Raw and Real: Mountain Life

Its no secret that “adventure” has become somewhat of a popular thing these days. Adventure sports are becoming more popular, the adventure industry is booming with business, and people travelling the world is at its peak.

I made the decision to move to the mountains from Ontario nearly five and a half years ago. When I first moved to Banff for a summer, it opened me to a whole new side of myself that I didn’t know existed. I was drawn to explore this side of myself more so I made the move permanent and I have never looked back. Over five years later, it is still one of the best decisions I have ever made. However, that does not mean it has all been easy.

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(My first hike when I moved to Banff)

Over the last five years, the opportunities I’ve had, the adventures I’ve been on and the sights I have seen have been nothing short of incredible. I am one who likes to share often what I get up to on social media and there is one thing I have noticed often in doing this. Friends, comments on Instagram, messages from people at home, often speak to the same topic; how lucky I am to live where I live, to be able to do the things that I do, and how they are jealous and wish they could do the same or want to do the same.

To this statement, I cant disagree. I feel incredibly lucky to live in my beautiful mountain home of Banff. Waking up to incredible views everyday, being surrounded by mountains at home and at work, and getting to play in the mountains every chance that I get, it is something I will never take for granted. Weekends, before work, after work, this is literally my backyard and it blows my mind and fills my heart with gratitude every single day. As to the comment from people about wanting to do the same or wishing they could, this is for you. I want to address the reality of “Mountain Life” to you. These words are for you.

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(Work all morning, hike in afternoon/evening)

Living in a small mountain town is amazing, beautiful, challenging, sad, and hard all at the same time and all in the most beautiful, puzzling way. I’ve always considered myself to be a positive “glass half full” kind of girl, so I want to start by addressing the challenges and end with what I have to say on the incredible side of things. I want to open your eyes to all the aspects of mountain life; the amazing and tough, the happy and sad, and the beautiful and the ugly. I hope these words give you raw, real, insight into everything that encompasses this crazy mountain lifestyle.

Here we go… the unfortunately (not so) pretty side of living in a mountain town:

MONEY 

I understand that arguably this is a not so pretty side of life in general, but I personally feel it is a daily struggle of living in the mountains. The cost of living is high, the cost of goods and services is high, and overall the average wage/salary is lower than those living in an urban, city area.

I have friends from Calgary who always talk to me about how much they want to live in the mountains, but how they refuse to take less than say a $90,000 salary. To you, I admire your dreams and motivation, but I say GOOD LUCK. I am not saying this is impossible, however, most people in mountain towns work on minimum wage, or make the core of their money off of tips. If you are lucky enough to score a higher paying job, than you are one of the lucky ones but there are few. Even jobs that pay higher still don’t pay what you need to thrive in a town like this. Don’t get me wrong, its do able! You can survive, pay rent, pay groceries, and have a little extra if you are lucky, but if you are looking to buy property or save for travelling, it definitely takes a lot of hard work and time. Most people here work more than one job in order to have some savings. I know personally at one time, I held three jobs in order to help save for my hobbies and travels.

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(The team at Lululemon Banff, back in 2013)

Friends

Mountain towns are transient. People come and go with the seasons. This gives you so many opportunities to meet new people from all over the world. It really is beautiful getting to meet so many different personalities and culture, but unfortunately, it also means that the people you love will leave when its their time. Its hard to make connections and get to know some seriously amazing people, and then have them leave. It wears on a person after time. It also makes it hard to open up to new people when they say “hey I am here for the winter season.” You get scared of putting yourself through the heart ache time and time again.

This reality is for friendships and also romantic relationships. It makes finding a partner hard. Personally, a good percentage of the men I’ve dated have been from opposite sides of the world. It ain’t easy, let me tell you that! Visa restrictions, different homes, the emotions of “what ifs”, it sure takes its toll on you and your relationship.

Luckily, there are some INCREDIBLE people who stick around town permanently or long term. I am not saying friendships and realtionships are doomed. However, it is definitely something to be aware of and to prepare yourself for as you start new relationships here.

