John Muir, renowned conservationist and eco-philosopher, said, “You are not in the mountains, the mountains are in you.” Let that sink in for a second. They are in you. That’s why you’re here, in this southern corner of Canada decorated with jagged peaks wrapped in cozy coniferous blankets. They were calling to you. So you went. Even if you’ve spent your life in the Kootenays, as I have, you’ve chosen to stay because these big ‘ol rocks still hold their magic. I actually think they become more magical with age. Like your children. A soul mate, or a great dog. I definitely appreciate them more. The image of hulking physical masses piercing through the morning fog? Yes. But also, the increasing effort it takes to get to the top, creating a laundry list of aching body parts the next day. When I reach a mountain summit now, I don’t immediately collapse on a rock to wolf down my lunch and chat about what pub we’ll be hitting when we descend. Not at first. First, I stand. Breathe. Feel deeply grateful for the fact that I get to see what’s on the other side. That I have conquered something. All the metaphors that mountains have inspired become mine, in that moment. I let out a Tarzan-like yell that never fails to echo back to me in celebration. An acoustic high-five, cementing the fact that I have set a goal, and achieved it.
Even at their rocky bottoms, we find meaning. Lessons. Just like in life, although it may not be as enthralling, being at the bottom offers every ounce of insight that being at the top will give you. Maybe more. Every morning my girls and I stroll along the base of Mt. Fernie, which we are lucky enough to have just steps from our front door. Our conversations range from life’s greatest mysteries to the grocery list. Today I asked them what they thought mountain culture meant. My ten-year-old, responding with the wisdom of a smooth-skinned brunette version of Yoda, said this, “Culture is the fingerprint of a community, Mom. Of course, mountains are a part of that.” I swear to God. I asked her if she wanted to write this column for me, but she said she was too busy making slime today. So, I’ve been left to summarise what mountain culture means to me.
Towns similar to our beloved Fernie exist across the globe. Lists featuring them are compiled by adventure journalists on the regular. Best Mountain Towns in Canada, America, the world. The best. What does the best actually encompass? How does someone decide if Fernie is better than Whistler, Vale, or Rossland? I started reading. The general criteria include proximity to vertical, regularity of epic pow days, diverse and plentiful trail networks, a vibrant après scene, and access to spas/restaurants/shops. Check and check and check. We’ve got the goods to score an A+ in all of these categories. Not to mention ample live music venues, socials, and legendary festivals including Wapiti and Griz Days. So, does this mean we’re winning at culture too? Does this ‘best of’ list cover all the reasons you’re here? Not me. And I have a strong suspicion it’s missing something for you, too. How do I know? Because in every edition of the Fernie Fix, our brilliant leader Krista Turcasso interviews someone from Fernie in her Feature Resident piece. And almost every single time she asks, “what keeps you in Fernie?” the answer is the same. The people. The people. I wrote it twice because it’s that important. The actual definition of culture is: the beliefs, behaviours, objects, and other characteristics shared by groups of people.I think we can all agree that we share a love for nature. For vistas and clean air and maybe some pow. These are the reasons we came here. But this is not what keeps us here. What keeps us here is our friends. Family. Sharing a laugh as we climb the mountain together. Knowing that if we stumble, we will be caught. Stopping to say hello, on Main Street or deep in the backcountry. The best mountain towns attract the best people. That is the heart of mountain culture, in my humble opinion.