Written by Stéphanie Major
Slow living, slow skiing
“So what maps should we use?” I asked Chic Scott as we planned the 3-day ski touring journey through Yoho National Park we would embark on last April.
“There is no need for maps,” he smiles. “I wrote the guidebook.”
Chic Scott has done a helluva lot more than write that guidebook, too. In the world of backcountry skiing, he is a true pioneer, with a lifetime of mountain experience spanning from climbing and skiing around the world, organizing clubs and foundations, writing books, and working as a mountain guide.
“Today thousands of us go to the hills. We leave behind the busy pace of daily life and in the mountains find beauty and peace. We find the joy of hard physical work, the deep friendships of adventures shared and a connection to the natural world. For many of us this is where we find meaning in life and a reason for living.” - Chic Scott
His most recent endeavor is one currently underway: writing a book on the history of the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC), a non-profit organization whose mission for over a century has been to promote the culture of mountaineering, climbing and skiing in Canada. In fact, getting to know the heritage of the ACC was the primary reason behind my travels to the Rockies, where I met Chic for the first time at the ACC headquarters in Canmore, Alberta.
Right away, I was impressed by two things. The sheer size of the mountains that towered around us, and Chic’s presence: well articulated and composed, yet friendly and humble. These days, he’s taken on the role of a storytelling historian, spending his days writing and doing research at the Whyte Museum in Banff. Inside the museum, he showed us archives containing letters and photographs, as well as the vault conserving old pieces of equipment like pickaxes and pitons (including many of his own).
Talks of equipment from days gone by turned into talks of our stay at the Elizabeth Parker hut, nestled in Yoho National Park. One of the original ACC founders, Elizabeth Parker believed that “it is the people’s right to have primitive access to the remote places of safest retreat from the fever and the fret of the market place and the beaten tracks of life.” In 1906, when the ACC was founded, access to the outdoors for all was a totally revolutionary concept.
Today, the ACC offers more than 50 alpine experiences including courses and guided adventures, like The North Face Leadership Program that provides heavily subsidized training for mountain leaders. It also maintains the largest network of backcountry huts in North America, from family-friendly huts in alpine meadows to remote climbers’ refuges, or the backcountry powder paradise we’d be staying at.
“A trip to one of the Alpine Club huts can change your life. To sit safely by a crackling fire with your friends, telling stories, after a good day in the mountains, is magic. It is an experience you will never forget.” - Chic
But first we had to get there.
After 7 hours and 12 kilometers of skiing, we did. Sure, Chic had written the guidebook on the area, but our journey wouldn’t have been possible without Ken McDiarmid, who was everything you could ask for in a guide. Knowledgeable, funny, relaxed, and never in a rush, he carried a large bulk of the gear needed to be self-sufficient for 3 days, on top of planning and cooking our meals (let’s not forget the wine and beer, too).
As we wove our way through that terrain dominated by mighty mountains, the conditions weren’t ideal, but the day was peaceful. Light rain peppered us, and the snow consisted of a firm base with a hint of crust. Chic, who is now 77 years old, was carrying an enormous pack. His pace was slow, his breathing heavy, but his spirits high.
I couldn’t wrap my head around what I was witnessing as he dug his skis into that hard snow. We stopped for breaks often at his favourite spots, and the long road provided the chance to hear some Chic Scott wisdom as well as the namesake stories behind all the mountains we saw. “Old people are slow but last long,” he said, “the trick is to keep going.”
“We live in a world that worships power, strength, excellence, and achievement,” Chic continued inside the snow-covered, one-hundred-year old log house walls, warmed by the wooden fireplace. “But what about all of the average people? The people who want to live life, who want to be part of it. They’re not high achievers, they’re not excellent, they’re just average people. And you know what - this world just leaves them out.”
The following day was supposed to be another one filled with more ski touring. It wasn’t.
We geared up, set out, and quickly realized that finding powder would be difficult. The snow was covered with a breakable crust, the worst kind. After a test run, Chic reminded us that there were two casualties in the area due to avalanches. We assessed our options over a cup of tea after arriving at the bottom of the bowl, and it became clear that the conditions were too dangerous. So the earlier wisdom Chic bestowed upon us - that the outdoors are not about pushing yourself, but rather enjoying good company in beautiful places - was put into practice. We made our way back to the hut and again enjoyed the exchange of stories next to the fire.
“We have created a culture that just worships excellence. So many people feel left out because they aren’t the “best”. Being average is just fine. Mountains don’t discriminate. They don’t pick sides. They offer wisdom for the humble, stillness for a weary mind, and a closeness to mother earth that can only be found at their majestic summits. We all come to them as equals, and we all have the right to learn from them. That’s the ACC legacy.” - Chic Scott
To say that it was an honour to explore Chic’s backyard with him - AKA the Canadian Rockies - is an understatement. You know, it really felt like he understood inclusivity in the outdoors before anyone else. Where one opportunity to ski those magnificent landscapes was lost due to poor conditions - another, arguably much more valuable, one was gained. The time I got to spend absorbing Chic Scott’s insight was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that changed my perspective on performance.
I urge you to let his wisdom do the same for you: next time you find yourself about to take a risk, instead take a deep breath, take stock of your surroundings, and take an extra moment to appreciate the nature around you.