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(One of my best friends, who now lives back in Ontario)

Tourism

Tourism is what keeps these towns alive! Who doesn’t want to travel to these beautiful mountain towns and see all the incredible things they have to offer?! Tourism in Banff has grown like crazy even in the five years I have been here. I notice it on a daily basis.

Winter (surprisingly) isn’t so bad. It’s a longer season, there are multiple resorts to visit, and typically town is only busy on weekends and holidays. Winter here is peaceful, quiet, and oh so enjoyable. Summer on the other hand… well, lets say its get a bit (ok a lot) too much. EVERYONE wants to visit in the summer, and I don’t blame them! The lakes are beautiful and blue, the hikes are clear of snow, and the opportunities of things to do are endless.

With the crowds however, come garbage, (*cough*) stupidity, over-crowding, etc. It gets difficult to live in a town where you are bombarded by people at work all day, at the grocery store, walking to the post office… the list goes on. It really does drain your energy and leave you wanting some quiet time at the end of the day.

It is also quite painful to see your home get trampled on and disrespected. By this, I mean seeing people get to close (or feed) animals and leave out their garbage, making animals become too used to humans and their activity. Over the years living here, you get to know some of the local animals, and unfortunately as a result of this poor human activity, these animals end up getting put down. Its absolutely and utterly heartbreaking. You see your favourite trails get covered in garbage. You see people camp illegally on fragile lands. These sort of things hurt my heart to see. This place becomes your home. You love it. You want to protect it. It hurts to see that booming tourism brings in individuals that simply come here and disrespect it.

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(Illegal campers in Larch Valley, which unfortunately isn’t uncommon to see)

Climate

Its no secret that mountain weather is unpredictable, baffling, and at times just simply funny. The forecast can be 30 degrees and bluebird skies, and yet on your afternoon hike you get a mid July snowstorm with some lightning thrown in. It is certainly an interesting climate and weather system to live in to say the least.

The climate provides its own unique challenges to live in. Long (long, long) winters and beautiful short summers. When you live in this town long enough, you learn to love and appreciate each season for what it is. In the winters you find activities to keep you busy and warm, such as snowboarding, ski touring, ice climbing, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. There is so much fun to be had!

However, and maybe its just me, but winters are hard. The activities are fun, but the days are short and dark. The temperatures are cold. It weighs on a person after a while. Dark days and little sunlight can play with you mentally. Seasonal depression is a reality for many.

The summers are short but oh so sweet! People get out and about as much as possible and soak up every ounce of sunshine they can get. However, with many summers now come forest fires. Rising temperatures and dry conditions are leading to very smoky summers. The smoke can block the sun at times, it can rain down ash, and it definitely puts a damper on outdoor activities. For many in mountain communities too, this issue threatens their homes. Their communities are getting evacuated, burnt down, and their lives are destroyed.

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(All the coats and cuddles to keep warm on a -30 degree day)

All of the above is not written to make you feel negative, or to say that mountain life is awful. It is simply written to bring to light some of that harder challenges and struggles of living the mountain lifestyle. It is my attempt to be real, and to prepare you for some of the realities before you make the permanent decision to move to a little mountain community. It is wonderful, but it is important to understand all that you are getting yourself into.

Now, with those negative points out of the way, I am very happy to shed a ton of light on all the incredible parts of living in these beautiful places.

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(Pre-work sunrise hike up Mount Rundle)

Without further adieu, here are some of the amazing (and maybe obvious?) parts of living in one of the most beautiful places in the entire world!

MOUNTAINS! (duh!)

There really is something utterly magical about living surrounded by these incredible peaks. Its humbling, breathtaking, and makes you grateful for everyday you step outside your front door. The activities, adventures, and possibilities are endless.

