July 6, 2023 | Compiled by Kelsey Verboom
We asked a handful of CMH guides and staff for their favourite outdoor-themed books that they turn to for inspiration, encouragement and entertainment. Below is a list of adventure-worthy reads to immerse yourself in during the lead-up to an upcoming trip, especially if it’s in our neck of the woods.
Want to share your own recommendation? Pop your must-read title(s) in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Editor’s note: we deliberately didn’t include links to each title in the hopes you’ll source these books from your local bookstore. Many of the communities in which CMH operates contain vibrant, independently owned bookstores that are hubs of mountain town life. We encourage you to pop into one if you’re visiting us on a trip. Our favourites include Four Points Books in Invermere, BC; Cafe Books in Canmore, AB; Fable Book Parlour in Revelstoke, BC; and Bacchus Books in Golden, BC.
Spark new thoughts
Imaginary Peaks – The Riesenstein Hoax and Other Mountain Dreams by Katie Ives
Special Jury Mention at the 2022 Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival and deemed by Outside Magazine, “A book every thoughtful adventurer and seeker of dreams should read,” Imaginary Peaks describes the mythical role that mountains, both imagined and imaginary, play in our collective psyche.
Using an infamous deception about a fake mountain range in British Columbia as her jumping-off point, Katie Ives, the well-known editor of Alpinist, explores the lure of blank spaces on the map and the value of the imagination. In Imaginary Peaks she details the cartographical mystery of the Riesenstein Hoax within the larger context of climbing history and the seemingly endless quest for newly discovered peaks and claims of first ascents. Imaginary Peaks is an evocative, thought-provoking tale, immersed in the literature of exploration, study of maps, and basic human desire.
On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor
On Trails is an exploration of how trails help us understand the world—from invisible ant trails to hiking paths that span continents, from interstate highways to the Internet.
While thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Robert Moor began to wonder about the paths that lie beneath our feet: How do they form? Why do some improve over time while others fade? What makes us follow or strike off on our own? Over the course of seven years, Moor traveled the globe, exploring trails of all kinds, from the minuscule to the massive. He learned the tricks of master trail-builders, hunted down long-lost Cherokee trails, and traced the origins of our road networks and the Internet. In each chapter, Moor interweaves his adventures with findings from science, history, philosophy, and nature writing.
Nerd out on nature
The Nature Fix by Florence Williams
This is a book for those who are interested in a scientific explanation for that basic intuitive feeling that ‘nature is good for you.’ From forest trails in Korea, to islands in Finland, to eucalyptus groves in California, Florence Williams investigates the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain. Delving into brand-new research, she uncovers the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and strengthen our relationships. As our modern lives shift dramatically indoors, these ideas—and the answers they yield—are more urgent than ever.
The Secret Network of Nature by Peter Wohlleben
In The Secret Network of Nature, Peter Wohlleben takes readers on a thought-provoking exploration of the vast natural systems that make life on Earth possible. In this tour of an almost unfathomable world, Wohlleben describes the fascinating interplay between animals and plants and answers such questions as: How do they influence each other? Do lifeforms communicate across species boundaries? And what happens when this finely tuned system gets out of sync? By introducing us to the latest scientific discoveries and recounting his own insights from decades of observing nature, one of the world’s most famous foresters shows us how to recapture our sense of awe so we can see the world around us with completely new eyes.
Handbook of the Canadian Rockies by Ben Gadd
This pocket-sized book is a quintessential invaluable guide to all things human and natural history for the Canadian Rockies. If you want to read just one book that teaches the geology, plants, animals, history and recreation of this part of Canada, this is it. It’s rich with illustrations and covers everything from plants, mammals, birds, fish, insects, geology, weather, history, hiking, biking, climbing, skiing, and boating from Waterton-Glacier to the Yukon. This is the type of reference that will live on your bookshelf and in your backpack, pages dog-eared, marked, and revisited for years to come.
