Hans Gmoser, a Canadian Mountain Legend
Updated: Apr 20, 2022
By Chic Scott
Hans Gmoser came to Canada from Austria in December 1951. He was nineteen years old and had only a few dollars in his pocket, but he had dreams, ambition and energy. Eventually he became a mountain guide for kings, queens and prime ministers and received the Order of Canada in 1987 for his contribution to the Canadian mountain community.
I first met Hans in the autumn of 1963 when myself and several of my young friends helped Hans and Leo Grillmair carry a new wood cooking stove to the Stanley Mitchell Hut in the Little Yoho Valley. In the evening after the stove was installed in the hut, listening to Hans play the zither and Leo sing, I knew I had found my home in the mountains.
A month later, attending Hans’ presentation of his film Skis Over McKinley at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary, Hans taught me an important lesson. At the intermission, Hans was mixing with the crowd in the foyer of the auditorium. When he came up to me and said, “Hello Chic, how are you tonight,” I was thrilled. I learned that the nicest thing you can do for someone is remember their name.
Hans had learned to climb and ski in the mountains of Austria and when he came to the Rockies he was smitten. It was at Mount Assiniboine that he really fell in love with the Canadian Mountains and decided to stay in this country. He pioneered rock climbs on Yamnuska, led expeditions to Mount Logan and Denali, and led ski traverses along the crest of the Purcells and along the Continental Divide in the Rockies.
Hans got a mountain guides licence in 1956 and soon had a large group of clients. He organized and led ski camps at the Stanley Mitchell Hut and at the Wheeler Hut in Rogers Pass and in 1965 he started the first commercial heli-ski operation in the Bugaboos. His fledgling company, Rocky Mountain Guides Limited grew rapidly and eventually became Canadian Mountain Holidays, employing hundreds of staff and guides and establishing Canada as one of the premier ski destinations in the world.
Hans was an eloquent speaker and writer. Between 1957 and 1967 he created ten films of climbing and ski adventure which he showed to eager audiences across North America. These film have now all been digitized and remastered and are now available through the Whyte Museum gift shop.
Hans and I became good friends during the 1990s and early 2000s. We loved the old stories and Hans supported my work as a historian and writer. We would certainly have collaborated on many projects in the future but Hans died in a cycling accident in 2006 before this was possible.
Luckily, I had recorded and videotaped an interview with Hans in 1996 in his home in Harvie Heights, near Canmore. In this brief session Hans tells the story of learning to climb in Austria, coming Canada and discovering the Rocky Mountains. He tells tales of climbing on Yamnuska, his expeditions to Mount Logan and Denali, and even tells us of how he got his mountain guides licence from Walter Perren in 1956.
This interview is a real gem. Of course, I could have recorded half a dozen interviews with Hans and still just got a few of the stories of this remarkable man. But I got some of the stories and they will be available for us to enjoy with the Pushing the Limits: The Legacy project. I hope that you enjoy his stories as much as I did.
Image 1: Professional Portraits, Hans Gmoser On Mt. Louis, 1961, photograph/Clair Brown, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Hans Gmoser fonds (V68/V/PA-490)