Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour kicks off in Bristol on 6 – 8 April, at the Victoria Rooms showcasing an adrenaline fuelled celebration of adventurers, snow sports junkies and the downright spirited away film makers.

As part of the annual festival, there will be a programme of short films including the red and blue series – featuring a broad range of documentaries, short films and fly-on-the-wall portrayals of some of the most eye opening risk takers. From ’55 Hours in Mexico’ created by Joey Schusler, Karl Thompson and Thomas Woodson, following the trials of four friends as they trek across Mexico’s highest volcano Orizaba. To ‘Pretty Faces’ – a short film directed by Lynsey Dyer and aiming to celebrate the world’s most courageous, defiant women in mountain sports including renowned mountain skier Rachael Burks as she chases her dreams in Alaska.

Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour is now in its 7th year and will be stopping in at 55 locations across the UK and Ireland and featuring over 85 exclusive screenings. The films to be screened were specially picked from the 40th anniversary of the film festival, held in the Canadian Rockies in November 2015.

The films explore the remotest of cultures and lesser travelled corners of the globe, featuring an awe-inspiring mix of expeditions and adventure seekers who are happy to share their experiences with audiences all around the world.

Also featured will be writer Claire Carter and filmmaker Jen Randall as they take their inspiration from the brave and unconventionally motivated first female mountain guide Gwen Moffat who literally rejected ‘normality’ in favour of carving her own reality – through whatever means, to live a life filled with moments that most of us can only imagine in our wildest dreams. Their short film, ‘Operation Moffat’ will be screened in Bristol on 7 April.

We had a chat with Rachael Burkes, star of the show, ‘Pretty Faces’ who has worked alongside filmmaker Lynsey Dyer, both ladies having previously worked as marquee skiers for Teton Gravity Research. Rachael spent 11 weeks filming with Lynsey and an entourage of equally enthusiastic female mountain skiers, to produce this epic to be screened at this year’s Banff Mountain Film Festival.

So, you’re based out of Salt Lake City? What’s a typical day like for you, at the moment and how is the snow?

Typical day is wake up – ski – yoga – beer – dinner. . . Sometimes I rearrange the order of those things. . . It’s been an awesome winter.

If you were the only person in the frozen wilderness (say, somewhere like the arctic circle in the depths of winter) with just your ski gear and an mp3 player for company, what would be your soundtrack to get you out of the wilderness?

Talking Heads ‘Stop Making Sense’.

Favourite energy snacks while in training or just out on the mountains?

Cliff Shot Blocks (or any energy gummy).

Were you a seasonaire worker at all?

I have worked many different seasonal jobs. It’s what keeps the dream alive. I served tables for 14 years, I have worked ski rentals and retail. Now I work all summer, commercial fishing in Alaska to make sure I can ski hard in the winters. I appreciate being outside so the fishing gig is rad for that.  Basically any job inside that enables me to spend more time outside is worth working.

In Bristol, it was Jenny Jones who set the standard in snowboarding, having won the bronze in 2014’s winter Olympics in Sochi – proving that anything is possible when you put your mind to it. What instigated this burning passion within you, to pursue your skiing to such a level?

For me it has always had to do with gender. My drive has always been a radical attempt to blur the disparity in performance between men’s and women’s performance. So basically, I just wanted to prove that girls were capable of more. Girls can jump big cliffs too! I guess though, the single thing that stoked the “burning passion” the most was actually rage: It infuriated me that women were getting recognition as professional skiers just because they were good-looking or in particular: sexy girls. I knew at an early stage in my career (actually the very first stage) that I wanted to be a female athlete recognized for athleticism and therefore set an example of a different path that you might be able to take as opposed to exploiting your femininity.

You founded femalewolfpack.com – why do you feel it is important for young women especially to have a space to reach their highest potential? How has skiing given you a strength of character and a cohesiveness to your own identity that perhaps other avenues in life, might not have highlighted?

I think that physical activity is my “zone”. It empowers me and literally makes me feel strong and powerful I guess you just have to find your zone. Then finding a community of others is a bonus. I feel very lucky to have shared many skiing adventures with incredible women over the past decade. In terms of strength of character, skiing has definitely given me a sense of self-confidence and nurtured all sorts of other life-skills. Safety skills, risk management, learning how to go with the flow, reading people, placing people, physical and mental strength, making light of a difficult situation, encouragement.  It’s been an incredibly anthropological experience: “The study of life with and surrounded by the extreme athlete!”

It sounds as though you had a really wonderful childhood with lots of freedom to explore. Do you feel that not having relentless skiing lessons, gave you that natural flair and determination to develop your own style? Do you feel that there are going to be generations of young people missing out on so many other life enriching experiences that can only be found through really living?

I feel like the computer can be a transport into an equally imaginative and breath-taking setting for some, but it’s not my path. I once had a college professor say, “I hope my children fall out of trees and break their arms some day – it means they were climbing trees”. I cannot imagine a realm of experiential overflow of spontaneous emotion that can be attained without actually being outside. The world is at all of our fingertips now- but that accessibility is attained through the keyboard.


Can you describe the most breathtaking view you have experienced, while out on a ski run? There must be so many moments that you must want to contain in a jar, and save until later.

Haha! To put it in a jar and preserve it somehow! Every memory I have has been preserved. I take my wealth with me everywhere I go and feel pretty rich. Those memories are my daily travel companions. I know that once skiing is over; I’ll have other mountains to climb. I’m a pretty happy person and feel like I was given the gift of ‘wonder’. I hope that even when I’m not flying in helicopters I’ll be able to find the wonder in every experience and I want to be 80 and still skiing.  I want to die in diapers with a sense of humor about it.

Filming ‘Pretty Faces’, you must have formed pretty tight bonds with each other.  How did the experience grow you as a person, and what kept you motivated throughout the process?

Motivation was simple: I decided that I was “all in” for Pretty Faces and I wanted to be able to look back on the experience and say that I gave it everything I had. I wanted to be proud of my every step. I had a few speed bumps but my brother said to me, “Rachael, it’s better to show up and fail, than to not show up at all. Have fun with it. Not many people in the world get to live a dream like you’re living right now.” He’s the wisest younger sibling in the history of time.

Lastly, how do you stay so focused?

You know what I’m focussed on? More so than anything else: Having fun. Work hard, play hard. I want to start a summer camp for girls in the western US one day: that’s my ultimate goal at this point. I want to help girls, stoke them out, and find inspirations for them for the rest of my life. That’s what lights me up.


Banff Mountain Film Festival is in Bristol at the Victoria Rooms from 6 – 8 April. Tickets are now sold out.

For more information: www.banff-uk.com

Main image by Josh Skobland.