The magnificent visual spectacle which is Mountains on Stage film festival is gracing the big screens of the United Kingdom once again

The Winter Edition tells stories from the furthest reaches of the earth, where brave humans have dared to navigate the soaring peaks, plummeting temperatures and unexpected challenges thrown at them by mother nature. Ski Club’s Sophie Mead went to see for herself what new adventures have been documented.

As a skier or snowboarder, you are always at the mercy of the mountain and this is the message cleverly portrayed in the first film, Félicité. It asks: “If the mountains could talk, what would they say?” The viewer is transported to the iconic Mont Blanc Massif in France where athletes Pierre Hourticq, Victor De Le Rue and Jeremie Heitz hike to mind-bending heights in search of illusive untracked lines.

The film is not just a celebration of the athletes conquering this mighty massif however, it is a homage to the mountains themselves which are brought to life through a poetic narration, addressing humans as the insignificant beings in comparison. Humans have the arrogance and to think that they can ‘tame’ the mountain, but one slip or one stumble can spell disaster.
Pierre Hortiqc emphasises: “there is no margin for error.” The mountain humours all attempts to conquer it, playfully asking why a tiny creature such as a man could ever fathom that he or she were more dominant. The mountains have stood strong for millennia and seen many a species come and go. Man is simply the next creature making attempts to scale it. Telling the story from the perspective of the mountain resonates powerfully in the current climate of environmental protection. The ascents of the athletes are truly outstanding, but the mountain tells the story and is given the respect it deserves and placed centre stage. This unique narrative technique makes Félicité a truly fitting opener for Mountains on Stage.

In a male-dominated film selection, I was relieved to find an outstanding celebration of female ability, and a heart-warming one at that. This Mountain Life tells the story of mother and daughter explorers, Martina and Tania Halik, as they take on a mammoth 2300 km ski trek from Canada to Alaska through the treacherous Coast Mountains.The film resonated with me particularly because my own mother and I are similar ages as the intrepid explorers I watched on screen. The harsh Canadian winter exposed the women to temperatures of minus 20 as they traversed the frozen landscape, but with Tania's lifetime of paramedic skills and Martina's aptitude for avalanche forecasting, the pair stay safe and in high spirits. 

As a child, my mother was very active and would take my brother and I on hill walks which, at the time, we would hate. Only now do I appreciate the joy of enjoying the great outdoors with family. Tania’s no-nonsense attitude and resilience in the face of truly extreme conditions makes her a joy to watch and the banter between mother and daughter as they attempt to make light of an extremely tough expedition is beautiful. The pair were lucky to have food drops delivered by helicopter at key stages of the trip, but they did not always find the deliveries and so hunger was a very real risk. Exploring the vast wilderness of the Canadian backcountry, the risk of illness by exposure is real and a failed camping stove can spell disaster. But just as family feuds can be softened with unconditional love, the jagged Canadian landscape chooses to have mercy on the two brave explorers who wander into its open jaws.

Canada's Baffin Island is responsible for luring many keen explorers into its otherworldly landscape, but never before has it seen quite so much entertainment as during a visit from Sean Villanueva, Nicolas Favresse and the Ragni di Lecco alpinists. Coconut Connection is a film which doesn’t take itself too seriously. With the former duo using vintage skis and boots knocked into shape, they attempt to navigate their way across frozen fjords with kayaks in tow… with mixed results. They stride, glide and tumble their way across 150km of sea ice, dragging their kayaks along the way and jumping into them when the ice melts and cracks into sparkling cascades of white daggers.

The first feats are impressive, but the troupe’s main goal is to scale the sheer walls of a remote valley, all of which are between 500 and 100m. The faces have never been climbed before so the stark landscape presents a unique opportunity to be the first in history to scale several lines. Sleeping in tents suspended hundreds of metres in the air, the group create a mini campsite complete with hammocks, food and of course, a violin for celebratory moments. Of the experience, Nicolas Favresse said: “In a climbing career, it’s rare to have an opportunity like that, to open such major routes. It was a real privilege.”

Mountains on Stage will be showing across the country until 18 December and Ski Club members receive a 20% discount on tickets.