Renowned mountain guide Ruedi Beglinger, whose life is the subject of a new documentary, talks about life off-the-grid and the 2003 avalanche that nearly took his life.
Renowned mountain guide Ruedi Beglinger, whose life is the subject of the new documentary A Life Ascending, talks about his off-the-grid lifestyle and the 2003 avalanche that nearly took his life.
by Jeremy Winograd
Swiss-born Ruedi Beglinger, founder of the Selkirk Mountain Experience, is one of the world’s most experienced mountain guides. His life in the glaciers of British Columbia is the subject of the new documentary A Life Ascending, available on DVD February 28. We caught up with Beglinger via Skype at his secluded lodge in the Selkirk Mountains to talk about life off-the-grid and the 2003 avalanche that nearly took his life.
Your remote chalet in the mountains of British Columbia is miles away from your closest neighbor. Besides exploring the mountains, what do you do to pass the time?
Guests arrive to ski every week, and they always bring stories. They come from all over the world — from Europe, from the States, and from Canada. It’s amazing how many great stories they bring.
How do they get to your home?
Everything comes in by helicopter. The guests, the mail, our food — everything comes by way of a 15-minute flight from Ravelstoke.
Do your two daughters ever complain about living so far from society?
You know, it’s interesting. When they were younger, we would go down to Ravelstoke for two months every spring, and they always worried we wouldn’t be going back up. In the summer, they’d invite their friends up and were always proud to show off their kingdom. Charlotte, the eldest, just started university this fall, and she almost gets mad when we tell her on the telephone or via Skype that the skiing is great and we’re having a good time. She always says, “it’s not fair you’re telling me this!”
Among skiers and other guides, you’re known for being kind of a hard ass. Would you call that a fair assessment?
As a guide, it’s not just showing the way up to the mountain, but also making sure the guests are safe. Just because they’re very fit and very good skiers doesn’t mean that they know if slopes are safe or dangerous. That’s what a guide has to know. So sometimes you have to say, “guys, we can’t ski over there, but we can ski this line here.” If that makes me a tough guy, I guess that means I’m a tough guy.
In 2003, you were involved in an avalanche that killed seven people. How did that incident change the way you approach the mountains?
That showed how much experience a guide really needs. If a guide doesn’t have much, maybe he walks away from everything. I’ve seen that with some guides — they knew something could happen, but they never believed it. It’s like a movie: you need to rewind it many times and look at every little clip until you understand “why did you go there? What gave you the green light to ski the slope?” You obviously felt it was safe, otherwise you never would have skied it. And eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later, you understand what was going on. It took me a few days to really understand that incident. But after a few days, I thought, “OK, I think I understand what happened and can go back to guiding.” And when I decided to start guiding again, I felt good about going back.