She grew up in a community where people went up into the mountains for a variety of reasons. And much of them had nothing to do with sports. “Every year” recounts local heli-ski guide Helene (pronounced Aylaynee) Steiner, “there was a big mass held in an alpine bowl high up above our village. It was a huge event for all us.”
Austrian-born and raised — right on the border between Tyrol and Salzburg provinces — Steiner is a laughing, smiling, high-energy advertisement for the outdoor active life. But it’s when talk turns to special mountain moments like this that her eyes really begin to sparkle. “I remember those times so well,” she says in her still-lightly Tyrol-inflected brogue. “Everybody in the village was Catholic in those days so everyone climbed up for the mass.” And then she chuckles. “Even the priest. It was quite a sight to see all the key people in the community sitting outside in this great mountain amphitheatre while a traditional mass was being celebrated.”
Talk about a “natural cathedral”…
But that was only one example, she says. There were alpine cultural traditions in her homeland that even pre-dated Christian times. On Midsummer’s Eve, for instance, great fires would be lit on the ridges and peaks above the country’s villages and towns. “It was an amazing sight,” she says, “to watch, first one great fire burst into flames, then another and another and another, all along the high ridges, all the way to the horizon.” And like the mountain mass, this was an event in which everyone participated. “It was a big celebration, for sure. It was something you really looked forward to…”
And then in true Helene-Steiner fashion, she launches into an impassioned plea for the re-launch of a Whistler classic. “All this talk of mountain celebrations,” she says, “brings me to an event I’m really sad has disappeared.” She frowns in mock concern. “What ever happened to Symphony In The Mountains?” she asks. And sighs. “I’m not a great classics connoisseur or anything, but I was lucky enough to attend an event at the top of Whistler Mountain a few years back and the orchestra was playing one of my favourites — Tchaikovsky’s Concert in B-Minor.” Another long sigh. “I remember sitting at the Roundhouse on that beautiful sunny afternoon and listening to that music and totally getting carried away…”
She laughs — just a little bit self-consciously. “It brings me goose bumps just thinking about it,” she admits.