Hans Gmoser Memorial

Hans Gmoser (1932 – 2006) – Canadian Mountain Pioneer and Founding CAF Director

By Chic Scott

Hans Gmoser, the eminence grise of Canadian mountaineering, died July 5th, 2006 from injuries sustained in a fall while cycling the 1A highway near Lake Louise. In recent years Gmoser had shunned the limelight, content to enjoy his two favourite activities – cross-country skiing in winter and cycling in summer. But during the 1950s, 60s and 70s he laid the foundation of modern mountaineering in Canada. He pioneered rock, alpine and expedition climbing, he popularized ski mountaineering and was largely responsible for creating our professional mountain guides association. Through his films and later through helicopter skiing he made the Canadian mountains world famous.

Born in Brunau, Austria, July 7, 1932, Hans grew up during the troubled war years. As a teenager he discovered the mountains and a lifelong passion was kindled. With his friend Franz Dopf he climbed and skied and developed his mountaineering skills. Then, in 1951, Hans and Leo Grillmair immigrated to Canada. Life was pretty spartan for the pair and their first job was logging near Whitecourt, Alberta. Soon they made their way to Calgary, where they were joined by Dopf. Linking up with the Alpine Club of Canada they began to discover our incredible mountain wilderness. During the summer months their passion was rock climbing, pioneering new routes on Mount Yamnuska in the front ranges of the Rockies. In the winter it was ski touring near the Stanley Mitchell Hut in the Little Yoho Valley near Field, BC. Here they celebrated their first Canadian Christmas and learned to love their adopted country. Hans played the zither and Leo loved to sing so the wilderness cabin was full of music.

Hans’ mountaineering achievements during the fifties and sixties are numerous and a brief list would include early ascents of Mount Alberta and Brussels Peak two of the hardest challenges in the Rockies, a remarkable ascent of the east ridge of Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak, and a new route on the north face of Denali (Mount McKinley), North America’s highest summit. As a skier he pioneered new highlevel ski traverses in the Purcell Mountains and along the crest of the Rockies from Kicking Horse Pass to the Columbia Icefield. For young Canadian climbers and ski mountaineers he was an icon and inspired several generations of fledgling mountaineers. The idealistic articles he wrote in the Canadian Alpine Journal were music to young ears looking for an alternative lifestyle: “What were we trying to do? Were we trying to show off? Were we trying to kill ourselves? – No! We wanted to inhale and breathe life again. We were rebelling against an existence which human kind has forced upon itself. We were rebelling against an existence full of distorted values, against an existence where a man is judged by the size of his living-room, by the amount of chromium on his car. But here we were ourselves again: simple and pure. Friends in the mountains.”

related attachments

  • Hans Gmoser Film Project Between 1957 and 1968 Hans Gmoser produced 10 films of mountain adventure which he then toured across North America.  Many of us have wonderful memories of those presentations: Hans at the microphone dressed in his Austrian sweater, glorious ski and climbing images on the screen and beautiful classical music in the air.  For many of us those evenings were the beginning of our long love affairs with the mountains.  Soon it will be possible to relive those magic experiences. Chic Scott and Marg Saul, in partnership with the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, and with the assistance of professional film-maker Will Schmidt, are digitizing and reassembling these films, just as they were 50 years ago.  To learn more about how you can support this project and to view a short clip of highlights from Hans’ films please go to http://www.whyte.org/archives/projects  

  • Deep Powder & Steep Rock: The Life of Mountain Guide Hans Gmoser     To purchase a copy of this biography contact Chic Scott at chic_scott@hotmail.com

    P.O. Box 1653, Banff, AB T1L 1B5 or 403-763-7296

    They sell for $50.00 plus GST and postage.  Visa and MC are accepted as well as cheques.