ROGER COX Gallery images


Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 16 October 2010

THE Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival always seems able to attract a smattering of big-name guest speakers, but this year event organiser Stevie Christie is spoiling us like a chocolate-dispensing diplomat. Topping the bill for 2010, he has lined up celebrity cyclist Mark Beaumont, who will give a talk about his epic bike journey through North and South America; celebrity climber Mick Fowler, who will discuss his adventures on “Snake God Mountain” in the Himalayas; and celebrity adventurer Benedict Allen, star of several BBC TV series, who, for the entertainment of licence payers up and down the land, has allowed himself to be ritually beaten by tribesmen in Papua New Guinea, shot at by drug dealers in the Amazon and blasted with CS gas. These high-profile personages will no doubt help get bums on seats at the George Square Theatre next weekend, but there are plenty of other, less obvious reasons to get excited about this year’s EMFF. The beauty of this festival is the way it mixes up zero-budget amateur productions with slick, professionally produced features, with the former often proving just as gripping as the latter.

Four Seasons has been granted sneak previews of a couple of homegrown ski films that form part of this year’s programme and, for anyone with even a passing interest in snow-sliding in the Scottish backcountry, they’re absolute must-sees.

The first, Steep Scotland, will be screened on Friday night, which means you get to see it for free if you’ve bought a ticket for the Benedict Allen talk. Filmed this year by ski instructor Blair Aitken, it shows late season descents of some iconic routes, including Aladdin’s Couloir on Cairngorm and Tower Gully on Ben Nevis.

Aitken wowed us a few years ago with his film Cano Bagging, in which he and a couple of mates skied down a series of hairy-looking, Lord of the Rings-style volcanoes in New Zealand. Steep Scotland isn’t quite as slickly produced as its predecessor, but it hardly matters: if watching Aitken and Co flowing insouciantly through critical terrain doesn’t get you excited about winter, nothing will.

When the Steep Scotland crew took on Tower Gully in May the clouds were down, so they weren’t able to ski the top section. A month later, however, when Simon Christy and pals gave it a go, they were greeted with clear skies and soft spring snow.

Tower Gully – A Summer Ski Descent is part of the Mick Fowler package on Saturday night and it shows Christy, Al Reid and John Sutherland gingerly easing themselves into the near-vertical top section before cruising down the rest of the run to a pleasingly mellow soundtrack. At the time of going to press there are still tickets available for both events. Four Seasons says: buy.

IT’S hard to overestimate the significance of last week’s Adventure Travel World Summit in Aviemore, which saw 500 delegates from more than 50 countries – many of them tour operators – converge on the town to network, attend seminars and sample some of the many adventure sports the area has to offer.

Never mind that the event itself is estimated to be worth around £1 million to the town that hosts it, the knock-on effects for adventure tourism in Scotland could be huge. According to industry insiders, Scotland doesn’t really feature on the world map of adventure travel destinations – particularly as far as the lucrative North American market is concerned – but the Aviemore Summit could change that. No figures are available for the value of deals struck last week, but the anecdotal evidence is very promising.

Betsy West runs walking tour operator Wayfarers and around 95 per cent of her business comes from the US. Her current brochure only lists one Scottish tour, but at Aviemore she said: “We will definitely be including Scotland on a new itinerary.”

Peter Grubb of Idaho-based ROW Adventures added: “It’s very clever of any country to host this conference as it provides huge exposure to a wide audience. Scotland was barely on my radar in terms of a possible destination but now it’s very much front and centre. I hope to develop a new itinerary or two here within a year. I have no doubt that Scotland will see increased international exposure in this market in the near future.”

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