family is. There’s something about their life that is so clear and simple. I went in thinking I was making a film about Beglinger, but it ended up being about his family.”

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3 Responses to “ESPN Freeskiing article about A Life Ascending”

  1. Em Gee says:

    I remember reading about this at the time that it happened — It’s fascinating while being almost unimaginable to me — the courage and the whatever else it is in people that compels them to live life so literally on the edge … I so look forward to seeing this documentary.

  2. dave evans says:

    hi there, when will the film be released on dvd

  3. sarah says:

    hi dave, hopefully mid-december…i see you are on the mailing list, so we will definitely keep you posted. thanks for checking us out. how did you hear about the film?

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