Mountain Life – Rocky Mountains - Summer 2024

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P. 11 Editor's Message: Home

P. 12 Behind the Photo

P. 14 Know Your Neighbour: Little Feat Apiaries


P. 16 Boomerang Mine

P. 26 The Tug is the Drug

P. 38 Stumped


P.45 Mountain Lifer: Katie Burrell

P. 49 Trail Mix

P. 52 Gallery

P. 59 Gear Shed

P. 64 Back Page

ON THIS PAGE Day’s end: Shota Ida finesses a steep slab, Frisby Ridge, Revelstoke. LAURA SZANTO ON THE COVER Lindsay Donovan on Whatshan Lake, BC. STEVE SHANNON

In the spirit of respect and truth, we honour and acknowledge that Mountain Life Rocky Mountains is published in the traditional Treaty 7 Territory which includes the ancestral lands of the Stoney Nakoda First Nations of Bearspaw, Chiniki and Wesley, the Tsuut’ina First Nation, the Blackfoot Confederacy First Nations of Siksika, Kainai, and Piikani, and the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3. We acknowledge the past, present, and future generations of these Nations who continue to lead us in stewarding this land, as well as honour their knowledge and cultural ties to this place.


Bob Covey

Jon Burak

Todd Lawson

Glen Harris


Erin Moroz


Amélie Légaré


Lin Oosterhoff


Kristin Schnelten


Kristy Davison


Ned Morgan


Noémie-Capucine Quessy


Krista Currie


Agathe Bernard, Chase Bohning, Claire Dibble, Corrie DiManno, Noah Fallis, Andrew Findlay, Colleen Gentemann, Callum Gunn, Hannah Griffin, Irene Hervas, Bruce Kirkby, Steph Kosakowski, Laura Laing, Mitchell Leong, Graham McKerrell, Mike McPhee, Jayme Moye, Jay Nigro, Eric Poulin, Steve Shannon, Laura Szanto.


Bob Covey

Jon Burak

Todd Lawson

Glen Harris

Published by Mountain Life Media, Copyright ©2024. All rights reserved. Publications Mail Agreement Number 40026703. To send feedback or for contributors guidelines email Mountain Life Rocky Mountains is published every October and June and circulated throughout the Rockies. Reproduction in whole or in part is strictly prohibited. Views expressed herein are those of the author exclusively. To learn more about Mountain Life, visit


Mountain Life is printed on paper that is Forest Stewardship Council ® (FSC ®) certified. FSC ® is an international, membership-based, non-profit organization that supports environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests. Mountain Life is PrintReleaf certified. It measures paper consumption over time automatically reforested at planting sites in Canada.

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Our hearts are in these mountains—in the lakes and streams, on the tippy top of peaks, the loam beneath the soles of our trail runners and the rubber of our bike tires. What does home look like for you? A place to protect? A place to travel through—whooping it up with your pals? Let’s go a step further: Is home even a place? Maybe it’s the feeling you get on a dark forest trail or on belay, surrounded by friends who are family.

This summer at Mountain Life Rocky Mountains, we take a look at our one precious Home Writer Andrew Findlay tackles the controversial proposal to green-light coal exploration in the foothills of southwestern Alberta; a paddler’s 1,300 km canoe trip causes her to ponder the future of Kinbasket Lake, the man-made hidden gem between Golden and Revelstoke; a greenhorn fly angler meditates on his newest Rocky Mountain passion; and we catch up with homegrown leisure athlete Katie Burrell, fresh off the heels of her debut feature film, Weak Layers

We’ve had a few changes at ML Rockies HQ: Publisher and editor Kristy Davison has left us (figuratively—thankfully she only lives a block away) and Jasper local Bob Covey has stepped into the publisher role. We hope you’ll continue to love reading this mag as much as we love making it for you.

May this issue find you stoked to launch into the preeminent (that’s right) Rockies season, surrounded by your favourite people, a bike, a Boler, a campfire—you know, whatever Home means to you. – Erin

Lake Revelstoke, BC, above the dam. STEVE SHANNON

In the summer of 2023, Spanish photographer Irene Hervas rappelled and ziplined with a group of stand-up paddleboarders into a narrow canyon tucked away in Abraham Lake, between Saskatchewan Crossing and Nordegg, AB. Five paddleboarders put in at the Cline River and navigated the frigid, blue waters for four hours.

“Steep canyons present difficult challenges when it comes to photography. Over many years, I have been fortunate to develop canyoning skills to shoot in these environments and apply them to my style. Creating interesting shots of canyoners experiencing these beautiful places for the first time is a joy.” – Irene Hervas


Hive to Handlebars

words:: Corrie DiManno

Move over farm-to-table, here comes hive-to-handlebars. Revelstoke, BC, is abuzz over a sweet and slow movement: carbonfree honey. Producing 600 kilograms of honey from 50 hives each summer, Little Feat Apiaries operates its bee yard and farmers market stall all off the back of an electric cargo bike. Swarmed for orders, they typically sell out in time for Christmas.

“We have a tiny apartment and half of it was full of honey,” says Steph Kosakowski of last summer’s homegrown haul, which flew off the shelves after they attended a couple markets and advertised less than a handful of times on social media.

Together, Steph and her partner Neil Keeble own and run the bees-ness, with hives stationed on either side of the Columbia River (or about a 30-minute bike ride from town). Three years ago, Neil built it up from scratch and now breeds queen bees and produces nucleus hives to sell to other beekeepers as a start-up kit. Steph manages the markets and often ends up making sales while en route.

Admittedly, they dip into their own floral, light-amber supply for their favourite combinations. Hers: on toast with peanut butter. His: into every single cup of tea. But both agree, straight out of the jar works, too.

“The honey tastes like whatever the bees have been collecting. And if I’m careful when I’m extracting, I can ask customers which side

of the river they want, north or south,” says Neil, adding the flavour is reflective of the nearby budding produce at Terra Firma Farms and local flora like fireweed and clover.

Romance quickly blossomed after Steph and Neil met through mutual friends in 2015, while living abroad and rock climbing in New Zealand. At the same time, Neil also discovered and fell in love with beekeeping and brought his experience and knowledge with him when the pair moved to Canada in 2019.

“A lot of people who were fascinated by bugs as a kid get into beekeeping, but I was more drawn to it because it allowed me to work outside,” Neil explains. “It’s a full-sensory experience and it’s more than what any sport, activity or job can give me.”

They wanted to keep those good times in the great outdoors rolling. So with a little Googling, some elbow grease and a lot of gratitude to a local shop called Skookum Bike & Ski, they purchased their trusty Surly Skid Loader and trailer to haul equipment, bees and honey pots. (Neil describes it as a pickup truck in bike form.)

“If you sit in the car to go to work and then get out of the car to work, you miss out. By cycling, you’re reminded of why you live in this town,” Neil says. “Cycling alongside the river beneath the beautiful Revelstoke mountains makes me feel like the luckiest beekeeper in BC.”

Check them out on Instagram @littlefeatapiaries.

Off to work. Neil Keeble crosses Big Eddy Bridge over the Columbia River in Revelstoke, BC. STEPH KOSAKOWSKI
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Boomerang Mine

An ominous threat returns to the fragile eastern slopes ecosystem.

16 The Elk Valley. CALLUM GUNN

words :: Andrew Findlay

The sound of lowing cows drifts across the hillside. It’s July, and Plateau Cattle Co.’s herd grazes in their summertime pasture near the Old Man River headwaters. Here, on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies, lies the eye of an impending storm. In the midst of a multi-year drought, the Alberta government is considering open-pit mining in the Old Man River watershed.

Laura Laing and her husband John Smith raise more than 500 head of cattle here at their ranch near Nanton, AB. Four years ago, Laing and Smith were two of thousands of Albertans who rallied to prevent open-pit coal mining on Grassy Mountain. Now they’re fighting another coal project on the same mountain.

“Sadly, I’m not surprised,” Laing says.

When this ranching couple says they’re attached to these rolling hills, they mean it. The ranch has been in the Smith family for three generations. Smith’s grandfather John Hay immigrated from Scotland in 1928, first to northern Alberta then south with his family in 1934 to a Nanton homestead.

