By G.D. Maxwell
Review: Powder Pioneers: Ski Stories from the Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains. By Chic Scott, published by Rocky Mountain Books.
On May 3, 1967, Chic Scott, Don Gardner, Charlie Locke and Neil Liske knocked on the door of the ranger station at Athabasca Falls near Jasper, Alberta. When Bert Rowe, the resident ranger answered the knock, the four told him they wanted to register out to go skiing.
"Thats fine, boys," Rowe replied. "Where are you off to?"
"Were going to ski to Lake Louise," answered Gardner.
"Well, when you get to Lake Louise just go into the wardens office and register there."
"No," said Gardner, "Were going to ski to Lake Louise."
"Yes, boys," repeated Rowe, "just drive down the road to Lake Louise and register there."
"No, you dont understand," said Gardner. "Were going to ski from here, over all the icefields of the Continental Divide, to lake Louise."
After a long, astonished pause, Rowe looked at them and said, "You know, theres going to be lot of snow up there."
Hoisting 20 kilo, external frame backpacks, dressed in woolen knickers, knee sox and plaid hey, this was the Great White North shirts, clad in leather boots, the four explorers strapped on wooden, cross-country touring skis theyd ordered from Norway and set off in lots of snow.
Two weeks later, they reached their second food and equipment cache on the Columbia Icefield along the Castleguard River and breathed a sigh of relief. Theyd reached the point where, in 1960, Hans Gmoser, having attempted the traverse from south to north, had given up. The rest of the route was at least documented. They felt, for the first time since theyd left ranger Rowe, they were on familiar ground.
A week later, on May 23 rd , the quartet skied up to Wapta Lodge, indulged themselves in celebratory pie and ice cream and went their separate ways, having skied into history as the first explorers to successfully ski what has come to be considered one of Canadas grand ski traverses. It had been an uneventful, and in their own estimation, almost boring transit.
But it was a pioneering effort and therefore most worthy of inclusion in Chics latest book documenting skiing and climbing in Canada, Powder Pioneers: Ski Stories from the Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains.
Piecing together a mountain of research scattered throughout the newspapers of western Canada, the journals and diaries of those long dead, tiny museums in tiny towns, the clouded and distorted recollections of those who remembered and those who posted noteworthy accomplishments themselves, Scotts book traces the history of skiing in western Canada from Olaus Jeldness to Thomas Grandi.
Powder Pioneers covers the early days before the turn of the 20 th century when skiing pretty much meant ski jumping. It traces the development of downhill skiing and the earliest ski resorts, the famed backcountry lodges of the Rockies, the development of helicopter skiing and the exploratory arc of ski mountaineering. In documenting his own and the other grand traverses of the Rockies and Columbias, Scott leaves his readers anxious to start pouring over maps and planning their own trips.
While the book embraces all things to do with skiing, the chapter devoted to extreme skiing and, particularly, the attempts to snag the ultimate Canadian first descent the north face of Mount Robson, is one of the books highlights. Nearly 800 metres high, Robsons north face drops away at an average angle of 57°, has a few cliff bands for good measure and gets mercilessly pounded by the prevailing winds and storms.
From the early and repeated attempts to ski the face by Doug Ward to the circus-like effort in 1980 by then Whistlerites Peter Chrzanowski, Chuck Hammond and Jacques Thibault, to the final, almost anticlimactic success of fellow Whistlerites Ptor Spricenicks and Troy Jungen in 1995, the stories of attempts on Robson takes readers from the edge of their seats to rolling on the floor in hysterical laughter.