When you work shift work (as most mountain people do), you have so many opportunities to get after things before and after work. Want to go for a sunrise hike before your 8 hour shift? Lets do it! Want to hit the crags after work and then get a beer on a patio with a mountain view? Absolutely! You can maximize the best weather days even if you work, shred some knee deep pow before hitting the office for the evening, and you can simply read a book in the park and look up at these magical beasts.

People definitely gravitate towards idyllic mountain towns for this lifestyle. I know that’s exactly why I did. It is incredible being able to get out all the time. Short adventures, long adventures, days off, days you work… there is a giant world right outside your doorstep and it is yours for the taking.

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(A day off on top of the Grand Sentinel)

Like-minded individuals

As stated earlier in this post, as much as friends can be difficult to find who stick around town long term, the beauty is that the people who do are more often than not, like minded and kindred spirit to yourself. It takes a special person to spend years and years and years in a transient mountain town. These are the people you connect with on so many levels. They understand your passions and hobbies, they understand your struggles with money and friendships, and they understand your crazy work/adventure schedule.

These are the people who understand quality relationships. They know what its like to see people constantly go, so they keep the people who stay close to the heart. You will adventure together, go to events together, and talk deeply about your dreams and passions. It is amazing to find friends who you connect with in ways you didn’t think possible. These are the friendships that will truly make an impact on your life. These are the friends for life.

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Small community

The community that exists in these towns is nothing short of incredible. In Banff, I am constantly in awe of the community that exists. People are truly one.

In this sense, I mean the way people come together is beautiful. If a member of the community is hurting, people rally together to help out, and not just in a small way. I have seen it happen time and time again. A community member get hurts or gets sick, and the community comes together to help them out in massive ways. Money, items of need, time, anything. The people in this community give and give and give.

They are there for each other in positive times too. When someone has a baby, everyone is happy to pass on old items or give their time to help a new mom. When people are fundraising for trips and expeditions, people give generously. When someone puts their passions on show, people show up to hear and see what they’ve done.

These are the people who you will go on multi-day backpacking trips with. These are the people who when the weather turns grey, you will spend the evening binge eating crappy (but awesome) food with. These are the people who will comfort you when you are lonely and homesick. These are the people who will welcome you back when you go away on travels. These are the people who will drop anything to help anyone in this community in need. These are YOUR people. Just writing this makes me smile thinking of the amazing community I am so lucky to be apart of.

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Your life is your vacation!

This is huge. YOUR LIFE IS YOUR VACATION. Living here you have reached the ultimate achievement of living a life you don’t need to escape from. I think a small percentage of the world is lucky to live this way and its pretty beautiful. Sure, you still travel and vacation elsewhere, but you do so to see the world, not to escape from a reality that exhausts you.

Its amazing the difference this makes on your overall happiness. Not longing for those two weeks a year you can take off, but rather, making the most and enjoying every second of exactly where you are.

That is one thing I noticed was a huge difference when I moved from Ontario. Back in Ontario, everyone got out and did fun things on the weekend, but they lived for the weekend! Here, people live for everyday. They know their passions and hobbies and even if they work full time, they get out to enjoy and do the things they love everyday.

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(Sunset hike after work up Tower of Babel)

Living in a mountain town isn’t for everyone. Some people love the city, others love the country, where some people crave to live surrounded by the most beautiful peaks. The town is small, its often crazy with tourists, and the costs are high. However, living in a mountain town is one of the most beautiful things. Amazing people, endless activities, and maxing your days in the best way possible. As I said, it isn’t for everyone, but it seems like more and more people are drawn to these places. Maybe its their presence. I know for me, living everyday surrounded by something so massive puts the rest of my life into perspective. Struggles, challenges, I know they are small and that I will get through them. The world is so big.

There is a lot to consider before making the move to a mountain town. Higher costs, lack of affordable housing, crowds, its not always glamorous. However, living everyday surrounded by likeminded people who become family, playing outside in the best backyard out there, and truly being happy with your everyday life makes it all worth it, at least for me. I hope my above words give you some insight into the highs and lows, the realities, and the wonders of what living the mountain lifestyle can bring.

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