For Laing and Smith, coal mining was a distant concern until November 2015, when Benga Mining Ltd. submitted an environmental impact assessment (EIA) application for the Grassy Mountain Coal Project—a mine with an estimated annual production rate of 4.5 million tonnes of metallurgical coal and a lifespan of 23 years. Metallurgical coal is heated in blast furnaces to remove oxygen from iron oxide, a key step for making steel. Lower-grade thermal coal, like the stuff from Vista Mine near Hinton, is burned to create steam and generate electricity. Both are dirty. Coal—whether

“There’s been no consultation with the community because they know that coal exploration will not be supported by the membership.”

burned for steel or heat—is a heavy carbon emitter. And, according to SteelWatch (an organization aiming to decarbonize steel production), 11 per cent of global emissions come from steelmaking. The latter pumps out 30 per cent of all human-generated carbon emissions. But it’s not only about the carbon footprint. Coal mining often results in habitat loss and toxic runoff with lasting impacts on watersheds and aquatic species.

In June of 2021, a Joint Review Panel (JRP) composed of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) rejected Benga’s project, concluding that it wasn’t in “the public interest.” The JRP said the mine would likely impact surface water and the blue-listed westslope cutthroat trout. The panel also criticized Benga for underestimating the negative environmental impacts and overestimating the positive economic benefits of the project.


However, coal mining on Grassy Mountain wasn’t dead. In September 2023, a new proposal was put in play when Northback Holdings Corporation filed an application with the AER for exploratory drilling on the same Grassy Mountain coal deposit. The company is new in name only. It’s a subsidiary of the same Australian mining giant, Hancock Prospecting, which owned Benga and is chaired by Australia’s richest citizen and one of the world’s wealthiest women, billionaire Gina Rinehart.

Northback is proposing to drill 46 boreholes, between 150 and 550 metres deep, on a mix of Crown land and its own private property.

On the surface, this proposal might appear like a classic resource-industry-versus-conservation conflict. However, when you peer behind the press releases, the fight over Grassy Mountain reveals the Alberta government’s murky, confusing and at times conflicting policies around coal mining in the Rocky Mountain front ranges where precious rivers like the Old Man, Livingston, Elbow and Highwood originate.

To understand the situation today, one needs to first look to Alberta’s past. In 1976 under Premier Peter Lougheed’s leadership, the Progressive Conservative government of the day established a coal policy that clearly laid out where, when and how coal mining development could occur.

“No development will be permitted unless the Government is satisfied that it may proceed without irreparable harm to the environment and with satisfactory reclamation of any disturbed land. Neither exploration nor development will be permitted in

certain designated areas. Limited exploration and development will be permitted in other areas while some areas will be broadly open for both exploration and development under controlled conditions,” according to the coal policy.

In 1977, Lougheed’s government published the Policy for Resource Management of the Eastern Slopes, then updated it in 1984. The policy wasn’t legally binding, but it set an overarching goal of ensuring “a continuous, reliable supply of clean water to meet the needs of Albertans and interprovincial users now and in the future.”

Given today’s water worries, this was a foresighted policy. Now, 40 years later, water—or lack of it—could be the number one crisis facing Alberta.

On the heels of successive drought years, Alberta is bracing for another dry summer. In late spring 2024, the Oldman Reservoir west of Fort Macleod was sitting at 28 per cent capacity, compared to a normal range of between 62 and 80 per cent. St. Mary’s Reservoir was at 15 per cent, when it should have filled to between 41 and 70 per cent.

It’s why Alberta’s environment minister recently sent letters to 25,000 water license holders in an effort to initiate discussions about water sharing agreements.

“Watershed protection was really at the core of these policies,” says David Luff, a retired Alberta government civil servant who was a deputy minister in Lougheed’s government and helped craft the coal policy and Eastern Slope Policy. “In many ways these policies are more important today than they were when they were first drafted.”

Elkview Teck coal mine sparwood fernie coleman blairmore proposed mine and exploration sites MAP FROM GOOGLE MAPS
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Against the backdrop of a water crisis, there is immense pressure from industry to develop new coal mines in Alberta. As of 2019, the province was digging 17.6 million tonnes of coal out of the ground, a mere drop in the bucket compared to the estimated 33 billion tonnes of known coal reserves in Alberta. Those are the kinds of numbers that make investors and mining executives giddy, and they have a friend in former Alberta premier Jason Kenney.

On a Friday before a long weekend in May 2020, Kenney’s government quietly rescinded Lougheed’s Coal Policy. It was done under the pretense of modernizing the province’s approach to coal.

Instead, it triggered a frenzy of new coal applications to the AER and a firestorm of public backlash. The events that followed are convoluted, to say the least.

Then-Minister of Energy Sonya Savage was suddenly in the crosshairs of conservationists, the general public and media. Luff suspects Savage didn’t understand the full implications of killing the Coal Policy. To her credit, the following February Minister Savage pumped the brakes and reinstated the 1976 Coal Policy. At the same time, she formed the Coal Policy Committee, composed of stakeholders representing policy experts, landowners, Indigenous communities and industry. It was tasked with gathering feedback to help guide a modern policy.

The public engagement process lasted just three weeks, concluding on April 19, 2021. The committee recommended restricting coal development on the eastern slopes until effective land use planning is undertaken that would investigate potential impacts on tourism and recreation.

Notably, nearly two-thirds of respondents to a Coal Policy Committee public opinion survey said that coal resources “are not important at all” to Alberta’s economic well being, while less than 8 per cent considered them “very important.”

While this process was underway, Minister Savage made a series of ministerial orders extending the suspension of new coal mine development, the last of which was issued in March of 2022. The order directs the AER to continue suspension of all coal exploration and development applications except “advanced coal projects or an active approval of a coal mine.”

On February 22, 2024, the AER announced that, after seeking legal advice on the definition of an advanced coal project, it would proceed with Northback’s application. Renato Gandia, a spokesperson for the energy regulator, said the AER is sending the “Northback applications to a hearing to ensure a transparent and well-informed technical review. The hearing will determine whether Northback can move forward with drilling and exploration at Grassy Mountain.”

John Smith at home on the Livingstone Range. LAURA LAING Instagram + Facebook @mountainlifemedia

As of May 2024, that’s where things stand. Any reputation that Alberta had as a steward of natural resources is in jeopardy and lawsuits are flying.

Plateau Cattle Co. and Rocking P Ranch are suing the Alberta government for a lack of consultation before making the decision to rescind the Coal Policy. On behalf of both families, Wilson Laycraft Barristers & Solicitors filed a request in July 2020 under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act for all documents related to the decision. They received hundreds of pages of heavily redacted correspondence, much of it between government communications staff and policy bureaucrats preoccupied over the wording and timing of the media release. However, there’s also a lengthy letter from Robin Campbell, a former provincial Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and current President of the Coal Association of Canada, to the deputy energy minister. In it, Campbell complains that the “current regulatory requirements for coal mining projects in the Province of Alberta is one of the most restrictive anywhere.”

That an ex-politician and third-generation coal miner is shilling for industry isn’t exactly a shocker to anyone following the coal debate. Neither would those Albertans find it surprising that Jason Kenney has taken a new job as a senior advisor to Bennett Jones, the Calgary law firm representing five coal companies suing the Alberta government for $10.8 billion in lost revenue and potential investment. According to Luff, the lawsuit suggests coal companies “were promised something that they didn’t get” after the Kenney government was forced to walk back its decision to open the eastern slopes to coal development.

Laura Laing calls it “stranger than fiction.”

“The whole thing is confusing and almost hard to believe,” she says. However, as a rancher and part-time public relations consultant, Laing is up for the fight.

On a spring morning, Mountain Life caught up with musician Corb Lund at one of his favourite places—the family ranch near Mountain View, east of Waterton Lakes National Park. He says Kenney’s pandering to the coal sector “stinks.” Lund admits to initially not knowing much about the industry or government approvals before he was compelled by some of his neighbours to speak up on the issue. Since then, he’s become an avid student of the topic and an outspoken critic of first Benga’s and now Northback’s proposal.

“I’m not anti-resource-extraction, I’m not left or right when it comes to politics, but this mine is a terrible idea. For me this is really about water. We’re in the middle of a multi-year drought, and all we’d be getting from this mine are some royalties and a few jobs,” Lund says.

Lund urges coal mine supporters to look across the border at BC’s Elk Valley where decades of open-pit coal mining have poisoned rivers and streams with selenium, a mineral that beyond certain levels is toxic to fish. Despite Teck Resources having spent more than $1 billion on improved water treatment at its mines, a 2023 sampling detected selenium levels in waters impacted by the coal mines that were more than 250 times higher than levels considered

• • •
High above the Elk Valley. CALLUM GUNN

safe, according to an internal BC government memo obtained by The Narwhal. The price tag to clean up selenium contamination from the mines is now pegged at $6.4 billion, according to a report by Burgess Environmental commissioned by the East Kootenay conservation group Wildsight.

