Living the high altitude life: Nicoline Beglinger, Revelstoke and Durrand Glacier Chalet, British Columbia

Text: Bernadette Calonego
Photos: courtesy Nicoline Beglinger

Nicoline Beglinger Enlarge image (© Nicoline Beglinger) If you wonder why the descendant from the old Woermann dynasty, once upon a time owner of a shipping line in Hamburg, ends up taking care of a remote lodge high up in the mountains of British Columbia, then I am tempted to say: Life works in mysterious ways.

But this would be only a half-truth because talking to Nicoline Beglinger, the Woermann-descendant in question, I found out how this happened.

Durrand Glacier Chalet, Nicoline`s home for most of the year. You don`t need a tanning bed when you have this at your door step! Enlarge image Durrand Glacier Chalet, Nicoline`s home for most of the year. You don`t need a tanning bed when you have this at your door step! (© Nicoline Beglinger) Nicoline, who has her unusual first name inherited from some great-grandmother, is just about to fly from Revelstoke to the Durrand Glacier Chalet in the Selkirk Mountains which – on almost 2000 metres about sea level - is only accessible by helicopter.

It is her husband Ruedi Beglinger who built that lodge in 1985. The Beglingers have the exclusive right to use an area of 82 square kilometres for tourism, for guiding ski-tours, hiking and for mountaineering guests.

Eighty-two square kilometres! Can you believe it? This is over three times the size of the ski area in Whistler/Blackcomb! The Durrand Glacier region is the largest tenured ski touring area in North America. Nicoline has a nice size back yard, if you ask me.

This is true German heritage: Bread with a crust. You cannot beat it! Enlarge image This is true German heritage: Bread with a crust. You cannot beat it! (© Nicoline Beglinger) The Selkirk Mountains are part of the Columbia Mountains. The Columbia River that starts in Canal Flats (south of Invermere) and continues to Golden and further North, separates the Rocky Mountains and the Columbia Mountains.

This remote and pristine alpine area, where Nicoline spends about 5 months every year, has over 80 kilometres of hiking trails. All built by Ruedi´s hired trail building crew, his family and himself.  

The Royal family from the Selkirk Mountains: Nicoline and Ruedi Beglinger with their daughters Charlotte and Florina. Enlarge image The Royal family from the Selkirk Mountains: Nicoline and Ruedi Beglinger with their daughters Charlotte and Florina. (© Nicoline Beglinger) Nicoline has a business degree from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and is instrumental in running the family company. She looks after the guests who come to her lodge from all over the world. But I will get back to this later.

First, I have to tell you the story of her parents. Nicoline`s father, born in 1929, was a displaced person, like so many after the Second World War. He had to flee what is Poland today. Because the Canadian government sponsored displaced persons to emigrate to Canada, Nicoline`s father came to British Columbia in 1954 and worked in mines and helped to build tunnels.

On a visit in Germany, he met his future wife (this is where the Woermann connection comes in) at a friend`s place. They got married and traveled to Canada.

I wish I had never known that this paradise existed. From now on, my office life will be torture! Enlarge image I wish I had never known that this paradise existed. From now on, my office life will be torture! (© Nicoline Beglinger) In 1964, the couple bought a dairy farm in the Fraser Valley in British Columbia. “My father had grown up on an agricultural estate, so he knew something about farming”, Nicoline says. “My mother took it on. They were great and had that farm all their lives.” They also had three girls.

“If we wanted pocket money, we had to work”, she remembers. (Now I know, you might lambast me for this, but this is what I would call a German work ethic.)

Nicoline says her upbringing was very German: “We celebrated Christmas on December 24th, and we had wax candles on the Christmas tree. We drove a Volkswagen long before it was cool in Canada to have one. And we ate rye bread and beer sausage for lunch. The entire family spoke German.”

Nicoline preparing to be a stunt woman for a James Bond movie.  Or did I misread this photo, Nicoline? Enlarge image Nicoline preparing to be a stunt woman for a James Bond movie. Or did I misread this photo, Nicoline? (© Nicoline Beglinger) Nicoline still speaks German with her daughters who work in the summer as hiking guides at their mountain lodge. During the rest of the year, Charlotte (21) is studying at the Opera School and Florina (19) at the Film School at UBC.

After university, Nicoline found a great job. And then – fate caught up with her. “In 1986, I found myself on a week of ski touring”, she says. Her guide was Ruedi Beglinger and she fell in love with him. “I think, it is that sense of adventure and the vision he had”, Nicoline says. “He is very driven, very passionate in everything he undertakes.”

She was 24, and he was 32.

How can I sit still looking at this? Take me there, please! Right now! Enlarge image How can I sit still looking at this? Take me there, please! Right now! (© Nicoline Beglinger) When he heard the news, Nicoline`s father: “The girls all fall in love with the guide. She`ll get over it.”

Well, it did not happen.

Nicoline and Ruedi got married in 1990.

Let us ask Nicoline Beglinger some CCQ (Curious and Crucial Questions).

Nicoline, you are a dairy farmer`s daughter. Where does your sense of adventure come from?

I think I got it from my mother. First of all: She married my father! Secondly, she was only 22 and came to Canada! It was a long way for her to go from Hamburg. She must have been adventurous.

What makes you want to look after a remote mountain lodge where you spend almost half of your current life?

