Be forewarned, the film documentary A Life Ascending is not a ski movie as typical of the genre today. There is no boom box music, no flying down the spine of impossible mountains and no tongue waving powder shots. However, A Life Ascending is a movie of skiing life. It is a chronicle of the recent life of Ruedi Beglinger, a man born and raised in the mountains of Switzerland, who made a conscious decision at a young age to make a life in the mountains.
With the tenacity and no nonsense attitudes ingrained by his European Alpine ancestry Ruedi gets himself schooled and certified to the highest degree in mountain guiding. Moving from the Alps to finally settle and ply his trade in western Canada, his European nature leads him seeking to be his own boss and to build his own ski mountaineering guiding business. His dream being to offer to people who love being in the mountains, but are chained to a life in civilization, the opportunity to join him on planned and charted forays into the Selkirks and his domain around the Durrand Glacier.
For about 20 years Beglinger carried on, building a reputation as a highly skilled, widely respected ski mountaineering guide keeping himself schooled in all the advances of mountain safety and preparation. In the course of time Ruedi met and married a lovely girl with the same love of mountain life as Ruedi and begetting 2 lovely children the whole family winters together at the lodge. Secure in love and family, with a business thriving on the growing popularity of ski touring and solid in his reputation for safety and well controlled day expeditions, life in the mountains couldn't be more idyllic - until That Day.
That day was January 20, 2003. That day will forever mark the before and after in Ruedi Beglinger's life. That day a massive avalanche tore down and snuffed the life out of 7 people ski touring under Ruede's watch. Albeit, 6 people survived, saved mostly by pure chance, the event took on a media life of its own. Questions, accusations - implied and stated, and investigations followed.
Finally, although the film kind of wraps it up, Ruedi did nothing out of the norm of mountain guiding. That day he performed all the snow tests of a true mountain man - a man who puts the lives of his guests and his own life out into nature. He gauged the incoming weather and then he made the decision - to go, and to go where. Nature made the next decision. On and after That day Ruedi Beglinger lives with those decisions.
Actually, A Life Ascending chronicles how Ruedi Beglinger lives on with those decisions. In the film we don't get to see the Ruedi before That day. We only know his reputation and safety record was of the highest order. As the documentary starts and Ruedi appears on the camera there is something in his bearing, in his eyes, in the way his smile never seems to fully crease his face. Something bothers this man, and of course, we learn what it is.
This loving family man with a passion for sharing the wonders of mountain life - a passion that rises to the point of bringing and schooling his children in his environment - carries the weight of grief for losing "7 beautiful people" on his watch. No matter what courts or how many investigations exonerated him, all insisting he had no fault, Ruedi made the decision to go.
Like great generals in all the wars ever fought, Ruedi Beglinger lives every day with thoughts of "what if." He speaks in the film that his mountains are his religion and he does take solace there, alone, but even alone he wonders if maybe he should only be out there in the wild alone, and not put others at an unknown risk.
However, this mountain man knows no other way to live. His family is his therapy, and the lone raven that has wintered at the lodge for several years enjoined by the wishes of family and legend to be the spirit of "Dave," a very dear family friend who lived at the lodge and perished on That day.
You should watch this movie not as a ski movie but as a story of a man who loves the same mountains we do. A man who wanted nothing more than share these mountains with family and friends in the safest way possible but who is forever wrestling with what happened on That day. You will take hope that time and family are healing and bringing closure for Ruedi Beglinger. I'm sure the film's Producer/Director Stephen Grynberg, hopes the same, but look close at Grynberg's fading shot of Ruede gaze.
My hope for Ruedi Beglinger, is someday his own words lead him to a place of peace in his heart:
"You can't make the mountain safe - only safer"
To order a DVD visit A Life Ascending.