“Teck has barely made a dent in the problem,” Lund says. “Nearly 80 per cent of Albertans are against coal mining in the Rockies. It’s a bad idea economically and environmentally. The only

“I’m not anti-resource-extraction, I’m not left or right when it comes to politics, but this mine is a terrible idea. For me this is really about water. We’re in the middle of a multi-year drought, and all we’d be getting from this mine are some royalties and a few jobs.” – Corb Lund

ones who want this are some politicians and a few hundred people in Crowsnest Pass.”

The deep southwest of Alberta is the epicentre of Northback’s support but it’s no slam dunk. Neighbours debate the mine over their backyard fences. Just as Corb Lund has taken to social media to speak to his audience about the dangers of coal mining in the increasingly

dry front ranges, pro-coal voices have made themselves heard.

The Piikani Nation, one of four Indigenous nations comprising the Blackfoot Confederacy, has been split on the Grassy Mountain issue. A group of Piikani members formed the Piikani Mountain Child Valley Society to oppose coal mining on their traditional territories when Benga put its project on the table. The group clashed with the late Piikani chief Stanley Grier who made numerous public statements supporting the project before his passing in early 2023.

The current chief, Troy Knowlton, declined to comment on Grassy Mountain, but Piikani member Adam North Peigan believes the Piikani council still quietly supports coal mining.

“There’s been no consultation with the community because they know that coal exploration will not be supported by the membership,” Peigan says. “I’m all for economic development that brings revenue to our community to help deal with the opioid crisis, housing and poverty, but coal mining on our traditional territories will devastate our community in the long term.”

According to Peigan, sustainable projects like wind and solar farms would be a much better fit for the Piikani.

On a summer weekend in Canmore, as visitors jockey for parking spots, it would be hard to grasp that this was a gritty coal mining town for nearly a century until the last mine shut in 1976. It signaled the end of one era and the dawn of another: mass tourism.

Though Canmore and Crowsnest Pass may be different towns, they share a coal mining heritage. It’s an important common history, says Sarah Elmeligi, MLA for Banff-Kananaskis. She’s also an author

Musician Corb Lund on the family ranch, west of Cardston, AB. NOAH FALLIS

and wildlife biologist who has worked both as an environmental consultant and politician to oppose coal mining on the eastern slopes.

Elmeligi believes few issues have galvanized Albertans in recent years the way the coal discussion has. For her, watershed protection and stewardship of endangered species like bull trout (also the provincial fish) are important considerations. So, too, is what she and many others feel is the dubious merit of considering new coal mines when so many drought-afflicted Albertan farmers and communities are feeling the effects of climate change in real time.

Elmeligi suggests that in light of water shortages and environmental pressures there’s another path for Crowsnest Pass.

“A mine runs for 25 or 30 years; tourism can be sustainable over the long term. But it will take investment and support from the province because tourism development doesn’t happen by accident,” Elmeligi says. “I’m not saying that they have to be Canmore, but the answer to coal mining on Grassy Mountain was already ‘No,’ so it’s frustrating that we’re going down this road again.”

When Mountain Life reached out to Northback, the company pointed out that at this stage it is applying for a drilling permit only to gather geotechnical, ground water and “other data.”

“This is not a mining application, nor does approval of this drilling program have anything to do with future applications,” says Daina Lazzarotto, Northback’s community relations advisor, in an emailed response. “The Joint Review Panel decision indicated that Northback had room for improvement in its development application in the areas of water and selenium management. The design of the drill program is a result of those comments and will provide more site-specific data to ensure that in any possible future development, that the water supply remains safe for residents of Southern Alberta.”

Hillcrest Mine Disaster Cemetery, south of the Crowsnest River and Bellevue, is a haunting reminder of the worst coal mining accident in Canadian history: a 1914 explosion that claimed nearly 200 lives. The last coal mine in the area shut in 1983 and Crowsnest Pass has been in an economic slump ever since.

Troy Linderman was born and raised in Crowsnest Pass. After university he returned home to work at Teck’s Elk Valley operations before shifting to the mine rescue team. He’s witnessed the boom of coal mining and the ensuing bust.

On a blustery afternoon, wind whistles down the streets and kicks up dusty spindrifts in Blairmore, one of five communities that amalgamated in 1979 to form the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass. Things are quiet at the office of Northback Holdings but the company has been busy in other ways, making its presence felt. The company is using the oldest play in the corporate playbook for seeking social license: chequebook diplomacy. It recently donated funds to the Southwest Alberta Skateboard Society for the building of a new skatepark, and to the Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad, a local group that builds and maintains trails for Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs). In March 2024, Northback presented a $75,000 cheque to Livingstone Range School Division for its nutrition program, and has raised nearly $300,000 at its annual Australia Day celebrations to support other local charities. Given that it’s owned by Australia’s richest citizen, Northback has deep enough pockets to play the long game.

“Our staff live, work and play in Southwestern Alberta, and we are committed to being active partners in the region,” says Lazzarotto.

While some might view their community contributions as an effort to simply buy support from a community dying for a boost, Carmen and Troy Linderman see it as good corporate citizenship. The Lindermans are thoughtful and measured when it comes to talking about Grassy Mountain but are also some of the more vocal members of the group Citizens Supportive of Crowsnest Coal. There’s no doubt that coal, warts and all, is written into the community’s DNA. The

He welcomes tourism, but says people are dreaming if they believe tourists alone will keep the lights on at the Crowsnest Pass Sports Complex and the potholes filled downtown. He views Fernie, BC, as a model of balance between industry and tourism.

“We’ll never be Canmore. Tourism jobs are generally low-paying and tourism comes with its own problems like housing affordability,” Linderman says. “More than 80 per cent of our tax base is residential. We need industry. Look at Fernie. That community has a thriving tourism sector and also several hundred people employed in coal mining.”

The couple say they support “responsible coal development” and believe environmental regulations will ensure Northback does the right thing on Grassy Mountain.

That’s cold comfort for Laura Laing and the thousands of other Albertans fighting to keep coal mining out of the province’s front ranges. Coal mining regulation is far from ironclad in Alberta. The Mexican company that owns Vista Mines is in the hot seat for a controversial mine expansion that conservation groups say threatens endangered bull trout and Athabasca rainbow trout habitat. When Laing, Corb Lund and many others look at BC, they see Teck, a coal company that has made fortunes while leaving behind a forever altered landscape and a toxic selenium problem decades in the making.

“I understand that Crowsnest Pass needs a boost. But I’m sorry, I just can’t sympathize with a few hundred people. We’re not just talking about Grassy Mountain, it’s about the entire eastern slope,” Laing says. “When a coal mine closes, you’ll never get the land back to what it was. As ranchers, we manage the land for generations.”

• • •
LEFT Mountaintop removal coal mining in BC’s Elk Valley. CALLUM GUNN. ABOVE Laura Laing & John Smith in the Livingston Range. LEAH HENNEL

Former adventure photographer Mike McPhee has traded adrenaline seeking for the Zen of fly fishing. He explains why his new preoccupation with the mysterious trout is taking over his life.

Spawning bull trout in Cultus Creek, BC. BRUCE KIRKBY

words :: Mike McPhee

Cold, Rocky Mountain melt water starts its trek high in the watershed amongst the peaks, ridges and snowfields of the Continental Divide. It makes its way down in dramatic fashion through scree slopes and boulder fields until finally mellowing below the treeline. Progressing into a freestone stream, it follows the path of least resistance down towards the valley. Flowing with purpose through postcard-worthy meadows and sporadic trees, the mountain backdrop adds to an already surreal scene, reminiscent of oil paintings from a previous century. Along the stream audible splashes seem out of place at first; it takes some patient observing to see what’s making the ruckus: A trout is intermittently rising to the surface, making a meal of insects in the midday sun.

Closer inspection of the gin-clear water reveals a nice-sized cutthroat trout holding in a back eddy, with grass and wildflowers hanging delicately over the bank.

My fly drifted smoothly, bobbing along in harmony with the cadence of the slow current.

Our reverence is often directed at the more robust land-dwelling mammals that also call this exceptional landscape home. But make no mistake, the native trout not only impress, but leave one fully enthralled with their mysterious ways. This type of scene has led to my fly fishing obsession that, almost solely, motivates my outdoor pursuits.

After a lifetime in the action sports industry, I am now fully captivated by fly fishing for trout in these mountains and other obscure and hard-to-get-to places. Adrenaline-fueled activities and backcountry adventures photographing pro athletes has given way to more Zen-like, intimate wilderness escapes. The pursuit of trout now occupies my daydreams and quiet moments of reflection. The sound of moving water soothes and provides therapy that transcends monetary value.


