From Goldenrush to 3 per cent beer Kicking Horse, kicking fears and kicking butt By Peter Chrzanowski Documenting the development of a mountain resort is a rather curious process, but in the case of Golden, B.C., it was also an opportunity for a road trip and a chance to slay some old demons. Golden was in development mode this summer, as Dutch construction giant Ballust Needham began its eight year transformation of the Whitetooth ski area into Kicking Horse. Golden also hosts the Canadian National Paragliding Championships each August. My ankles were almost recovered from a paragliding accident in Pemberton last year, and I thought it was a good time to get over all that fear and paranoia I had built up as a result of that ugly crash. I felt the only way to do it was to fly solo again — which, in a way, is also what filmmaking is all about. It was time to begin "Goldenrush", the working title for xplorex.com’s documentary film on Golden’s transition from small town to resort. Derek, Pawel and I would start with Golden as a paragliding mecca. After rendezvousing with other pilots at the municipal campground in Golden, we headed up the forest service road to the paragliding and hang gliding launch on Mount Seven. The mountain has earned an international reputation as one of the best launch sites in North America, perhaps the world. Golden has become famous for its "big air", as the locals call it, or extreme thermal conditions which have had people doing cross-country flights as far as Montana. As we looked up from the launch site we were spellbound by the sight of a whole flock of paragliders hovering like lazy Condors. We returned to the top of Mount Seven the next day, Jonesing to try paragliding again. I was to go first and must admit that I had sweaty palms. After all, my last solo flight was a little over a year earlier and had ended with two broken ankles when I hit a house in Pemberton. But now I was ready again. I stood facing the updraft, waiting for that cycle of wind and the feel of it on my cheeks. Then it came. "It’s time; chin to the ground and run, like a chicken, run, run, run, chicken run." Then it came, that perfect gust and before I knew it I was running, then up and soaring above the launch site with all the other cats. I can’t even describe the feeling! Since I carried no vario meter and had little experience catching thermals, I did not fool around here for long. Instead, I pointed my glider towards Nicholson field, far away and 4,000 vertical feet below. This time I picked the biggest landing zone and decided to stick with it. The flight was amazing, as I floated high above Golden then proceeded to make lazy figure 8s in order to lose altitude for my landing. I pointed into the wind, flared my brakes and was suddenly down on the ground, and it felt sooooo good! In the meantime the competition started really going off. The cross-country contest consisted of all pilots starting at a higher launch, a 40-minute hike above the first launch. It was an amazing trek through a beautiful forest. As the trail came out in the alpine meadows near the top we were again spellbound by the colourful gliders hovering in the Rocky Mountain air. Scores of paragliders spiralled their way upwards to gain altitude, then they began their journey southward riding the crests of the mountain ranges along the Columbia Valley. Several years ago a couple of flyers went all the way to Montana. The next day I got an aerial view of the work on Whitetooth. The road to the summit teahouse was built this summer, along with the installation of a high-speed gondola. I had been on a mission for quite some time to fly off the teahouse site in a paraglider. After courting the developers with the proposal and receiving a verbal go ahead, we chatted our way through the various construction departments and barriers en route to the top. Everyone was very pleasant and accommodating and within a few hours I was poised south-eastward with four construction workers holding down my chute and getting psyched for takeoff. The takeoff is always a bit unnerving. Whether you’ve done just one flight or a hundred, the stomach squirrels are there still, each time. I admit that I screamed at takeoff on this one. It was supposed to be one of those aggressive screams, but there also was a good element of fear. The flight was magnificent. I went out into the middle of the bowl, then turned southward, holding altitude for some time before heading towards Golden. Along the way I did, ever so nervously, examine the terrain below. I stuck to my initial plan though, and went for the biggest, safest, and most obvious of landing spots — the Golden Airport, touching down on the lawn outside of Alpine Helicopters. That evening, Golden gleamed all around us in spectacular sunsets which seemed to last forever in the large valley. We met magical folks like Heather and Jim Murphy from Glacier Rafting, the oldest of Golden’s nine rafting companies. Jim and Heather formerly also ran the Whitetooth Ski School and were hoping to be included in the plans of the new daylodge being built. Golden is going through considerable changes right now. Quite a few locals mentioned that Intrawest also promised all sorts of goodies to Invermere when it bought Panorama. Instead the town is still a bit of a ghost town as everyone just drives through to their condos on the hill. Similar concerns are springing up in Golden. The resort is 8 km out of town and the biggest real estate development is planned for the base of the hill. On the other hand there are opportunities for Golden that wouldn’t be there if Ballust Needham wasn’t investing $200 million. August is tradeshow time in Salt Lake City for outdoor sports — and potential sponsors of Goldenrush. So we began the long drive southward, breathing the scent of burning forest all the way through Montana. Salt Lake City is currently a war zone, due to the construction of highways for the upcoming Olympics. "God bless them," I thought. Arriving in Salt Lake City in sweltering heat, we managed to find a Kinkos where, in air-conditioned luxury, we proceeded to put the sales pitch together: Derek finished up designing and printing the xplorex business cards while I prepared hard copies of the proposals. Pawel worked the e-mail. With literature in hand we arrived at the trade show and positioned ourselves with our hempster friends at their Manastash booth. We sussed out the situation then proceeded to fan out across the floor with pitches and proposals in hand. Everywhere we went the answer seemed to be a big "yes". There was interest in our film and the xplorex.com concept. But maybe marketing managers always say yes at tradeshows. I’m finding out now that most of those "yeses" have been qualified. Each evening at 6, to everyone’s surprise, there was a flurry of entertainment activity, including live music, beer gardens and vittles for the 30,000 or so show participants. This was probably like New Year’s for sleepy Salt Lake, where three per cent beer is still the norm. Yet the outdoor business is good business, the Mormons have realized, so they put out a good spread. The tradeshow was exhausting but hopeful. We walked away with a great deal of interest and probably left a few heads turned our way — who were these xplorex cats anyway? Snowbird is one of the bigger ski areas in Utah, but they haven’t heard of Kicking Horse and its 4,200 vertical feet — 1,000 more than Snowbird — at least not yet. Snowbird was founded by Dick Bass, a real character with a southern drawl. Dick was also the first person to climb the Seven Summits — the highest peak on each of the seven continents, although that’s a controversial record. Canmore’s Pat Morrow also has a claim to the title since he climbed Carstenz Pyramid, a 4,884 metre peak in Indonesia. Bass climbed Australia’s Mount Kasciuszko for his Oceania peak, which isn’t as high as Carstenz. Anyway, in Salt Lake we also met Stephen Koch, who has snowboarded five of the Seven Summits. Everest is one of the last two on his list and he’s working hard to become the first boarder to descend the Seven Summits. See www.Stephenkoch.com. With the trade show over and having created some awareness of Golden it was time to head north again. We crossed the border into Alberta at around 4 a.m., and continued straight on to Banff. We must have been a sorry sight wandering into Banff’s New Media Centre after driving for 20 hours straight. It was 9 a.m. and Sara Diamond, head of the New Media Centre, ushered us right into a seminar. People from all over the world were introducing themselves in front of a big projection screen. Finland, Argentina, Serbia, Holland — they’d come from everywhere to trade ideas about the world wide web. The icing on the cake came as Sara announced that we were invited to do a short presentation about how Xplorex works in the afternoon. After Banff, and a little rest, we returned to Golden to check on development at Kicking Horse. Satisfied, and with the paragliding urge satiated for the time being, we headed for home.