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Following in the footsteps of Hans Gmoser

Mountain writer Chic Scott returned to heli-ski pioneer’s roots in Austria in preparation for biography



Among the most memorable days mountain writer Chic Scott enjoyed during three months in Austria last summer was an afternoon spent sitting at the base of Spitzmauer, a 2,442-metre limestone pyramid in the Eastern Alps.

Gazing up at the steep faces and sharp ridges from the Prielschutzhaus mountain hut with Scott was Franz Dopf, who nearly 60 years ago climbed the challenging north face with Hans Gmoser.

One of the first to share a rope with Gmoser, who after emigrating to Canada in 1951 pioneered climbing routes, ski traverses and launched the helicopter skiing industry with Canadian Mountain Holidays, Dopf shared stories about their adventures as young men. Among them were climbing experiences that led to Gmoser and fellow Austrian émigré Leo Grillmair making the landmark first ascent of the south face of the Rockies’ Mount Yamnuska in 1952, shortly after arriving in Canada.

“That was their Yamnuska,” Scott said. “The rock on Spitzmauer is almost identical to Yam. Grey and yellow, moderately loose limestone. They were very at home on Yamnuska.”

Basing himself from Traun, where Gmoser and Dopf grew up, Scott was compiling research for the biography he’s writing of Gmoser, who died following a cycling accident in July, 2006.

“My favourite place came to be a park bench in front of the church where Hans was an altar boy, beside the school he attended,” Scott said.

Scott viewed the giant iron and steel works factory employing thousands where Gmoser apprenticed to become an electrician. He cycled along the Danube to visit Gmoser’s birthplace, and was welcomed as family at Gmoser’s brother’s house. Familiarizing himself with the mountains of Gmoser’s youth, Scott climbed Austria’s highest peak, 3,798-metre Grossglockner, as well as 2,995-metre Hoher Dachstein.

He visited the first hut Gmoser stayed in while on a holiday weekend with a community priest in January of 1947, and where he first experienced the alpine.

A highlight came when Scott retraced a weeklong solo hike across the Totes Gebirge, a 50-kilometre long plateau with a high point of 2,515 metres.

“I hiked for a week across a small mountain range, going from hut to hut, just as Hans did in 1948,” Scott said. “I carried a copy of his journal with me, where he’s being very eloquent, and falling in love with the mountains. I sat out and looked at the same views he did. You could say I was following in the footsteps of Hans Gmoser.”

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