The Components of an Obsession

A primordial need for exploration is one of the leading causes of my affliction, to be sure. Hiking, bushwhacking, seeing what’s around the next bend of a stream—exploration is instinctual to humans. I tend to be attracted to lesser-known streams in remote corners of the Rockies.

Tributaries of major rivers are often overlooked and provide craved quiet exploration. These places often do not have many trails, except the ones made by our quadruped friends.

Some say cutties are too easily caught compared to other species of trout, but those of us who love dry-fly fishing dream of them.

The act of fly fishing itself is an ever-unfolding journey, a learning curve with no end. Some of us gravitate to this educational element, where one never really attains perfection. This quality is sure to teach even the most high-octane characters a bit of patience and an affinity for the journey. Casting a fly line is an art that teaches perseverance—especially amidst trees and bushes. To watch an expert cast is hypnotic and enthralling. Beginners often try to muscle the line and force it out, but in fact a gentle, easygoing approach is the better strategy.

There is also the “stalking prey” factor. This feeling, also instinctual, is embedded in our inner animal and sometimes takes the reins. Reading water is another required skill; back eddies and the seam between fast and slow water are always good bets for a trout hideout. Trout seem to prefer a bit of structure and often can be found hanging out behind boulders and under log jams.

Entomology and insect life cycles are a never-ending pedagogy. Insects change with seasons and even throughout the day. This part of the tutelage is as old as the sport itself. Some take “matching the hatch” to extremes, and spend much time tying flies to mimic the various stages of an insect’s life, taking great care with size, colour and hackle.

Brennan Lund deep in the wilderness of the Kootenay Rockies, casting flies to trout . MIKE MCPHEE

Methods of Fly Fishing

The sport encompasses three main types of fly angling. Nymph fishing is the imitation of the early stages or subsurface stages of insects. These insects are often larvae as they rise up from the bottom of a stream or lake from where they hatch. Most then emerge onto the surface, eager to begin the flying stage of life. Attempting to mimic these airborne insects is called dry-fly fishing and is generally considered the pinnacle of the sport. There is usually a short period of the day when temperature and circumstance are right and insects start hatching and flying on the surface, coaxing trout into a feeding frenzy. These are rare, but magical, moments that linger in the mind and occupy the space reserved for life’s finer moments. Streamer, or wet-fly, fishing is the imitation of a small minnow or baitfish. This is generally the best method for catching bigger fish. Each style requires a different technique and varied gear.

Most of the streams and rivers of the Rockies are classified as protected waters, and therefore are usually designated as catch-and-release only. Most fly anglers practise conservation and generally do not keep trout, especially from these often-fragile mountain waters where fish grow slowly and are often in small numbers.

The Fish

Then there is the quarry itself: the sometimes elusive and always wary trout. Learning their habits and their favourite places to reside is also part of the obsession—er, progression. Life slows down, and I spend time watching. The satisfaction of sitting on the edge of a pool, listening to the moving water and spotting trout, is the leading factor in the obsession.

Cutthroat trout are the native mountain trout that thrive in remote cold streams of the Rockies. You will find them in often picturesque mountain creeks and high places that, at first glance, may seem devoid of aquatic life. They require clean water and have a voracious appetite for feeding off the surface. The Canadian Rockies are home to the subspecies westslope cutthroat trout; the Elk River watershed near Fernie has the largest remaining population on the continent. Some say cutties are too easily caught compared to other species of trout, but those of us who love dry-fly fishing dream of them. Cutties spend more time looking up, while other species of trout focus on subsurface aquatic prey.

Their preferred habitat just so happens to be the same as my happy place. There is something magical about watching cutties rise slowly from the bottom of a stream to nab a flying insect out of the air before it even lands on the water. Their cadence can be hypnotizing as they hold in their preferred spot.

Bull trout also call the Rockies home. They get a fair bit bigger than cutthroat, often pushing into the 5-kg-plus category. Bullies are not even trout, but imposters in fact. Their classification as a member of the char family becomes evident when viewed coloured up and spawning in the fall. Bright-orange bellies, blue dots and iridescent white edging on their fins make for a colourful display. These apex water predators can usually be found in many of the same streams as cutties and are native to the Rocky Mountains as well, although often deep in bigger pools of a river. Unlike cutthroat, bullies do not usually feed off the surface, but prefer other small fish and invertebrates. (It is not unusual to have one attack a smaller cutthroat as it’s being reeled in.) Catching a bull trout can be more difficult, and one must put in time casting big-weighted streamer flies.

Many lakes in the Rocky Mountain Parks and area are home to trout species introduced in the last century, including rainbow trout and sometimes eastern brook trout. Fortress Lake near Jasper is famous for holding very large specimens of brook trout and is a renowned fishery. Brown trout with their ancient origins in Scotland were also introduced into the Bow River watershed in an era before we understood the idea of invasive species.

Katie Kemp fishing for surface-feeding rainbow trout in Jasper National Park

The Hook

A few years back I was exploring a favourite area, where moss-covered rocks watched over by old growth trees lined an idyllic stream. It was a late summer evening on a small tributary of the Elk River, and evening sun filtered through a mixed forest of spruce, pine and cottonwood. The water was low and the warmth had brought out a prodigious mix of insects, which were enjoying the quiet evening as well. My expectations of trout spotting were low, as the water seemed a bit thin with the stream-feeding snow having long since diminished higher up in the watershed.

I tried to match the brown caddis flies I observed fluttering around and carefully tied a small-sized imitation onto my line. I noticed a little inconspicuous pocket of slightly deeper water under the protruding roots of a large tree. These little unremarkable spots are often home to a trout or two taking cover from the sun and predators alike. I cast the line gently, trying to aim just upstream from the pocket and taking care not to tangle in the branches guarding the potential trout. My fly drifted smoothly, bobbing along in harmony with the cadence of the slow current.

A large cutthroat slowly emerged from the darkness of the hollow under the tree roots, carefully observed my imitation fly and followed it downstream for several feet. The water was shallow, and the trout was displaying the added caution of an older fish. After a patience-testing minute, the brute delicately sipped my fly off the surface. This is the moment of angler addiction; the tug is the drug as they say.

A wee bit of adrenaline hit and heightened my senses. It soon realized its mistake and we played a bit of back-and-forth. Always careful not to pull too hard and break the line or damage

Lifelong fisherman Dennis Poulin battles a pink salmon. ERIC POULIN

the fish, I let the trout win for a few minutes and slowly brought it closer. Finally in the net, I enjoyed the beautiful colouring and estimated it to be 17 to 18 inches (43 to 46 cm) in size. A larger cutthroat to be sure and my biggest of the summer. (They generally max out at around 20 inches [51 cm] in these cold mountain waters.) Gently removing the fly from his lip, I placed it back in the water and he scooted back to the hideout under the tree, no worse for the wear but probably still hungry.

I stood silently and enjoyed a few moments of contemplation, soaking in the ambience of the place and moment. The big brute had made a mess of my fly, so I took a few minutes and slowly started tying on a new imitation. Some movement upstream along the creek caught my attention. In my peripheral view I saw what looked like a dog trotting straight towards me. I assumed another angler was coming down the stream and continued tying, as I was almost finished. A few moments later my knot was complete and I looked up and quickly saw a dark-coloured wolf headed right for me. There was a tree lying down across the small stream, and I was very still and fully engaged with my fly—he hadn’t seen me.

Astonished, and honestly a little panicked, I felt the flow of adrenaline rush through my veins. With heightened senses, I looked around to see if a pack was closing in. The wolf made short work of the gap between us at a steady but somewhat leisurely pace. It then leaped over the tree separating us and finally took notice of me while in the air. All four paws came down in a skid about three metres away, and gravel sprayed up almost comically. The wolf quickly realized I blocked his route and with another leap bounded into the brush and disappeared.

The bewilderment was mutual; I had to sit down and let the moment sink in. Though this experience was rare, it speaks to the immersive nature of time spent in creeks and the expansive forests of the Rockies. The quiet and observant nature of fly fishing lends itself to a holistic wilderness experience.

Trout fishing is an escape from our sensory-dense world. Immersion in the river habitat is a foray into the Japanese concept of forest bathing, which tells us that time spent immersed in nature is just straight-up good for us. Elements of education and exploration, along with the satisfaction of an ancient, primordial hunter, transport me into another realm. And the focus required results in a time warp where, somewhere along a peaceful Rocky Mountain stream, five hours become one. I often emerge from this time warp shocked by how far the sun has progressed from east to west.

