There was standing room only when the Elk Valley Snow Shepherds hosted a special screening of This Mountain Life at Vogue Theatre on December 5. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

Fernie pair shares learnings from life-changing experiences in the mountains

Martina Halik and Todd Weselake host Q&A at special screening of This Mountain Life

Take nothing for granted – that was message from two Fernie adventurers whose life-changing experiences in the mountains feature in an award-winning documentary.

Martina Halik and Todd Weselake of Raven Eye Photography have been propelled into the international spotlight with the release of This Mountain Life, a cinematic masterpiece that seamlessly weaves together the stories of 11 people living out their passions in the mountains of British Columbia.

The documentary largely focuses on Martina and her 60-year-old mom Tania, who completed a six-month ski traverse along the Coast Mountain Range last year, covering 2300 kilometres of treacherous terrain from Squamish to Skagway, Alaska.

It’s a trip that has only been done once before and never by a female duo.

Weselake assisted with Martina and Tania’s otherwise self-supported journey, flying food into the Coast Range from Cranbrook every 5-10 days.

He has his own story to tell after being buried for 20 minutes in an avalanche under four metres of snow while backcountry skiing at Mt. Proctor in 2008.

Weselake’s friends, Ian Bezubiak and Olympic freeskier Janina Kuzma, recounted their experiences from that day with scarily realistic reenactments of the slide and rescue.

This Mountain Life also features snow artist Simon Beck, famed alpinist and mountain guide, Barry Blanchard, two Dominican nuns from the Queen of Peace Monastery, and artist Bernhard Thor and his partner Mary, who have lived off the grid for more than 50 years.

There was standing room only when the Elk Valley Snow Shepherds hosted a special screening of the film at Vogue Theatre on Wednesday, December 5. Afterwards, Martina and Weselake took questions from the audience, revealing what they learned from their experiences.

For Martina, it was pushing beyond her personal limits.

“I would think that I was at my breaking point, I would just want to give up, I’d want to quit, I didn’t want to be in that situation anymore,” she said.

“But there was no way to quit because you couldn’t call in a helicopter when it’s in the middle of a blizzard or the middle of the night… I found that I actually had a lot more than I thought I did and I could keep going, and the next time I found myself in a similar situation, it wasn’t as bad.

“It would get worse and worse and worse, but I would just keep dealing with it. I think, for me, the changes came from that, realizing the things that seem really big just aren’t and that there are ways to just keep dealing with them.”

Stuck on a mountain in the middle of winter with a temperamental camping stove nicknamed “Princess”, Martina and Tania also learned not to take life’s small luxuries for granted.

“Who of us goes and turns on a tap, and is grateful that we have hot and cold water, we don’t even think about it,” said Martina.

“But when your stove is broken and you have to go to bed sucking on some ice and you hope to fix the stove tomorrow because you just spent five hours tinkering with it and you can’t make a fire because you’re on a glacier, you tend not to take the tap for granted any longer. I think there’s a lot more of that for me, just gratitude with everyday things.”

Weselake agreed wholeheartedly.

“I found out real fast that things can end in an instant,” he said.

“It went from being one of the best days ever to literally being the worst day ever and after that I guess I realized that, like Martina, you can’t really take anything for granted. “When she said she was going to do this trip… it was something that I was instantly willing to help with in anyway possible.

“I wasn’t going to be joining them on any of it at all but helping with the logistics from home and flying food there, and just whatever I could do for help. I still try to get out in the mountains and do things every day if I can because you can’t take anything for granted, you’re here now, you just use every minute of it.”

Weselake has switched to sledding since his backcountry avalanche experience, while Martina has another trip in the works.

“I thought at first I wouldn’t do anymore and then I spent too much time on Google Earth,” she said.

“The section between Haines, Alaska, to Anchorage – sort of the continuation of those Coast Mountains – is really calling me, so we’re hoping next year and I’m estimating it might take about three months.”

Tania is also planning to join – “who else is crazy enough?” laughed Martina.

This Mountain Life is directed by Vancouver cinematographer Grant Baldwin and produced by Jenny Rustemeyer, recently winning Best Film: Snow Sports at the Banff Mountain Film Festival.

The documentary is in theatres until March then will be broadcast on the Knowledge Network in B.C. For more information about upcoming screenings, visit Mountainlifefilm.com/screenings.

Opinion

Some films thrill and entertain, others move you and inspire you to be a better version of yourself.

This Mountain Life is one of the latter.

Having first heard Martina and Tania Halik’s story at the Fernie Mountain Film Festival in February, I was eagerly awaiting the release of this documentary.

Cinematographer Grant Baldwin did not disappoint.

Right from the opening credits, I was spellbound by the captivating displays of human passion set in the peaks of British Columbia, from the cross-country skiing nun and mountain climber to the hermit artist who has lived off the grid for over 50 years.

Baldwin’s interviews with each character are seamlessly blended with epic drone footage, reenactments, animations and special effects.

It was a packed house when the Elk Valley Snow Shepherds hosted a special screening of This Mountain Life at Vogue Theatre last week, with Martina and avalanche survivor Todd Weselake in attendance.

I too feel the draw of the mountains though I have neither the skills or expertise to attempt a six-month ski traverse over the largest temperate-latitude icecaps in the world as Martina and Tania did.

However, I could relate to Martina when she told the Fernie audience that the experience showed her what she was capable of.

Since moving to Fernie in October 2017, I’ve pushed my own personal limits.

In the winter, I relearned to snowboard after a 10-year break, rode powder for the first time and tried to cover as much terrain at Fernie Alpine Resort as I dared.

My first Canadian winter was interrupted when I tore my meniscus and strained by medial collateral ligament midway through the season, and it felt like a long time before I was back on the board and regained my confidence.

In the summer, I bought myself a little hardtail to find out what this mountain biking business was all about and quickly fell in love with the gruelling but rewarding climbs, the thrill of downhill and the tranquility and beauty of the trails.

I also climbed as many mountains as I could, embarking on my first backcountry camping experience to Heiko’s Trail and the Three Sisters, the biggest hike I’ve ever done.

Most people in Fernie grow up doing these activities and by the time they’re my age, have graduated to far more extreme pursuits.

These experiences in no way compare to those featured in This Mountain Life, but for me, they took courage. I can honestly say I’ve pushed myself more in the past year than I have my entire life and I feel stronger – emotionally, mentally and physically – because of it.

This Mountain Life resonated with me in so many ways and it’s full of heart-warming moments, and wonderful lines such as “the mountains put my heart in my chest” (Bernhard Thor).

It’s a reminder of what makes this part of the world so special; not just the jaw-dropping landscapes but the people who inhabit them, their sense of adventure and their drive to chase their dreams.

Thank you to the This Mountain Life cast and crew, and the good people of Fernie, for continuing to inspire me.

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Todd Weselake and Martina Halik (left) take questions from the audience after the film. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

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