Ski films at Fort William Mountain Festival take in Birnam, the Balkans & more

The Fort William Mountain Festival returns next month, with its customary blend of film screenings, talks, workshops and events taking place from 16-19 February. As ever, a wide range of outdoor activities are incorporated into the mix, from climbing and mountain biking to kayaking and paragliding. However, when the programme was revealed last week, the thing that really grabbed the attention was the line-up for the Snowsports Film Session, showing on 18 February. Even by the high standards the festival has set itself, this one promises to be a night (well, an afternoon) to remember.

A still from Good Medicine, by Baptiste Sjostrom
A still from Good Medicine, by Baptiste Sjostrom

First on the bill is The Last Ski Maker in Scotland – a beautifully shot profile of Birnam-based artisan Jamie Kunka, whose stunning creations are lovingly fashioned out of locally-sourced timber. In six-and-a-half mellow minutes, filmmaker Euan Wilding paints a wonderfully nuanced picture of what makes Kunka tick: why he loves making skis, his views on form vs function, how he puts sustainability at the centre of everything he does, and why he chose to ignore the pull of the big city and move to a rural location to set up his award-winning business. Skiers be warned though: if you don't want to splash out on a pair of Lonely Mountain skis before watching this film, you will by the end.

Next up: The Nomad Lines in Kazakhstan, in which skiers Yannick Besançon and Tom Baud leave France in May, as the ski season there is drawing to a close, and head east, to hunt high-altitude lines around Shymbulak Mountain Resort. From here, explains Yannick, "it is possible to reach easily tops above 3,000, 3,500 metres." What constitutes "easy" in ski touring terms, of course, can be somewhat subjective, and Besançon, Baud and friends certainly seem to burn lumberjack-levels of calories in the course of their adventure. Still, the rewards look immense – plus, they get to ski some nearby sand dunes, expand their culinary horizons and have a disco in a yurt. What's not to love?

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From a little-visited freeriding location to a region that has a decent claim to be the freeride capital of the world, the next film on the menu – Arlberg Effekt – shows a posse of big mountain ninjas from the titular Austrian ski mecca doing gravity-defying things in craggy, gnarly terrain. Filmed by Timm Schröder, Daniel Bear and Alex Fuchs, and with a talented cast that includes Dino Flatz, Nadine Wallner, Stefan Häusl and Gigi Rüf, it's packed with ridiculousness from start to finish. By the end, office-block-sized cliff-drops will mean nothing to you unless accomplished with either a double backflip or so many spins you lose count. And the Arlberg Effekt? Turns out it's an actual thing, not just a cool name for a film. As Häusl explains, it refers to the process whereby un-pisted slopes within easy striking distance of the resort are skied so frequently that "the snowpack is getting disrupted so it becomes less likely to develop dangerous layers." The end result? A lower avalanche risk, even after snowfalls. It's a virtuous circle that lends itself to some seriously boundary-pushing skiing and snowboarding.

From here we head east again, this time to Siberia. Directed by André Costa, Luzhba is set in the tricky-to-access ski paradise of the same name: think British Columbia-style tree skiing through feather-light powder, only with the air temperature hovering around -20C during the daytime, and hardly any other skiers around. Costa's all-Austrian crew meet up with local freeride pioneer Anton Lementuev, who fills them in on the history of backcountry skiing in the area. As he puts it, he and his friends grew up in the "dirty city" of Nowokusnezk – a place turned into a major coal mining and industrial centre by Stalin in the 1930s – but "We thought we would create our own new reality." Sadly, since Costa and his team returned from filming, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has changed Lementuev's reality in ways he could never have foreseen, all of which is addressed via a video call.

Real-world issues also feature in the next film on the bill, Fragments Choisis, in which Swiss freeride skier Elisabeth Gerritzen wrestles with how best to advance her feminist agenda in a ski industry that, more often than not, doesn't seem all that bovvered. "I'm in the mountains," she says, "and I'm just thinking 'this is pointless – I am a completely useless citizen.'" By using her platform as Freeride World Tour champ to speak out, however, she proves herself anything but (and, of course, we get some grade-A footage of the so-called pointless stuff, too.)

For the last two films, we’re back on the road again: Good Medicine follows six friends as they explore the skiing potential of North West Norway, while – as its name suggests – Balkan Express charts the bike-and-ski adventures of Max Kroneck and Jochen Mesle, as they journey from Thessaloniki to Munich. Warning: contains angry dogs and hazardous, on-bike toothbrushing.

For full programme details, see www.mountainfestival.co.uk

A still from Arlberg Effekt, by Timm Schröder, Daniel Bear:
The Last Ski Maker in Scotland, by Euan Robinson
LUZHBA: Creating a New Reality by André Costa
A still from Balkan Express