In my daydreams, clear mountain waters, deep forests and rising trout coalesce. Though I still enjoy the other mountain activities, more frequently my mind drifts to planning the next foray into the addictive realm of fly fishing.



After 7 years of crafting spirits, friendships, and adventures in the Bow Valley, the vision of Wild Life Distillery is starting to take shape. We often challenge ourselves to define why we do what we do: What is our raison d’être? Here’s a stab.

At Wild Life Distillery we believe in lifestyle over everything else. We believe in genuine experiences with friends in wild places. We exist because of our passion for this place, and crafting spirits in the Bow Valley provides us a way to bring this feeling to life, finding new and better ways to connect our passion to our home. It’s the lifestyle that inspires us, a balance that informs every ounce we pour.

Our canned cocktails are our way of fitting this distilled mountain lifestyle, and the flavours of home, into your pack on an adventure. They allow people to celebrate the places, activities, and relationships that define their summer. Whether it’s run, bike, fish or paddle, it doesn’t matter. It’s doing the things that you love, with the people you love, in the places that you love.

That’s what it’s all about. So next time you are out in the mountains, take a moment. Ask yourself why you do what you do, and see if you can define your own lifestyle distilled.

Cheers to summer in the Canadian Rockies.

- The WLD Team

Paid Partnership

Oct 26 – Nov 3 2024


The Future of Kinbasket Lake

words :: Hannah Griffin The expansive mud flats at the Kinbasket Reservoir during the spring low pool. STEVE SHANNON

After canoeing 1,300 kilometres of the Columbia River in the summer of 2023, writer Hannah Griffin found she couldn’t stop thinking about Kinbasket Reservoir. Created by the Mica Dam in 1973, this enormous turquoise lake between Golden and Valemount is 22 kilometres wide in some places, with multiple 3,000-metre peaks towering above. How has this gorgeous body of water just off the TransCanada Highway not been outfitted with more recreation sites and campgrounds? Can we—and should we—rehab an ecosystem that has been adversely affected by humans?

Writer Robin Cody canoed the Columbia River from source to sea in 1990. In his memoir, Voyage of a Summer Sun, Cody explained that, prior to paddling the Kinbasket Reservoir, concepts related to environmental damage were concerning to him but abstract. They existed as broad, vague ideas that were hard to wrap his head around. As he paddled the Kinbasket and observed the effects of the Mica Dam flooding, these abstract environmental concepts felt real for the first time. “On Kinbasket Lake,” he wrote, “the big stuff reached out and grabbed me by the throat.”

I canoed the Kinbasket 33 summers after Cody. I read his words as I sat on a steep shoreline near Windy Arm, where I had barely managed to eke out a tent spot amongst the enormous, ghost-like stumps with tangled roots. Despite the decades between our trips, Cody’s words described how I felt experiencing the Kinbasket for the first time.

Even with efforts to clean up the Kinbasket, this 216-km-long reservoir remains a visible example of the irreversible effects of flooding and extreme water-level changes on an ecosystem. It’s also gorgeous, with some of the most dramatic scenery in the province: Breathtaking peaks flank its shores and water glimmers turquoise under the sun.

The Kinbasket sees little use compared to other Columbia reservoirs. Away from its southern and northern ends, access is difficult and recreational use sparse. I want to know what the future looks like for this massive reservoir. What factors have limited recreation and tourism in the past, and is there potential for more people to experience the reservoir in the future?

For millennia, the Columbia snaked through the Inland Temperate Rainforest and the Rocky Mountain Trench. The resource-rich area is part of the traditional and ancestral territories of multiple Indigenous nations, including the Sinixt, Ktunaxa, Secwépemc and Syilx. When Canada signed the Columbia River Treaty with the United States in 1961, it committed to building three dams for flood control and hydroelectricity, including the Mica Dam. Located at the Big Bend section of the river, Mica was completed in 1973. The resulting flooding formed the Kinbasket Reservoir, stretching from close to Donald to Valemount, BC. Before flooding, just a small percentage was logged and a vast forest left behind, consigned to an underwater fate.

With the construction of dams on the Columbia, the province promised basin residents that the reservoirs would bring recreational opportunities and benefits like waterfront, beaches and tourism. On the Kinbasket, issues with access, debris, erosion and water levels means the projected benefits were never fully realized.

The Kinbasket’s water level fluctuates between 754 metres and 707 metres—a dramatic 47-metre range, though each year varies. To provide storage for power generation, natural seasonal water levels have been reversed: In the spring and early summer the Kinbasket is at its lowest, exposing mud flats and stumps, and it reaches its highest levels in the late summer and fall. These factors bring challenges with regards to recreation and tourism, the obvious being there often isn’t enough water for typical water-related activities during peak summer months.

That’s not to say there is no recreation or tourism on the Kinbasket; many locals have been recreating on and around it for decades. BC Hydro built boat ramps and Recreation Sites and Trails BC has six sites on the Kinbasket; Chatter Creek and other backcountry lodges like those owned by Golden Alpine Holidays operate in the mountains above the reservoir. There are also trails, but they tend to be closer to Valemount and Donald—areas like Bush Arm, Sprague Bay and Potlatch Creek can be busy on summer weekends and holidays. And, while generally quiet in the winter, people do ice fish, hunt and snowmobile on the Kinbasket.

Much of the future of recreation and increased use of the Kinbasket depends on three factors: access, water levels and debris.

“The thing about the Kinbasket is you have to be a bit of a soldier to get up there,” says Barry Klassen, a former conservation officer who lives in Golden and has fished the Kinbasket for decades. Forest Service Roads (FSRs) along the Kinbasket open up some access, but they are only maintained during periods of active logging—FSRs like the B Road up to Bush Arm can be rough on vehicles. While the B Road sees lots of use, the average BC road tripper is likely not keen to take their vehicle on a 4x4 adventure without a radio.

Away from Donald, Mica and Valemount, an enormous swath of the Kinbasket is inaccessible. It’s hard to build new trail networks or make a case for any kind of recreational infrastructure when you can only access the terrain in question by boat.

What would it take to have a paved road from the Trans-Canada to the Kinbasket? The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure would need to take over jurisdiction of an existing logging road, at which point it could become part of the public highway system linking the Trans-Canada to the Kinbasket. It would be a lengthy process with intensive consultation and studies—and a hefty price tag.

Detritus has been a decades-long issue. Klassen describes the surface of the water in the ‘80s as “a mat of debris.” At Surprise Rapids, a narrows by Bear Island, the debris could be so thick a boat couldn’t pass through. The Columbia River Water Use Plan, approved in 2007, covers a large number of projects on the Columbia, including debris removal. Since 2007, BC Hydro has spent $10.5 million on debris removal across Arrow Lakes and Kinbasket Reservoirs, and cites this effort as an important part of improving recreational opportunities. But new debris enters the reservoir via tributaries each spring, as well as during natural events like landslides and avalanches.

The debris situation has gotten significantly better, although it can be jarring at certain times of year to see log-strewn shores

Matt Yaki and Wiley explore the single track above the town of Mica Creek. STEVE SHANNON

and choked tributary mouths, and logs and stumps remain boating hazards. Valemount Mayor Owen Torgerson recalls speaking with a local boater who told him, “You better have five grand in your jeans if you hit a log.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake, another reservoir on the Columbia in the state of Washington, lies 160 km south of the border. Created by the Grand Coulee Dam, it’s an excellent example of the recreation hub a reservoir can become when it has much smaller fluctuations in water levels and excellent road access. It’s also located closer to larger cities and towns, is a designated National Recreational Area and boasts 35 campgrounds. A US National Park Service report showed that more than 1.2 million visitors spent more than $56 million USD in 2018 in communities near the Lake Roosevelt Recreation Area.

Another way to examine the growth of recreation on the Kinbasket is not by asking could it happen, but should it happen. While some locals are enthusiastic about having more people experience the area, those who focus on ecosystems, conservation and wildlife approach the idea with understandable wariness. More people and roads in an area that already experienced substantial habitat loss could be viewed as questionable.

Rachel Darvill is a longtime biologist in the Columbia Valley who is passionate about biodiversity conservation. She emphasizes the importance of recognizing what was lost when the river valley was flooded. “We can’t really restore the Kinbasket to what it was, so we need to protect some of the significant ecological values that are still present,” she says.

Darvill also mentions the ancient trees around the Kinbasket. Stand With Us, a group advocating for the protection of old-growth forests, has identified a giant cedar 60 kms past the Kinbasket Lake Resort. Nominated by the group for the BC Big Tree Registry and officially verified in 2022, the Western redcedar now registered as #1177 stands

In the early 1960s, the BC government shrunk Hamber Provincial Park by 98% to satisfy the demands of the forestry industry and planned hydroelectric development.

