Summits and Icefields Book Review

Post by blogger | August 22, 2011      

(Note, this book was originally published some years ago as one volume, now in two volumes, one for Canadian Rockies and one for Columbia Mountains. This review refers to both volumes.)

How do you write a ski mountaineering guidebook review — especially when the book covers Canada and you’re a Colorado boy? The answer, when it comes to Chic Scott and Mark Klassen’s Summits and Icefields, is with enthusiasm. Not only that, but with awe, on bended knees; paying homage to the most exciting backcountry skiing in North America: the Rocky and Columbia Mountains of Canada.

Chic Scott has the deserved reputation as the father of modern Canadian backcountry skiing, and his book promulgates his half century of vita; but there is more. Scott knows he stands on the shoulders of giants, or at least a herd of Canadian fanatics, and his book is larded with photos and accounts of the crusty Canuks who helped him pioneer his vast homeground. Such asides even include a recipe for Cougar Milk, an ungodly alcoholic concoction that apparently helped the early explorers relax after being chased by avalanches – or chased by the beast that inspired the eponymous brew.

The book’s intros are short. They have to be since the writing covers an area the size of the European Alps. Even so, you get tips on gear specific to Canadian backcountry skiing. Moreover, general hut information is included for those unfamiliar with Canadian hut culture. You’ll even find information on how to set your vehicle up for thermometer busting Canadian winter; and perhaps as consolation, Scott included a page of info about hot springs!

Chapter after chapter in these books detail routes that make your hands grasp for ski poles and your toes scrunch for boots. Huts abound, but not surprisingly the focus stays on the mountains.

For me, the most radical chapter details the “grand traverses.” These hardcore epics, authored by an elite cadre of Canadian hardmen who began slogging them out more than 40 years ago, are routes that most skiers might only do once in their lifetime. While Scott writes that some of the traverses are repeated every year, I can only wonder how much overall popularity they will ever achieve. Whatever the case, we certainly don’t have to worry about Scott’s guidebook making them too crowded. Scott’s last chapter, “Commercial Lodges,” might be one of the most useful. Here he wish-lists most of the Canadian commercial backcountry ski lodge & guide operations. Excellent.

The photos deserve accolades. Not only are they informative and well labeled, but the black & white tones are rendered in a way that makes the snow tasty white instead of the dirty grey snow that many book publishers accept as normal, while still yielding good detail. Sadly, space constraints preclude navigable maps; but the Canadian government topo maps are terrific, and Chic expects you to purchase the necessary ones. So be it.

Now that I have the broad picture (even without ordering topo maps), I plan on skiing some of the Canadian routes I’ve read about — thanks to Chic Scott.


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