Ruedi Beglinger studies the Begbie Falls climbing wall southwest of Revelstoke. (Nathan Kunz/Revelstoke Review)

A life above the clouds: How Ruedi Beglinger has seen climbing change over three decades in the Selkirks

When Ruedi Beglinger first visited Canada over three decades ago, he says he was immediately struck by the wild nature of the nation.

Coming from Linthal, a small village in the east alps of Switzerland, Beglinger had already fostered a reputation as a world class mountain guide, working professionally in the sport since 1975.

However, he says the stark contrast between the Canadian wilderness and mountaineering back home existed in the true natural feeling of the Selkirks.

“To me it was very impressive, you know Canada is big and Canada is wild and you go off the road and you’re in the wilderness. And then you experience it and it’s many times different. It feels like, ‘this is unbelievable.’ It’s so big,” says Beglinger of his first impressions.

“It’s truly a very wild country. You get off the highway and it’s bush. You’re on your own out there.”

When it comes to mountaineering in Revelstoke, few, if any, have built a reputation as grand as Beglinger.

While perched atop a boulder at the base of the Begbie Falls climbing wall, just southwest of Revelstoke, Beglinger speaks softly in his enduring Swiss-German accent, reflecting on the changes he’s seen in his decades of guiding.

Having explored the Selkirks since his first visits in the early 1980s, Beglinger has created a legacy within the mountain sports of ski touring, mountaineering and rock climbing.

Now 63, Beglinger says he’s seen transformation throughout Revelstoke over his time in the city, both in city growth and the attitudes of residents.

“People are not scared to sweat anymore today. They realize ‘If I sweat, if I get tired, I’m going to have a very good adventure out there.’ So they’re not scared to go beat themselves up anymore,” says Beglinger.

That desire to push limits within extreme sports which has taken mountain activities from the fringes of society to its forefront, with rock climbing being the off-shoot of mountaineering which is currently experiencing the biggest boost, according to Beglinger.

“Rock climbing is experiencing right now a huge boom. And it’s sport climbing which grows the most, and lots of people will branch off and go, ‘Ah I maybe want to try a longer rock route or I want to try a rock route in the alpine,’” says Beglinger. “So they want to add some spices to the experience.”

On an international level, Beglinger has noticed the reputation of Revelstoke as an adventure hub has also grown.

While traveling as close as Vancouver or Calgary to visit ski shows in the 1980’s, Beglinger says Revelstoke would rarely ring a bell to other attendees.

Now, while guiding in the Nordics, adventurers know the city by name.

”People ask where you’re from – ‘Canada.’ ‘Yeah but where?’ ‘British Columbia.’ ‘Oh what’s the town?’ ‘Well you probably don’t know it,’” says Beglinger of the locating interactions he had become accustomed to.

Though on a recent trip to northern Norway, responses to the name surprised him.

“’Well of course we know where Revelstoke is,’” he says other climbers would frequently reply.

In 1985, Beglinger founded Selkirk Mountain Experience, building the Durand Glacier Chalet where he resides with his wife, Nicoline, and two daughters, Charlotte and Florina, for a majority of the year.

The appeal of exploring the glacier, according to Beglinger, has yet to wear off after 33 years.

“The terrain non-stop changes, the scenery non-stop changes. I enjoy climbing in other areas, guiding in the alps or wherever it is, but I always like to go back to Durand glacier. There’s something about it,” explains Beglinger.

“It’s an area where you can really meet nature.”

The desire to guide, Beglinger says, came from a desire to share his love of connecting with nature with others.

“It’s not about the powder turns and to even get paid for it — that is sex appeal which wears off pretty fast,’” says Beglinger. “I think most people like to share in adventure with other people, and a guide has to do this. And to me, that’s what it’s all about — sharing something special with other people.”

Over 15 years ago, Beglinger faced widespread criticism for his guiding during the avalanche which claimed the lives of seven climbers ascending the La Traviata West Couloir on January 20, 2003.

Beglinger’s judgment on the day would come into question, with family members of the deceased commissioning a critical analysis of the avalanche that criticized Beglinger’s evaluation of the snow pack on the day and route choices.

Guide Ken Wylie, who led a trailing group behind Beglinger on the day of the avalanche, was also critical of Beglinger’s choice in his 2014 memoir, Buried, which recounts his experience on the day.

RELATED: Out of the snow: Ten years after La Traviata

RELATED: Ken Wylie publishes memoir of 2003 La Traviata avalanche

Beglinger says the choice to continue guiding after the avalanche, however, was never up for debate.

“Sure, we can always throw out the question and say ‘Well why can you keep doing this?’ Nobody can answer this — because you keep doing it, that’s why you keep doing it,” says Beglinger.

“I think every day about these people. We talk everyday about this, every year we have seven candles, that’s something which lives with us, that will never go away. But I don’t think you should necessarily stop what you have done, you just do some adjustments.”

The experience of 2003’s avalanche, as well as rescues else where, have left a lasting impact on how Beglinger carries out his career, causing consistent reflection on what working in the mountains means to him.

“I’ve done, as a young mountain guide, quite a few rescues for other people — in the alps and I’ve done some here — and I’ve seen some pretty bad stuff, and that will not stop me from going to the mountains,” says Beglinger. “It maybe puts the break on you for a moment, until you re-evaluate the situation. You re-evaluate what does it mean to you to be in the mountains, then you continue on wards.”

While Beglinger says taking a hard look at conditions and circumstances, such as weather, partner ability and natural elements, are always crucial in decision-making, he has also learned to never discount the importance of listening to your gut feeling.

“Maybe every sign looks good to you out there, but in your guts, it just tells you ‘Don’t do this.’ Then, you know, don’t go. Don’t override your gut-feeling,” says Beglinger.

As he guides into his 60’s, Beglinger says he continues to enjoy the ability to share the wilderness with others, sumitting both metaphorical and literal peaks along the way.

“If I look back at what made me the most happy, it is guiding, it is sharing the mountains with other people and showing how beautiful it is climbing and ski touring,” says Beglinger. “You don’t have to climb Mount Everest, you can climb any smaller peak, which for you feels like Everest, and that’s what it’s all about.”

While conversations relating to retirement have become frequent, Beglinger says he often brushes these questions aside, as he plans to continue guiding for as long as possible.

“I want to climb as long as I can, I want to ski tour as long as I can,” he says. “It’s funny, people always say ‘So when are you planning to retire?’ Well actually, I’m not planning on retiring. I do something I like to do.”

“If I retire, I’ll still go climbing, I’ll still go ski touring and go to the mountains. So I might as well keep working, because that’s exactly what I’m doing.”


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