THREE THINGS I’VE LEARNED,
WITH CHIC SCOTT
Words by Joanna Croston
Images courtesy Chic Scott
Few people have spent as much time in the mountains, and know them as intimately as Chic Scott. As a historian, writer, and ski pioneer in the Rockies, Chic has gained extensive knowledge and wisdom about the mountains he calls home. In the latest installment of “Three Things I’ve Learned,” Joanna Croston profiles Chic’s contributions and taps into the wisdom of this Rockies legend.
This year Chic Scott will be honoured as the patron of the Alpine Club of Canada’s Annual Guides’ Ball. It’s a special privilege given to someone in recognition of their life’s work and their contribution to the mountain community. Chic is a local mentor, historian and ski pioneer who has spent his whole life touching the lives of all those who call the Rockies home. His writing has reached mountain communities further afield, spreading the rich history of Canadian mountaineering to outdoor enthusiasts across Canada and around the globe.
Chic’s childhood was one of middle-class comfort. He was supported in all he did by his parents from a young age and for a time was one of the most prominent young golfers in Alberta. Once he discovered climbing and the mountains, however, he never looked back. He found his tribe and his calling immediately. The first excursions from Calgary to the hills were climbs on Yamnuska and ski trips with the Hosteling Association to the Icefields Parkway. With no training or knowledge in advance, Chic and his friends relied on common sense and a bit of mentorship from established climbers who were part of the Calgary Mountain Club.
After gaining a bit of mountain experience, Chic went on to do some serious climbs, namely the first winter ascents of both Mt. Assiniboine and Mt. Stephen. However, his greatest outdoor achievements might be the Grand Ski Traverses. In 1967 along with Charlie Locke, Neil Liske and Don Gardner, Chic completed the Jasper to Lake Louise ski traverse. It had been attempted by other parties before but no one had been able to finish the entire traverse. It was a cutting-edge adventure for the day. The 300km route passed over eight massive icefields and lasted 21 days. The team was hit with inclement weather and some challenging terrain, but their choice of lightweight Scandinavian touring gear allowed them greater distances with less effort and this was the key to their success. The traverse is scheduled to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2017.
Chic also spent time abroad in the European Alps where he spent time working as a guide for Dougal Haston and the International School of Mountaineering in Leysin, Switzerland. Through his connections there, he also managed a once in a lifetime gig working with Clint Eastwood on The Eiger Sanction. The Hollywood film is a cult classic amongst climbers today and Chic has done many Eiger slideshows about his time working with Clint to enthusiastic crowds at mountain festivals around the globe.
Chic’s resume is chock-full of great climbs through the years: Mt. Logan, Myagdi Matha (6275m) in Nepal (he was the first Canadian to summit a Himalayan peak), The Aiguille Verte, the north face of The Dru and many, many others. He has also done several grand ski traverses: Rogers Pass to Bugaboos (twice), the Northern Selkirks High Level Traverse and the classic Haute Route in Europe.
However, all his friends unanimously agree that his most worthy legacy to the mountain community is his writing and contribution as a historian. With over 150 articles and a dozen books written, Chic is the foremost authority on Canadian mountaineering history. His endless interviews, research papers and thousands of photographs can be found in the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies archives – a wealth of information just waiting for the next generation to take hold and dive into what is one of the most interesting national histories of its kind on the globe.
Three Things I’ve Learned: Chic Scott
1/ Keep stuff: Chic told me his one regret in life was destroying a bunch of old photographs he had kept from his early days climbing. He’s now diligent about keeping documents and research notes from everything he does. He donates these to the local archives for future generations to use.
2/ You can always find resources: You don’t need money to write a book as Chic knows all too well! He lived for months out of his beat up truck while writing his greatest book, Pushing The Limits. When writing his books he often crashed in friends’ basements or in the meadows below Yamnuska.
3/ It’s never too late: Chic has never stopped adventuring. At the age of 64, he decided to ski a new traverse from Jasper to Lake Louise via a route on the eastern side of the Icefields Parkway. He also just got married at the age of 70, which has sent him on his greatest adventure yet!
Andrew Querner’s The Gift offers a beautiful perspective on Chic’s relationship with the mountains. You can watch it here:
Since 2014, Joanna Croston has been the Programming Director of the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, which sees her reading more than 70 mountain literature books and watching 350 mountain films annually. In addition to being a voracious reader and film enthusiast, she is an avid backcountry skier and has skied throughout North America, The Alps, Kashmir and the Indian Himalaya. As a climber, she has summited many of the classic 11,000 ft. peaks in her own backyard of the Rockies. Her writing has appeared in Highline Magazine, The Canadian Alpine Journal and Alpinist.