Moving Pictures Magazine Featured Article

Articles on March 10th, 2010 5 Comments


Profound Truths in the Making of ‘Mountain Man’ (working title)

by Stephen Grynberg

MM_hero1I was born in Denver at the base of the Rocky Mountains. My mom was a city girl from Philly; my dad, a Polish immigrant. He was also a skier, and, when I was five, he dragged me up a mountain and pushed me down it. That’s how things were done in my house. Eventually I came to love skiing – around the time I got my driver’s license and the mountains became an escape. The ultimate freedom of backcountry skiing soon beckoned. Attaching synthetic “skins” to the bottom of skis for traction, one can climb to the summit of snow-covered mountains far from the noise and grind of a ski area. At the top, with fields of untouched snow beneath, the skins come off and you throw yourself down. Pure bliss.

In 1995, I discovered a renowned ski mountaineering guide named Ruedi Beglinger. He ran boot-camp-style expeditions up and down some of the steepest, most exposed faces in North America. My skiing life had come full circle. In my 20s, just as at age five, I was back in survival mode; I was there for the rush and challenge that comes from the combination of fear, danger and the sublime.

In the winter of 2003, Ruedi was involved in a massive avalanche. Seven of his guests died. He had never had an accident in 25 years of guiding. And so, a few years on from that event, I approached Ruedi and his wife, Nicoline, about making this film. I had been thinking about them often since the avalanche and was interested in how they were surviving the burden of the loss. I felt there was an interesting story to tell about their unique life high up in the mountains, and the costs and rewards of living it.

map_selkirk_mountainsIn December of 2005, I flew to Canada with a DP and a couple of small, high-def cameras and began shooting. It was the week that Ruedi prepares his lodge for his winter climbing season. During the winter, he lives with his wife and two young daughters in a chalet that he built at the base of the Durrand Glacier, surrounded by massive snow-covered peaks. The only way in and out of their home is by helicopter. That first week, we documented the shoveling of massive amounts of snow, the preparation of the buildings, and a couple of early-season climbs. We lived in tight quarters at night and ran our cameras all day, beginning the process of discovering what the film might be about.

One night that first week, I couldn’t sleep, nagged by something familiar in this wholly unfamiliar circumstance. The following day, as I was doing one of my first interviews, I realized what it was. Ruedi is European (Swiss-German), driven by his work, and a man of extremely high expectations who is hard to know. I have a father like that: European, driven, obsessed with his work, high expectations and someone very hard to know. Among all the attractions and motivations for making this film, I was up there, in the middle of nowhere, trying to crack a very old puzzle.

My father is a Holocaust survivor, and I have spent my life exploring the imprint of his childhood: hiding in a barn and losing almost everyone from his extended family. How do you survive that kind of loss? How does it change you, your outlook, your relationships to others? Is it all dark, or are there hidden gifts in the wreckage? What does it mean to be a survivor?

crow_smallOver the last three winters, I have been climbing the extraordinary Selkirk Mountains with Ruedi, trying to answer these same questions. Some of the discoveries seem wholly universal – among them, the powerful resilience of people and the transformative nature of tragedy. But it is always the truths that point you back to your own life that make art worth making. In this case, I have been fortunate to document a life that, in its profound connection to nature and its distance from outside noise, is so beautifully simple and so wildly different than my own. The family is the undeniable center of their universe and, as a result, the bonds between them are strong and powerful. Watching them and talking to them and being a part of their world has shown me that, in the face of beauty and loss and everything in between, a simpler life leaves less to cloud the process of being human. -MPM

5 Responses to “Moving Pictures Magazine Featured Article”

  1. Eric Klostermann says:

    Hi Stephen,
    Michael Warren told me about you and your film. From your trailer, I think you captured what Ruedi is about. I have skiied there. I was there. Dennis was my close and good friend. I’d like to see your movie.

  2. Bette Pittenger says:

    As a potential viewer you have captured my attention.
    This description leaves me on the edge…..wondering, imagining, wanting to experience the fullness of this story.

  3. Gillian Kelly says:

    i was searching the internet looking for recent articles about the avalanche in 2003 and stumbled across this documentary on Ruedi.
    Would it be possible to get a copy of this movie ?
    Gillian Kelly

  4. Shep Faison says:

    Wow. What a movie. Strikingly beautiful, with a moving story that is very well-told. I mulled it over for days after seeing this film. The pieces fit together, and the visuals are extremely compelling. Bravo.

  5. Digital Review says:


    I’ve visited many blogs,forums, but this time:How your fantastic forum is . It makes me surprise….

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