A life of adventure: Chic Scott talks about 50 years of ski mountaineering

  • Feb. 23, 2011 8:00 p.m.
Chic Scott

Chic Scott

Chic Scott has been one of Canada’s leading mountaineers for the past 50 years. He’s climbed and skied all over the Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains and his adventures have taken him all the way to the Himalayas. Along the way he’s documented his trips through photos and by writing several books. On Feb. 26 he will be presenting a slideshow of some of his best ski adventures at the Glacier Park Lodge in Rogers Pass from 5-6 p.m as part of Glacier National Park’s 125th anniversary.

The Times Review reached Scott last week to talk about ski touring in Rogers Pass.

What got you into ski mountaineering and what was it that you loved about it?

I started my ski mountaineering back in 1962… In high school, in grade 11 I went with a youth hostel group on a ski touring trip to a place called Parker Ridge near the Columbia Ice Field. I just fell in love with the mountains.

I fell in love with the beauty of the mountains and the skiing. But, I tell you, I really fell in love with an activity where everyone is a winner. I hated the competitive sports where there was a whole bunch of losers and one winner. When you go ski touring everyone was a winner, as long as you come back safely, the whole group can all be winners.

When did you first go skiing in Rogers Pass?

I came in 1963. A friend of mine at university, Alan Sheppard, his father was the warden up at Rogers Pass. I came up with Alan and we stayed in the warden’s home, because the whole family lived up there and I went ski touring in Rogers Pass.

It was difficult, I wasn’t much of a skier and I’m still not but it was fabulous and we skied some pretty exciting stuff.

Do you remember what you skied?

I do remember – and some people get a kick out of this – we skied a steep gully that comes right down the face of Mt. Abbott down to the highway. Now, nobody skis that anymore because it’s off limits.

It’s really steep and I wasn’t much of a skier. I just went from one side of the gully to the other hanging on to trees. I was with Alan Sheppard and his brother Keith and his dad was the warden and they were both very fine skiers. That was my first adventure, going tree-to-tree, but folks who know Rogers Pass will know it. It’s right at the Pass and it’s a steep, steep gully that splits the face of Mt. Abbott right down to the highway. It’s about 40 degrees all the way down. Anyways, it’s not my most memorable skiing moment – or maybe it was.

How often have you returned to the Pass?

I’ve been back many, many times over the years; dozens and dozens of times. At one point I liked to be custodian at the Wheeler hut. They let volunteers be custodians there so they could stay for free and I just loved to stay there.

What’s your most memorable moment skiing in Rogers Pass?

One of my great moments was on a ski guides exam in about 1990. We were up at Bruins Pass and we skied a run called 8812. It goes down for 2,500–3,000 feet – just consistent, beautiful and the conditions were great. I was skiing with a very fine Austrian guide by the name of Rudi Kranabitter and we just matched turns for 2,500 feet and it was just beautiful.

Do you have a favorite run or mountain in the Rogers Pass area that you like to ski?

I think everybody loves the [Seven] Steps of Paradise. The name tells it all. That and the skiing – it’s a long run, it’s not too dangerous. Most of it’s pretty safe. It’s probably the finest of all the runs that everybody knows.

What was it like doing the Rogers Pass to Bugaboo traverse [Scott was part of the first group to complete it in that direction in 1973]?

It was a great adventure. We carried our food for the whole trip so we didn’t have a cache along the way – most people nowadays have a food cache half-way along. We just carried our food and we were out for 15 days living out of our backs. Yeah, we had big packs to start but it was a good adventure.

I did the traverse a second time in 1990, I guided the trip. I took two Americans from Rogers Pass to the Bugaboos and that was a pretty good adventure too.

Do you have a favorite run or mountain in the Rogers Pass area that you like to ski?

I think everybody loves the [Seven] Steps of Paradise. The name tells it all. That and the skiing – it’s a long run, it’s not too dangerous. Most of it’s pretty safe. It’s probably the finest of all the runs that everybody knows.

What do you think of the surge in popularity of backcountry skiing in the past 10-15 years?

I have no problem with it. I love to see people getting out. I’m not an elitist and I don’t want to keep things for myself. I’m the guy writing the guidebook. I’m one of the guys that’s responsible for all the crowds in the Pass because if you look at my guidebook you can see all the places to go.

I think it’s great that people are getting out self-propelled. I don’t believe in mechanized skiing. I’ve never heli-skied, I’ve never cat-skied. I don’t believe in it, I think you should walk up.

To be honest, when you stand on top of one of those peaks at Rogers Pass and you look around you, there are thousands of valleys with nobody in them. If you want to be alone, it’s a little more effort, but you can be alone. There are thousands of places to be alone.

Where does Rogers Pass rank to you as a ski touring destination?

Rogers Pass is the heart of ski touring in North America, it really is. The Rockies, I’ve done lots in the Rockies but I’ve done lots in the Columbia Mountains too. The heart of wilderness, backcountry skiing is the Columbia Mountains of Canada and the heart of the Columbia Mountains is Rogers Pass. That’s the heart of the whole thing in Canada. It’s the best easily accessible ski touring in the world. You won’t get anything like that in Europe.

You’re 65-years-old now and last year you skied the 300 km Jasper to Lake Louise traverse – what keeps you going these days?

I guess it’s just a certain yen, a certain energy. I’m very lucky in that my body has held up very well. My knees and my hips and my shoulders, they work fine. I have no pain anywhere. In that regards I’m very lucky.

I don’t know. I just love doing it. I just love the feeling that the adventure’s aren’t over yet. I love dreaming. I love dreaming up new adventures. I could talk your ear off all night on more dreams that I have, but I love dreaming new adventures.

Do you have any more adventures planned that you want to complete?

I have one that I’m dreaming of and I have completed it already but I’m going to complete it again. In 1967 when I was 21-years-old, with three young companions, we skied from Jasper to Lake Louise but on that occasion we skied over all the ice fields on the Continental Divide, so right along the roof of the Rockies. It’s a trip that I think is probably the greatest mountain ski adventure in North America. It hasn’t been done a lot, maybe a dozen times, and I would like to do it again in 2017.

In six years from now I will be 71 years old and it will be the 50th anniversary of the traverse and I’d like to do it again. I’ll probably go with some younger guides and they can carry the big packs and break trail, and I’ll just carry my camera, a water bottle and tell stories.

What should people expect to see in your talk?

Spectacular, mouth watering images of ski adventure. Be prepared to be amazed by what people do – young people mainly… I know I advertised the slideshow as being on the Selkirks but when I started to put the show together I realized I didn’t have enough really good images of the Selkirks alone so I expanded quite a bit to Western Canada. There will be the Rockies in there, some in the coast mountains and event up to Mt. Logan. It will be a larger scope and it will be all the great ski adventures of Western Canada, old and new, a little bit of history and lots of mouth watering images.