Father of Heli-skiing Hans Gmoser

Conceptual design for Heli-skiing section of the Gateway exhibition - visitors will be able to sit in the helicopter, don headphones, watch listen to an audio-visual presentation

Listen to Michale Lang (Executive Director, Whyte Museum), discussing
the Heli-Skiing exhibition:


The story of heli-skiing and Hans Gmoser is just one of the several sections in the new Gateway to the Rockies exhibition being developed by the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. We want your input and feedback on this permanent (ten year life) exhibition that we are planning to open at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in the spring of 2012. Tell us what you think of this and the other concepts and stories featured here. Let us know how you think we could make this exhibition more interesting. Please keep in mind that this is a draft of the storyline, not the finished product. As the stories develop, information will be updated.

There was no other invention that changed the very nature of skiing and mountain guiding in Canada’s west more than helicopter skiing, or as it became known, heli-skiing. For mountain guides, helicopter skiing was the perfect option for a year-round job.

Helicopter skiing brought new life to skiing the Canadian Rockies. Austrian mountain guide Hans Gmoser initiated the heli-skiing business in western Canada. In 1959, he formed a small company named Rocky Mountain Guides Limited that eventually became Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH). Gmoser first offered commercial heli-skiing in the Bugaboos in April of 1965 with helicopter pilot Jim Davies. Rapidly the number of guests increased and so did the demand for mountain guides who were expert skiers. Helicopter skiing today is widely associated with Canadian mountain culture.

Bruno Engler: Hans Gmoser and Jim Davies, March 1961, (V68/accn. 7361), Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Hans Gmoser, the “Father of Heli-skiing” and founder of Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), lived and worked in mountainous terrain in Canada and Europe for over 50 years. Born in Austria in 1932, Gmoser came to Canada in 1951 at the age of 19, and began his career as a mountain guide working for Lizzie Rummel at Mount Assiniboine. Lizzie, the consummate hostess, taught him the meaning of hospitality.

Hans Gmoser was the founder of modern mountaineering in Canada. From the time of his arrival, he was a major driving force behind the growing popularity of climbing, skiing, and mountain guiding. During his exciting 20 year career of extraordinary high mountain ascents, Gmoser pioneered many new rock climbs and made numerous first ascents.

In 1957 Hans founded Rocky Mountain Guides in the Yoho Valley which eventually grew into CMH. He teamed up with helicopter pilot Jim Davies in 1965 and set up shop in an abandoned lumber camp at the foot of the Bugaboos in southeastern British Columbia. The helicopter provided access to peaks and glaciers beyond the range of each day’s ski tour. Helicopter skiing or heli-skiing was born. In 1968, Hans opened Bugaboo Lodge in British Columbia. By the time Hans retired in 1991, CMH had nine operations and 300 employees. Hans sold the business in May of 1995.

Throughout his life Hans maintained a deep commitment to safety, excellent service, and environmental stewardship. In 1963 he was a founding member of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) and was its first technical chairman. He was recognized both within and outside the climbing community for his achievements. In 1987 Hans Gmoser was inducted into the prestigious Order of Canada. From a nearly penniless immigrant to one of the most successful men in the Canadian Rockies, Hans reflected on his life, “Looking back, I’ve had a good interesting life. I had my time in the mountains. I had my time as a businessman. So what more can I ask for?” Tragically, Hans Gmoser died in July 2006 following a cycling accident.

“I get a lot of credit, but in actuality, in truth, I’ve just been a very lucky person who met loyal, excellent people who made all of this happen.”

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