Emily Brydon Rediscovers the East Kootenays

She pulls up to my house in her sleek Audi Quattro, one of the remaining tells of her big city life. As she steps out of the car, her smile lights up the world around her. As it always does.

“I brought cookies!” she says proudly. I know it was her mom, Rosemary, that baked the cookies.

The latest COVID-19 restrictions had forced us to cancel our planned girls’ weekend. At first it frustrated me that we couldn’t do the adventurous overnighters I had originally suggested, but to be fair, the virus was the only reason she was here at all. I would take what I could get. We settled on a one-day easy ski tour up the Kimberley ski hill, complete with a BBQ lunch at an undisclosed location.

Flashback to March 15, 2020, a time that will be forever etched in our brains. Perhaps her’s more so than others, as she packed her bags in Chicago for a quick two week trip back to her hometown 
of Fernie, BC. Two weeks turned into two months as we all started to realize this pandemic was only just getting comfortable. By June it was the longest time she had spent in Fernie since she was 17.

For the past 10 years, since the Vancouver Olympics, and the period in our lives when we lived and breathed ski racing, I watched from afar as she bounded up the ladder. Completing her MBA in London, England; exploring the world of lubricants in Shanghai, China; managing a plethora of gas stations in San Francisco and more recently killing it in sales and acquisitions in Chicago. Sometimes when we met up on her brief forays home just listening to her amazing escapades made me tired. But the way she threw herself into each new challenge was always amazing and inspiring. As she did it, not only with a kid-like sense of wonder and confidence, but with kindness and compassion that only comes from the most humble of places.

So when COVID brought her back home in March, I did my best to take advantage. Over the summer, I observed her getting reacquainted with a town that had developed and changed, just as she had, in the years they had been separated. She was forced to slow down, something that she had nearly forgotten how to do. Hours were spent picking huckleberries and walking through the land around her childhood home, an incredible log cabin handcrafted by her parents in the 1980s. 

As we paddled down the St. Mary and the Kootenay Rivers, I reminded her of the difference between birch and aspen. We gazed at massive eagles as they soared overhead and giggled as we floated over brilliant pink Kokanee making their way up river to spawn. Throughout the summer I saw her slowly begin to morph back into a mountain girl, fully embracing the world around her as she does with every new experience. Finding awe in the details of the wildflowers and the beauty of every new single-track.

As we explored we reminisced about the past, about how our lives as Olympians seemed like a dream, yet always noting our appreciation for how that part of our journeys had created who we were today. We discussed health, corporations, mining, and sustainable leadership. We brainstormed how to continue to make her charity, the Emily Brydon Youth Foundation, a success so it could perpetually have an impact 
on the community she loved. We talked through relationships that have come and gone and those that have sustained. Above all we laughed. We laughed as we were pelted with hail and wind in our small kayaks. We howled as she floundered in the snow as if she had never skied a day in her life. And we giggled like school girls as we flew over rocks and jumps on our mountain bikes.

As we trudged up the slopes of Northstar mountain on our latest outing, I watched and listened as she talked about her goals of melding her work life with her mountain passions. I admired her as she spoke with compassion of having a lasting positive impact on not only the community of Fernie, but the world in general. And as I pulled out our secret BBQ to cook up a couple of burger patties, I couldn’t help but think, that she really is, the best of Fernie.