This is mountain lodge life – soup and sausage and German style bread and Nicoline`s smile. Enlarge image This is mountain lodge life – soup and sausage and German style bread and Nicoline`s smile. (© Nicoline Beglinger) I can tell you, it is one of the most fulfilling things you can do. You meet incredible people. It is never dull. And it is a great place to raise children.

But there is no school at an elevation of 2000 metres!

At the beginning, I homeschooled my two daughters. But later they had a teacher in the lodge. When we were back in our house in Revelstoke, they went to school like other kids.

What about privacy? You cannot escape your guests in a remote place like this, even if you wanted to!

Yololodyhoooo! Yololodydumm! Yumpi-chumpy-yooooo! Yolo-lodyhoaa! Enlarge image Yololodyhoooo! Yololodydumm! Yumpi-chumpy-yooooo! Yolo-lodyhoaa! (© Nicoline Beglinger) Oh, we have our own little house up there. But most of the time, I am working in the lodge. People need something all the time. There are all sorts of guests, like the CEO of an oil company or a janitor. Everybody loves nature, and this is a sort of equalizer. What is important elsewhere is not important up here.

What kind of guests do you have?

In the winter, we have a mix of Canadians, Americans and Europeans. In the summer, we have mostly Canadians, some Americans and unfortunately only a few Europeans.

What about Germans?

This is your Durrand Glacier Chalet team - one jolly group (Ruedi and Nicoline on your left). And the chef was flown in from Austria and is now trapped on the mountain. Enlarge image This is your Durrand Glacier Chalet team - one jolly group (Ruedi and Nicoline on your left). And the chef was flown in from Austria and is now trapped on the mountain. (© Nicoline Beglinger) We would love to have more people from Germany. But it is very expensive to advertise in Germany. The Germans who do come, though, appreciate the absolute pure remoteness of the lodge and to have a nice clean bed at the same time.

So you are on duty all the time?

Yes, pretty much. I help a lot in the kitchen; I do all the baking and cleaning. And I do the bookkeeping. I basically run the business. But I have the German work ethic: I want to be busy and useful and I am getting joy out of it.

Apart from the German efficiency, is there also German “gemütlichkeit” in your lodge?

I am glad that my bed is already waiting for me. I especially like the book shelf for all my books. Enlarge image I am glad that my bed is already waiting for me. I especially like the book shelf for all my books. (© Nicoline Beglinger) Oh yes! Our hospitality is very German. Guests have to feel they are part of the family. We also have European bedding. We like it clean and cosy. No bunk beds in our lodge, we have 11 double and private rooms with common bathrooms and showers. There is space for 18 guests in the summer.

And what about rye bread and beer sausage for lunch?

I do bake bread European style, with a crust. For the food, we have a wonderful Austrian chef. Our cakes and desserts are made from German, Swiss and Austrian recipes, like Sacher Torte, Linzertorte, Engadiner Nusstorte.

Yummy, yummy! But I get distracted. Do you have time off to enjoy this incredible mountain paradise at all?

Who needs to go to Holland for the Tulip Festival when you have these alpine flowers in Canada? Enlarge image Who needs to go to Holland for the Tulip Festival when you have these alpine flowers in Canada? (© Nicoline Beglinger) Of course! In the summer, I try to go on hikes and in the winter, on ski tours. But I am not a guide. In the winter, I love the silence up here. In my spare time, I read – I can read the newspapers on my iPad - or I play the piano. I am also climbing with Ruedi, but I am not passionate about it.

This sounds very idyllic. But aren`t there dangers lurking in the mountains?

Yes, you are aware of them but you accept it. You think about it but you don`t worry about it. When Ruedi is guiding a tour, I remind myself that other people can get killed in car accidents or they can have a heart attack. The risks are just different.

Nicoline climbing a slippery slope. Ruedi, you have to name a peak after her or it will haunt you for years to come! Enlarge image Nicoline climbing a slippery slope. Ruedi, you have to name a peak after her or it will haunt you for years to come! (© Nicoline Beglinger) Your husband named a few peaks in the Selkirk mountain range. One is called Mount Ruth. Did he name a peak after you, too?

No, he didn`t. I keep telling him that Mount Ruth was named after one of his former girlfriends. He says no, he named it after the Ruth Glacier in Alaska. But I always had my suspicions!

One last question: Can you remember what you did on the day when the Berlin Wall was destroyed (November 9, 1989)?

Sorry, no caption here, I have already left for the Selkirk Mountains. Enlarge image Sorry, no caption here, I have already left for the Selkirk Mountains. (© Nicoline Beglinger) I was at my parents' farm when the wall came down in 1989. For us, growing up, it was always East Germany and West Germany. We didn't know anything else, but I think for my parents it was always Germany. So for them, it was a natural end to the divide. For me it was amazing that history would occur in my lifetime. It was especially poignant for me as I had just done a bicycle trip in the area of Bamberg in October of 1989 and still had that very visual memory of the fence, the watch towers and the dogs. It was a reassuring moment, to know that some bad things are reversible.

 

Have a look at the Durrand Glacier Chalet website: www.selkirkexperience.com

Nicoline Beglinger

Visa stamp by Immigration Canada

Bernadette Calonego, author of immigrant portraits

Bernadette Calonego

Most of our immigrant portraits are written by Bernadette Calonego, a freelance Canada correspondent for European German-language newspapers. Writing about German immigrants in Canada made me realise to what extent they helped to shape this country – and still do," she says.