Mountain Films, Community Spirit

By Beacon Staff

Thirty-eight years ago, the restless residents of Banff, Alberta realized they needed a remedy for their shoulder season boredom. Maybe get a few people together and watch a few movies? Maybe something to get them pumped up for the upcoming ski season?

Little did those bored Albertans know that they were kicking off a legendary film and book festival that has gone on for nearly four decades. The Banff Mountain Film Festival’s World Tour makes a stop in Kalispell on Nov. 12 and 13 at Flathead High School. The event is a fundraiser for Flathead Nordic Ski Patrol, a nonprofit group of volunteers trained to respond to backcountry emergencies.

“The outdoor community looks forward to this every year because of the (Banff Mountain Film Festival’s) history and tradition,” said Steve Burglund, one of the ski patrol’s founding members. “It’s also a big social event here in the Flathead.”

Up in Alberta, the annual Banff Mountain Film Festival usually takes place in late October and early November; this year it ran from Oct. 26 to Nov. 3. After the main event, the best films hit the road for a world tour that has included 740 screenings at 400 locations in 40 countries on seven continents. Overall the tour reaches 330,000 viewers every year.

Not every film is about or for stunning skiers and marvelous mountaineers. Banff’s World Tour Coordinator Seana Strain says the film festival attracts people of all backgrounds.

“A lot of people are moved by the human stories presented in the films, so the event attracts even the armchair athletes,” she said. “It gets people fired up for life.”

Every year, more than 300 films are submitted and the best are screened during the nine-day festival in Canada. An awards ceremony is held on the final night of the festival and more than $50,000 worth of prizes are awarded. Once the big show is over, the best films hit the road. About a dozen are shown in Kalispell during the two-night stop on Nov. 12 and 13.

Burglund helps select the films for the local crowd and says he likes to pick a variety; something for all attendees. They also try and mix it up with longer feature films and humorous shorts to keep crowds engaged.

“People really love the ski films and the whitewater films, but some of the cultural films are impressive too,” he said.

Photo courtesy Banff Film Festival

This year, the films in Kalispell will have an entirely new look after local organizers purchased and donated a brand new screen to Flathead High School. For years, the Banff films have been shown on an old pull-down screen at the school, but this new screen is 20 feet long, 12 feet wide and cost $6,000; a price tag the Nordic nonprofit is still trying to pay. Burglund said the group donated it to the school district to thank them for hosting the ski films for the last 20 years.

While some of the funds from ticket sales will help pay for the rest of the screen, most of the money goes to the Flathead Nordic Ski Patrol. Burglund said the film festival pays for almost all of their winter activities, including training and rescue missions.

The group was formed in 1976 as the Essex Nordic Patrol, which patrolled the trails near the Izaak Walton Inn. In 1981 it was renamed to reflect the group’s growth. It is one of five nordic patrols in the Northern Division of the National Ski Patrol.

For more information about Flathead Nordic and the Banff Mountain Film Festival, visit or

Tickets for the local show are $14 apiece and can be purchased at Rocky Mountain Outfitters in Kalispell, Sportsman and Ski Haus, or Runner Up and the White Room in Whitefish.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.