46.2 m tall with a diameter of 3.4 m. Stand With Us believes it might be the mother tree—the critical central hub that communicates with the younger trees surrounding it. It’s in a provincially designated old growth deferral area, which means for the time being it can’t be logged. But the deferrals are temporary. The redcedar sits close to the FSR, and just across the road the forest is clear-cut.

Darvill says her colleagues have discussed the balance of people getting to see these old growth trees in person, including the potential of an old growth patch set aside with a trail people could access for viewing. “Maybe it would help people understand the tremendous biodiversity we have around the Kinbasket Reservoir,” she says.


Another strike against increased recreational infrastructure and tourism comes in the form of a purported tsunami risk. A 1980 study undertaken for BC Hydro stated there was a risk of a massive landslide that could create a tsunami if the reservoir levels were high enough. This revelation has brought about limitations on development in what is considered the tsunami risk zone on the reservoir.

In fact what is now the Kinbasket was once almost entirely protected. Created in 1941, Hamber Provincial Park was one of the country’s biggest protected wilderness areas. At more than 1 million hectares in size, Hamber was a Class A Provincial Park, spanning pristine Selkirk and Rockies wilderness. In the early 1960s, the BC government shrunk Hamber by 98% to satisfy the demands of the forestry industry and planned hydroelectric development. Today, Hamber is just 25,000 hectares, tucked against the west boundary of Jasper National Park.

BC residents experiencing the Kinbasket’s beauty for the first time. In May and June, the resort has few visitors, as the low water levels mean much of the riverbed is exposed. “People come when the water comes,” Islam explains.

Rupert Michell was hooked by the Kinbasket before he ever saw it in person, having pored over satellite imagery of the area from his home in Australia. “I couldn’t believe what I was looking at,” he says. He began searching for land and bought a 612-acre property on the water, where he’s been building cabins for the past six years. He isn’t set on their intended use yet, but has dreams about recreational accommodation, perhaps a cross-country skiing retreat or a catchand-release fishing operation.

The shoreline erosion is a reality to contend with, and he knows over decades some of his waterfront will crumble into the reservoir. Despite the challenges, Michell is connected and committed to the Kinbasket. “It is the most neglected and the most beautiful piece of BC,” he says.

Businesses on the Kinbasket’s shores are few and far between, but the people drawn to operating them are enamoured with the area— and passionate about sharing it with others.

Sharif Islam bought the Kinbasket Lake Resort in 2023, and thinks the landscape rivals places like Lake Louise in beauty. Located at the junction of the Beaver River and the Columbia, the resort is uniquely positioned just 5 km down an FSR from the Trans-Canada. Many of Islam’s visitors are international tourists, but he also sees

Locals discussing their vision for the future of the Kinbasket invariably mention the Columbia River Treaty renegotiation, and the hope that an updated agreement could see less water level fluctuation. In springtime, the low water can render boat launches useless. Erosion can make it difficult for paddlers or boaters to find a spot to camp. Ice fishing can be tough to promote, because ice forms and then


drops along with the water level, creating large slabs of ice at the same angle as the embankment. One longtime ice fisher from Golden described the ice crashing down along the shoreline, creating voids where someone could fall into the water.

When the water is low and the riverbed exposed, dust storms can whip up. George Lampreau, Chief of the Simpcw First Nation, feels strongly about the potential for the Robson Valley to attract an increasing amount of visitors, but cites this threat as a major concern. “It’s a beautiful area. People are looking for areas to go and visit, and if we could get some of these issues like the water levels and dust resolved, it could really help,” he says.

When asked if water levels hindered Recreation Sites and Trails BC from implementing more recreation sites on the Kinbasket, the Ministry of the Environment characterised the mud flats as a different kind of recreation. “Exposed mudflats and shoreline erosion are normal events that occur with the fluctuating reservoir water levels, which provides a unique user experience (e.g. beachcoming, birdwatching) that is otherwise not available,” a Ministry official wrote by email.

The Columbia River Treaty has no end date, but either country can unilaterally terminate it after September 2024, with a minimum of 10 years’ notice. Canada and the US began talks to modernize the treaty in 2018 and have held 19 rounds of negotiations to date. The Canadian government is pushing for greater flexibility regarding water flows and protection of the river basin’s ecosystem—referred to as the third leg of the stool, along with power generation and

flood control. Also key to the process is the inclusion of Indigenous representatives, who are an important part of the negotiation team— and whose concerns were entirely excluded when the initial treaty was signed. The negotiation proceedings, the outcomes of which will

When Canada signed the Columbia River Treaty with the United States in 1961, it committed to building three dams for flood control and hydroelectricity, including the Mica Dam.

dictate the coming decades for the Kinbasket, are not public.

Regardless of the negotiation results, the reservoir will continue captivating those who spend time there, particularly with its ability to look both like a picturesque mountain lake and a sparse moonscape.

It’s a contrast Golden Mayor Ron Oszust knows well. Oszust owned a lot at Esplanade Bay for a number of years, and has seen the Kinbasket when it is an expanse of mud flats, as well as when it is at full pond and absolutely stellar. He’s walked out at low water and dug deep into the silt, finding moss, leaves and twigs from the old forest floor, insulated from decay for decades. “It’s a big, vast, amazing landscape, and more and more people are looking for those kinds of rural, rustic experiences,” he says. “My hope would be that more people get to experience that.”

LEFT Mica Dam construction archive. BC HYDRO AND POWER AUTHORITY’S COLUMBIA NEWSLETTER, APRIL 24, 1968. CENTRE Detritus on Kinbasket.. CLAIRE DIBBLE. RIGHT Ghosts of the past. AGATHE BERNARD
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Katie Burrell Gets Real

Local-famous Katie Burrell has been cracking us up with her slopeside antics on social media for years, playing the tag-along partner of an offscreen presence we never meet but can all relate to. With the open-armed reception of her first feature-length comedy, Weak Layers, the Revy local’s sights are set on Hollywood.

words :: Jayme Moye photos :: Colleen Gentemann

On January 23, 2024, Katie Burrell was supposed to be in Nelson, BC, four hours south of her home base of Revelstoke, for a stop on her Weak Layers film tour. But Ullr decreed otherwise. Freezing rain had turned the highways into a luge run, and Nelson’s Civic Theatre had been evacuated two days prior because its aging roof couldn’t handle the weight of snow and ice. Burrell couldn’t be there, but the show would go on.

Nelsonites still packed the theatre, chance of roof collapse be damned. Burrell was local-famous throughout Western Canada for her hilarious video clips parodying mountain-town life—especially ski culture—on social media. Weak Layers, which she wrote, directed and starred in, was her first featurelength comedy. SKI magazine called it “the ski movie we

need right now.” Outside dubbed Burrell “the new queen of slopeside fun.” It was such a success in Nelson that the theatre had to add two additional screenings to meet demand—that’s on par with Barbie in the small mountain town of 10,000. Meanwhile, Burrell’s schedule had become Hollywoodstyle unmanageable. When I was finally able to track her down, it was well into February. The film tour was over, but not the promotion. Burrell said by phone that she was busy with the VOD—video on demand to the layperson—release. As of the day prior, Weak Layers was available to stream on Apple TV and Amazon. “My movie is showing up next to Taylor Swift’s as a top seller,” Burrell says. “I’ve peaked. I can die happy now.”

Katie Burrell forest bathing near Sproat Lake, Vancouver Island, BC.

Katie Burrell grew up on Vancouver Island, in Nanaimo. Her father worked in forestry and her mom in government administration. Her parents were both transplants, from New Brunswick and Ontario respectively. They delighted in providing their only child with opportunities that they never had growing up, especially learning to ski. From the time Burrell was a toddler, her parents took her to nearby Mount Washington. “I loved it immediately,” Burrell says. “Although at first I thought the point of skiing was to ride the chairlift, like it was an amusement park ride.”

I always love a cliff band at the end of a couloir, it's my favourite.

Burrell, Dream Job

At age 15, Burrell became certified to teach skiing and landed her first job, at Mount Washington’s Kids Zone. Burrell also loved basketball, and played in a competitive league throughout high school. But her favourite activity was theatre. She acted in all the school plays, and cites her high school drama teacher as one of the most influential adults of her teenage years. But skiing was always central in her life, and after high school she applied to be an au pair in Switzerland and got the gig, spending nine months in the Alps.

