Events like the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival rely on volunteers. Sure, you could hire extra staff to perform the same functions as the volunteers, but the cost would go up, and the festival would lose part of its unique character.
We decided early on in our trip planning to volunteer at the festival. Over the years, I’ve discovered whenever I volunteer for something, I receive far more than I give. At Banff, we wanted to give back in some small way, but we also hoped to have a fuller experience as well as an opportunity to peek behind the curtain of a major event, and even meet new people. Such is the popularity of the Banff Mountain Film Festival that they have more individuals offering their services than available opportunities. For us, volunteering at the Banff Festival felt like a privilege.
Since we there the entire week, there were plenty of slots we could fill and the Volunteer Coordinator, Debra Hornsby, drafted our schedule around events we had already purchased tickets for. Speaking of tickets, one of the advertised perks to compensate people for their time are vouchers for event tickets, the number of vouchers received is based on hours worked. There is a volunteer orientation the week prior to the festival, and people who attend the training get first choice at redeeming their vouchers, but there are plenty of folks, like us, who aren’t local and can’t make the meeting. We were filled in on the relevant information by volunteer coordinators during the week of the festival and did just fine.
(As it turned out, we only used one voucher, and that was to go to an event we already had tickets for; we gave our previously paid for ticket to the person who checked us in at the property we were staying. (She combined our three separate reservations (one was a two-bedroom, one a studio, and one a one-bedroom) into one two-bedroom unit so we didn’t have to change rooms during our stay.) We returned the rest of the vouchers to the Banff Center for other volunteers to use.)
Ignoring the vouchers, we received for more than we gave. One of our favorite perks was the volunteer discount at the Vista Restaurant at the Banff Centre. We enjoyed several fine meals there while marveling at the gorgeous backdrop.
We also attended the festival After Party. The After Party is a rollicking affair and is only open to special guests, film producers, featured adventurers, festival sponsors, presenters, staff, and volunteers. It was a priceless capstone to the week.
Volunteers receive Festival badges, and we were requested to wear them to receive our discount at the Vista Restaurant. One evening, after dinner, we attended an event, Psycho Vertical, starring Andy Kirkpatrick. I was still wearing my volunteer badge from dinner and went to ask Andy if he would sign my copy of his book. The badge turned out to be a great icebreaker I had a wonderful conversation with Andy. The next day, Ruth and I were walking down a hallway and Andy, who was there waiting for a friend, called out to us. We had another fantastic chat. Kirkpatrick is funny, quick, intelligent, and engaging; a real joy to spend time with.
As great as all this was, my time volunteering was even better. My first assignment was dealing with trash. The Banff Centre prides itself on recycling and waste management. To do this properly requires sorting refuse at the point of collection. At the Banff Centre, there were four trash/recycle bins, plus a container for liquids. What item goes into which bin can be confusing, so volunteers stationed at the various recycling stations to help the public put things where they are supposed to go.
My duty station was near the front door to the main theatre. A prime spot with lots of people coming and going, but also near many of the vendor booths, and very close to the Clif Bar table where free samples were available. During slow periods at the station, normally when films were playing, I was able to make quick forays to check out the different tables, and fill up on Clif Bars.
My recycling station was adjacent to the Ski Louise table, and I took the opportunity to talk to the people working there, and came away with some valuable beta on areas to backpack next summer. At one point during my shift, author Douglas Chadwick strolled by, and I took the opportunity to talk to him about his book Tracking Gobi Grizzlies, his relationship with Patagonia, and a fun backstory on how his earlier effort, The Wolverine Way, became the first non-climbing book published by Patagonia Books.
Later Chic Scott stopped by to talk with the people at Ski Louise, and I was able to ask him about his book on the history of Canadian Mountaineering, Pushing the Limits, which came out after Sandford’s book, ‘Canadian Alps: The History of Mountaineering in Canada Volume 1’. Chic explained why there wasn’t a Volume 2 (and 3), something I had wondered about for years. My six-hour shift seemed to fly by and was over before I knew it.
The next day, one of the volunteers was sick, and I was recruited to be an usher in the main theatre. I had been scheduled to be a ‘roamer,’ which meant walking between the various building and helping people who might be in need of directions or other assistance. Since the temperature outside was well below freezing, and me being a wimpy Southern Californian, I was more than stand in the theatre and watch more films rather than figure out how to stay warm outside.
The team at the Banff Centre appreciate their volunteers. A few weeks after the festival, we received a ‘Thank You’ card hand signed, and personalized, by nearly a dozen members of the Festival team. This is no small effort on the part of the Banff Centre, but they feel it is important to do this. (Upon our return, we sent Debra a card thanking her for the opportunity to be volunteers and let her know we hope to return in 2018.)
Plans are already underway to return to Banff for the 43rd annual Festival, running October 27 through November 4, 2018. For more information about the 2018 Festival visit the Banff Centre’s website: https://www.banffcentre.ca/banff-mountain-film-book-festival. If you’re interested in volunteering at the festival, registration for the 2018 Festival will open in summer 2018.
If you want to see the best films from the 2017 Mountain Film Festival, check out the Banff Mountain Festival World Tour website for opportunities near you: https://www.banffcentre.ca/mountainfestival/worldtour/usa