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Legendary figure died after cycling accident

Hans Gmoser, father of heli-skiing

Rocky Mountain Outlook

Canada’s mountaineering community was left reeling last week with the news that one of its giants, a man who blazed trails, conquered peaks and revolutionized the outdoor recreation industry in the Canadian Rockies, was gone.

Hans Gmoser, 75, died Wednesday, July 5, two days after a cycling accident on the 1A Highway west of Banff left him in critical condition in Calgary’s Foothills Hospital with a broken neck.

"It’s a staggering loss to the mountain community and the larger community in general," said climber Barry Blanchard, who has known Gsmoser for 15 to 20 years.

"He was a father figure for a whole couple of generations of young mountain guides."

Marty Von Neudegg, Director of Corporate Services for Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), the company Gmoser founded in 1957, said the entire company was stunned when they learned the news late in the day.

"We’re profoundly sad… but on the other hand, Hans was an incredibly great man, the reason we’re all here. Thousands of people have worked at CMH, tens of thousands have enjoyed what he created. We count ourselves lucky to have known the guy – this is really hard on us.

"In these parts, he’s as great as they get."

Police said Gmoser was cycling alone Monday, July 3 when he approached a group of vehicles at the side of the road at about 1 p.m. He collapsed and one of the people at the scene made an emergency cell phone call to Banff RCMP.

The incident occurred near the Muleshoe picnic area about eight kilometres west of the junction with the Trans-Canada.

"A gentleman there was a retired ambulance attendant," said Const. Brian Fitzpatrick. "He gave first-aid and did an excellent job. I understand AR (artificial respiration) was given."

Gmoser was transported to Foothills Hospital. Initial reports were that a recovery seemed possible, but it was not to be.

Gmoser, along with his wife Margaret, was known to be an avid cyclist, and it was not unusual for him to cycle by himself.

"He was an active man his whole life… very strong, very fit," said Blanchard. "I would run into him on minus 30 degree days up at the Nordic Centre, when the only people skiing would be myself and him and maybe Sylvia Stettler. Road biking and Nordic skiing were things his knees could handle, and he kept at it his whole life."

Gmoser, a long-time resident of Harvie Heights, near Canmore, retired in 1991 from the company he founded in 1957. In April of this year he was recognized in Washington by the Canadian ambassador to the United States, Michael Wilson, for his contribution to Canada’s mountain heritage. Gmoser was in Washington at the National Geographic Society headquarters presenting some of his climbing films and stories as part of a lecture series called National Geographic Life.

His impact on the landscape is immeasurable. Born in Austria in 1931, he arrived in the Bow Valley in the early 1950s and began working for Lizzie Rummel as a mountain guide at Sunburst Lodge and then for Erling Strom at Mount Assiniboine. He became a founding member of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides, and with the creation of CMH and its growth, single-handedly employed more mountain guides than any other organization in Canada.

His climbing and mountaineering exploits are legendary, including a first ascent of Mount Blackburn in Alaska in 1958 and an astounding climb, with his friend Leo Grillmair, of Grillmair Chimneys on the south face of Mount Yamnuska, a feat considered groundbreaking to a Canadian climbing community that had never seen that kind of technical climbing before.

In 1959 he was a key planner and member of the first all Canadian team to climb Mount Logan, via the East Ridge to the East Peak. In 1963, Gmoser and seven teammates climbed North America’s highest mountain, 6,194-metre Mount McKinley, by ascending its previously unclimbed Wickersham Wall on the western end of the north face to where it reaches the mountain’s North Peak.

In the mid-60s, at the suggestion of some loyal ski touring clients, he introduced helicopter-assisted skiing in B.C.’s Bugaboo and Cariboo mountains to CMH.

In 1989 he received the Summit of Excellence Award from the Banff Mountain Film Festival. He has also been awarded the Order of Canada and is a member of the Honour Roll of Canadian Skiing.

He retired from CMH in the early 1990s and, with his wife, went bike touring in Europe, South Africa and, most recently, Japan.

Gmoser had requested that there be no memorial service. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested contributions be made to the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) in Canmore.