All the Quiet Places by Brian Thomas Issac
This powerful debut novel is the coming-of-age story of Eddie Toma, an Indigenous (Syilx) boy, told through the young narrator’s wide-eyed observations of the world around him. CMH operates on the traditional territory of the Sylix, so this is an impactful read for anyone who travels with us.
All the Quiet Places has earned a host of accolades including Finalist for the 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, Longlisted for the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Winner of the 2022 Indigenous Voices Awards’ Published Prose in English Prize.
21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph
This is a must-read for anyone who seeks to better understand the framework of Canada’s society and culture, and how, since its creation in 1876, the Indian Act has shaped, controlled, and constrained the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Peoples, and is at the root of many enduring stereotypes.
Bob Joseph’s book comes at a key time in the reconciliation process when awareness from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is at a crescendo. Joseph explains how Indigenous Peoples can step out from under the Indian Act and return to self-government, self-determination, and self-reliance – and why doing so would result in a better country for every Canadian. He dissects the complex issues around truth and reconciliation and clearly demonstrates why learning about the Indian Act’s cruel, enduring legacy is essential for the country to move toward true reconciliation.
This Wild Spirit: Women in the Rocky Mountains of Canada by Colleen Skidmore
This book highlights the contributions of women in the mountains—a perspective that’s showcased less frequently when it comes to outdoor literature.
In 1912, Mary Vaux, a botanist, glaciologist, painter, and photographer, wrote about her mountain adventures: “A day on the trail, or a scramble over the glacier, or even with a quiet day in camp to get things in order for the morrow’s conquests? Some how when once this wild spirit enters the blood…I can hardly wait to be off again.” Vaux’s compulsion was shared by many women whose intellects, imaginations, and spirits rose to the challenge of the mountains between the late-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. This Wild Spirit explores a sampling of women’s creative responses—in fiction and travel writing, photographs and paintings, embroidery and beadwork, letters and diaries, poetry and posters—to their experiences in the Rocky Mountains of Canada.
Where the Clouds Can Go by Conrad Kain
Of all the mountain guides who came to Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Conrad Kain is one of the most respected and well-known. Many of his adventures were based in the areas where CMH guests now ski and hike.
In this internationally anticipated reissue of Where the Clouds Can Go—first published in 1935—the original text is accentuated with an expanded selection of over 50 archival images that celebrate the accomplishments of Kain in the diverse mountain landscapes of North America, Europe and New Zealand. The new foreword by acclaimed mountaineer and filmmaker Pat Morrow puts Kain’s mountaineering adventures, numerous explorations and devout appreciation of nature into a contemporary context, ensuring that the exploits of this remarkable individual will remain part of international mountain culture for years to come.
Switchbacks by Sid Marty
Switchbacks is the perfect read for anyone who enjoys listening to stories on the trail. Sid Marty draws on his own memories and those of friends and former colleagues in relating a series of true mountain tales. Among his subjects are: the old guide who built a staircase up a cliff; the stranded snowshoer who was rescued between rounds of beer in a Banff tavern; the man who catered to hungry grizzlies; an opinionated packrat with a gift for larceny; and a horse named Candy whose heart was as big as a stove.
Along the way, Marty tries to answer the kind of questions that all of us must face someday. Do we really have to “grow up” and abandon adventure as well as youthful ideals? Can the mountains draw old friends back together, when politics and lifestyles have set them apart?
Perspectives & personalities
Although this book is not Canadian content, it does a good job of capturing the culture of ski towns just like the ones found in the communities in which CMH operates. It highlights the personalities, pioneers and diehards—the ski bums—who are the beating heart of the ski town scene.
