The Globe and Mail
Canada’s National Newspaper
Hiking up the aisle
Couples are trading the church for the mountaintop, the gown for the scuba gear writes GAYLE MacDONALD. Call it the extreme wedding.
By Gayle MacDonald
Saturday, May 3, 2003 – Page L1
The e-mail read: “I am marrying my best friend in July 2003. We want to get married on a river trip. Open to any western location as long as the water is high and fast. Are you that adventurous?”
The query was sent to Rabbi Jamie Korngold, a 36-year-old fanatical skier and all-round sportswoman who estimates that she gets 20 such requests a week from eager-to-be-extreme brides and grooms.
Known simply as the Adventure Rabbi to fans and followers, Korngold set up her independent rabbinical service (http://www.adventurerabbi.com) just over a year ago in Boulder, Colo. Since then, she has been inundated with requests from people around the world, clamouring for wild and rustic events that allow them to commune with nature, get in touch with their spirituality and test their physical fortitude.
In ever-increasing numbers, couples are exchanging vows while swimming underwater, jumping out of planes or hiking Kilimanjaro. Parents everywhere are confused and horrified mothers-in-law are being handed bug spray and backpacks or getting blustery rides up Whistler’s Peak.
Korngold stands up for the untraditional approach. “I think people are looking for simpler ways to celebrate. Many of us are seeking out potent experiences of connection with friends and family. A wilderness wedding cuts through to the core of what a wedding is: a celebration of love.”
She was inspired to become the Adventure Rabbi after she took the helm of the Temple B’nai Tikvah, a Reform congregation in Calgary. She often hiked the mountains of Lake Louise and Banff, and soon realized that a four-walls-bound faith was not for her. For this generation, life (and therefore weddings) is not a spectator sport, she explains.
In recent months, Korngold (who marries Jews and non-Jews) has ascended 3,600 metres to the top of Colorado’s Copper Mountain, where she united a pair dressed in Gore-Tex as attending snowboarders held down the bride’s veil.
She has helped people tie the knot at a granite altar at Yosemite National Park, in the deepest part of the Everglades, on snowcats in the rugged backcountry near her home and in a tepee in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
“In December, I officiated at a wedding in the back bowls of Vail for a couple who had met skiing and was at their happiest in the mountains,” Korngold says. “They feel the mountains bring out the best in them because they have to rely on each other, help each other, overcome challenges, share moments of beauty, et cetera. They also feel skiing is a metaphor for marriage — the goal being to gracefully take what the mountain gives you, ski down together, but each with your own individual style.”
On that joyous occasion, a party of 26 rode up the mountain on the gondola. The bride wore a wedding dress and white Sorels.
In Canada, British Columbia has become a hot spot for alternative weddings.
Shelley Bartle-Reed, manager of meeting and incentive sales for the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort, says she and her team can barely keep up with wedding requests.
The town’s three wedding-planner outfits are run off their feet, while the two wedding commissioners have been dragged all over, to officiate, for instance, at Fresh Track ceremonies (which involve getting up at 5 a.m. to make it to the top of the mountain for the 7 a.m. virgin powder), alpine lakes and helicopter-accessible-only locations where bridal parties routinely break up after the ceremony to whoop and roar their way down the mountain and over cliff jumps.
Pascale Grise, a Montreal-born fashion stylist who now lives in New York with her photographer husband, Alban Christ, deliberately went the non-conventional route when she was married.
For their September 2000, nuptials, the couple and 10 guests assembled on an arid mountaintop with a spectacular view, just outside Santa Fe, N.M. The couple had considered having their wedding in France (too expensive and a logistical nightmare) and then, while researching locales, found a reverend on the Internet who offered ceremonies with Tibetan and American Indian influences. They liked the sound of the minister. That cinched it.
During the vow exchange, Grise, Christ and their guests were purified with an eagle feather. All the while, the bride and groom faced family and friends. “We didn’t want them looking at our butts all the time,” Grise says bluntly, referring to the traditional church service that has backs to the crowd.
“There was an infinite view all around us. The day was sunny and clear. We didn’t want a big wedding. We didn’t want a religious ceremony,” adds Grise, who has lived in Manhattan for five years. “It was important for us to be together, to share love, passion, and life with family and friends in a very intimate, very pure way.”
After the ceremony, the wedding moved to a lush, green forest for a catered picnic (hardly roughing it) of rosé vintage Veuve Clicquot champagne, seared ahi tuni, grilled gulf prawns and a sauté of wild mushrooms, fontina and fresh sage wrapped in filo. A harpist played in the background while the guests munched morsels on cushions.
“I wanted it to be away, and close with nature,” Grise says. “Our feet were not on concrete. It was the real thing, the real emotions.”
Just last month, the Adventure Rabbi herself tied the knot, with an e-mail marketer she met in Vail (he was ski patrol). The ceremony took place the day after a snowstorm at Boulder’s Chautauqua Park. Like her legion of followers, she preferred to hike up a trail rather than walk down an aisle.
“For me, there’s something in the effort,” Korngold says. “It’s not just about using nature as the backdrop, it’s also about using your own steam and power that makes us really feel part of this larger system. Part of God’s creation as we were intended to be.”
You’ll love each other to the ends of the Earth, so why not get married there?
Rabbi Jamie Korngold marries couples almost anywhere — on ski trips, rafting journeys and climbing adventures. Services are offered for Jewish, non-religious and same-sex couples.