When it came time to attend university, Burrell considered


going to school for acting, and even toured a theatre school in Victoria with her mom. But at the time, a career as a movie star felt too far out of reach. “It seemed silly to even try,” Burrell says. “Like an exercise in futility or just self-immolation.” She opted for a more practical path and enrolled at McGill University in Montreal with a major in political science.

At McGill, Burrell discovered stand-up comedy and began performing. She also started writing for the university’s satire magazine and joined the film club to begin producing short comedies. In one of those films, DJ Caps Lock, which she co-produced with her friend Jake Heller, Burrell plays an ambiguously European DJ trying to make it in North America. They entered the film in the McGill Focus Film Festival, where it won both Best of the Festival and the Audience Choice Award.

While the film’s positive reception was fun, Burrell had an unexpected reaction to the process of creating it. “I won’t say I went crazy, but I became completely obsessed with it,” she recalls. The intensity she experienced while acting and filmmaking scared her. “You know the expression, ‘Find what you love and let it kill you’?” she asks. “It was like that.”

By the time Burrell graduated, it was clear poli-sci was not her path. At the same time, she didn’t see how following her creative passions was going to pay the bills. She returned to the mountains of BC, taking a staff job at a heli-skiing lodge in Revelstoke. Burrell got to ski during her breaks, but soon found herself sacrificing time on the mountain to create. To entertain guests, she put together comedy sketches with another theatre-kid staffer, produced a short comedic film called Employee of the Month and kept her coworkers in stitches with her constant role-playing.

Her subsequent jobs would follow a similar pattern, with Burrell doing so-called “real work” to earn a living, while indulging her creative compulsions on the side. There was the copywriting and brand development contract work she did in Revelstoke, while spending her nights performing stand-up comedy. And the nine-to-five job at a law firm in Victoria that left her evenings open to test her comedic mettle on big-city audiences. Then, in 2017, Burrell moved back to Revelstoke to take a corporate job as a marketing director. That was the year Burrell met Colleen Gentemann, a documentary filmmaker and kindred spirit, and started co-creating short videos spoofing mountain-town life for social media in her spare time. Influencer, the duo’s earliest collaboration, garnered more than 36,000 views on YouTube and put Burrell on the social media map as, well, an influencer.

The pair’s cinematic launching pad came in 2019 with Dream Job, a 14-minute ski flick produced on a shoestring budget with a $50,000 grant. Burrell plays herself, a woman

tired of her desk job who goes in search of a better ski-industry career. It was viewed nearly 130,000 times on YouTube, made the rounds at the major mountain film festivals and brought big brands like Arc’teryx knocking on Burrell’s door to produce content. She left her corporate marketing job that same year.

Even during the pandemic (when Burrell moved in with Gentemann so they could continue to create), the brand work stayed steady. Their follow-up film, Coach, a 32-minute documentary following the relationship between coach Lorraine Huber and athlete Hedvig Wessel during the 2020 Freeride World Tour, was another mountain film festival award winner. It also proved Burrell and Gentemann’s chops in dealing with more nuanced subject matter while still maintaining their new company’s special brand of self-reflexive humour.

Weak Layers is their most ambitious project yet, a film three years in the making and Burrell and Gentemann’s first foray into feature-length entertainment. It is also their first film to cross over from mountain film festivals into general movie theatres, with screenings across western North America, in small towns like Nelson as well as much larger cities like Reno, Nevada.

If Burrell had any doubts about her path, Weak Layers has put them to rest. She is a performer and entertainer, with the talent and ambition to not only earn her living, but to play on an even bigger stage. Gentemann perhaps puts it best: “I’ve never seen her so lit up and on fire and her best version of herself than on Weak Layers, because she had the resources to channel this crazy creative energy she has.”

Burrell says she needs a break from the all-out effort of the past few years, but she can’t stop fanning the flames. She and Gentemann continue to create content for bigger and bigger brands. And they’ve just finished incorporating their business, formerly Katie Burrell TV, as Burrell Entertainment, in order to expand their scope. Burrell is seeking representation in Hollywood and meeting with producers to discuss a new featurelength film script she co-wrote with Evan Jonigkeit, who played Gabe on Weak Layers. The new script is a departure from the ski industry: It’s a coming-of-age story about a teenager who spends two transformative summers in France, drawing from— as much of Burrell’s work does—her personal experience.

In Weak Layers, hard-partying Cleo—Burrell's character—is roused from her ski-bum lifestyle by the opportunity to produce a ski film and win prize money. While the character is not autobiographical, there are strong parallels. “I think the biggest thing I connected with, with Cleo, is this sense of urgency that kind of surprises you from out of nowhere,” Burrell says. “And the willingness, as a result of that urgency, to do whatever it takes, to be the architect of your life.” It’s hard to tell if she’s speaking of Cleo or herself when she says, “This has to happen.”

Check out the Live It Up with Mountain Life podcast to hear Katie talk about the transition from outdoor sports personality and director to the hallowed grounds of Hollywood and beyond.

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Curated Brain Snacks


For the first time, the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides has released its technical manuals to the public. The ACMG is thought to be the first member of the International Federation of Mountain Guiding Associations to produce such a comprehensive suite of technical publications. There are five in total; from the popular Ski Guiding Manual to Core Guiding Skills and the Climbing Guide Manual, there’s something for almost every obsession. Check them out at


In Icefields, Thomas Wharton’s soulful reading of Jasper’s steady pulse yields a sense of longing for its early 20thcentury setting: one where miracles can still be unearthed.

With beautiful tempo and a flair for expressing volumes by saying very little, Wharton brings readers to the fictional Arcturus Glacier, where the book’s main character, Edward Byrne, will find himself enraptured by the living ice and what secrets lie beneath it.


Warrior Women is the mother-daughter collective of Matricia and Mackenzie Brown, originally from Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation and now operating primarily in Jasper. Rooted in Cree tradition, Warrior Women encompasses education, corporate training, Indigenous tourism experiences and arts and craft workshops as well as a variety of Indigenous products including, art, beading, leatherwork and an Indigenous line of bitters.

During the summer months Warrior Women host fireside chats, sparking dialog about Indigenous culture with stories, drumming and songs. Visit for more information.


“let us live like wildflowers wild and beautiful and drenched in sun”

The Revelstoke Wildflower Festival takes place July 25 to 28 in downtown Revelstoke and the alpine meadows surrounding town. Come for the flowers, stay for the invasive species walk, farmer’s market and the shuttle to Mount Revelstoke. Make the most of the four-day event by brushing up on your wildflower knowledge ahead of the festival, with the Parks Canada online alpine wildflower guide available at, where you can find more info about this fresh event.

Weaving historic journeys with his eye for nature, maps and vanishing beauty, Wharton’s effort is worth every paragraph as he introduces compassionately crafted characters to wellknown places within Jasper National Park. Though he prefaces the book with a note saying all details matching true events are coincidental, the mind’s eye travels with Wharton up familiar rivers, down area spur lines and into the hearts of the magnetic characters. If you’ve ever felt that mountains draw a special breed of person, Icefields’ cyclical and satisfying journey will affirm that thought. This is a wonderful read.


The cost of traffic management at ever-popular Lake Louise nearly doubled in 2023 to almost $10 million. To encourage users to hop on a shuttle, Parks Canada is raising the daily parking fee to $36.75, up from $21 last year. The hope is that increased parking fees will help sustain the shuttle program while dissuading tourists from driving their own vehicle and contributing to congestion in the area. The parking fee is in effect from May 17 to October 14, from an alpine-start 3 a.m. until 7 p.m. For more info visit



Ten years ago, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies reproduced The Animals’ Alpine Club, a picture book first published in 1910.

Kids—and kids’ books—were built differently a century ago. The rhyming schemes penned by Graham Clifton Bingham are less Frog on a Log, more Keats on the peaks. The book’s publishers weren’t afraid of getting a little dark, either—like when (spoiler alert!) Leo the lion seemingly falls to his death. Things lighten up when the critters reach the alpine chalet and get loose on cider (“They yodelled and sang/Till the rafters all rang”). But still, this is literary porridge: dense yet nourishing.

Like most successful mountaineering expeditions, the story’s twists—those of trail and tongue—are worth the effort. Perhaps that’s why the book was apparently a favourite of famed mountain guide Conrad Kain.


The Western Canadian Youth Adventure Racing Championships will take place September 28 at the Canmore Nordic Centre. The four- to five-hour event features a run-bike-run format that will see teams of three or four use map and compass to navigate checkpoint to checkpoint throughout the park. The race is designed for youth ages 15 to 18 and is a fundraiser for Ever Active Schools. For more info or to register visit


In his new book, author Eric Blehm tells the story of the man whose life changed snowboarding forever and whose tragic death was arguably the worst day in the sport’s history. The Darkest White: A Mountain Legend and the Avalanche That Took Him chronicles the meteoric ascent of winter sports icon Craig Kelly— the “Michael Jordan of snowboarding”—whose extraordinary and inspiring odyssey pushed him into the extreme environments that ultimately took his life.