Veteran ski journalist and former ski bum Heather Hansman takes readers on an exhilarating journey into the hidden history of American skiing, offering a glimpse into an underexplored subculture from the perspective of a true insider. Hopping from Vermont to Colorado, Montana to West Virginia, Hansman profiles the people who have built their lives around a cold-weather obsession. Along the way, she reckons with skiing’s problematic elements and investigates how the sport is evolving in the face of the existential threat of climate change.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This popular memoir-turned-movie is almost too predictable to include in this reading list, but we kept it because it’s a powerful testament to the transformative power of time spent on the trail. Told with blazing honesty, this is the story of a 1,100 mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.
At 22, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything: her mother, her marriage, her family. With nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail—and she would do it alone. Wild captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
Icefields by Thomas Wharton
Icefields is a haunting and mysterious yet beautiful and inspiring novel with glaciers as a focal point and references to towns and landmarks CMHers will recognize.
It’s a story of adventure and discovery that unfolds amidst the stunning beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Presented within the frame of a tourist guidebook, this novel records life in the mountains, as time and the coming of the railroad slowly transform the settlement of Jasper from a place of myth and legend to a modern tourist town. Exhaustively researched, this novel blends geology and poetry, fact and fiction, history and imagination.
Full Curl: A Jenny Willson Mystery by Dave Butler
Park warden Jenny Willson is a hard-edged, caustic-witted warden from Banff National Park. When Willson discovers animals disappearing from Canada’s mountain parks, she begins a complex investigation that follows a trail of deceit, distraction, and murder. With a growing list of victims, both animal and human, Willson finds herself in a race for justice that criss-crosses the Canada-U.S. border and pushes her to a place from which she might not return.
This tension-packed novel is authored by CMH’s own Director of Sustainability, Dave Butler. Combining a riveting crime plot with a nod to real-life tensions between human and wildlife co-existence, the writing is thoughtful and injected with perspective from Butler’s extensive background in forestry and biology. If Full Curl captivates you, Jenny Wilson’s pursuits are continued in a second novel by Butler, No Place for Wolverines.
Vertical Reference by Kathy Calvert
This is the story of the life of legendary mountain helicopter rescue pilot, Jim Davies. Prior to his rescue career with Parks Canada, Davies piloted the helicopter from the now-infamous 1965 flight that flew Hans Gmoser and a handful of guests on the ski expedition that pioneered heli-skiing and started it all.
Already an icon of competence and courage as the first heli-skiing pilot in Canada, it is his groundbreaking work as a helicopter rescue pilot for Parks Canada that made him a legend to all who worked with him. His stellar career as a pilot overshadowed his other talents as a ski racer and artist, which are explored in this biography. Davies is now retired and living in Banff, pursuing his love of painting and photography.
Deep Powder & Steep Rock: The Life of Mountain Guide Hans Gmoser by Chic Scott
This is a thorough and thoughtful biography of Hans Gmoser (1932–2006), the founder of CMH, inventor of heli-skiing, and legendary mountaineer. Through innovation, hard work, perseverance and an appetite for adventure, Gmoser evolved from penniless immigrant to mountain guide for kings, queens and prime ministers. He also played a major role in creating what is now western Canada’s dynamic mountain adventure community.
Told from all aspects of his fascinating life and including some of Gmoser’s own words, Chic Scott weaves together a compelling story based on the diaries, expedition journals, film commentaries and personal correspondence of this charismatic and inspiring figure.
Bugaboo Dreams: A Story of Skiers, Helicopters & Mountains by Topher Donahue
Take the snowiest mountains in Canada, add an army of powder-addicted skiers, and throw a helicopter into the mix for an unforgettable story of mountain adventure and the invention of an entire industry. In this book that reads like part biography and part entertaining adventure story, Topher Donahue chronicles the history of CMH, heli-skiing, mountain guide and businessman Hans Gmoser, and the vibrant personalities that have made CMH what it is for nearly 60 years. Its pages are packed with anecdotes, interviews and amusing tales you probably won’t find anywhere else.
2 Responses to “Books to read before your next adventure”
I wrote a book called “No Time For Fear” with Mt. Sir Stanford on the cover. It contains stories of my helicopter experiences. You might enjoy it!