Blehm, whose first book, The Last Season, was called one of the greatest adventure biographies ever written, has penned a tribute to Kelly’s starring role in the cultural explosion of snowboarding. But the book is also a journalistic enterprise, one which asks still-burning questions about the avalanche that took the life of Kelly and six other backcountry enthusiasts in January 2003.

Digging into that day brings readers into the darkness of loss, while getting to know Craig Kelly is the light. Blehm’s cautionary portrait of the mountains illustrates that Kelly’s passion for the untamed glory of powder surfing wasn’t reckless or foolhardy, but calculated and deliberate—just like his decision to walk away from the spotlight after helping launch snowboarding into the mainstream.

Blehm will discuss his mesmerizing and heartbreaking book at the 2024 Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival taking place this fall.

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you gotta sip that sunshine while you can!

The Milky Way rises above Shelter Bay near Revelstoke, BC. LAURA SZANTO
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Riders Krista Cook and Rob Nowakowski take a moment to enjoy the incredible view on the summit of Jumping Pound Ridge, AB. GRAHAM MCKERRELL
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The prairies transition into the front ranges, Mount Yamnuska, AB. MITCHELL LEONG
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1. Light and fast with multi-sport versatility, the all-new OSPREY TALON VELOCITY 20 ups the ante on speed and efficiency—be it PR-setting, bagging peaks or linking quick laps on the snow. With a running-vest-inspired harness, flexible back panel and lightweight design, it provides access to essentials without skipping a beat. And it’s a bluesign-certified product. // 2. THE NORTH FACE LIGHTRANGE SUN HOODIE is designed for maximum protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays with ultra-breathable technology and an impossibly light and comfortable design you can take anywhere. Accredited by The Skin Cancer Foundation, this hoodie is made to keep you cool and dry during high-output activities. // 3. The ARC’TERYX BETA AR JACKET is created to deliver performance versatility with packable, breathable and durable waterproof protection across the spectrum of alpine environments and activities. The GORE-TEX PRO Most Rugged Technology delivers maximum durability, the helmet-compatible DropHood has an internal collar for added protection and an embedded RECCO reflector improves searchability in emergency situations. // 4. The FJÄLLRÄVEN KEB AGILE TROUSERS are all-around trekking trousers for adventures where freedom of movement, durability and protection are paramount. Made of a double-woven stretch fabric that dries quickly, the trousers boast zippered leg pockets and knees reinforced with G-1000 Lite Stretch. The low-profile design, tapered legs and articulated knees will make these a go-to favourite. // 5. The water-resistant BASE CAMP GEAR BOX from THE NORTH FACE protects your gear from rough handling and uncooperative weather. Collapsible metal kickstands fold down flat when not in expedition mode. Features include secure zippered top pocket, external sleeves and internal mesh pockets, plus a clear window for viewing contents. Get it at Wild Mountain Jasper or // 6. The SMARTWOOL MEN’S ULTRALITE MOUNTAIN BIKE 3/4 SLEEVE TEE is designed with the mountain biker in mind. A regular fit allows for unrestrained movement, reflective elements boost safety in dim light and a longer back hem offers extra coverage. Made with responsibly sourced merino wool and TENCEL performance fabric for breathability, moisture management and odour resistance.

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7. A three-season technical softshell, the MALOJA SPERBERM is made for ascending. Breathable, elastic and weatherproof, you’ll find more uses for it than just ski touring, where it shines brightest. Featuring a storm hood with mouth/nose guard, maximum ventilation and two concealed zippered pockets, this is your new daily driver. Find it at Basecamp Outfitters in Jasper and learn more at // 8. Ideal for paddling, trail running, fishing and all manner of expeditions, the BACKCOUNTRY SKINZ WATERPROOF SOCKS feature a durable nylon outer layer, a thin waterproof membrane middle layer to keep water out and a cozy merino interior to keep feet warm while wicking away sweat. A game changer for adventuring in and around water. // 9. Is there anything better than fresh-brewed, piping-hot coffee at the campsite?

The YETI RAMBLER FRENCH PRESS features a ceramic lining reminiscent of those old mugs at the cottage and the GroundsControl filter ensures no more grounds in your pour. Plus you can run it over with a truck and it will still pour a hot cup of java in a heartbeat. // 10. Tackle summits and carry everything you need with the BLACK DIAMOND PURSUIT 15 PACK. Built with a custom Continuous Fit Harness with a seamless construction that contours to the body for maximum comfort, this pack has quick-access side pockets, trekking pole storage and an external hydration pocket. Made with 100 per cent recycled body fabrics with a breathable back panel. // 11. Take on your next trek in a versatile BARRIER LONGSLEEVE SHIRT.

TEXASHIELD PRO fabric features a plain-weave soft-barrier that helps ward off mosquitoes without any chemical applications. An adjustable collar and roll-up sleeves regulate hot conditions to keep you in comfort, while three pockets stow your phone and other essentials. Available for women and men at SAIL.

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Adventure Awaits in Golden B.C.

To the west, the Selkirk Mountains let out a stampede of glaciers and rock. To the south, the Purcell line up like a row of siblings draped in snow-caked evergreen. To the east, the Canadian Rockies stand guard cold, crisp, and clear. At the center of them all, a waltz of adventure sways in a small town. No matter the season, Golden gets its dancing shoes on, and there’s no better dance floor out there.

Spring brings the wash of winter snowpack for swelling creeks and rivers, and the ribbons of trails come alive once again. Mountain bikers enjoy perfect dirt on the gravity-fed trails of Mountain 7, the home of the famous Psychosis downhill race with 1100m of vertical descent. Riders looking for a relaxing pedal can enjoy over 100 kilometers of rolling singletrack trails right from town in the Mountain Shadows and CBT/Moonrakers networks. Golfers return to lush forests and snow-capped mountains.

Fresh with snow runoff, the Kicking Horse and Columbia Rivers become a paddler’s playground. The Kicking Horse River is renowned for its whitewater rafting, with rafters starting in the calm upper reaches of the Rockies before being delivered 15 miles back to Golden. Several rafting outfits run trips while the water levels are high, taking you for an afternoon of excitement on up to Class IV rapids.

Embark on a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard tour for beautiful mountain views and powerful wildlife experiences in the Columbia River and

Kinbasket Lake Resort

The gateway to the magnificent Kinbasket Lake. Offering lakefront camping with full hookup RV sites, lakefront cabins and tent sites, fishing, swimming, boating, and more!


Wetlands. Home to hundreds of thousands of birds, fish, reptiles, and mammals, spring migrations bring more than fifteen thousand waterfowl to the wetlands for their journey. To prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, please adhere to Clean Drain Dry guidelines and completely wash and dry watercraft before entering a body of water.

The days grow longer and summer begins, and people begin to venture into the alpine. Golden is at the heart of the six national parks: Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Banff, Jasper, and Mount Revelstoke. The area has over 20 backcountry lodges that provide access to remote wilderness with pristine peaks and lakes.

Closer to town, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort offers lift-accessed alpine hiking, mountain biking, and the world’s largest enclosed grizzly bear refuge. Opening in early May, the nearby Golden Skybridge has fun for all with a mountain coaster and Canada’s highest suspension bridges. There are a variety of guided tours from Golden, including scenic aerial tours, wildlife walks, horseback rides, climbing trips, and more.

No matter the activity, relax and rejuvenate in an authentic and friendly mountain town. Golden has a variety of tasty restaurants and a wide range of accommodation options to make your stay feel like home. We hope to see you out there!

Start planning:

Mistaya Lodge

Helicopter access only in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. All inclusive packages let guests enjoy guided hiking, swimming, nature watching, photography, full catering & relaxation!





A startled hiker finds themselves face to face with a mysterious guardian of the woods.

Drawing inspiration from vintage comic books and classic horror films, Banff local Jay Nigro invites viewers to think about the intricate relationship between humans and nature.

See you out there! Winter issue drops October 2024.

I would highly recommend Ivan and Shane for any Hydronic and HVAC needs. Extremely knowledgeable and professional. - Joel M, February 2024, via Google @bvcmhvac Call 403.707.9209 “ Contact us for a free quote Kinley Aitken Sk wxwú7mesh Territory, Squamish, BC

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